With eight accelerators around the world, and two more set to open shortly, Microsoft has been making significant efforts with startups, working with them to build products and markets — and perhaps on the way discover a Next Big Thing that will help the company get ahead in a new market, after it missed out on taking the lead in areas like smartphones and tablets.
SkyGiraffe, still in private beta, is about a year and a half old, and already has customers in Israel (including a very large food service company and a very large shipping firm) and elsewhere.
"We give enterprise the ability to go mobile, enabling companies to quickly and easily build CRM, ERP, finance, inventory, operational information, and other data-driven applications. There is no coding required, all they have to do is download the platform," Boaz Hecht, the company's CEO, said.
In about 15 minutes, SkyGiraffe users can build an app using any table or stored procedure, publishing it to thousands of users, accessing data from a variety of proprietary or open source — be it Oracle, Microsoft SQL, MySQL or something else.
The newborn apps can work with iOS, Android, or Windows mobile systems. Security is enterprise grade, utilising all the tricks of the trade — forced HTTPS encrypted connections, advanced permission controls, oAuth, and more.
Enterprise mobility management is a hot-button issue these days, as companies seek safe ways to allow users to access data outside the office, on the devices they want to work with, and SkyGiraffe's product sets the tone for Microsoft Ventures' investments.
"Microsoft is all over enterprise, and its salesforce and tech people have had as much experience as anyone else in working with enterprise," Hecht said. "For us, getting this investment is great because it ties us closer to a company that can help us reach more customers. Now that we are ready to scale our sales capabilities, gaining Microsoft as an investor and partner is a great vote of confidence and an unmatched distribution partner to massively increase our trajectory in the enterprise services market."
That view was echoed by Rahool Sood, the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. SkyGiraffe is "an enterprise app, and of course all of the Fortune 500s are Microsoft customers, so we can hopefully connect them with customers and help them grow," Sood said. And, of course, Microsoft now has another product to offer its customers.
While Hecht couldn't discuss Microsoft Ventures' investment itself, he could talk about the conditions Microsoft laid down for the investment: there are none, he said.
"We have full autonomy on the direction we want to go, the tools we use, the way we market, and everything else," he said. "We don't have to use Windows or other Microsoft products. There is no way I could have joined this program if there were such conditions."
That autonomy is a continuation of the conditions SkyGiraffe and other members of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator (formerly the Azure Accelerator) experienced in Israel and the other places where Microsoft has set up accelerators (among them London, Paris, Beijing, Seattle, Bangalore — with all of the accelerators based on Israel's model).
There, too, as in the Microsoft BizSpark program, where SkyGiraffe began its relationship with Microsoft at the end of 2012 (SkyGiraffe graduated the accelerator last May), Hecht said he and his partner Itay Braun were able to do what they wanted, the way they wanted.
"They really do get it when it comes to how startups operate," Hecht said. "For us and others in the accelerator, the relationship with Microsoft is not about money. The help they can give us reaching enterprise customers is so much greater than any monetary investment they could make."