#99 – The State of Platforms in 2024 with Kelly Sarabyn and Scott Brinker



#99 – The State of Platforms in 2024 with Kelly Sarabyn and Scott Brinker

In today’s episode, we have Kelly Sarabyn and Scott Brinker from HubSpot, who take us through their latest report on the State of Platforms in 2024. 


HubSpot has always considered industry education as central to developing its business and brand, and – in combination with some of its partners – released this great report earlier this year. The report profoundly covers how firms now adopt platform strategies to thrive in a digital economy ranging from app ecosystems to services marketplaces. Having spearheaded this, Kelly and Scott shared some insider information with us. 


During the conversation, they highlight the evolution of platforms, from mere technical infrastructures to complex ecosystems, and then further delve into how understanding the intricacies of platform models is crucial for tech companies and all businesses looking to leverage the interconnected nature of modern markets.


This episode has something for everyone, so don’t miss out on hearing from two of the most prominent experts in the field. Tune in.

Youtube video for this podcast is linked here.

Podcast Notes

Some of our ardent followers will know that this is the 2nd time we have Scott, Vice President of Platform Ecosystem, at HubSpot. Kelly, instead, works as a Platform Ecosystem Advocate, at the same company. 


We are thrilled that they wanted to share the key learnings from co-authoring the “State of Platforms 2024” report – a tremendous piece of work that examines the evolving dynamics of the platform businesses, with a keen focus on the B2B SaaS industry.


In the conversation we explored the implications of evolving platforms for business strategy and operations, emphasizing the necessity for companies to continuously adapt and leverage these opportunities effectively, regardless of the role and business model. 

Our guests further touch upon how companies need to modulate around proliferation and nichification, integrations across sectors, and even look into these retributions’ ethical and social aspects from a community-building perspective. 


This episode is a crucial one and a much-needed dialogue to take platform ecosystems forward, so join in.


Key highlights

  • Deep Dive into B2B SaaS Platforms by analyzing the top 50 SaaS companies’ adoption of platform business models.
  • Integration as a critical strategy for enhancing user experience and the platform’s value proposition.
  • Industries that have fallen short in their platform game, and where their future is headed.
  • The challenges with outsourcing integration, and why the quality of integration makes or breaks your product’s market fit.
  • The platform industry as a continuously evolving ecosystem, and its implications on business.
  • How companies need to adapt their structure to support platform models.
  • Analysis of the broader implications of platform strategies on society and ethical considerations in platform management.
  • The potential of using ecosystems as a distribution strategy, and why even non-tech companies should consider integrating digital services into their offerings.


This podcast is also available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsSoundcloud and other podcast streaming platforms.



Topics (chapters):

00:00 The State of Platforms in 2024 with Kelly Sarabyn and Scott Brinker – Intro


00:58 Introducing Kelly Sarabyn and Scott Brinker
01:58 State of Platforms Report 2024 

10:09 Patterns of Platforms in 2024

13:19 Outdated Metrics and Practices of Platforms

16:10 Who should be thinking about Platforms today?

20:24 Being a part of ecosystems as a distribution strategy 

23:57 Organization Structures Designed for Platforms 

27:31 Who should understand platforms in your organization?

32:44 Proliferation and Nichification 

38:11 What is the key to unlock the future?

44:46 Transformation in the Services Ecosystems 

50:58 Breadcrumbs and Suggestions



To find out more about their work:



Other references and mentions:



Recorded on 29th March 2024.



Get in touch with Boundaryless:

Find out more about the show and the research at Boundaryless at https://boundaryless.io/resources/podcast


Simone Cicero 

Hello everybody and welcome back to the Boundaryless Conversations Podcast. On this podcast, we meet with pioneers, thinkers and doers, and we talk about the future of business models, organizations, markets and society in our rapidly changing world. Today, I’m joined by my regular co-host, my colleague at Boundaryless, Shruthi Prakash. Hello, Shruthi.


Shruthi Prakash 

Hello everybody.


Simone Cicero

Thank you so much for coming. And today we also have one returning guest and one of his colleagues at HubSpot. They are not just two amazing experienced platform experts working at one of the most outstanding platform companies in the world, but they also are two of the co-authors of an amazing report that came out to just a couple of months ago, the State of Platforms Report 2024. Welcome to Kelly Sarabyn.


Kelly Sarabyn 

Thank you for having me.


Simone Cicero 

Hello Kelly… and Scott Brinker.


Scott Brinker

Wow, thanks for having me back again.


Simone Cicero 

Thank you, Scott. It’s more than a pleasure to have you back. So first of all, let’s start from the very topic of this conversation. Kelly, you are a platform ecosystem advocate at HubSpot. Scott, you are Vice President of platform ecosystem HubSpot. So my question for you as a starting point is why HubSpot has been supporting the idea of these reports and of course your partners that have been involved from other companies that have been involved into this conversation. But really, my question is, can you give us maybe an overview of the report itself and why HubSpot is doing it?


Kelly Sarabyn

Sure, I’m happy to jump in. I think the overview of the report itself is really to do a deep dive on the platform business model and how that works in SaaS, specifically B2B SaaS. I think that there’s a concept of a technical platform that most people in SaaS understand, but not everyone really understands what the platform business model is and how it operates.


And we looked at the top 50 SaaS companies by revenue to really understand how they are approaching this and how many of them are fitting this model, which, as a spoiler alert, they almost all are, right? So we not only got data of those companies, but we also got expert contributions from people who are doing this in the field and leading the way. So we really wanted to break down the model itself.


Enable people to understand how this model works because whether you’re a platform or a point solution, you need to be operating in this environment in order to be successful. So we really want to share that knowledge. And I think why HubSpot would do that is a couple of reasons. One thing is platforms only work if all the stakeholders understand it. So we wanna contribute to our own ecosystem and community around these models because we’re working with our partners.


If they understand our motivations, we understand their motivations, it’s going to be more successful. The other thing is, um, you know, one of the reasons Scott created this advocacy position at HubSpot is really just to continue to build the brand of HubSpot as a platform. You know, HubSpot has been around for quite some time and it started out itself as what one would call a product, not a platform.


And it’s gone on that journey. And I think as you grow and evolve, you want to make sure that customers, prospects, partners understand that you’ve made that transition and you’re investing in it further.


Scott Brinker

Yeah, I would just add on to that. I mean, this has been HubSpot’s MO pretty much from the beginning that the way we win customers, the way we’ve grown as a company is by focusing more on education than like classic – Okay, here’s marketing our own product and what our own product does and all the cool things you can do with our own product. You know, HubSpot Academy, you know, really set the stage years ago for teaching a whole bunch of marketers about the power of inbound marketing – In a way, there’s pretty agnostic to the actual software you were using, and that continues through to today. 


You know, so when Kelly joined HubSpot, this was very much the same vision we had around the platform side is – Yeah, HubSpot has an agenda of ourselves being a very successful platform, but frankly, being able to contribute to the knowledge, the understanding, the discussion around platforms, building them, managing them, just because there was, you know, I mean, you know this very well, right? There have only been a few voices out there that have really been contributing a lot to this, but it’s such a big area and it’s growing so fast.


But yeah, part of this was just getting ourselves into the conversation in a way that would bring value to a bunch of other people who were interested in platforms too.


Simone Cicero

Yes, I totally resonate with this. I mean, it’s an industry that is at the same time 10 years, 10-ish years old, and still very much in flux and where terms, words still don’t have a very solid meaning, right? So let’s say the ontology of platforms is still in flux after 10 years, which is amazing, I think.


What is the, let’s say, a good information architecture that can help our listeners understand what’s inside the report? So if you have to explain to someone, like I don’t wanna say a five years old, but let’s say 17 years old, what platforms are, where would you start to draw the lines and say, you know, there’s this side and this side and that side. So can you help us like, you know, give an overview of what the conversation around platforms should be about?


Scott Brinker

Do I give an architecture of the report?


Kelly Sarabyn 

So I think in terms of the architecture of the report itself, I think there’s about a 20 page introduction laying out what a platform business model is, right? And I think really just understanding that what platforms exist to do is to connect people who are providing services or products and people who are consuming those services and products. 


And then really sets out a few different examples where when you get into the world of tech because platforms exist even the town square, right? A shopping mall, those are platforms. They’re connecting consumers and people selling. But once you get into tech, the game changed and you have Uber, which a lot of people in a more casual sense think of Uber, oh, it’s just a marketplace, but it is a platform connecting riders and drivers. 


And then you get into technical platforms where you have the technology partners building on top of the platform, but also, again, to be connecting with the customers. And then you get multi-partner types. You get solutions partners. You get system integrators. You get resellers. And all of these are trying to connect with each other across the platform. And the core role of the platform is to make those transactions as seamless as possible, to optimize the exchange of value, reduce friction.


So the report kind of walks through that evolution of the different types of businesses that might be running a platform business model. And then the first half of the report is really sharing the data that we gathered from the top 50 SaaS companies. And that includes their org charts, which is not a particularly sexy topic, but for those of us in platforms and partnerships know it’s a very important topic to how these actually work and how the orchestration amongst all these different stakeholders takes place.


But we also looked at the number of apps these companies have, what their marketplaces look, do they have a services and app marketplace or are they one? And then the last half of the report is really just the contributions from different experts in the field who are doing this at the best companies to share what they’ve been seeing and learning on their journeys.


Scott Brinker

One of the things that Kelly’s been one of the champions for in the industry is you know partnerships have obviously been around a long time. The idea of channels and distribution channels is pretty much from the beginning of the software industry, we’ve also had this view of like, okay, yes, there are this idea of ISVs and building things on technical platforms. We even have, yeah, things more of like technology, strategic alliances and what not. 


But yeah, in many ways, you’ve seen these different components sort of being viewed through their own lens and this evolution that’s been happening here over the past several years, you know, particularly these past couple years of really taking a more holistic ecosystem view of, okay, yes, we have a channel here, but then we have services partners who perhaps aren’t just 

channel sellers. There’s other kinds of services around this. We have these ISVs, and it’s not just looking at each of those individual pieces and saying, yeah, okay, they’re each contributors to an ecosystem, but it’s starting to recognize more and more the power of how do we connect those things together. And so I thought, yeah, I mean, I get the data that we collected, and this was in conjunction with Jay McBain of Canalys also Asher Mathew from Partnership Leaders, like trying to get as wide of a collection of folks, getting the actual data on, okay, for these top 50 platforms out there, like, where is the state of, OK, are they treating these things differently? How differently? How are they coming together, partly in how they present themselves in marketplaces? But then, yes, Kelly was just saying also, looking at things like the org structure, how are they internally aligned to support that?


Shruthi Prakash 

I mean, to take off from what you said, Scott, like, to, let’s say, go into the state of platforms as they are today. Right. So first is I want to understand the why. So why is there, let’s say, still a need to describe the key patterns of platforms in 2024? And let’s say, what are the patterns that you’re seeing today? How is the architecture changing as you go?


Scott Brinker

Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, like, wow, the terms ecosystem have certainly started appearing more and more in general business language and general business discussions. The truth is, it’s just there aren’t a lot of definitive resources out there that have discussed this. We could probably count on one hand, maybe if we’re being really ambitious two. Like the famous books or famous articles in the space. But when you think of this as being such a truly transformational change like business models and strategy. Yeah, it’s kind of amazing that there’s isn’t actually much, much more here, and so I think even with different people I talk to every day, it’s like even within our partner community, it’s a pretty wide dispersion of how deeply people actually understand, okay, wait, what?


What is this platform thing exactly? How does it work? How are the incentives? Why do we do this? What should be our strategy if we’re a participant in this ecosystem? How should we be thinking about our relationship, not just with the platform company as sort of like a spoken hub, but how do we think about our relationship with all of the other points that are a part of this universe? There’s just a lot of gaps out there and it’s and it’s also like not static either. I mean, this is one of the things like you know, I think we talked a bit about this, you know, the last time we were together too is. There’s been such innovation in these past couple of years with technology products to help facilitate new kinds of motions within these ecosystems. When we look at products like Reveal and Crossbeam that initially just, OK, let’s optimize this process of looking at overlaps in customers or opportunities or prospects. OK, that’s really cool. But now that we’re doing that in a systematically digital way, being able to then start to trigger all sorts of fascinating insights, automation from that, when you start to look at ways you can do that aren’t just point to hub looks, but oh, what are ways that, okay, it’s not just like the reveal overlaps between that particular ISV and HubSpot, but it’s the reveal overlaps between that ISV and other ISVs, or between that ISV and other solutions or services partners.


This technology is just new. And so the playbooks, you know, for what we can even achieve with this from the business side of platforms, they’re kind of being written as we go. So, I mean, it’s just a really exciting, innovative time, but it also is a great opportunity to say like, okay, as we collectively are figuring this out, how do we document this? How do we like, you know, share this? How do we get feedback? How do we keep learning from each other?


Shruthi Prakash

Maybe Kelly, if I could ask you a question, right? Let’s say is once a year kind of report good enough and where I come from in that is that, let’s say platforms are so dynamic. And I think all of us here know that, let’s say putting a definition to this has been, you know, more and more complex as we go. So how do you sort of address that and were there any, let’s say, older notions of platforms that were broken in this process? 


And maybe if I could just add an example here, I think we had Sangeet Choudhary in our episode a little bit earlier, and he was speaking about the fact that, let’s say network effects as a topic or a metric to assess how good or bad a platform is, doesn’t maybe hold the validity as it did probably a couple of years ago. So just wanted to understand if you’ve seen any trends in what platforms are, how you measure these platforms and so on with this report.


Kelly Sarabyn

Yeah, I think that to Scott’s point, there’s a deep lack of knowledge not only with people working in partnerships, but if you look at other functions within a company that need to really be bought in on this. So if you ask a typical SaaS CRO, what is a platform or what is an ecosystem, if you ask 1,000, you’re going to get 1,000 different answers probably. So I think this.


Simone Cicero 

Which is good, by the way, right? It’s good because there is so much diversity in the industry.


Kelly Sarabyn 

I think this process of having this conversation in the broader community of executives across all functions within the partnerships field, it needs to be ongoing. So it just has to keep going. And to your point, I think that if you look back over the last three years even, you’ve seen a lot of transformation and I anticipate the next three years that will only be accelerated. So I think those conversations are going to continue to evolve, I do think there’s something very lasting about the core platform business model that is worth understanding. And I don’t think that core dynamics is going to change. But what I do think is rapidly changing and organizations, the largest tech companies in the world are trying to figure out is how do we adjust to the fact that, you know, what we call partners are impacting the entire customer journey and there’s different partner types and they’re involved in the same customer account and we’re sitting at the middle, how do we orchestrate this? It’s just something you hear over and over when you talk to these extremely large tech companies that are working on that problem today. So I think two years from now we’re going to have some of those answers dialed on and then there will be another thing that people are trying to work out. So it is an exciting time. It’s exciting to be part of this and be watching it grow because I think it is really in a state of transformation right now.


Simone Cicero

Right. I was thinking to a reflection that spurred from reading the report that I would pose the question in a way that is more or less like this. So should everybody be thinking about SaaS and technical platforms and marketplaces right now? Or is it something that is still applicable only to a particular part of the industry or the market?


The question is, how pervasive is this? So is something that everybody should be thinking about? Or maybe there are some categories in industries that are much less digital, let’s say, that are not going to be touched by this revolution. Or this is something that really everybody should be thinking about?


Kelly Sarabyn 

And so I think that, yes, everybody should be thinking about it. I think you even see companies that are not SaaS companies like Walmart or L’Oreal investing in these marketplaces and these platforms. And I think that’s only going to continue to happen. I do think not everyone should be trying to be a platform. I think that’s a mistake you see in early-stage startups is they think, well, that’s where the money is, which is true but every product cannot be a platform. It just doesn’t make sense. But you need to understand the dynamics of the platform to go off it. I do think it’s a good call out. And this is what we saw in the data in the report. There are some industries where this journey is not as far as along. And one is where you have highly regulated data. So FinTech, for example, health care. Even there, it’s really interesting if you look, and you probably know this if you’re ever go to the doctor yourself, right? There’s been a leap forward in electronic resources for the patient experience. But HR is another one that’s lagged. Again, where you see this like personal data, it’s been not as fast as say marketing or sales technology or IT to build like these thousands and thousands of integrations. So in the report, you did see companies that were in those industries were just not as far along on the journey. But having said that, even those companies at this point still have ecosystems around them.


Scott Brinker

Yeah, I think what Kelly, it’s a really key point here that not every company should be a platform, particularly early in their life cycle. But I think understanding the dynamics of how platform companies are working. I mean, I’m biased because I get to see this every day with small companies and startups that are coming into the HubSpot ecosystem. Like picking an ecosystem or picking two ecosystems and like really tailoring your initial go-to-market – even like the product market fit to a particular ecosystem is a fantastic way for companies to get a foothold and to grow in a more focused way.


I have this very strange hobby of collecting all the little logos of all these MarTech companies around the world. It’s over 13,000 at this point – we’ve probably woefully undercounted. One of the big challenges for anyone who has a great idea for a new market company these days is like, OK, well, even if I’ve got a great concept and I’ve got a great product, I’ve got a way I can innovate – how do I break through all this noise? And the only way to do that is you’ve got to find a way to focus. And so coming into an ecosystem, understanding that ecosystem, understanding those customers particularly well, making sure your pitch, your capabilities really match to that, then understanding the other players in that ecosystem. Are there other ISVs that I’m complementary to who can help me grow in this ecosystem? Are there those services and solutions partners who can really help me accelerate there. I just think that the more you have an understanding as an entrepreneur, how these ecosystems are actually operating and what you can ask, because we get people ask us for all sorts of wonderful things. They wish we could wave a magic wand and give them. And if I could wave a magic wand and give it to them, I would, but that just that’s not feasible, making sure that they’re just informed and understanding like, okay, this is the reality of how these ecosystems work. This is the incentive structure. This is the operational structure behind it. And then they’re able to develop a strategy and a go-to-market approach that, yeah, really is gonna have the right expectations and really be able to work with that structure.


Simone Cicero 

So can we say that if you, whatever you do as a company, let’s say that you have a possibility to build some kind of digital endpoint to your services or products. So it could be an app or an API, whatever. And you can also build a marketplace of services on top of your products. So these are the two, if I’m not wrong, let’s say these are the two major patterns that emerge from the from the report, right? So one is what we call technical platforms and service marketplaces. But in reality, I mean, everybody, even if you do, I don’t know, retail, or if you do healthcare, or of course, caveats apply when it comes to regulation and so on. But technically, as a company, you should be thinking, even if you are not a digital company, or maybe you are not doing ERP, or maybe you’re not doing, I don’t know, CRM, or things like that, which can be basically totally digital processes, you should be thinking about wrapping your stuff into apps or APIs and looking into services, marketplaces, also from a perspective of distribution. 


So I’m curious to hear your point of view, Scott, because you are so much into this idea of, how marketing is evolving. To what extent, being part of an ecosystem is a distribution strategy, that every company should be thinking about, either building an ecosystem which is very hard, very complex, but at least being part of ecosystems as a distribution and go-to-market strategy.


Scott Brinker

Yeah, well, I mean, the funny thing is, is once you start looking at the world through ecosystem goggles, you realize actually, yeah, I mean, the whole world is nothing but ecosystems, you know, so picking one that’s like an adjacent thing that any industry should be thinking about is the AdTech space. These are ecosystems within ecosystems. Obviously, you have the major players like Google and Meta and their particular networks. But now you have all these other networks that are specialized collections of publishers, different channels. We have all sorts of amazing things happening here with retail media. One of the interesting things that has happened is, of course, third-party identifiers such as cookies, the change that happened with mobile apps and tracking a few years back. All that got disrupted. And so on the back of that, you’re now seeing a lot of innovation around other new kinds of identity networks. How do we be able to share identity in a more privacy-oriented way across different ad networks? You then actually have the data dimension of this. When I think of companies like LiveRamp that have built amazing marketplaces in the consumer space for having different data sets that capture different facets of either demographic information or consumer behavior information. How do we pull that in? How do we map it with our own first party data that we have of our customers? Then how do we map that to these right networks, have the right IDs, be able to track? I mean, this is seriously complex stuff. 


And you don’t have to be a software company. If you are a company sort of like in a major consumer environment, where you’re trying to reach consumers through all these different digital platforms, that’s all ecosystems. And I think where you see marketing organizations that have just gotten really savvy about being able to understand those dynamics and the technology that they can leverage. It’s a competitive advantage because it is a complex field. But if you start to like organize your MarTech capabilities in support of that and then you sort of build that into your strategy. Yeah, there’s a lot of creative options you can bring to that.


Shruthi Prakash 

If I can maybe sort of stem from that, right? Like let’s say from an organization point of view and the strategy that it builds, I think I wanted to double click a bit on how does the organization structure, let’s say need to evolve for supporting these platform ecosystems as you see today. And let’s say our partnership capabilities becoming sort of ubiquitous in these teams. Does it need to get there? How do you see it? Both of you, yeah.


Kelly Sarabyn 

Yeah, so you’re asking about the internal structure of the partnership team and what needs to happen. Yeah, I think that’s a huge challenge and problem in the industry. And one of the interesting things, partnership leaders, the partner on the report collected data on the org charts of these top 50 companies when it comes to partnerships. And one of the interesting things was the top nine companies all had a unified partner leader.


Meaning that all of the partner teams were reporting up to that one partner leader. And then in the 50 overall, it was 64%. And then the other 46% had say a head of solutions partners, a head of tech partners. And I think that, you know, one of the common challenges is partner teams get siloed. Right? So they try to run this distribution play, but then they can’t get marketing support. They’re not embedded in sales and it kind of falls down. Alternatively, you could have someone in a, you know, a partnership seems reporting to sales and then the connection to product on say the tech partner side, but also on the solutions partner side starts to thin and fray. And then you have the salespeople trying to push bad integrations or you have the solutions partners frustrated with the APIs that are available. 


So really organizations being able to embed this across all the different functions within their organization and establish clear feedback loops and lines of communication and collaboration is absolutely essential to taking advantage of this opportunity because otherwise it ends up creating at a minimum, a lot of friction, but at the worst you have people working at odds so you can have like a sales team KPI done one thing and a partner team KPI done something else and they’re coming up against each other – which still happens a lot in the industry.


So I think that making sure that you’re, the ecosystem mindset is embedded across the organization and has representation in the C-suite, whether that’s because there is a chief partner officer or because the CEO is so bought in that they’ve embedded it as a requirement across all their stakeholders. One of those needs to happen to really fully take advantage.


Scott Brinker

You had a professor who said that the only thing I remember from this professor is like one sentence and it was structure dictates behavior. So if we can step back at this and we can look from a strategic perspective and say, okay, whoa, this ecosystem model is now core to the company strategy. This ecosystem model, it isn’t just about these point, you know, hub connections, but it’s about the connections across the different points together.


If you buy into that strategy, if that’s going to be like, okay, this is the future, this is how we are going to compete, then if you don’t adjust the structure of the organization to truly serve that strategy and treat it as the first class pillar of what your strategy is, yeah, to Kelly’s point, you’re just gonna, you know, even if people can articulate it on a great PowerPoint slide, in the actual day-to-day operations, they’re gonna keep running into these. Yeah, just sort of disjoints and mismatches. And yeah, that’s challenging.


Simone Cicero 

To some extent, can we say that maybe this is challenging from, you know, if you look at the perspective of the tech company, the SaaS company, for example, right, the ones that you have been targeting mostly with the investigation, let’s say, for them, it’s such a central topic, that platform that looks like it’s very imbued in everything they do. So if I think about, for example, the typical trio of responsibilities that a SaaS company have, like growth, marketing, engineering, and product design. Thinking through the platform lens is something that should be like a shared responsibility more than a responsibility of a single, because it’s part growth, it’s part product. You, for example, Scott, you spoke about this idea of joint customer needs. 


So if your research cannot research into how your product interacts with others, you’re failing badly, especially if you’re a tech SaaS company. So for them, I understand that it’s a complex endeavor. There’s a lot of need to push this thinking at the organizational level and be sure that everybody speaks the same language. And these three responsibilities are very much kind of, how can I say, this you know, exist around a shared concept of what our company as a platform is. 


But from the perspective of the, maybe the non-tech companies or the companies that are less capable of becoming the pivot of the ecosystem, rather they are maybe trying to reach their customers through existing ecosystems. Can we say that understanding platform is at least very essential for the people responsible for sales, go to market, and marketing because today, as you said, the ad tech ecosystem is also becoming more, sorry, the advertising ecosystem is becoming much more competitive. 


So how do you distribute your products and services if you don’t understand the several potential plan, several potential plans you can use to distribute them? And therefore, should it be maybe a responsibility for growth and a marketing team to really understand what’s going on?


Scott Brinker

I mean, I humbly suggest that those pillars of like, and maybe I can just combine like the product and the engineering, there’s sort of that side of it. What is our actual product and its value proposition to customers? And then there’s, yeah, the growth and the go-to-market side of it. You’re right, as we were saying earlier, like as a platform company, like if you can get those things holistically aligned around your platform strategy, yes, that is important.


But even if you’re participating in an ecosystem, I still feel like the product side of that is a huge lever. And again, I’ll just go to a narrow example from the HubSpot ecosystem, because I know it well, is we have SaaS companies, like say, pick a company like Webflow. They actually have a great platform on their own. They have their own ecosystem around them. But when they look to partner deeply with HubSpot, they’re going to have to do a lot of work.


There’s a whole dimension of this from just a product perspective of like, OK, what are going to be the use cases that our joint customers are going to want between Webflow and HubSpot? How should they work? And it might be very different than joint use cases that might be for a different kind of platform that Webflow is interacting with elsewhere in their ecosystem. But I think really crafting that, because then that feeds in to the growth, the go-to-market side of it, don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole set of other things that need to happen operationally around like, okay, well, how are we going to jointly market this if we’re going to have some sort of co-sell or co-service program, you know, what are going to be the mechanics of that, the enablement for that. But I think going into that with the core value proposition of oh, by the way, this is from a product to product perspective, the value of these two things working together. It feels super important. 


It feels like if you like leave out either side, like, you know, if you leave off the sales and marketing, the go to market side, sadly, in a lot of ecosystems, it’s not the case that you build it and they come. I guess actually that’s my complaint about software in general, you know, for like 50 years. It’s like, you build it. They don’t necessarily beat a path to your door, you know, so you need that side, but the flip side is true too. There’s just so much competition for so many things out there that if you can’t create a really valuable joint proposition, just putting a whole bunch of sales and marketing energy behind it is going to be limited.


Kelly Sarabyn

Yeah, I’ll just second that because I think that, you know, if you look at the data from this report, if you look at all 50 companies, on average they have 1500 apps, but if you look at the top five, they have an average of 5000 apps. So if you look at it from the point solution as a strategy to get distribution out of that ecosystem, the far and away best thing that you can do is find an unmet need from the platform that you can fill because that’s going to attract their sellers to you because they’re, you’re meeting a need that they might have when they’re having conversations in the marketplace. It’s going to stand out, right? If you’re just the 5,000 sales enablement tool in a marketplace and you’re listed number 50, it’s not going to be a great distribution. You’re putting a huge burden on your marketing team. They’re going to have to create something out of, out of scratch, essentially.


So I do think that product component and making sure that you’re looking at the product market fit of the ecosystem that you wanna heavily invest in has to be a part of the strategy.


Shruthi Prakash 

One of the points I had noted it down while I was reading the report as well, which sort of stood out to me. I hadn’t thought about it before that, about the fact that there was distribution, which was, let’s say, against partnerships in the sense that, let’s say, if there were a certain number of sales employees, there were so many higher number of marketers versus there were so many, you know such a low number of partners in comparison to sales employees versus marketers, right, which I found really interesting. I hadn’t thought about it before. So it was interesting to note. I think what Simone and I were discussing as well, I think it will be nice to also touch upon some of the other topics that were covered in the report. So maybe I think proliferation and nicheification was something that was spoken about often. So just wanted to hear both of your thoughts on that.


Where is the, let’s say trends heading in that direction? What are the different challenges that you see and so on?


Simone Cicero 

Especially if I can add a bit, I’m thinking about as a customer that uses so many platforms, you know, what are the implications also from the fact that there is so much, such a big proliferation of products that every product is building an ecosystem. So how do you put the pieces together, you know, in building your support systems for your productivity and you’re using like 10 apps and each of those apps have their own ecosystem that they leverage on. So it becomes very complex to make things work together and compose your ideal solution.


Scott Brinker

Wow, you are definitely using all of my favorite words here. There’s composability. There’s integration. See, this is why I love having these chats with you. So it’s interesting. Again, if I think about it in the context of marketing departments, which is where I know the MarTech stack better than I do even other departments, for like 10 years, they’ve been surveying marketers about like, OK.


What’s the thing that’s most important to you in your MarTech products that you select? And always, I mean, it’s been universal for 10 years, like in the top three, if not the very top one, it’s like, oh, it’s the integration. I need this stuff to work together. What is surprising is for a good five, six, seven years of that past decade, so many of the companies actually in Maritech refused to prioritize integrations. This was such a desync where I think, and I say this as a former product person myself, it can be all too easy when you are creating a product that you have an innovation you think you’re solving. You’re thinking about the stuff you’re building. And even if you kind of recognize that, oh yeah, there are other things that we’re gonna have to work with and be related to.


It doesn’t feel by default as the sexy part of it. Like the sexy part of it is the next new thing that we’re doing, you know? And so somehow in the, just the jockeying of, you know, what got prioritized, very often like integrations would be near the bottom of the list. In fact, you still would have a bunch of cases where mean, I even see this today, people outsource it. They’re like, yeah, we’re building an amazing product. Oh, we need an integration to this major platform because that’s going to be key to our distribution strategy. And they’re like, oh, yeah, can we outsource that to someone who can maybe build that for us? And of course, when they do outsource it, it tends to not be particularly good, and there’s no sense of ownership. 


But what is encouraging to me is over these past few years in particular, I think the memo finally got through, because now we talk to more and more companies that integration, they recognize this is core to their product market fit. It’s not just like a distribution element, because if you don’t actually have the fit of being able to solve what people need, the distribution is just going to have this tremendous uphill battle, this tremendous friction.


And I think one of the things you’ve seen, and this came actually, the light bulb went off for me a few years ago from some earlier research that Kelly had done, and you sort of see it come back full force, if you just look at the proliferation of marketplaces and their visibility within SaaS companies. I mean, it used to be that there were very few SaaS companies that if you went to their main navigation and you tried to look for integrations or marketplace or anything like it, it just wasn’t even there. And then what you started to see a few years ago is, OK, yeah, all the major companies, of course, yeah, this became a very prominent component of the presentation is, and I’m trying to remember the exact report, Kelly might remember this one, is something like even 30 some odd percent of the early stage like series A startups now had a marketplace, something like in their, you know, website that was like, yeah, by the way, this is the things we integrate with and you can look at how it integrates. And so I think it’s, I don’t think we’re at Nirvana yet, but I think we’ve now sort of hit a tipping point where most product companies now are treating that sort of integration dimension of, as part of basically the core product value proposition. And what you get on the other side of that is you make it easier and easier for when companies are saying, yeah, okay, I have these three products. Do they connect together? The answer probably from all three sides is yes, here’s how it is and what else is in your sack and you can connect it here too. And so it’s improving.


Simone Cicero

And what is the, Kelly, maybe you can jump in, but what is the, how can I say, the, I’m looking for a word, but essentially the key thing that is going to unlock this. I mean, you know, is it going to be AI? Is it going to be another type of technology or no code technologies? How is it going to happen?


Kelly Sarabyn 

Yeah, it’s a really interesting question. Because at my last company, I was leading marketing for an embedded iPaaS called Pandium, which that product was selling to SaaS companies to use the tool to basically build their integrations. And they had a little, little different model where they were taking care of a lot of the infrastructure, like the OAuth and things like that, but that people were actually coding the integrations themselves on top of that infrastructure, while there’s products like Tray.io and Workato that build the entire integration essentially through connectors. But the other thing we’ve seen is the rise of unified APIs. There’s like merge.dev. There’s others that are cropping up in a lot of different industries. And this is an attempt to solve this problem that Scott was talking about, because I agree with him over the last few years, you’ve seen a lot of transformation, but I think it is still something that companies struggle with because often the engineers, the product people join the company to work on this cool problem that the company’s solving. 


So people don’t wanna be put off and be like, well, you work on the integrations to other products. It’s a constant challenge. And I think there’s also been an open source. I think it’s from Singer that is trying to make kind of components that would solve this. But the reality is the problem hasn’t been solved from a technical perspective, I think what we’ve seen is the rise of REST API as this common standard across SaaS companies. And even that’s reduced the need significantly for custom dev work. But I do think there’s money flooding into this question to try to figure out, is there a way that these integrations could be built with less of a lift?


So exciting space to watch. I think there’s a long way to go in that regard, because it’s incredibly complex technical problem. It also requires a certain alignment in the way that the REST API naturally came to be the default standard in SaaS. So we’ll see where it goes. But I do think that would only kind of put fuel to the whole alignment around the business model.


Simone Cicero 



But do you see more consolidation going forward or more disintegration of the industry moving forward? Because I feel like we are also just out of this low interest rate period and we have been watching like a Cambrian explosion of products. And now for several reasons, it can be, for example, that we are at the end of a cycle of adoption and there’s less cheap money.


Many companies are winding down somehow. So the question is, from a perspective of a customer that adopts platforms and ecosystems of products, do you see more consolidation coming up? So maybe lesser, a smaller number of products that are more integrated, or maybe more proliferation of products, or maybe a third way, somehow talking to a chatbot that that figures this out and brings you the results back.


Scott Brinker

Yeah, it’s a really interesting time for this. So at least looking at the data from this from the MarTech side, you are seeing both things happening simultaneously. There’s absolutely consolidation happening at the platform level, which that’s what you’d expect. You need a consolidation in order for it because there’s only so many ecosystems that a company can integrate to and integrate to well.


Simone Cicero 

Network effects.


Scott Brinker

But there’s this kind of fascinating dichotomy to that, that almost the more consolidation you get then around a small number of dominant platforms, actually the easier you make it to then have a proliferation of niche products within that ecosystem. And to me, the classic example of this has always been things like the iOS and the Apple Store. I mean Apple’s actually being sued right now by the US government. They’re that consolidated. So they’ve achieved massive consolidation, but in some ways that consolidation on that platform has allowed this incredible proliferation. Now, some of those apps are big businesses onto themselves.


Whole bunch of them are these, you know, really niche things or maybe in cases someone’s doing is their own little side project And I think you see that, you know, but the key to it there is right I mean regardless of how many things there are in the Apple App Store the ease by which anyone can like say I like this app this app this app I put on my phone and it’s there’s not a lot of cognitive load in doing that. 


Simone Cicero 

Yeah, maybe I use it just once every month or every year even and still it’s fine.


Scott Brinker

Yeah. And I think you see that pattern is where we’re probably going to go with most platforms, certainly in the B2B space. And I agree with you. It’s been an interesting past decade of how the SaaS explosion has happened. Normally, you’re used to someone creates a platform, and then there’s an explosion of stuff around it.


SaaS, we’ve basically done it backwards. We’ve had an explosion of all these things. And then we’re like, you know, it might actually be good if this stuff worked together. So I think it’s taken a little longer, but no.


Kelly Sarabyn 

I think too, moving forward, it’s interesting to think about where the market pressure is coming from. If you look at it from the customer’s perspective, other things being equal, they prefer consolidation because it’s easier. I don’t want to deal with multiple vendors. I don’t want to do multiple searches for a new product. It takes time. It’s not fun usually. So the question to platforms too, I think there’s a huge potential for AI to solve a lot of the friction in that process that would enable more niche solutions to flourish while removing some of the pains that drive people to want consolidation. So now if you go to a marketplace, there’s pretty much no SaaS marketplace that is excellent at doing personal recommendations. But I feel like all marketplaces are investing in that now.


And if AI really comes to have the power to make awesome recommendations and enable a customer to easily find what it is they want, one-click purchase, then the friction around disaggregation of the tools becomes lesser. I think the technical issues I was talking about, if those also make headway and being solved, that’s also going to reduce the friction of what it takes to build. So I think there can be a future potentially where you have more and more proliferation of tools, but the customer experience feels more like consolidation.


Simone Cicero

So it’s like the explosion of supernova, like you have this black hole that collapses itself and then explodes because essentially that’s how it feels, right? At the same time we have so many apps, so many solutions and on the other side the emergence of this powerful integration technology that is going to wrap everything else and it really feels like there are these kind of frictions between these two trends. So I’m really curious to see how it ends up.


I have the feeling that it’s going to end up in a big explosion at some point in the industry. So that’s what I feel. Can we use a few minutes of the conversation to talk about another, I think, I feel very important part of the report that we didn’t discuss very thoroughly so far, which is services ecosystems. 


I think everybody was into plugins, apps and marketplaces of apps. And now we are seeing the pattern of marketplace is moving away from consumer aspects, like in travel or something like that, and moving a lot into B2B. So what is your feeling about how this part of the industry is evolving? So how important is becoming, how service marketplace is becoming versus traditional sourcing approaches for services? Should companies doing consulting, for example, or other types of services look more into these opportunities. 


And as I’m saying that, I’m saying companies and myself, I’m thinking about maybe it’s going to be also about democratizing a lot. So it’s less about service companies and more about freelancers or service providers that are on their own. So what are the impacts of these transformations on the service industry?


Kelly Sarabyn

I think it’s quite large. And if you look at the cloud retail and marketplaces, services are a key part of those marketplaces. And there’s a lot of innovation around services companies to not only sell their own services in the marketplace, but to package up the ISVs that are on that platform and sell them as well. 


And so you know, we did see through this research that not all of these top 50, I think it was somewhere around 80% had services, either directories or marketplaces. A lot of them are just directories. But almost a third of them had a unified marketplace, meaning it listed the apps, ISVs, and all the services partners in the same place. 


So I do think we’re definitely seeing movement in the industry to kind of package up and provide that more digital experiences on selling services as well. And I think that’s going to continue to move in that direction. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but I definitely think that it’s behind the apps in terms of the role of the marketplace, but in the last few years, you’ve definitely see it becoming more and more important.


Scott Brinker

And something I’d just add in on that too is because, I don’t know, this has been a phenomenon I’ve been fascinated with is the pace of technology just keeps accelerating. You know, the rate of innovation is like, it’s insane. And we’re seeing this right now with the AI side of things at a pace that’s unprecedented. 


People don’t change quickly. Organizations don’t change quickly. This whole field of change management is, it’s real. That’s a big hurdle. And so I think one of the data points that Garther shared last year was you have this plummeting reported utilization rate in martech stacks. People have these companies have these like massive martech stacks with all these state-of-the-art capabilities and the utilization like it went from like 60% down to 40% and then this past year it was like 33%. And I don’t, contrary to others in the industry, I don’t think that’s actually so much a problem about the technology. 


I think it’s the fact that we are under-invested in the human side, the services side, the training side. And this is such a huge opportunity then for these services companies, particularly within an ecosystem where, okay, we deeply understand this technology and we don’t just understand the core platform technology, we understand all the best ISVs, we’re able to like architect these solutions together. There’s just so much value that those service providers can bring in a platform ecosystem.


And to be honest, from a platform company, that then becomes crucial. Because if you just continue to let those Gartner numbers go in that direction of like the utilizations from 60 to 40 to 33, eventually someone says like, well, why are we even paying all this money for this software? Because we aren’t actually using it. And so I think platform companies have a very vested interest in like, OK, let’s make sure we’re getting the right support to companies. And it’s not just about you know, like the support of how do I configure something in the product? 


It’s how do I think about this stuff? How do I incorporate it into my operations and my strategy, which is what all these solutions and services partners, these consultants, these SIs, these agencies, this is, this is an incredible value add that they bring to it. And so I think that’s one of the reasons you see platform companies like, okay, yeah, no, we really need to boost the visibility and facilitate the connections to those right providers.


Simone Cicero 

Yeah, because it’s also essential for the adoption of a certain solution, right? 


Scott Brinker

Adoption, the success, the outcomes, yeah.


Simone Cicero 

So if you don’t have this bundle, you can have all the software in the world. But if customers just download that and don’t actually maybe activate a couple of subscriptions but never really step up their adoption, it’s going to be very hard to kind of monetize over the long term and so on. 


So really, so the message for me is, if you are, even if you are a technology company, you should be thinking about actively facilitating and generating an ecosystem of service providers that can be complimentary to your products as you distribute it on the several platforms or maybe marketplaces that exist. Yeah.


Shruthi Prakash

I was just also thinking about what Jason Fried was talking about Simone and how maybe, you know, even SaaS platforms might sort of as of today, let’s say it’s primarily in a subscription sort of model, but even the entire pricing model around SaaS might change. Maybe it’s products that are bought once and just sort of continued to be used instead of subscribed monthly. 


So it was interesting to hear both of your thoughts on how this is going to shape as well. 


I wanted to, as we come to the close of the podcast, also jump into our breadcrumb section and ask you a little bit about if you have any suggestions of movies, books, podcasts, anything that has inspired you in your journey that our listeners can learn from.


Kelly Sarabyn 

Well, I can share a few books I’ve read recently that I think are interesting learnings. One is Going Infinite by Michael Lewis about the Sam Begman Fried. I think there’s a lot of themes in there that are always relevant to tack around hype cycles and social proof and how decisions are often made. And I think it’s, as always by Michael Lewis, very well written.


I definitely think there’s a lot of insights there for people who work in the tech industry. There’s also two books published recently, one ecosystem-led growth by Bob Moore, who’s the founder of Crossbeam, and another one’s Nearbound, I think, by Jared Fuller from Reveal, which those are both account mapping solutions, but they’re both kind of delving into this new world of ecosystems and those types of plays and strategies, so worth checking out.


Scott Brinker

I would say, boy, I have not had my hands on a good physical book here in a while, but two newsletters that I’ve been reading religiously, one I suspect probably most folks already know, but I’ll plug it anyways, Ethan Molek, the professor from Wharton, who’s just kind of become like the beacon of like, okay, here’s what’s currently happening in AI for how you actually use this in business. 


I feel like I should plug his book that’s coming out here – Co-intelligence. And then a little bit of a niche one. So there’s a fellow, JP Castlin, who writes a newsletter, Strategy in Praxis, that he’s –  A bit of a contrarian in the strategy world. And he very much like, you know, so many strategy things are like, okay, it’s a very deterministic plan sort of thing. His whole approach to it is around, no, actually, this stuff is complex and like the Cynefin framework meaning of the word complex. 


And if you don’t sort of like develop strategies in a way that are designed to be adaptive to that, you’re probably fooling yourself. And the reason that one always sticks with me is, I mean to me, this is the whole point of an ecosystem. You know, companies inherently get deterministic in what they do, and that’s why they always have a certain fragility when there are other changes that are happening around them in the marketplace. An ecosystem by definition is the antithesis of that. It is a complex thing. So like when you have thousands of different companies, okay, at any given moment when a change happens, some will respond, some won’t, some will be winners, some will be losers, but the ecosystem as a whole tends to adapt very quickly to new changes and new opportunities. 


And so, oh no, sorry, connecting those two dots together.


Simone Cicero

That’s amazing, I think, because it’s a very good way to frame the situation we seem to be living. It’s seemingly impossible to manage the dimension of this technological development that we are seeing. Looking into that from a perspective of complex thinking and approaching it from a perspective of a natural evolving system may offer some kind of keys for us to relate to that without this urge to understand what’s going on. Because it certainly feels like we are, as I said before, we are at this moment before the supernova explosion, right? 


Everything is kind of collapsing on itself in terms of how the industry has been working in the last 20 years. And so the question is, what’s coming up after the supernova explosion? How is it gonna be the landscape of technology and services and after this kind of collapse between AI and modularity and APIs and super easy ways to connect pieces together. 


So really, I think the metaphor of looking through nature lands and ecosystems and using the real meaning of ecosystems as we talk about them. It’s a very good hint. So thank you for bringing this up.


 I mean, thank you so much. I hope you had a good time with us on the podcast. You enjoyed.


Scott Brinker

Very much so.


Kelly Sarabyn 

Thank you for having us.


Simone Cicero

Thank you so much. Thank you Shruthi for your questions.


Shruthi Prakash

Thank you, thanks both of you for joining, it was really nice having you all.


Simone Cicero 

Thank you so much. And yeah, for our listeners, of course, you will find everything, including the amazing recommendations that Kelly and Scott have shared just in the breadcrumb sessions, but also links to the reports on the website. So if you go to boundaryless.io/resources/podcasts, you will find this episode in the home. And until we speak again, of course, remember to think Boundaryless.