5 mins read

From service-led to product-led: How ValueBlue evolved into a modern SaaS vendor

Back in 2011, ValueBlue began life as a consultancy company in the field of Enterprise Architecture. In 2014, we released BlueDolphin – our dedicated software product for Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Management & Data Management.

Changing from a consultancy organization to a SaaS organization definitely does not happen overnight! In this blog we’ll share a little more about why ValueBlue made the move, what problems came on our way, and how we dealt with them.

From knowledge-intensive to software as a service

Enterprise Architecture can be compared to building architecture. You might want to remodel a house to get closer to your goals – more bedrooms, or space for kids to play. Similarly, a company wants to grow its revenue and create more capabilities, delivering more value to customers. To get that done, sometimes things need to change.

You can summarize the processes you need to change, the applications and technology that you need to be able to support those processes, and the data that goes along with that. But to be able to do that, you need to know how those things come together in your organization.

What processes, applications, data, and infrastructure do we have at the moment? What do we need to change to make our business run better in the future? Organizations document this out and plan scenarios on it. This field is called Enterprise Architecture. A knowledge-intensive and consultancy-driven field of work.

Spotting an opportunity in the market

During ValueBlue’s time delivering consultancy services to our customers in those early days, we noticed that there was no professional tooling in place. The current state and future state of the organization were worked out in tools such as Visio, PowerPoint, and Excel.

Every time and for every project, this was done over and over again. When a project was finished, it was just thrown away. Back then, we were dependent on the products being used by our customers, and we saw first-hand the struggles that they had with an incoherent way of working between projects and their associated data. Some customers did have more professional tooling, but it was just too complex for the average employee, so often only one person was able to work with it.

These experiences brought us to our big idea – creating our own product with one central repository. No more inventories for every project; instead, always up-to-date data for every project. A product with a low entry threshold to work with, and that was easy to access and use via the web. From those thoughts, our SaaS platform BlueDolphin was born in 2014 and we signed our first customers in 2015.

The transformation of a company’s culture

Going through the transformation from a consultancy organization to a SaaS product organization is not easy. There needs to be a cultural shift not only in terms of thinking, but also in the way revenue is generated.

At first, you cannot immediately say “We are going to fully focus on selling and supporting the product, and only the product,” because there are simply not enough customers yet.

Your consultants are still employed, and cannot morph overnight into product service providers – because there is not yet enough demand. In the early years of the changeover, our consultancy service continued to exist, and all the revenue generated from it was used for BlueDolphin’s product development. We worked towards focusing more and more on license revenue, but it was not possible to stop completely with consultancy – because ValueBlue needed it to continue to exist. Over time, this shifts more and more as license revenue scales up.

Commercial know-how

In addition to the change in our services, we also started to make changes in our commercial teams.

We rather underestimated this at the beginning. ‘Simply’ switching from selling consultancy to selling a product is not reality. Selling a SaaS product is a different beast. SaaS knowledge and experience was lacking internally, and the process was different than we had expected.

Within the commercial teams, we began specifically hiring people with experience at other B2B SaaS organizations – and we continue to do so – so that they can help and guide the other colleagues with their experience.

Of course, the long-time ‘Blues’ also learned many lessons over time, becoming better and better at communicating the value of BlueDolphin to the market and our prospective customers.

A funding round to kickstart growth

What really made the difference for us, not only in terms of revenue streams but also cultural mindset, was our first funding round. From that moment on, we could get laser-focused on hiring the right people and stimulating our growth as a SaaS company. We could start to really live and breathe BlueDolphin. While we still did (and do) provide some consulting services, this is solely aligned to our BlueDolphin customers – ensuring they have the strategic guidance they need to maximize business value from the product.

We still see the consultancy DNA in our business. It can rear its head at inconvenient times. When the going gets a little tough, there is a quick desire to revert to the familiar. We remain focused on helping more customers deliver business value via BlueDolphin. We start to see significant growth in industries and geographies we could never have serviced back in 2011. It’s inspiring to witness such a level of growth. And it’s pretty exciting to be a part of!

This blog post is a translated excerpt from the SaaS Bazen podcast, episode 81: “Een consultancy business transformeren naar een SaaS business” – Jelle Visser, CCO, ValueBlue. Want to listen to it in full? Grab a coffee and head over to saasbazen.nl. (Sorry, it’s in Dutch only!)