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We just led an investment in Kato and I’ll be joining the board.
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.
There are some things I wish would just go away forever. Business cards are one of those things. I stopped carrying them several years ago and simply give people my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) as my primary contact data. But at the end of every day I have a handful of cards to deal with. Sometimes it is one or two; often it is a big pile.
Yesterday I was at the Xconomy Big Data Conference in Boston. I was the lead off keynote speaker so I decided to spend my 30 minutes doing a rant on Big Data that I started off with the line “Big Data is Bullshit.” It was fun for me and I hope useful for the 500 people in the audience.
I ended up with 20+ business cards from people who I talked to in between sessions. During the afternoon, I took a photo of each of them with my iPhone, emailed the photo to email@example.com, and then tossed the card in the trash. I now have a photo of my card on my iPhone and due to the magic of the FullContact CardShark API the data was automagically turned into a vCard and a Google contact. I got emails back with each card, clicked one button on the email, and voila the contact data was in my Gmail Contacts data.
My friends at FullContact talk about how they do this in their post If Only CardMunch Were An API… Oh Yes We Did!. When CardMunch first came out I was a happy user. I struggled some with quality, but put up with it because it was better than the alternative. I stopped using it about six months ago due to reliability and the overly tight integration with LinkedIn at the exclusion of other approaches.
- Take a photo of a business card (two photos if it’s a two sided card)
- Email the image(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wait a few minutes for the reply email
We’ve been investing in our Glue theme and Protocol theme for a long time – well before we started Foundry Group. Many of our Glue investments and our Protocol investments are growing quickly and becoming integral parts of the Internet and web software infrastructure.
It made me smile to see a recent post from Promoboxx titled We’re Powered by TechStars Companies. It’s a great post about focusing on what matters for your product while leveraging great technology infrastructure from other companies. Several of the companies we are investors in are mentioned, including SendGrid and FullContact, each which are TechStars companies that we invested in after they finished the program.
For as long as I’ve been involved in writing and creating software there has always been a deep philosophy of creating building blocks that you can leverage. Something magical happened around this with the web and in the past five or so years there have been a number of amazing companies created that are easy to quickly integrate, either through a little bit of code or an API. It’s part of thing that has changed the dynamics of creating and launching a web software company, dramatically lowering the price of just getting something out there so you can start getting real feedback from users and customers.
When I reflect on this year’s Glue Conference, it feels like we’ve finally reached a tipping point where this concept is ubiquitous. I expect we’ll talk about it at Defrag and Eric Norlin’s post from yesterday titled The 20 Year Cycle hints to some of the deeper ideas about how this affects enterprise software and corporate IT, in addition to all the obvious consumer implications.
It’s a great time to be building software – the innovation curve is speeding up, not slowing down, and I expect when we look back 20 years from now we won’t recognize what we were doing in 2012.
Last week my friends at FullContact announced a new paid vacation policy and wrote a post about it titled Paid Vacation? That’s Not Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Paid, PAID Vacation.
FullContact will now pay an employee $7500 to go on vacation. The rules are simple:
- You have to go on vacation.
- You have to disconnect entirely (no phone, no email).
- You can’t work.
If that whets your appetite, take a look at the presentation about the new policy.
Hiring great people is intensely competitive in my world. While part of this is around recruiting, a bigger part is creating an environment where these great people can periodically disconnect and recharge their batteries. I love the creativity of FullContact’s approach to Paid PAID vacation. And yes – FullContact is hiring.
It’s 2012 and the “contact information problem” is getting exponentially worse. I’ve personally been struggling with this for 20+ years since I remember going from a custom database we built at Feld Technologies (in DataFlex) to Act! to try to manage the contacts across the company. While all the technology has changed, the problem has gotten substantially worse, as every web-based and mobile app now has some kind of contact info associated with it.
Today, there is no single authoritative contact record for an individual. I’ve been through a bunch of different iterations of technology around this such as SAML, FOAF, and Oauth. I remember Firefly and Passport. I’ve been involved in a number of companies who have tried to build “clean contact lists” and tried virtually every service I’ve ever run into. I’ve completely fucked up my address book more than once, especially as I tried to wire in data from other services that use Oauth or an email address to join data across web services. And yet we still have address blocks in emails, vcards, and crappy, incomplete, and incorrect data everywhere. And I still get referred to as Brad Batchelor in physical mail that I get from Wellesley College (which both Amy and I think is cute.)
Nothing works and it’s just getting worse. Fragmented data, incorrect data, changed data, duplicated data – it gets proliferated. All you need to do to see the core problem is look at the same data for a person in LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Multiple email addresses, lots of different contact info, time-based information that isn’t treated correctly, and huge errors all over the place.
That’s why we’ve invested in FullContact. They are on a mission to solve the world’s contact information problem. Imagine a unified address book in the cloud that has perfect information for every single person with a contact record of any type. This unified address book is continually updated, cleansed, enriched, and validated. It integrates with every web-based or mobile application that uses any sort of contact data, and it is available to every developer via an API.
This is a massive data problem. The team at FullContact is approaching it as such. It’s one where the machines do all the work and don’t rely on us silly humans, or the IT people, to change behavior and systems. For a look behind the curtains watch this short example from FullContact’s Identibase.
If you are a developer, FullContact’s goal is for you to use their cloud address book via their API. If you are an individual, you can use the FullContact cloud address book as your source address book. And if you are a business, you can finally get a unified contact management system across your organization without having to do very much. Data will automagically get cleaned up, enriched, de-duplicated, validated, and backed up, making it easily accessible in any context.
We’ve gone after the world’s contact information problem a number of times in a number of different ways over the years with different investments. We’ve never been involved in conquering it and it’s just gotten worse. This is the first time I feel like we are investing in the right approach to solve the problem once and for all.
Oh – and we love the team. If you want a fun view of why, take a look at From Basements to Brad Feld: The Story of 126 NOs and 1 Big YES.