In today’s fast-moving market, adopting the right tools for streamlining sales processes can make the difference in increasing the chances of closing a deal. CPQ software (Configure, Price, Quote) in particular is one of the best choices for companies looking to cut time and resources spent on back-office related tasks and give more time to sellers to focus on just selling.
The CPQ landscape is at the heart of Frank Sohn’s Novus CPQ Consulting Podcast, of which we had the pleasure to be guests for the second time with an interview with our CEO & Founder Gianluca Cagiano.
Listen to the episode for a deep dive on the latest and future developments of Apparound and its benefits for the optimization of the sales processes.
Frank Sohn: My guest today is Gianluca Cagiano, the founder and CEO of Apparound. Gianluca has over 25 years of business experience and founded Apparound in 2008. He lives with his family in Pisa, Italy, and was a previous guest on the CPQ podcast a couple of years ago. I’m very excited to have him back and tell us what happened at Apparound since then. Gianluca, welcome back to the CPQ podcast.
Gianluca Cagiano: Hi Frank, and hi everyone!
Frank: I’m very excited to have you back Gianluca. Before we talk about Apparound, tell me a little bit more about what you did before you founded Apparound.
Gianluca: I’ve been in the software business for more than 25 years. My background is database engineering and I have always been very passionate about data, databases and data driven applications.
In 1995, I was working for an IT company here in Italy that was distributing PCs and hardware components for PCs. I guess you can consider the company like kind of a Dell company at the time. I was in the team of the company who created the first configurator that could allow people to create and assemble a PC with all the necessary custom components, and then we shipped the PC at people’s place. So, I guess that my CPQ experience started at that time, even though the word ‘CPQ’ hasn’t been invented yet. But that’s when I first started to design configurators for applying this technology to real use cases.
Just before founding Apparound, I was running a company that was focused on a web application for data management. We had a form builder, a business process management engine and we were helping our customers to build web applications based on their existing databases. Then, in 2008, I had the idea of starting to move from classic web based applications to mobile applications, as mobile devices were taking a big traction on the market. I thought it was the right time to move to the mobile app business. And that’s when I founded Apparound.
So, Apparound was born out of the idea of creating a mobile application based on existing databases.
Our first module was a Content Management System. But after a while, and relying on my background, we decided to move on and introduce new modules into the application. One of them was the Configure, Price, Quote module, which, at the time, was one unique feature. It was the first CPQ system in the market that was running on mobile devices and that could run even when disconnected from the network. This is one of the features we still carry on Apparound and we consider it to be extremely important, especially for sales people working on the field.
Frank: Very interesting, but let’s go to today. So, my next question is: really, what’s your favorite thing that you tell people about Apparound these days?
Gianluca: Apparound is a solution that is quite different from the other ones on the market. And even the company is filled with very enthusiastic people. We’re very passionate about what we do here. So how are CPQ, it comes with features that are very clear and lean.
The sales journey that we propose with our user interface is very smooth and salespeople really love the product that we put on the market. We also have an exceptional track record for implementation time: Apparound is a solution that can be implemented in a very fast time. We really promise a great experience using our product.
This is what I like to tell people about Apparound these days!
Frank: Excellent. We will talk more about that in a minute. Now a more personal question, first. Since you have so much experience I think listeners, in addition to me, would be interested in knowing: what’s one thing you wish you would have known when you started Apparound that you would do differently in hindsight? Is there anything?
Gianluca: I don’t think there is one particular thing I wish I would have know when I started Apparound. But I’d like to share one recommendation I received at the time when we were a start-up. And this recommendation is to “stay focused on what you do”.
As an entrepreneur, sometimes you might have the tendency of following new ideas. And when you have too many ideas, you may get distracted from the main goal. I think that staying focused on one thing is really a good piece of advice. And looking back, I wish I had followed that advice better.
Frank: I think that makes a lot of sense, especially since CPQ vendors are tempted potentially to branch into a lot of different directions over the last 5-10 years, so I think there’s really some profound truth here.
Since we already talked on a previous podcast episode, I have a little bit different question for you. What are people generally surprised to find out about you Gianluca?
Gianluca: Good question! People are quite surprised to know that I ride my bicycle for 7.500 miles per year, climbing about 360.000 feet. But jokes apart, I’m a very stubborn person and I’m very determined. I really like to understand how things work and to help make things better. I think people working with me can bet that if I give up on something, it means that I really have tried everything and anything before I let it go.
I like to help people, but I also let people do. I’m not in an invasive person, but people know that they can count on me. The people working here, they know that I’m always available to support everyone. I also like to be in touch with customers. So, as a potential customer, don’t be surprised if once in a while I show up in some operative meetings. I like to join these meetings and try to contribute as I can and listen to the customers.
Frank: Excellent. I really liked that and think that’s a good idea for anyone who listens. Let’s switch gears a little bit and let’s talk about Apparound. Can you maybe please provide us with a short summary of the products and services that Apparound offers to anyone who didn’t have the time to listen to the first episode just yet?
Gianluca: Apparound is an amazing CPQ solution with a customer-facing user interface approach. With this regard, we offer a great UI and a great user experience, which is something that really makes Apparound very unique in the market.
It’s a solution that was designed from the beginning around the seller’s needs and it’s very easily adaptable to different industries. We guarantee a very fast implementation time, where simple projects are delivered in less than two months and complex projects are averagely delivered in about four months. I’m talking about projects that require a strong integration with the CRM or ERP systems.
Also, we have a very competitive pricing model, which makes Apparound very attractive, especially for those customers with a very large user base.
In terms of Apparound’s modules, there are three main application modules that we offer in our solution. One is a content sharing system, which allows our users to share sales and marketing contents. Then, of course, we have our CPQ module. And finally, a contract generator tool that enables to convert quotes into contracts and orders. We can also allow electronic signature by integrating the most popular system on the market for electronic signature. This is what Apparound is, and these are our main modules.
Frank: And what industries do you focus on? What customer size to your target, and what geographies are you going after?
Gianluca: In terms of industries, our current main industries are telecommunication, utility and services, but we actually expanding now to two very important industries for us. One is the manufacturing and the other one is fashion.
In terms of customer size, we are focusing on medium-large type of customers. And in terms of geography, we are operating in Europe. And we are also expanding in North America, which is a market that we started developing with a very structured approach since the last year.
This is where we’re focusing in these days.
Frank: Then let’s look at the number of employees that the company has right now and where are they located. How does the growth continue for this year? Is that the expectation or is the current recession that I mentioned earlier impacting your hiring as well?
Gianluca: Starting from the company size, we are about 100 people, most of them are located in Italy, near the town of Pisa when where I’m from, but we also have other people in Milan and Rome plus we have people in UK and in the US.
Regarding your question about the growth, the company is constantly growing, even in 2022. But I must say that the year 2022 has been very challenging, especially here in Europe. We exited a pandemic situation to find ourselves in an energy crisis, in a market with a very high inflation and a war next door. So, I’ve seen better years, I must say, and I’m hopeful that 2023 will be will be better. I mean, they are indicators that it should be better. But the past year have been very challenging. Despite that, we keep growing. And that’s good!
Frank: Great, then let’s look at last year, I think you also received some funding was that last year, roughly 12 months ago or so, please tell us a little bit more about that and what that means for your teams and for your customers.
Gianluca: Back in December 2021 we close a 9 million € investment round with Fondo Italiano di Investimento, one of the most active investment firms for the high-tech space here in Europe. The goal of the operation was, and still is, to support Apparound in the international expansion. That operation, of course, helped us to structure the company for the growth. So, during 2022, we have been focusing on building up our international team, define which regions we wanted to approach and then focus on the go-to-market strategy, which is based on developing a partnership program.
We are now fully executing on the on the plan, we already have several partners that are active on the market. And we aim to extend the partnership with other companies even more along this year and the next years.
We are also investing a lot in making standard connectors for Apparound to easily plug our solution into other CRM systems.
In fact, along 2022, we released some connectors for Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and also for HubSpot. We also keep investing in developing our connectors with other with other systems. And we also think that through our API set, we can easily connect our solution to other systems, so that we can allow our customers to leverage on easy integration with Apparound.
Frank: You were mentioned in the recent Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Configure, Price and Quote Application Suites for a number of years in a row now. Tell me what that does and means for Apparound.
Gianluca: I think it’s really a great recognition and I’m very proud of this achievement. Like you mentioned, we have been in the quadrant since 2018. So, we’ve been there for five times in a row.
I think we are in the quadrant as we have some very unique features. The user interface is one of the exceptional things that Apparound can provide. Our mobile approach also is also extremely important. I trust that expanding geographically and increasing our network of partners, our positioning the quadrant will change for the next years. We keep investing in the product to make it better and we keep listening to the customers and to our partners to always have the best capabilities, so that they are very happy about our technology.
Frank: Got it. Now one thing I have to ask you to Gianluca, as I see in Europe generally more excitement and more interest in sustainability programs, and you mentioned one your website as well, “Apparound Green”. Tell us more about that: why do you do that and what does it do for customers?
Gianluca: Apparound is a 100% green solution, as we implement a paperless sales process. We do care a lot about our environmental impact: we care so much that back in 2016, we moved the company HQs into a self-sufficient green building. So even the company’s HQs are in a location that it’s very green.
Also, part of the energy that we use every day is obtained through solar panels, and the rest comes from renewable energy sources. For our cloud infrastructure, we rely on Microsoft Azure, and as you know, Microsoft is committed to compensate the CO2 emissions to for their cloud facilities.
In terms of contribution to the environment, we also like to support non-profit organizations like Plastic Free, which is an organization that helps keeping our environment clean of plastic. And many times, we participate to events to help collect plastic from the environment. I think being green is really the right thing to do for our dear planet, and we are very happy to be part of these green projects.
In terms of what the customer are asking for, when they’re talking about a green solution, they like to have a totally paperless digital sales solution. With this regard we allow our customers to manage an end-to-end sales process by removing paper, so they don’t use any more physical brochures and stuff like that, as everything is digital. And once we generate quotes and contracts for them, we move them directly into other systems. So, sellers don’t need to print out anything. The sales process is totally managed electronically, and that saves a lot of paper, and everybody is happy to contribute to the to the green cause of making this plan better.
Frank: And since we talk about features and functions, let me ask one more question. What do your customers expect from you regarding subscriptions?
Gianluca: I’d say subscription management is one of the most important topics I will say when we speak to our customers. It’s also a very trendy topic, I will say especially online. I’ve seen our customers developing a lot of online services for their end users and customers, which also imply self-service capabilities. With this regard, we are already offering features which enable subscription management. We are keeping investing in these capabilities to enable our customers to develop online self-service processes for their customers. We are keeping investing to make our product better for that.
Frank: Let me dig a little bit deeper over here because I see from lots of customers and vendors right now. They are saying that usage-based subscriptions become more important to them, is that something that you see as well?
Gianluca: Yes, and in fact, we have been applying this business model to some of our customers, especially for them for those with a very large user base or for customers, they are implementing our CPQ solution into their websites or eCommerce systems. So, when you are in this situation, you will have to definitely change business model and in Apparound we have designed a pricing solution that can satisfy our customers when they need to move in that direction.
Frank: Let me ask the last question concerning these features and functions. And that’s concerning artificial intelligence, more specifically machine learning and deep learning. How important is that for your customers in your solution? And how do you use it?
Gianluca: We do use it. So far, we decided to implement artificial intelligence and machine learning technology for specific parts of our sales processes, implementing particular capabilities to support the front-end users. We are talking about vertical features for specific industries. An example of some implementation is, for instance, reading the ID of a customer to automatically fill in customer information in a form. Another example for the utility industry is to determine certain initial parameter of a quoting procedure by reading an invoice that the seller can log into our system and then we preset the configuration based on the information that we find in the invoice. So in both cases we are talking about our OCR base procedure, but they are powered up by using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.
Regarding the use of AI in the CPQ industry, I still have a dream, which is one day I would like to implement an AI system for supporting the administrator to manage the CPQ Product Catalog configuration and all the rules. It is not a few a feature for the end users, but it’s super useful for the administrator. This is one of the dream that I hope to develop in the next years.
Frank: Wow, that’s very ambitious Gianluca. It would be fantastic, no question about it! Let’s focus the last question more on a little bit shorter term objective. T us a little bit more about what you’re planning the and what customers can expect in the next 12 to 24 months concerning international expansion.
Gianluca: As mentioned before, we are expanding internationally by creating partnerships in local markets. That means that we want to offer our customers in other geographical areas the opportunity to work with us together with local partners. From a cultural point of view, that is a very good situation as a local partner can understand customer needs in a better way. And we can be extremely prompt and ready to offer services to our customers. So, we want to keep developing this relationship with partners. Along these years, we would push a lot with this with this strategy in terms of partners just to identify who they are, I’m talking about local system integrators or software vendors that sell their solutions that are complementary to Apparound, but that can work together with brands that we can offer joint integrated solution to customers. We want to make sure that customers in certain areas can work together with us with local partners that can assist them in a very good way.
Frank: Excellent, I guess that’s a shoutout to every system integrator who’s interested to learn more. What’s a good way listeners can contact you?
Gianluca: I use LinkedIn a lot, I’d suggest using that channel to contact me!