A lot of the software that powers companies is decades old, expensive and not intuitive to operate. If you use Salesforce or SAP, you know how convoluted those systems are.
From long-time employees who still remember green-screen terminals to 20-somethings who think all of this sounds archaic, a 2-year-old company named Sapho is working to make basic tasks easier for everyone. Sapho aims to bypass all of the gobbledygook and behave more like your favorite social networking apps.
After nearly two decades of founding and selling companies, Peter Yared and Fouad EINagger met in late 2011 when they began executive roles at CBS Interactive. Yared, brought on as CIO/CTO, had a technical background designing internet infrastructure. EINagger, on the business operations side, had spent seven years as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
In 2014, they founded Sapho, and today, they are announcing the Sapho Micro App Platform. It allows companies to build applications that serve specific functions, such as prompting a business owner to sign a contract or approve a product discount. Sapho taps into behemoth software systems such as Salesforce, SAP, Omniture, Oracle and Workday and acts as a liaison between the information they contain and the employee who needs that information.
Users don’t have to log in to a hard-to-decipher interface and navigate to the data they need. Sapho anticipates users’ needs and pushes notifications to them when they need to fulfill a particular duty, such as approving an employee’s vacation time, according to the company.
Sapho allows clients to pay based on the number of monthly active users of its software ($2 to $10, depending on company size). Clients include Turner, Google and the founders’ former employer, CBS Interactive, among others, and the company just completed a $9.5 million series A funding round.
Yared and EINagger have faced skepticism from those who have mastered legacy software or are reluctant to add a third party into the mix. But the reality is, most people in a given company have little concept of what enterprise software is for or how to harness it to their advantage.
In an interview with Entrepreneur, the founders explained how they came up with the idea for Sapho and how they approach legacy tech users -- by respecting rather than dismissing those who are set in their ways. Watch a video of Sapho at work and learn more about the company below.
What is your approach to modernizing business software?
Fouad EINagger, Sapho co-founder and CEO: Workflows on enterprise software haven’t changed in 30 years. Salesforce today looks just Siebel did in 1999, Workday today looks just like PeopleSoft in 1998. You’ve got to think about what you want, you’ve got to remember where it is, you’ve got to log in somewhere and then you’ve got to navigate a piece of software that looks like a tax form.
Things like Google Now, Siri and Facebook, they’re telling us that there’s a new way. Systems are figuring out what’s relevant to you in advance and pushing it to you before you even know that you need it.
What is a micro app?
EINagger: A micro app is a small piece of a bigger app. There are 8 million features in an HR system, but one thing that everyone has to do is approve vacation time. I don’t need to log into a system that has 8 million features to go and do this one thing.
There’s a photocopier in your office right now. It’s got a million buttons on the left. Someone in your office knows how to use that thing like a Ferrari. They can print out 30 double-sided color-copies that are pre-stapled. I do not know how to use any of those buttons. I walk up to a copier and I just want to push a green button, make my copy and move on. And that’s what we do. These micro apps are the green button on the copier.
We’re not necessarily replacing things. We’re making things that people have already spent money on more useful.
How did your background experience, founding various companies and working at CBS Interactive, pave the way for Sapho?
Peter Yared, Sapho co-founder and CTO: CBS had bought a series of companies, and the technology was a little long in the tooth. Fouad joined just after me to run the business operations there, and we met each other very early. Our offices were next to each other. We brought in modern software, and we really enjoyed working together and partnered well together, and we were like, we should go solve this problem.
EINagger: We’re both really strong personalities. Peter is a technical genius who hasn’t really had a great business partner on the other side. And I’m, what would you say, Peter, an above-mediocre business person? (Laughs.) I’ve never really had a great technical partner.
At CBS, Peter and I sat down and were like, "Why aren’t people using this software that we’re spending money on?" We spend $300 billion a year on enterprise software and IT infrastructure, and people aren’t using it. We’re not getting increases in productivity. We’re not extracting values from these investments.
That’s what got us really excited. Changing the way people work going forward, making work different, making work better. That is a really exciting way to wake up every morning, at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and be excited about the day, be ready to tapdance to work. You’re solving something real. We’re not another laundry on-demand delivery service.
In Silicon Valley, I think people forget to respect the investments that people have made. It’s so much easier to call somebody a dinosaur than to actually think about why they’re doing things the way they are. And we were the dinosaurs when we were at CBS. When you are the dinosaur, you start realizing there’s a reason that people have to make decisions the way that they do. And our view has been, let’s respect that, let’s be pragmatic, let’s fit into the infrastructure that people have. Because people aren’t going to just rip out a billion dollars of infrastructure investment because they’re called a dinosaur. That’s just not how the world works.
Adding a new third-party mediator into the mix requires trust. How do you mitigate those concerns?
EINagger: I was a VC in Silicon Valley for seven years. Peter’s been in Silicon Valley for three decades. Everyone there is living in the future. We had lots of friends come to CBS being like, "Can you guys deploy my awesome solution?" and then be like, "We’re gonna punch a hole in your firewall," or "Don’t worry, we’re gonna download all of your ERP data into our public cloud." And what we learned really quickly was that, at these big companies, that model just does not work when you’re touching mission-critical data. Security is becoming more and more of a concern.
Yared: That’s why we didn’t build this as a cloud system. Their HR and financial data is on their own database that they control. It’s harder to deploy and sell and build software that way, but it also makes the customers much, much more comfortable.
And then, some companies just don’t like to buy from startups, and others do. We have a good pedigree and a good background, and if people are like, "Hey, you’re a little too young for us," we don’t take offense to it, we’re just like, "Well, let’s keep this conversation going.”
Adopting Sapho will require people who are set in their ways to make a change. How do you address those challenges, and others, in trying to get organizations to implement Sapho and see that it will be helpful to them?
EINagger: It’s something that we learned the hard way at CBS, where we were modernizing a lot of the infrastructure in the organization.
You know, you have people who are as legacy as the legacy systems. We’ve got one customer that, the CEO of the company is a wizard on that green-screen terminal. I mean, the guy knows how to do everything he wants on it. In fact, he got them to build an emulator on his iPad of the green-screen terminal so he knows how it works!
And so, when we thought about Sapho, we said, OK, how are we going to get around that? Millennials don’t like using Salesforce, because it’s a piece of crap. They don’t like going onto a green-screen terminal. They can’t even comprehend that things like this still exist, but we find them at Fortune 100 companies all the time.
We remember an era when you had to load software onto your machine with a cassette, or with a floppy disc. You have a new generation of employees whose whole concept of loading software is an app store. Where they just go and they download Instagram, it takes one second, and they take a picture and type a sentence and it magically goes out to their social networks. They didn’t need a training session for half a day. They didn’t need a manual that’s 800 pages. It just works.
People at these organizations start using the micro app, and they go, "oh, God, this is so easy." And that’s how we start expanding in an organization.
That power user, they’re still going to go in, and they’re still going to use their Salesforce. They’re still going to go into their SAP. And more power to them. We don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s about 15 minutes to success. We want to make it very easy for people to drop this in, connect it to their system and start building these micro apps. And that only happens if you respect the infrastructure that people have spent trillions of dollars on.
This interview has been edited.