Are softwares like utilities? Cogito's Gian Paulo De La Rama vision on SaaS

Some interview have a timing which one can not forget: It's while waiting for his wife to deliver his first kid that I got to chat with Gian, co-founder of Cogito. 

Cogito is not the first entrepreneurial endeavour of Gian, as it started from the learnings he had working with clients through his previous company (already a subscription-based product of course).

We went to compare SaaS to utilities, to understand his ambition to create more of those, and to understand what are workflows and how they make businesses more efficient (workflow automation is about digitalising processes and making each steps easier for whomever has to go through it)

 Gian, always passionate about his business... even while at the hospital

Gian, always passionate about his business... even while at the hospital

Hi Gian, what is SaaS for you?

Solutions whose functions are delivered in part or in full from the cloud. 

I say in part because due to the explosion of mobile and now IoT devices, some functions that were traditionally delivered from the cloud can now be done from the device. Leveraging on the power and features of these devices would result in a better experience for the user.

Which is your favourite SaaS keyword?

Utility. 

When the term SaaS was first coined, I read many articles that compared this to utilities (i.e. power, water, gas). However, I like this keyword not only because of that analogy but because it also connotes usefulness. A solution that does not solve a user’s problem or is useful to a user should be redesigned :)

Which are your current 3 main challenges?

  1. We are a young company in an industry dominated by mature giants. We target large enterprises here in the Philippines. However, there is still a prevalent thinking that large and established providers are better. So it is a hard but welcomed challenge for a small company like ourselves to prove that we are a better alternative.
  2. Scaling. Selling enterprise solutions, even SaaS ones, requires lots of face-to-face time with the potential customer before a deal can be made. In addition, many deals require a lot of customization. Scaling therefore is more challenging, as opposed to a B2C solution.
  3. Talent acquisition. Demand for good developers and designers is at an all time high here in the Philippines. With the influx of work brought by BPO companies as well as the increase in venture-funded startups, hiring the right people for the company is getting more difficult.

Ok, tell us about your company...

My co-founders and I started InnoVantage as a way for us to delight our customers via better digital and creative solutions. We do this via our digital design service and our first SaaS product, Cogito. Our digital design service is a subscription-based creative design service for clients who want beautiful and effective marketing collateral (print, web and mobile) to be done in a more cost effective way.

Cogito is a cloud workflow platform that allows teams and enterprises to automate their common or ad-hoc business processes in a matter of minutes.

... Can you tell us more about that? What is a workflow?

ah yes... it works like this: So you have a paper form like a leave form. Right now it's filled up and routed manually. In Cogito, you can create an electronic version of that form then build a flowchart with logic using the tools in the platform. Once implement, what happens is that when you want to apply for a leave, you just login to Cogito, create a new request for leave, fill it up (Cogito can even autofill some fields) and submit. Based on the logic in the flowchart, the eform will be routed to your manager and he/she will see your request in his/her inbox. Your manager can then click the request to approve or deny.

What do you want your company to be in the next 3 years?

I aim for Cogito to be used by at least 10,000 customers worldwide. These are teams in companies who have lots of paper based manual processes and/or have multiple branches. It can be banks and other financial institutions, consumer goods companies or service oriented organizations like BPO's

Also, I want InnoVantage to launch 2 more products apart from Cogito and our digital design service.

... and in the next 10 years?

InnoVantage has always been about customer experience and utility. So in 10 years, I hope our products and solutions will be both pervasive, yet invisible… to some extent, taken for granted, by our customers.

For me, I believe that the best products are the ones that you use without batting an eyelash and I hope that InnoVantage will be a leader in delivering those products to our customers.

What is the most surprising thing that you discovered since you started this business?

Free or cheap is not always good.

Based on my experience this past 14 months, companies are willing to pay a premium on simplicity, security and utility and even though free will get a lot of attention and customers in the short term, it is not a viable long term strategy.

Do you have a tip to share with younger SaaS entrepreneurs?

Enterprise SaaS is not as “sexy” as the other sectors in tech but it’s important as the solutions that can be delivered may be business critical. So focus on solving the actual problems first and worry about the acclaim or publicity later.

Thank you so much Gian.

A few hours later Gian became a happy dad ... :)