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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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One Real-Time Communication System to Rule Them All

Comments (36)

We just led an investment in Kato and I’ll be joining the board.

If the headline sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to the one I wrote a year ago when we led an investment in FullContact. The headline then was One Address Book To Rule Them All.

Like the contact management problem, the real-time communication problem is a total mess. In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of efforts to address real-time communications in the enterprise. New collaboration systems, such as Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Connections emerged. This evolved into enterprise social computing systems, such as NewsGator (which I’m on the board of) and Jive. Lightweight approaches that tried to emulate Facebook, such as Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) became visible, chat got integrated in broader messaging systems like Skype and Google Hangouts, which in turn were subsumed by larger messaging systems at Microsoft and Google, and the result is that the default continues to be the soul-crushing and mind-numbing least common denominator known as email.

The problem has accelerated in the past two years. We now use multiple communication products across our portfolio of over 60 companies. Some use Jive. Some use Yammer. Some use HipChat. Some use Flowdock. Some use Campfire. Some try to use Google+. Some still use IRC. And some have simply given up and just use email.

When I try to get in the real-time communication streams, I have to use the specific system that each company uses. With many of them, I have to have a unique login for each company. I log in with one account (usually with an email address that company #1 gave me), check it and respond, log out, log in to the next account (with a different email address specific to company #2), check it and respond, and repeat. This is fun for about three minutes, at which time I just start getting the daily email notices of activity and periodically click on a link, login, and try to respond to something, assuming my login works correctly and I can remember the login / password for that particular company.

While the individual systems work – with different levels of happiness – they just suck across organizations. My world is a network, not a hierarchy, and I want to, and need to, communicate across many different organizations. Ultimately, I want ONE place to centralize all of this. Unfortunately, the only answer today is email. And that just sucks.

My email habits changed significantly when I started using Gmail. Search, across my entire email corpus, eliminated the need for me to use folders and store anything. I didn’t have to remember stuff. Conversations threaded everything.

Kato has similar powerful features that change the way I use real-time messaging. Each “room” (which can include people from Foundry Group, other organizations, or anyone I invite to that specific room) are searchable across the entire corpus. Search works everywhere – I don’t really have to remember anything other than a hint to I’m looking for. I can skim when I want, the same way I use Twitter. Or I can read every message in a room. I can integrate any third-party service I want into a room (currently 25 – adding about one a week). Soon I’ll be able to synchronize data with other real-time systems.

Oh – and there’s an API so you can do whatever you want with it. For example, during a hack day, the gang at FullContact did a bi-directional sync with Campfire. So now I can see everything but don’t have to deal with Campfire. And I get my Asana stream in a room – consolidated across the four different Asana organizations that I’m a part of.

Andrei and Peter have had Kato available for early adopters six weeks after they wrote the first line of code. They have a Support room for every customer that they participate in (in real-time) and drive their product based on real-time customer feedback. It’s amazing to watch and participate in.

While we are still very early in the process, I’m absolutely blown away by what these two guys did over the summer at Techstars. And I’m looking forward to working closely with them to attack a problem that has vexed me every day for the past 20 years.

  • http://www.ouvre-boite.com Julien

    The truth is we could have all this player and still have something great if only they federated around open protocols like XMPP that have been here for years… but in practice most of these service don’t care so much about openness. They just want to “rule them all” and eventually destroy the user experience and eventually destroy the market they’re building on.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup. And I believe we can fix that! Bwahahahahaha.

    • Andrei Soroker

      Julien – the issue with XMPP is that it doesn’t support the features we needed so badly that we decided to write Kato in the first place. However, we’ll support XMPP in some fashion, and fairly soon, to simplify onboarding.

      I’ve come to believe that user experience is the most important component in a communication technology – it shadows everything else. Therefore, we started from the UI/UX side of things.

      We’ll be open-sourcing the code for all native clients, which should be a good first step in the openness department.

      • http://www.ouvre-boite.com Julien

        Thanks for following Andrei, but I think I heard the exact same spill from *everyone*… : open protocols don’t really fit our needs, so we had to do it our own way. You’re right UX is what matters but I think you don’t understand how much it sucks to be signing up for a 10000th service which tells you they’re different when they eventually are just the same.

        The truth is: if you had any intention of using open protocols you should have tried to improve them, not create *your* own: http://xkcd.com/927/

  • André Thénot

    I have to admit this reminds me a lot of this XKCD comic strip: http://xkcd.com/927/

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      How about if we just integrate with all of theirs!

      • André Thénot

        As Julien mentioned below, openness usually goes against the desire to control (and monetize) the platform.

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          Yeah – and that’s stupid. And not the way I think about things. So – this will be fun. It’s easy to “monetize” – just charge money!

        • http://twinenginelabs.com/ KeithHanson

          Not sure I understand that thought process either. When I saw the integrations that my company could use from Flowdock, I signed us up pretty much at that moment. That doesn’t include bi-directional stuff, of course, but that was compelling enough.

          As well, I have employees who like other tools for collaboration with clients, as opposed to internal collaboration. I would pay a premium for bi-directional communications that made sense in all these cases and allowed a company to communicate more easily across the various tools we use.

          @bfeld: If Kato had an easy bi-directional integration with their competitors, I’d already be trying it out and creating buy-in here haha :) I love the non-silo’d interface (an unexpected thorn in my side after using FlowDock for several weeks now).

          • http://www.feld.com bfeld

            Bi-directional integration with anyone who will let us (e.g. anyone with an API) is coming as quickly as we can roll it out.

  • LD Eakman

    Extra props for the Lebowski reference on their website. I already like these guys.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      The dude abides.

  • http://standpointdecisions.com Matt Sims

    Brad, I’m sure you or your guys have investigated it but check out what’s happening in the WebRTC space. This initiative is getting a lot of attention from the incumbents, and looks to be a disruptor to quite a few business models. Looking forward to seeing where Kato goes!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – WebRTC is awesome and going to be massively disruptive.

    • Andrei Soroker

      Matt – a few months ago we’ve built [a very alpha] video conferencing service for Kato with WebRTC, to familiarize ourselves with the technology. It was incredibly awesome when it worked (about 80% of the time). We’re pretty sure WebRTC will gain adoption and will become more stable, so we’re looking forward to building our and voice/video component with WebRTC.

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    This looks really interesting. My org has been in the revolving door of the collab workspace since inception. Soo frustrating. Ultimately i just want my own solution and not have to get into basecamp/skype/whatever, and I have grown tired of trying to convert others to this or that as well.

    • Andrei Soroker

      Jess, what are some the reasons your crew ended up rejecting the tools you’ve tried?

  • raghuhavaldar

    Asana (asana.com) has been awesome for distributed team/project communication. It is not real-time but can be used in a variety of ways to collaborate, keep up, share, follow, etc.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’m a huge fan of Asana. It’s biggest limitation is going across orgs – it’s really a drag. Even though it’s one login it’s segments really bizarrely.

      I love the Kato – Asana integration. I literally see everything new that is added show up in my Kato Asana room across all the orgs that I use Asana with. When I need to take action, it’s right there. The rest is easy to review quickly in one place.

      • raghuhavaldar

        Asana is going after a different set of use cases :) – mostly intra-org, project-centric. Yes, its cross-departmental support is almost not there.

        Looking forward to Kato

  • http://startedinseattle.com/ ChetCrunch

    I’m a fan. Just tried it out. Their ‘support’ room is brilliant and super helpful, and the integrations are awesome. Within 30 minutes I have my Asana tasks coming in, my side project communication going and and communication with those that I work with. The busier you are, the better it gets. :)

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Awesome!

  • Mark Evans

    I too was impressed by Kato. What do you think of Slack?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Still waiting for my official invite.

  • http://thebigklosowski.com Allen Klosowski

    Only company I’ve ever seen that has used the F-word in a product screenshot. All hail Lebowski.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      The best, short version of The Big Lebowski.

      • http://thebigklosowski.com Allen Klosowski

        This is epic. I can’t believe I haven’t crossed paths with this version before. Thanks for sharing!

    • Andrei Soroker

      At some point the script was modified to replace F-words with something else.

      This was vetoed due to being blasphemy. The truth is: few people notice, and those who do, universally approve.

      • http://www.feld.com bfeld

        Yeah – fuck that replacement. The veto was truth. The dude abides.

      • http://thebigklosowski.com Allen Klosowski

        I dig your style man.

  • alexpak1

    Cool product. Just signed up. Hopefully they can replace my current stack of Gchat/HipChat/Campfire.

  • http://influitive.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

    Very cool product and I am excited about trying it. Do you think this opens the door for alternative communication channels between companies and their customers. For example, customers can have one room dedicated to their favourite companies and recurve notifications and alerts there versus email or other social media.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      That’s part of the long term plan.

      • http://influitive.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

        Interesting. This is something that I have been thinking about a lot recently.

  • Xorlev

    We started using Kato at FullContact and haven’t looked back. I’d internally been a Campfire evangelist (only engineering listened :)) until giving Kato a spin for a few days.. The guys at Kato have been super responsive in their above-mentioned support room — fantastic. Excited to see them becoming a Foundry company.

  • http://WWW.FAKEGRIMLOCK.COM FAKE GRIMLOCK

    IT KIND OF UGLY.

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