Businesses everywhere are warming up to the idea of cloud-based computing and are rapidly transitioning their back-office functions to capitalize on the benefits. However, small and medium-sized businesses often lack the resources to do the same, which puts them at a disadvantage.

This is a problem that AppFolio (NASDAQ:APPF) was founded to solve. The company is focused on helping these businesses move to the cloud so they can compete effectively.

In this episode of The Motley Fool's Industry Focus: Technology, host Dylan Lewis is joined by Motley Fool contributor Brian Feroldi to discuss why AppFolio's niche focus could lead to huge profits for investors.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on April 20, 2018.

Dylan Lewis: Why don't we talk about company No. 2, and this is AppFolio?

Brian Feroldi: Sure. This is a company that I really like a lot, too. These guys cater to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses that are kind of in niche, niche markets that you wouldn't normally think of, and none of these are consumer-facing. AppFolio was founded, and their initial target market was the property management business. So, you think about companies that own, say, a small apartment complex or a multi-family building. If you were a property manager, what kind of things are critical to making your apartment profitable? Well, you need to attract clients. You need to make sure that they're paying their bills. You need to be able to foster communication between the client and the property manager if there's maintenance things. You need to help with background checks on potential tenants and screening.

So, there's a hodgepodge of software that's out there that can help with each of those things. AppFolio basically took all of that and put it together on a cloud-based platform, and they sell their service to property managers. So, they can come on to AppFolio's platform, they pay a small subscription fee, and they get access to basically all of those services in one easy-to-use cloud-based system that can be managed through a cellphone or on a tablet.

Lewis: And you talk about this market, and even just hearing you describe it, property managing software, there's a niche there. [laughs]

Feroldi: It's pretty niche.

Lewis: There's a pretty clear niche. And frankly, it's a space that's probably a little too small for big players to want to hop in.

Feroldi: Absolutely, yeah. There can be a big advantage to stay in the niche. The big software boys, it's just not a big enough market for them to go after, to really invest the resources to make a customized solution. But, AppFolio, they're not so much a property management company as they are just trying to dominate a few small niches, and by combining them together, they can grow into a much bigger software platform.

Lewis: Yeah. They're getting outside property management, right? They're doing something in the legal space, as well?

Feroldi: Exactly. A couple of years ago, they bought a company called MyCase, which caters to the needs of legal professionals. So, you think about a small law practice. Well, they also need help with billing and tracking their time and attendance and marketing themselves. There's always back-office stuff that these companies need help with. So, AppFolio recently entered into that business, too, through an acquisition. It's still very small, it's less than 10% of their revenue. The property management business is about 90% of their market right now. But, between these two, they're adding customers to both platforms at a double-digit rate.

The way that they make money is, their customers pay a recurring monthly subscription fee just to be on the platform, but they also sell premium, what they call value-plus services, on top of that. So, if you wanted AppFolio's app to facilitate taking money out of the client's checking account and sending it over to the property manager, like, so they can pay their rent, AppFolio's platform can do that for them, and they charge an extra small fee for that. Or, if they wanted to do a detailed background check when they're screening for tenants, you can also do that on AppFolio's platform, but they also charge a small fee for those kinds of services.

Lewis: You talked about the stickiness of the platform. I think they have a customer retention rate of 97% or something crazy like that.

Feroldi: It's extremely high. That's a big reason why I love software-as-a-service businesses. Once a customer gets into the platform, and their entire back office gets set up around using this platform, it becomes extremely painful for them to consider switching providers, because everything is built for this one platform. So, it makes the business very, very sticky.

Lewis: And, you have employees that are trained on using that, right? So, there's the actual friction of switching systems and maybe not having the data interplay the way that you would like it to, but there's also the cost of having to retrain employees to use these programs or to bring in vendors and review these offers from new vendors, which is going to be tough for everyone's time, especially if you're a smaller business.

Feroldi: Absolutely, especially since, if you're a smaller business, you don't really have time to do that kind of stuff. AppFolio is growing its top line extremely quickly. Last year with 40% year over year top line growth, about $144 million in revenue. So, again, they're going after niche markets, but they're still big enough to actually become profitable, become cash flow positive. Their balance sheet is squeaky clean. Another thing I like about this company in particular is, the founders of the business are the Chief Technology Officer and the Chief Strategy Officer, so they're still very involved. Very high inside ownership rates. And, this is another company that just gets rave reviews from employees about the culture that they have.

Lewis: And this is a business that's around a $2 market cap. So, we talk about serving these smaller markets, you don't need to be humongous to make that happen. And if you see good growth in those markets, there's certainly a lot of upside. It's a lot tougher to double as a $10 billion business. It's a lot easier to find that big multiple as a $2 billion company.

Feroldi: Absolutely. And management claims this business, between their legal channel and their property management business, they think it's about a $5 billion opportunity. Compare that to their $144 million in revenue. There's still plenty of room for this company to grow.

Lewis: Much like HubSpot, just scratching the surface of what management sees.

Feroldi: You got it.