14 December, 2023

How Gurtam defined the new SaaS category with flespi

Pioneering the future: the telematics landscape will never be the same.

Gurtam’s US-based office is located in Belmont, Massachusetts, just a few miles west of the City of Cambridge. While Cambridge is known to many because of Harvard University and MIT, it’s also home to many prominent technology companies, including HubSpot. In September of this year, 11,000 people attended HubSpot’s INBOUND 2023 - the largest conference dedicated to Inbound Marketing. That same month, Gurtam organized its first flespi partner conference, which brought together our customers from 25 countries in Europe, Asia, North, and South America.

You may ask - what’s the connection between HubSpot, Gurtam, and their events in unrelated industries? The answer is that both HubSpot and Gurtam’s flespi platform defined absolutely new SaaS (Software as a Service) categories with their products.

hubspot inbound marketing

Hubspot got its start in 2006. In the 2000s “SaaS” was not a common term. However, thanks to Salesforce and its first cloud-based CRM, SaaS solutions were starting to gain momentum. Hubspot famously defined Inbound Marketing as a new SaaS category. Dozens of new providers have since flooded the space. 

Gurtam’s first product was Wialon - a fleet telematics platform, which was first released in the mid-2000s. Initially, it was offered only as an on-premise installation software. In 2009, Wialon became the first fleet telematics platform to be provided as a SaaS solution. At the time, many competitors assumed this delivery model would just work for resource-intensive fleet telematics applications. There was a strong conviction among fleet telematics software companies that a web-based application would be too laggy and unreliable. Of course, now you’d be hard-pressed to find a solution in this space that would not be offered in the SaaS delivery model. And Gurtam led this transition with Wialon 14 years ago!

Before flespi came out in 2017, no developer building telematics solution or service could imagine there would be a commercially available telematics back-end as a service. And flespi came to be just that. Instead of building a telematics application from scratch, any developer could leverage flespi as a foundation to build on top and get their solution to market (on average) in half the time and at half the cost relative to if they were to build it from scratch. Flespi came to represent the new SaaS category.

flespi conference

A significant benefit of being a creator of a new SaaS category is that you get (much more likely than not) to dominate it. That’s the case with HubSpot in the Inbound Marketing category, Salesforce in the CRM category, AWS in cloud computing, Netflix in on-demand video streaming. The downside is that it’s always hard to do. And the following is a key reason why.

In 1966, marketing and advertising legend Eugene Schwartz came out with the book Breakthrough Advertising. In it, Eugene defined five stages of customer awareness, which became a popular framework to help organize marketing efforts in almost any type of business:

  1. Unaware: Potential customers don’t know about the problem you solve.

  2. Problem Aware: They know they have a problem, but don’t know there are solutions.

  3. Solution Aware: They know of some solutions to their problem but aren’t yet aware of your solution.

  4. You Aware: They’ve heard of your solution but may not be considering buying from you.

  5. Deeply Aware: They know a lot about your solution and are considering buying or already have bought from you.

Let’s think about it. If the solution you came up with fits an already existing category, stages one and two above are already completed for you. If you release a new fleet management application or pet tracking or roll out a hot-dog stand, you don’t need to educate customers on the problem you solve. On top of that, your potential customers already know that the solutions exist and if they are in the market for one, you are a potential candidate to buy from. Contrast that with coming out with the solution addressing the problem people don’t know they have. Even if they are aware enough to recognize their problem, they don’t necessarily assume there is a solution for it. When it comes to defining a new category, there’s a huge amount of effort and resources associated with getting your potential customers through stages one and two. For this reason, in such cases, success takes years and even decades to achieve. Between 2006 and 2008, HubSpot raised over $18 million. A large chunk of that cash went towards building awareness and demand around something that simply did not exist before, i.e., getting the solution through stages one and two.

Even though flespi has been around since 2017, up to this day, as a person responsible for business development, I regularly come across potential customers that are quite surprised that a solution like flespi exists. Oftentimes, when embarking on the development of a telematics solution, the idea that a commercially available telematics back-end as a service might already exist doesn’t cross the minds of our potential customers. So every time I hear this, it becomes a confirmation that we need to double down on creating awareness, producing thought leadership, and evangelizing not just flespi as a solution, but also the category!

flespi telematics api

Under Aliaksei Shchurko’s leadership, Gurtam has famously grown into a multi-million-dollar telematics software business without attracting any outside investment and doing any M&A deals - 100% organically. Wialon has been profitable since its early days and subsequently allowed to internally fund the development and marketing of flespi. Six years after its launch, flespi is used by over 300 telematics solution companies - from startups to enterprises. Close to 800K IoT/telematics devices are connected to flespi. While a respectable number, the growth trajectory is still at a stage where the momentum is just building up. Only in the last year or two, several competitors appeared to have entered the space. We believe it’s a good thing and a significant milestone on the path of defining the category because it serves as further proof of a product-market fit.

Flespi’s future is bright, and we are excited for all our existing and future customers who are coming along for the ride!