Archive for June, 2010

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Sometimes Less is More

June 16, 2010

You might have noticed that it’s been a while since I last updated my blog. Since I last posted, I took on the position of President of Atalasoft and I have been deeply involved in launching the next version of Vizit, the company’s universal viewer for Microsoft SharePoint.

I first got interested in Vizit when I was at Captaris. At the time my team was looking to pull together a value added bundle around SharePoint that would add several image centric components and provide a more complete DMS or ECM experience. It was clear to us that Microsoft needed a partner in this area that could provide a broad bundle of capabilities and International support.

Part of our bundle was something we described as RightView. Microsoft’s solution to viewing in SharePoint is to have the user open the application associated with the document. We wanted to eliminate the need for users to have every application, the time to launch these applications, and the hassle of converting documents to accommodate whatever version of the application the user had available. We also wanted to provide the user an experience that was more closely aligned with other ECM offerings.

The RightView plan was to private label Atalasoft’s Vizit , which we believed was the best viewer for SharePoint in the market. It also had a nice “web scan” feature that enabled a casual user to scan into a repository without leaving SharePoint. Unfortunately, we were in deep discussions to sell the company and we never completely executed the plan.

Over the past year Atalasoft has had the first generation of Vizit in the market. As mentioned above, the first version of Vizit had many image centric features that were influenced by Atalasoft’s legacy in imaging and also by my Captaris team. During the last year the company learned the imaging aspects of Vizit are valued by a niche audience, but the broader market truly values the ability to view over 300 different document types without downloading any software or opening a single application. Today the company launched Vizit 3.0 in two packages: Vizit Essential (Universal Viewing), and Vizit Pro (Universal Viewing + Imaging).

Those of you who have been around me for any period of time have probably heard my “Bob” story. Bob is a guy who starts a software company in his garage to serve a customer need no one else is addressing. Usually Bob gets his first product close enough to this need to get at least a couple of customers. If Bob is smart he then listens closely to his customers and quickly adapts the product to fulfill the complete need. This takes him to the sweet spot in the market and he is wildly successful (another great software company is born). Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there.

During Bob’s adaptive stage his developers focus on adding features that the masses really need. Once the need is fulfilled the developers still need to do something, so the company starts developing features for niches. After adding niche feature after feature Bob finds himself with a product that is cumbersome to use to meet the core need he originally set out to fulfill. At this point the next “Bob” comes along and cleans his clock (software is so much fun).

Over the last year Atalasoft learned the SharePoint market really needed a great viewing experience, and many of the imaging functions met only niche customer needs. Unlike most companies they had the brains to not push forward, but to scale back and focused on the core need (a great viewing experience for SharePoint users). This is something you rarely see in the market, and I believe they have created a product that really hits the right spot in the market.

Now obviously I am biased by being part of the company, but keep in mind this is why I joined. I also didn’t make the tough call to scale back. I would encourage you to not take my word for it, but to go and see the product for yourself. The product launched today and you can learn more on the web site (www.atalasoft.com/products/vizit) where you can see and interact with it.

I’ve also been having fun putting together a marketing program around this product, and I’ll talk about this in my next post. I’m finally getting a chance to take a few risks on the marketing side, which you’ll get a small taste of in today’s press release (www.atalasoft.com/company/press-releases/vizit-pr/atalasoft-claims-vizit-saves-the-average-customer ). Atalasoft has a young and energetic team, and I’m really having a great time working with them. You’ll get a better feel for this in the next couple of weeks as we execute around the rest of the marketing campaign.

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Sometimes Its Better To Be Third

June 5, 2010

Everyone seems to think that it is best to be first to market, but I’m not sure I believe this. First means you really have to convince everyone there is a better/different way of doing things. Even when you are right it takes time. You have to fight the fact that no one wants to go first, usually in a company that is completely unknown and unproven.

How many times have you seen a new start up come up with the right idea, bang there heads against the wall, and eventually go under trying to prove they’re right. Then the next guy comes in with the same idea and benefits from all the hard work. In many ways I think this is what is happening in a couple of markets I’ve been close to recently.

In video surveillance analytics there are companies like Object Video and BRS Labs that are investing massive dollars to be able to identify threats within live video. These are heavily VC funded firms that have massive R&D budgets, but little market traction. In the ECM world everything is moving to SaaS but will the players like SpringCM and others who have taken ECM stacks to the Cloud survive long enough to reap the benefit?

These are two very interesting markets as one is trying to take recognition algorithms and tune them for a specific security purpose, while the other is taking mature technology and simply offering it in a different way. My belief is that the surveillance companies will go bust before they refine the technology and establish a market presence. The ECM side is much tougher to call, but I believe once the SaaS business model is proven the big ECM players (EMC, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft) will all want to compete. Will that startup live long enough to get eaten, or will they simply get run over when the elephants start to stomp around?

I did a startup in 2003 with the idea that I would mine massive consumer databases amassed by the credit card companies to understand consumer behavior, and then use mobile 3G technology to determine where a person was so I could customize marketing pitches that fit the moment. I still believe the idea was right, but I was way before my time. Right now there are a whole bunch of companies that just got large amounts of VC funding to chase the same idea. They are in a better position than I was on the mobile front as 3G is established now, and most people have GPS. 3G was just rolling out when I did it. On the down side consumer privacy is heightened after breaches at Facebook and Google and they’ll have to fight this wave. My bet is you’ll see this technology take off shortly and soon you’ll be getting a lot of unwanted ads on your mobile device.

I also think it helps to have more than one person in the market. It adds credibility to what you are doing. I’ve heard many VCs don’t like to back someone if they don’t have a competitor. The logic is simple: “if its such a good idea why isn’t anyone else doing it?”. I think this makes a lot of sense. There is an old saying “be a quick second”. I believe ultimately first and second pave the way for third, and the third guy has it much easier. It’s also much easier to understand what will work when a couple of companies have gone before you.

Next time you have a great idea consider timing when looking at your strategic plan. You can save yourself a great deal of pain and be the guy who reaps the reward if you time it right.