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What do you do when a giant encroaches on your territory?

18 Sep

This week, Box held its annual conference, BoxWorks 13.  The online storage leader made two big announcements about products it intends to launch in 2014.

Box Notes are editable web pages, which users can write, edit, comment on, and embed content within.  Sound familiar?

Box also announced that it will be adding metadata to files, so that users can attach structured data to those files.  Again, sound familiar?

Both of these 2014 initiatives are available to PBworks users today.  In fact, they’re even part of our free business product.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen giants encroach on our territory.  Back in 2008, Google unveiled Google Sites, their free wiki product, aimed squarely at the wiki hosting market, and companies like PBwiki (which was our old corporate name).

So what do you do if you’re a startup that’s facing a challenge from a giant company that has millions or even billions of dollars to spend?

The answer is to play to your strengths, and keep innovating.

In 2008, we shifted from simple hosted wikis to a broader collaboration suite.  Today, we have the broadest suite on the market, with project management, file sharing, management reporting, and social, in addition to wiki-style collaboration.  As a result, we can deliver an integrated solution that our key customers use to make thousands or tens of thousands of employees worldwide more productive.

Meanwhile, we host more wikis than ever.  The attention Google brought to the market helped generate more interest than before.

We introduced file and page properties (asset-level metadata) earlier this year.  Since then, we’ve released our reporting tools, as well as a visual approach to managing workspaces.

By the time 2014 rolls around, we’ll have released several more key features that are pushing the boundaries of the collaboration space.

Giants are powerful, but their size slows them down.  When they encroach, use your nimbleness to keep innovating.

“Talk To The Software”

23 Aug

Sometimes, the best salesperson is an error message.

One question that often arises for SaaS companies that sell to the enterprise is whether they should funnel customers through salespeople, or offer a self-service product.

Usually, the partisans of the two sides are like opposing factions in a holy war.  The Church of Sales insists that human salespeople are better at selling software than any order form, because they can understand the customer’s needs and help them find the right (and more expensive) solution.  Meanwhile, the Self-Servicists argue that buyers hate salespeople, whom they consider a waste of time, and that anything that comes between the buyer and an order button is a waste of time.

Both sides have a good point; salespeople are critical for consultative sales, and it’s a rare company that will sign off on a 6- or even 5-digit purchase without talking to a human being.  On the other hand, many buyers screen any phone calls they receive from vendors, and view negotiations as about as pleasant as a dentist appointment.

Our experience at PBworks is that you need to try to leverage the best of both worlds.  Ultimately, we’re agnostics who combine self-service and sales in an ecumenical strategy that I call, “Talk to the Software.”

Here’s the secret: Your goal should be to play “Good Cop, Bad Cop” with your salespeople playing “Good Cop” and your software playing “Bad Cop.”

Once upon a time, we were members of the Church of Sales; we wanted to learn as much as possible from every deal, so every communication went through our Sales team.  The problem was, this put our salespeople in the position of being the bad guys.  Customer over their storage limit?  Have Sales call them.  Customer needs to buy more user licenses?  Have Sales call them.

The net result is that customers start avoiding your Sales team.  When we became agnostics, we turned enforcement over to the software.  Now our software plays “Bad Cop” and blocks users who violate their licenses, leaving it to our sales team to play “Good Cop” and help them get back in compliance.  Our Sales team has better, more productive conversations, and because they don’t have to act as enforcers, they also have more time to find expansion opportunities.

Don’t make your salespeople play Terminator–let the tireless, ruthless servers in your datacenter handle your dirty work.

Why We’re Letting Accelerators Give PBworks Away

19 Jun

This morning, we announced our “PBworks for Startups” program.  We’re working together with five different startup accelerators, TechStars, 500 Startups, Acceleprise, DreamIt, and Lemnos Labs, to offer PBworks Starter Pack licenses (normally $1,995 per year) free to any of their portfolio companies.

While giving away premium licenses may seem like it contradicts the principles of the freemium business model, we believe that it actually represents a more highly-targeted version of freemium, and that it will help us make money.

At its heart, the mechanics of the freemium business model are that you provide a version of your service for free, and then make money when the free users encounter the limits of the free product, and decide to upgrade.  Its benefits are that it generates greater awareness of your product and lets you demonstrate your value to potential customers before hitting them up for money.

PBworks for Startups is simply a highly-targeted, high-value version of this model.  Our general freemium product features limits on users, storage, and the number of workspaces.  Most of our upgrades come from people who encounter the storage or workspace limits, after they’ve been using our product for a while.

PBworks for Startups offers 100 GB of storage and unlimited workspaces; the only limitation is the 20-user limit.  So why does it work?

The program works because it targets a very narrow market for whom the user limit is critical: High-growth startups.  Startups may start in a garage, but when the growth hits, it hits with a vengeance (along with large amounts of venture capital, and, hopefully, revenues).  If a startup adopts PBworks when it is in the proverbial garage, it is likely to want to keep using PBworks as it grows.  The easiest way to win the next Facebook as a customer is to get Facebook to adopt you when it is still in its corporate infancy.

We’ve targeted startup accelerators because they provide a convenient, high-volume channel for reaching this kind of startup.  500 Startups, for example, has 450 portfolio companies–far more than a typical venture capital firm.  But the guiding principle is simply to plant seeds at high-growth startups.  We’re certainly willing to work with VC firms, law firms, or other partners who can help us reach the next Facebook.

So if you think you can help us plant the seeds of PBworks at the next Facebook, apply to join the PBworks for Startups program.  Simply email us at accelerators at pbworks dot com.

Official Announcement – We're changing our name!

21 Apr

When PBwiki launched in 2005, our founder David was excited to build a fast and easy way to create a wiki. He even named the company PBwiki – because starting your own wiki was ‘as easy as making a Peanut Butter sandwich’.

In fact, it’s still easy to use our product, and you can definitely create your own workspace in less time than it takes to make the proverbial PB&J…especially if you have to dig around in the pantry to find the peanut butter.

We spent much of the next few years answering questions like, “What’s a wiki?” and “How can I use one in my school or organization?” But over the past year, we’ve noticed a change. These days, we get far fewer questions about how to use a wiki, and a more questions about specific ways that our collaboration tools can meet specific needs.

We’ve spent so much time talking with users and building features that people asked for –Access Controls, Document Management, Mobile Edition– that it’s become increasingly difficult to claim that we’re just a wiki company.

In fact when we asked our users how they use PBwiki, here’s what they say:

“[PBwiki] proved to be a key resource for our support staff…we centralized the vast organizational knowledge around the implementation in a single place.” – RBC

“We use PBwiki to manage workflow.” – Top Fortune 100 business user

“I use my PBwiki as a better alternative to a course management system” –edwebb

We’ve gone far beyond the traditional concept of wiki functionality, and as a result, the name “PBwiki” doesn’t reflect how we think of ourself – or how our users think of us.

Next month we have some big changes that we will be announcing, and one of them is a new name and logo. Yes folks, the peanut butter sandwich is going into retirement.

Your workspace will remain exactly the same – with the same features and login information. And we will always be an easy-to-use solution that you can depend on, with great free products. But we hope you’re excited about all the additional things we’ll be bringing you.

For more information about about what changes you’ll be seeing, check out our PBwiki FAQ.

Before we say good bye to our Peanut Butter Sandwich, we want to have some fun. Guess our new name, and we’ll send you a soon-to-be vintage PBwiki t-shirt. In fact, you don’t even have to guess correctly! We’ll also give out PBwiki t-shirts to the most creative and interesting suggestions.

Take your best guess here!

The Spirit of Flowerdale

3 Apr

Rebuilding in Flowerdale

You’ve probably heard me focus relentlessly on my core message that PBwiki helps teams become more productive and profitable.  But while my job (VP Enterprise Marketing) requires me to focus on helping paying customer, it is quite wonderful to hear stories about PBwiki making a difference in a non-monetary way.

When devastating wildfires struck Australia and the town of Flowerdale, PBwiki customer Peter Williams of Deloitte Digital wanted to do something about it.  He and other volunteers set about the business of helping the town’s residents rebuild from this terrible disaster, using PBwiki to help coordinate the efforts.

Today, Peter and the other volunteers are helping the town to rebuild.  There is temporary housing for displaced residents, and they’re even holding an Easter egg hunt for the smallest citizens.

We’re proud to be a part of this wonderful effort.  To follow this heart-warming story of generosity, check out the Flowerdale blog.

A business perspective on the evolution of PBwiki

24 Mar

Gil Yehuda, the Enterprise 2.0 industry analyst (formerly of Forrester Research), has a great post up about his perspective on how PBwiki has evolved over time.

Here within PBHQ, it’s easy for us to forget what the changes to PBwiki look like to the outside world.  New features like the Mobile Edition seem like old hat to us, since we’ve been talking about them for so long.

That’s when an outside perspective like Gil’s is valuable for us.  While we love the feedback we get from you, our valued users, the fact is, you’re biased.  You use PBwiki, so you probably like the product and us.

Someone like Gil, who covers the whole industry and speaks with alternate companies and their customers is much better positioned to judge PBwiki objectively.

Here’s what Gil had to say:

I have been watching as PBwiki adds more business-focused features and services.  One important feature was the inclusion of lightweight document management features. You can upload, share, and download files (document, images, etc.) with others.  The document management features are not too fancy, but they are good enough for most.  When I first saw these features, I thought of the way most people use SharePoint as a simple document management server with some lightweight page markup capabilities.  In reality, SharePoint provides a powerful platform that includes much more than document management.  But most companies I have spoken with don’t use a small fraction of SharePoint’s features.  For many, SharePoint gives them more than they will use, but less than they need.  And this begs the question – would you be better served with a hosted wiki that provides simple document management?  If you are like many who just use SharePoint for doc management and page markup, but you need to collaborate with partners outside your firewall, then PBwiki becomes quite interesting.

Then PBwiki added a 24/7 end user support service.  For just a few bucks more per user, you can get the assurance of online support, anytime.  I don’t know how many of their business customers use the support feature, but I’m sure they all like the message that PBwiki is sending by offering this service.  Business Wikis are about business – and PBwiki gets it.

And now to this week’s announcement: You can take the wiki with you on your mobile device.   Although you don’t get full editing  capabilities on the mobile device, you can read wiki pages, search for content, create new pages,  and add comments to existing pages.  And there’s no fancy URL to remember since PBwiki’s servers detect if you are using an iPhone or BlackBerry and provide you an experienced optimized for your device automatically.  This is critical for those business needs that arise when you are not at your computer.  Like when you are in a meeting, with a client, a patient, or vendor.  On the road, working from home, or on the shop floor.  Information availability is critical to agile businesses.

I had a chance to speak with a very satisfied PBwiki customer, an investment holding company that is involved in a bunch of businesses — ranging from aerospace engineering, personnel services, telecommunications, casinos, real estate, you name it.  Each business manages their own affairs and technology infrastructure, but the central businesses group collaborates with each of the satellite businesses.  The central group is relatively small, and they have no need to spend lots of money on technology infrastructure.  but they do need the flexibility to work with their contacts in each of their affiliates.

There are many business with similar profiles — like PR agencies who interface with multiple customers.  I spoke with one who expressed the same pattern of need.  They need an easy to use, SaaS based, secure platform to co-create and share documents with many partners.  They know that email is the wrong tool for fluid collaboration. And they want to keep things simple and cheap.  They can handle monthly per-user charges, since they operate that way with other vendors too.

PBwiki provides a compelling option for these Enterprise Wiki buyers.  I don’t believe they are the best option for everyone – sorry, but no one offers that silver bullet yet.  But I do believe they should be on your short-list if you are looking for hosted wiki solutions.

(click here to read Gil’s entire post)

In the end, it’s easy to get caught up in the individual releases and updates.  We live in an attention-deficit world, and it’s just as tempting for companies to try to “win” the news cycle as it is for politicians.  But it’s the big picture that matters in the end.

Do you need to hate your enemies?

11 Mar

(Image courtesy of aaardvaark)

Do you need to hate your enemies?

Business is all about competition. If someone buys your solution, they’re not going to buy from your competitor, and vice versa. So do you need to hate your enemies?

Recently, Kristine, PBwiki’s customer evangelist, struck up a Twitter conversation with the product manager at Microsoft that is responsible for SharePoint’s wiki. In other words, a competitor.

She shared with him a video about how PBwiki handles linking via a simple dialog box (which, by the way, is way ahead of SharePoint’s current practice of requiring users to memorize certain codes and paste in URLs).

One school of thought would say, “That’s providing aid and comfort to the enemy!” That school of thought says that you need to hate your enemies, burn their cities to the ground, put their women and children to the sword, and salt the earth so that nothing returns.

The other school of thought says that the greatest competitor isn’t a company, it’s doing nothing.

Kristine posted her Tweet to answer a user question about linking (Microsoft’s PM just happened to interject himself into the equation).

That user, and anyone else following the conversation, will see that the team here at PBwiki is confident in who we are, what we do, and that we will win any fair fight, and most of the unfair ones.

That’s how I feel. Being open, honest, and helpful, even to your competitors, is the best way to show one’s confidence and strength. That doesn’t mean giving away the crown jewels; save those for yourself. But providing a pointer to a publicly available video, allowing competitors to sign up for the product, and focusing on solving customer problems rather than worrying about some imaginary scoreboard versus the competition makes good business sense.

Terms of Service: We Got Your Back

5 Mar

When I was putting together PBwiki’s Terms of Service a few years ago, I spent extra time with our lawyers to make sure that it was as pro-user as possible. The first few versions I got back weren’t good enough and I pressed them to make it shorter, simpler, and to put more rights in the hands of users. I eventually ended up with something I felt good about. Something that made it clear that we weren’t going try and take ownership of user’s content and that we took their privacy seriously.

That hard work has been paying off, with many enterprise customers praising our confidentiality clause for private wikis and our lack of authoritarian clauses. Today, Joshua Greenbaum at ZDNet published an article called Making Web 2.0 Safe for the Enterprise: TOS à la PBwiki that did a great job showing how important terms are for an enterprise service. So hurrah! We’ve got your back. 🙂

David E. Weekly
Founder & CEO

The Elephant and the Ant: Why Companies Need Processes As They Grow

21 Feb

Seth Godin had a recent post about how organizations tend to go from crisp to soggy over time.

While I agree with his points, I think that there’s a better analogy to explain why companies need processes as they grow.  I call it the principle of the elephant and the ant.

Hollywood horror movies nonwithstanding, you can’t scale up an ant to the size of an elephant.  The mechanisms that work so well for a one-gram ant don’t work for a 10-ton elephant.

The ant is like a startup: It’s small, nimble, and surprisingly strong for its size.  When you’re that small, you don’t need a lot of internal structural elements–a thin exoskeleton more than suffices.  It doesn’t even need lungs to breathe, relying instead on its surface area to allow oxygen back and forth.

Similarly, startups don’t need a lot of internal processes or documentation.  When your entire company consists of three people in a single office, everyone and everything in your company is in touch with the outside world.  If something comes up, you just poke your head over your laptop and fix it.  An “all-hands” meeting consists of nudging the co-founders to your left and your right.

But as your company grows (which is almost always necessary if you build a successful business), that approach doesn’t scale.  You don’t see 1,000 person companies being run like a 3-person startup for the same reason you don’t see ants the size of Volkswagens.

(Be glad that we don’t!)

Instead, your company begins to resemble the mighty elephant.  The lightweight exoskeleton is replaced by a thick endoskeleton.  All sorts of internal structures like lungs are required to support life.  And you can bet that an elephant can’t scurry at a rate of 5 times its body length per second, or lift 50 times its own weight.

Big companies need endoskeletons to function.  Yes, these processes impair flexibility, and force you to trade in the elegantly slender legs of the common ant for the stubby tree-trunks of the ponderous pachyderm, but the alternative isn’t pretty.  A 10-ton ant would instantly collapse and die under its own weight, unless beaten to the punch by asphyxiation.

And there are benefits to being big.  You may not be able to run as fast or lift as much on a relative basis, but an elephant can definitely cover longer distances than an ant, and no ant in the world can lift an entire tree with its trunk.

Both elephants and ants have their place in this world, just as crisp and soggy do.  The trick is making sure that your approach is appropriate to your situation.  There’s a reason why invertebrates are smaller than vertebrates, but mice are smaller and faster than lobsters–only you can decide what the right answer is for your company.

P.S. One final alternative to keep in mind: While a single ant can’t move a rubber tree, an army of them certainly can (or at least decimate the village where the tree is planted).  To what extent can your company act like a swarm of startups, rather than as single elephant?

Education is Compression

17 Jan

Last night, Nathan (the CTO) and I were talking with our roommate Ben, who at 22 is working on his first startup and naturally has a lot of questions about the process. We were all somewhat surprised by how much wisdom we could communicate to Ben in about half an hour of discussion, but then it became clear to me: education is the compression of others’ experiences into rapidly transferable knowledge.

Were it faster to just have the experience, education would be meaningless. A well-taught math course can generally teach a student several centuries of discovery per year.  Reading the journals of the best minds in a field is much less efficient (and, for most, less effective) than reading a well-written summary of their work.

Wikis let people collect and compress knowledge continuously, making it discoverable and usable. Wikis mirror the very processes by which education operates. It’s no wonder that hundreds of thousands of educators found us before we found them. It’s good that your customers can help slap some sense into you and give you a clue.

-David Weekly, Founder & CEO of PBwiki