Brief Encounter: Huddle
Making social networks work for businesses is the nirvana for digital specialists. Despite Shel Holtz's assertions that the b2b space is ideal for social media as it is all built on relationships, no one has really cracked this yet. Social networks still struggle to effectively monetise its huge user base, but a network specifically tailored for businesses ought to be easily sellable as long as it worked.
Making social networks work for businesses is the nirvana for digital specialists. Despite Shel Holtz's assertions that the b2b space is ideal for social media, as it is all built on relationships, no one has really cracked this yet. Social networks still struggle to effectively monetise its huge user base, but a network specifically tailored for businesses ought to be easily sellable as long as it worked.
One company that thinks it has the answer is Huddle - a social networking site for businesses. Tim Hoang speaks to Alastair Mitchell (pictured below, left), co-founder and CEO to see if they really have the answer to monetising social networks.
Tell me about Huddle, what it is and how it started
The company was established in November 2006 by Alastair Mitchell and Andy McLoughlin, with seed funding from the co-founders, development partners and angel investment.
In November 2007, Huddle.net raised $4 Million in Series A funding led by Eden Ventures. Since then, the company growth snowballed. It's grown its staff from five in December 2007 to 21 today, working from a new office in London Bridge. Huddle's user numbers are currently growing 50 per cent per month.
Huddle was developed out of the recognition that despite technology advances individuals, teams and businesses are still unable to work together efficiently. They continue to encounter numerous problems: from searching for information on office networks through cluttered inboxes and chasing approvals to the most important one - a huge disconnection between internal and external teams.
Huddle is a social online collaboration platform for connecting inside and outside the enterprise.
So does this mean that employees and customers have access to the technology? How do you share info and why would businesses do this?
Yes, employees, customers and suppliers can all use Huddle. Definitely, an ever increasing percentage of our time is spent working with people outside our organisation, such as customers, partners, suppliers, ecosystems and yet the majority of the technology we use is still very internally focused, behind the firewall. As a result it fails.
Huddle enables internal and external groups to work together as simply and securely as if they were all in the same organisation. You share information through Huddle workspaces, you can upload documents, notify other users about changes, request reviews and approvals, download documents to edit offline or simply edit them online using embedded office tools.
Online workspaces are nothing new. What makes Huddle different from the similar software already freely available?
Huddle is a network of online workspaces, built on the same principles as any social network and is enterprise ready. It allows users to work with each other simply and securely, bridging the gap between the inside and outside the enterprise. No other company in the collaboration space offers this combination of enterprise and Web 2.0.
Huddle is also hosted, which means that the IT department's intervention is minimal. It's a very simple system: there is only one username and one password to access all online workspaces. Inviting colleagues to join in is as simple as sending an invitation email.
So is it basically a social network with profiles, etc, where you can share documents?
It's much more than that. Huddle uses social techniques to help people work together, but is a full-one enterprise grade collaboration tool including document sharing, yes, but also project management, tasks, whiteboards, discussions, Web and telephone conferencing, workflows, audit trails and much more. Humans are social beings, we work sociably, and for too long software has ignored this.
Huddle seeks to use the lessons learnt from the social networks (which are now stalling in their growth as people tire of just connecting and increasingly are looking to actually do some meaningful activity) and combines this with the best tools for managing people, projects and information - into one place.
What types of companies are using Huddle now and how are they making use of it?
Huddle works with big brands including MasterCard, Boots, John Lewis and Barclaycard. Huddle is also used by a number of government organisations such as Department of Culture, Media and Sport, QIA, London Connects, DC10 and Brent Council. More than 2,000 Huddle users hail from local authorities. Similarly, the Huddle service is popular with small and medium businesses, especially creative agencies: brand, marketing and PR, who use Huddle as a branded extranet.
As an example, government organisations use Huddle to facilitate policy development, for external consultations or to share information internally with other government departments, agencies and consultants, and externally - with stakeholders and the third sector.
I'm reluctant to use online document sharing software because I still cannot trust that my work won't get lost - whether it's a bad Internet connection or untrustworthy software. How secure and robust is it and how does it deal with storing content?
Security of our users' content and protection of their data is at the centre of everything we do.
On the hardware side, Huddle data is stored securely at a state-of-the art datacenter on fully redundant server architecture, with daily back-ups to a secure offsite location. All data is encrypted at the back-end with 128bit SSL encryption on information being sent to and from our servers.
Within the application, you can set permissions on viewing, reading & writing documents in Huddle - both on a team and user basis. Users can be allocated teams, invited and taken out of workspaces in seconds, with full audit trails on all activities. If you are not a member of a workspace you cannot see anything in it. All documents are automatically versioned so you can roll back to previous versions and ensure you never lose important information again.
But can't you this already with Microsoft Office over VPN?
No, to do this means you have to be part of the network i.e.: working for the organisation, authenticated, etc. You can't access any of this if you are a partner, customer, supplier, third party stakeholder. It just doesn't work. Plus, you'd need to have VPN installed on your home PC or carry a laptop with you (not all organisations i.e. charities can afford that). Huddle gives everyone (internal and external teams) the access and more importantly, the security and control, to work together simply and securely - as if they were part of the same organisation.
Indeed, global enterprises such as BP and P&G have recognised the importance of external collaboration. P&G for instance (through their 'connect and develop' strategy) have stated that over 50 per cent of all innovation must come from outside the organisation by 2010. Huddle is one of the leaders in this fundamental shift in how we work.
How is Huddle changing the way people communicate?
The question should be, 'how is Huddle changing the way people work?' Huddle leverages all the new methods of web-enabled communication (RSS feeds, web conferencing, VoIP calling, discussion boards, wikis, tagging, etc) to help people work together better. However looking beyond communication, the question CEOs all over the world are asking is "what happens when the MySpace generation grows up?"
People who are 18 years old now and who have used Bebo, MySpace and Facebook as they have grown up will work in an entirely different way to how we do now. Our notion of the firewall, the enterprise, the company will become totally redundant as kids entering the world of work seek to connect with people they have worked with since they were young - people they have probably never met physically and who certainly are not part of the same 'company' - using the tools and techniques they are familiar with. Huddle is leading this evolution, the collision of social networking and enterprise working.
Where do you see Huddle in 5 years' time?
Huddle's ambition is to be seen as the de facto standard for business collaboration, with millions of users collaborating across the boundaries of the enterprise. Within the next year, the company is planning its expansion across the pond, as well as developing more language versions including Polish, Spanish and Chinese and building partnerships with ISP's, conferencing companies and ISV's as channel partners.
Within 5 years, if Huddle is as popular with businesses as Facebook is with consumers today, we will be very happy.