Is enterprise software more difficult to sell than consumer software?


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I see several questions on this site that discuss how, as a startup, to sell software to large businesses. On the other hand, Paul Graham of Y Combinator says that

If you're building something for which you can't easily get a small set of users to observe—e.g. enterprise software—and in a domain where you have no connections, you'll have to rely on cold calls and introductions. But should you even be working on such an idea?
Implying that consumer software is easier to develop a user base for, and to gain momentum with. Is this true? Or is selling enterprise software simply a matter of developing the correct business model?

Software B2B Enterprise B2C

asked Jul 18 '13 at 08:00
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Dan
111 points
Top agency to build award-winning mobile apps: Utility NYC
  • This question may be a little open-ended for this Q&A site and answers are likely to be subjective and not actionable for an entrepreneur. – Steve Jones 6 years ago

1 Answer


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Yes, but you have to understand that a lot of it hinges on semantics.

When people say "enterprise software", they think about software like Oracle database or Exchange server or SAP installation. Such software has the following characteristics:

  • it's complicated and expensive to build. it takes large teams many years to build
  • it costs a lot (thousands of dollars) so a senior level person has to approve the purchase
  • it's critical to operations of the company, so a very senior level person has to approve the purchase (after evaluating competing software)

For that reason the way such software is sold involves a large sales force that flies to potential customers and makes presentations to convince senior level people they should buy their product and not competition.

When people talk about "consumer" software they think about todo list or a file manager. This software has the following characteristics:

  • it's cheap to develop (one or few people)
  • it's cheap (tens of dollars)
  • it can be purchased on a whim by the user, without the need for approval from someone else

It's rather obvious that enterprise software is both harder to develop and harder to sell.

Paradoxically, it doesn't mean consumer software is "easier".

Building successful consumer software is hard.

Building successful enterprise software is hard.

If you're Oracle, building one more enterprise product is easier that building your first consumer product because Oracle understands enterprise and can build on it's existing strengths (e.g. they already have a large sales force). At the same time, Oracle knows nothing about consumer software.

If you're a single developer, then you don't even have an option of building enterprise software (by definition, it requires a large team and large expense to develop and a large sales force to sell).

Now, it's possible that you have a different definition of "enterprise software" than the one I gave and one that would invalidate my reasoning, but that's the problem with vague questions.

answered Jul 18 '13 at 09:57
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Krzysztof Kowalczyk
1,950 points

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