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December 17, 2013

Q&A: Huddle on demise of Microsoft Office

Alistair Mitchell, CEO and founder of the content collaboration software provider, tells CBR why companies will rely less on single word processors and more on content collaboration platforms in the cloud.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

Alistair Mitchell, CEO and founder of Huddle, a rival of cloud storage firm Box, set up the London- and San Francisco-based company in 2007. Since then, Huddle has grown its workforce to 170 people, providing content collaboration tools for 80% of the UK government departments and enterprises of any size in the US and Europe.

Why did you leave your last job as group head of Client Solutions to start up Huddle in 2007?

Because by that point, I had a 300 person team working globally there and we were working internally, with colleagues, customers and retailers like P&G and PepsiCo across many different countries We were travelling a lot, using email, web conferencing and I spent $3m (£1.85m) of the companies money trying to build a Sharepoint site. but nothing worked. It was a complete disaster. I wasted all this money and people’s time and thought there’s got to be a better way for people to work together, both internally as colleagues in different locations but with customers, partners and suppliers, so that’s why we built Huddle. It was to build a single platform in the social world that everyone could work together on from any email device, desktop, both internally and externally with colleagues. And it became the place where you did your work in the cloud, where you stored all your content, discussed ideas and shared information in the cloud on any device.

You reported 100% year-on-year growth in your last quarter. What do you put this down to?

Thanks to the cloud, CIOs are now saying in three years time, we are not going to manage any of our own hardware, we’re not going to manage any servers or production kit and we are going to outsource it all into the cloud and the only kit that we’re going to run is tablets, phones and lightweight laptops. And although a huge amount has gone into the cloud already, we reckon it’s only about 5% of the enterprise and this is the common stat from a lot of analysts as well.

The second thing is the cloud enables you to work in new ways that you could never do before. So contrast buying your own service, having to spend six months customising them, building a support team internally for a service that you can only use when you’re on your network compared to turning on Huddle and a day later. You, your customers, your colleagues, can all work together on the same platform on any device.

We are also the number one in the public sector in government and people come to us because we are perceived as being the most secure way to collaborate in the cloud, so we are dominant in the government sector, which accounts for 30% of our business.

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What makes your security capabilities so secure?

Because we work with 80% of the UK government and in the US, we work with people like the department of defence, the sorts of organisations that are very security conscious and really care about how we work with them. So if you are a large multinational professional services businesses, you are going to trust that other companies like that have really done their due diligence in checking and believe in our security software as well.

The second thing is the technology itself. We adhere to all of the requirements that you need to serve government, which are the most stringent that you would have to go through. In the UK government, they have a series of impact levels and we are the only guys in our space accredited, which is way beyond any of our peers. It gives everyone confidence that we are adhering to very high security standards. We adhere to FISMA and FedRamp in the US and international standards like ISO/IEC 27001…If you can adhere to these standards, that gives everyone confidence that you have a very robust and secure system.

What else do you think you offer beyond what Box and Micro365 offer?

As well as security, we focus on collaboration. When you get up to enterprise level, what enterprises want is to enable their people to collaborate. So what we focus on is not storing tonnes of content like other providers but on people being able to share and work on that content together, find new information, distributing information across a large number of people that you have to do to get your job done.
And that’s what enterprises want and that’s why they come to us. And that’s the big difference between ourselves and people like Box, which are great business but they really focus on fast storage for small and mid market businesses, but what we really focus on is enterprise and collaboration.

Box announced they received $300m of funding from venture capitalists. How much funding have you raised?

We’ve raised about $40m of VCP and we’re growing incredibly fast, so we’re in a fortunate position that we can grow fast with the partners that we’ve got already.

Would you think of completing an IPO like Box?

Not this year, not next year but in the next two to three years, I definitely think that it would be on our horizon. Our number one objective is to build a very big software company, and we’re in the lucky position of being able to do that and help customers.

With Box going into an IPO next year, how do you think it will affect Huddle and the overall market?

The more good companies who get to that level the better, right…We talk to them a lot, we know them very well and the market generally perceives us and them as being the two leaders in this space, albeit coming from slightly different angles and different parts of the market, but in terms of the cloud, content and collaboration, they see us as really the two leaders, so I wish them all well.

Do you have any other plans to further develop Huddle?

The first one is to be better able to serve our large customers, so that is all around security and management. We recently announced a whole string of features that better serve our large customers around single sign-on and managing content of scale. Looking ahead of what we’re releasing now, the second strand is all around enabling people to collaborate on content more effectively than they did before.

Do you think that Microsoft Word will die out eventually?

Yes we’re already seeing it. We know more and more customers are moving away from the Microsoft stack to the Google stack. With the rise of Google and Evernote and Huddle, people are expecting to create content on the fly on different devices. I don’t want to have to take my laptop home just because it’s got word on it. My home laptop doesn’t have word on it and most of my time I work on my laptop and that doesn’t have any word processing on it. So how am I going to share content? If I create a document in one place, how do I share that wherever I go? That’s what we here from our customers everyday, ‘I do not want to be locked into, whether it’s Microsoft or any of the big vendors, that paradigm of the three year software cycle’.

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