Why this startup is looking forward to competing with Microsoft -- its investor

SkyGiraffe says its product is ready for prime time enterprise use as Microsoft launches a competitor

Microsoft jumped deeper into the enterprise mobile app development space last week with PowerApps, a service that lets ordinary businesspeople build mobile applications that draw on company data.

Microsoft is entering a crowded market that's already home to products from companies like Salesforce and Intuit. Launching a new product in a competitive market isn't a first for the Redmond-based company, but there's an extra wrinkle this time around: it's in the same market as SkyGiraffe, the first startup invested in by the company's Microsoft Ventures arm.

Like PowerApps, SkyGiraffe lets users quickly build applications that visualize and modify company data stored in a variety of systems. It supports integrations with products including SQL Server, Salesforce and Workday. 

SkyGiraffe co-founder and CEO Boaz Hecht says he doesn't see the two companies as head-to-head competitors. While he welcomes Microsoft's entry into the market, he thinks businesses looking for enterprise-grade software are going to be more interested in SkyGiraffe. 

"We haven’t had the opportunity to see a working product end-to-end, but as Microsoft describes it, PowerApps serves the equivalent of Excel consumers and/or maybe Excel power users," Hecht said. 

SkyGiraffe, meanwhile, is aimed at providing tools for IT departments and CIOs, he said. That difference in users is key to why Hecht thinks that his company's product still has a big market opportunity. 

Right now, SkyGiraffe has a number of features that PowerApps hasn't launched yet, even if Microsoft says they're on the roadmap. It integrates with a wide variety of mobile device management systems, including Microsoft Intune and VMware's Airwatch, and also supports Android, which PowerApps doesn't yet. (Microsoft says support for Google's mobile OS is coming later.)

Hecht also said that he thinks one feature of SkyGiraffe will be particularly appealing to enterprises: businesses can keep their data in on-premises systems, without sending it out to the cloud. Right now, PowerApps requires that users -- even those who have an Enterprise plan to access on-premises resources -- send their data through the Azure cloud. 

That may be a non-starter for some security-conscious companies, or just companies that don't want to re-think their architecture. Microsoft said that businesses will be able to keep the entire PowerApps system on-premises once Azure App Service comes to the private cloud using Azure Stack. Until then, SkyGiraffe has the advantage.

"At SkyGiraffe, we are not in the business of asking our clients to change their existing IT infrastructure," Hecht said. "We meet them exactly where they are -- on-prem, in the cloud, or hybrid. Enterprises can achieve the business outcomes they need by using mobile applications - without fundamental structural changes."

Microsoft, for its part, says the market is big enough for the companies to co-exist.

“The team at SkyGiraffe is doing great work and we are big fans of their solution," Microsoft Ventures Principal Aya Zook said in an emailed statement. "The enterprise mobility space covers a broad range of customer needs and we believe there are great opportunities for both of our organizations. Microsoft Ventures takes an altruistic approach to supporting the startup ecosystem with a passion for helping them to make their ideas succeed. While we may have some overlap in our offerings, we see the startups of today as potential business partners of tomorrow.”

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Blair Hanley Frank

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