Having coined the term, perhaps it’s not surprising that Zuora founder Tien Tzuo believes that the “subscription economy” has almost limitless potential.
Tzuo is well known in Silicon Valley for being employee number 11 through the door at Salesforce but if the subscription-as-a-service phenomenon he is pioneering through the start-up he launched in 2007, Zuora, gets as big as he believes it can, and there is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that it will, then it could be Zuora, not Salesforce, or Oracle, or SAP, acquiring the reputation of most influential B2B start-up out of Silicon Valley. According to Tzuo, when it comes to goods and services, “access trumps ownership” every time.
In layman’s terms Zuora sells a billing, commerce and finance platform with multiple modules to businesses that provide a subscription-based service model; keeping track of the subscription payments, invoices, pricing models, product catalogs and specific billing needs of its clients. For Zuora, these include Schneider Electric , Dell , Qualcomm, Trip Advisor and Zendesk, and approximately 800 others. It’s what it does with the data it collects, using advanced machine learning techniques and analytics to help companies serve their customers better, that makes Zuora, and anybody who uses its platform, “the future”, according to Tzuo.
Last week, he was attending his company’s annual Subscribed conference at The Brewery event space in London, where the city’s financial district meets the “Silicon Roundabout”, its tech and start-up hub. Zuora has offices nearby as well as in Paris, Munich, Sydney, Beijing and Tokyo, and runs an annual Subscribed event in each city designed to help employees and clients succeed in the subscription economy.
Keynote speakers included Tzuo himself, Anthony Fletcher, CEO of Graze, the healthy snack box delivery service, Pete Tomlinson, Director at KCOM, a subscription-based IT and comms provider, and Mark Beard, Marketing Director at The Economist.
There was also a “start-up battlefield” competition which saw three young founders present their early stage subscriber start-ups to a panel including Tzuo and a few hundred audience members. It was won by Seenit.io, an invitation-only collaboration platform for businesses to call upon fans and professional content creators to contribute video to their advertising and marketing campaigns. A classic subscription start-up model.
Before speaking with Tzuo himself, I caught up with John Phillips, Zuora’s VP of EMEA. “At its core, SAAS is about longevity”, he told me. “It’s not about selling to as many customers as you can, it’s about finding the right customers. Nowadays people expect the services they use to be improving with each passing day. Look at Apple and the iPhone, we don’t begrudge updating and upgrading our smartphones because we know that these products are constantly evolving and help to make our lives better. We trust them.”