Technology gets SAASY

Sassy. Saasy. Get it?

2022-10-28 11:03:16
This article that was definitely an actual interview and we definitely didn't just make it up appeared in the October edition of the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce's Contact magazine (flip to page 27.)

Reproduced here because... you know.


The latest tech bubble has burst. Differing to the dot-com boom era of the 1990s, the tech investment frenzy of the last 5 years is slowing down. Where previously you could add the tech buzzwords du jour to your sales pitch and be guaranteed that hungry venture capitalist types would come knocking, things have changed.

Some of the slowdown is being driven by external factors affecting all global financial markets, but increased scrutiny following some high-profile failures is amplifying this - the ‘sell-now-build-later’ vapourware approach to building tech companies is no longer viable. You need more than an idea and a pitch deck. Which, as it happens, is creating more opportunities than ever. Startup culture is changing with it becoming increasingly common for established businesses to carve out key operations into a standalone service offering – embodied in the growth of the Reg, Fin and Med-tech trends of recent years.

So say the founders of Cortex Technologies, a technology business in Guernsey. Cortex doesn’t describe itself as a ‘startup’ says Matt Thornton, co-founder of the business with 15 years’ experience in software development, and a PhD to boot, “it has too many negative connotations for us.”

Founded in 2018, Cortex spun out of the consultancy world with the aim of creating a software house. “We wanted a place where techies could come together and share a love of the craft. We’d spent years helping businesses build bespoke systems that gave them the edge in their industry; but they tended to be purpose-built for a specific need and they tended to stay within that business. It can be difficult to pour all your energy in to a system, and when the project was finished to just walk away.”

As software-as-a-service (SaaS) evolved in parallel with the growth of the Cloud, Cortex saw the opportunity. Marc Beavan, Cortex’s other co-founder, himself with more than 20 years’ experience says, “We had the classic problem – we knew how to build great software… we just didn’t know what to build. So we thought perhaps we’d help startups and businesses build their software,” which worked well, “but ended up being pretty similar to the consultancy world, and we realized we really wanted to build our own stuff.”

Technology adoption patterns in business continue to follow a fairly predictable path. Where 20 years ago it was popular to build monolithic bespoke software, the tendency switched around 10 years ago to adopt platforms and build atop smaller discrete function-specific applications; the premise being that the platform got you 80% of the way and you just had to worry about the remaining 20%. Whether that was reality or not, in recent years, the trend has swung again - albeit with a bit of a divergence. The emergence of sophisticated ‘no code’ tools such as Microsoft’s PowerApps and robotic process automation have really empowered businesses to roll their own solutions ostensibly without a dependency on an internal development team or a technology partner – is one side of the fork.

“The ‘no code’ paradigm is great for rapidly prototyping ideas and solving business problems,” says Marc, “but they don’t typically scale to become true SaaS and you may find yourself working around limitations. And just as Excel spreadsheets have a habit of growing arms and legs, being brutally honest, you can just as easily shoot yourself in the foot with no code as you can with Excel, probably moreso.”

As a small team of software developers, Cortex are in the fortunate position of being able to follow the other path – custom developed applications, designed for scalability from the ground up. With deep skills on hand, Cortex already have a growing portfolio of their own software, including an enterprise grade data warehousing tool and a time and fees system tailored to professional services businesses being their flagships. Marc says “As it turned out, options for viable SaaS apps were staring us in the face – we’d already been doing them! We changed our mindset, invested some time and effort and we’re now at the start of something very exciting. The business is growing into what we envisioned.”

And what does the future look like? “Right now, we have a great team and we love what we’re doing. Bringing products to the market is a totally different set of skills, though, so we have a load of challenges ahead of us. But hey, a business in the US called ProfitWell, that started life as a consultancy and successfully SaaS’d parts of their operation… it took a few years, but they just were recently acquired by Paddle for $200m. That’d be quite nice.” says Matt.

Quite nice indeed!


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