It’s all about timing
In January 2001, I closed a deal with Rational Software (pre-IBM acquisition) to sell the assets of my little software company. After 3.5 years of bootstrapping, beta software, and venture capitalist pitches, we made the decision to sell the company and get back to a normal life (you know, just the one job). Of course, the break didn’t last long — a couple weeks after signing the paperwork, I joined another startup. The difference, however, was that this one had received hefty VC investment. Overall, I look back fondly at the time and effort put into my software company. I learned a lot, was able to apply everything I learned in business school, established some great professional relationships, and made some lifelong friends. I even got my picture in IBM’s annual report, and was mentioned in Red Herring magazine. That was all more than 12 years ago. How time flies.
I consider myself a startup guy. I am currently an advisor with a small startup looking to launch its first product this fall to the SharePoint and Office365 communities, called SnapWorkSocial. Sitting on a quick status call this morning, it got me thinking about my own startup days, and how my former company was just too far ahead of the curve. We tried to build something that the technology of the day could not yet support. Looking at SnapWork’s forthcoming product, I realized how much technology has shifted toward the vision we had in place in the late 90’s.
What we built was a working prototype of a collaboration platform for project teams, using our own tagging and workflow features to build out a massive knowledge management infrastructure that sought to tie artifacts to tasks and to people, dynamically. Submit requirements for a project, and the system would try to match them to requirements of other projects and provide links to relevant components. The idea was to help project teams to connect more efficiently, enabling reuse of content, designs, and even code. Remember that around this time, blogging didn’t exist. Instant Messaging was prominent, with WebEx and Placeware battling for supremacy of the web meeting space, with NetMeeting slowly being phased out. What we were trying to build was so huge, we had a difficult time convincing anyone that we were capable of accomplishing our lofty goals. We were passionate, we were idealists. We had first and second meetings with more than a dozen venture capitalists, but were unable to secure the funding we needed. While we were able to build some smaller tools and had paying customers, it was never enough to support all of us full-time, and so the offer from Rational was an opportunity to pay off our credit cards, our vendors and attorneys (and all the patent and trademark filing fees), and put some money in our pockets.
Part of what is driving the success of SharePoint as a platform is that it allows teams to dramatically reduce the time it takes to go from idea to solution. Much of the vision that I had back in 1998 for my company can, for the most part, be achieved through SharePoint. Microsoft has done most of the heavy lifting. Which is also what makes SnapWork’s products possible. SharePoint provides the baseline, and ISVs extend the platform.
Dang it. We sold into the wrong stack in 2001. Hmm….I’ll have to live vicariously through SnapWorkSocial.