LiveTiles & The Microsoft Sharepoint Ecosystem | In Practise

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LiveTiles & The Microsoft Sharepoint Ecosystem

Microsoft GTM Director at AvePoint and former CMO at Beezy

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Executive Bio

Microsoft GTM Director at AvePoint and former CMO at Beezy

In his role as the Microsoft GTM Director at AvePoint, this executive is responsible for leading partnership efforts across product engineering, marketing, and field team co-sell between AvePoint and Microsoft, and managing strategic Microsoft corporate relationships.Read more

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Interview Transcript

Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.

I know you're a few years removed from Beezy, but obviously you've got a ton of experience in the Microsoft world, so looking forward to chatting. I have a few different areas where I spend a lot of time and one of them is Microsoft ecosystem players. For every dollar of Microsoft sales, you have $9 of ecosystem revenue, and there's a tendency in the public space to focus on how great that $1 of Microsoft is, but there are many great businesses which are much smaller and benefit from that $9.

I am trying to understand how people use intranets and custom coding them internally, versus using a LiveTiles or an intranet out of the box type of product like Beezy.

I am trying to get my arms around how sticky these deployments were, what it even involved to go through an RFP and what a 1,000-employee business versus a 300,000-employee business might be looking for. LiveTiles has been an amalgamation of five or six businesses which have been acquired over time, and with that background which is true for anybody in that $9 space, I want to understand how you do the tango with Microsoft. The modern version of SharePoint was much better than previous versions, at least from a visual standpoint, so I would like to figure out how that impacted the intranet players.

I am happy to start anywhere but would love to hear about your experience. Most of my questions are around how an investor in LiveTiles should think about this space. What do you think about the role of intranet and how do you see that going forward in this landscape of hybrid work? Is it right to think that is more relevant than before? If there is anything from the Beezy days which comes to mind as you think about the competitive landscape? I would love to go there as well.

I have been in tech my entire career, for 30 years. I got involved building an intranet when I was working for Pacific Telesis, a shared services organization. It was originally named Pacific Telesis Shared Services and simply went by PTSS. That was my first introduction into acronyms and how important they are. We built out a portal from scratch, automating some of the workflows and common activities of project management organizations. I ended up consulting on the side for several companies. I also created a startup during business school at the end of the 90s and, after three and a half years of working nights and weekends with several buddies, sold that to Rational Software right before they got acquired by IBM and made the transition from building collaboration centric project management solutions to portfolio management.

In 2004, I wrote a white paper doing a deep dive into Microsoft SharePoint and what they needed to go and do, the early version of the technology. I saw some good things about it but there were also some huge gaps. I was invited to their campus by members of the product team who showed me what they were working on, which would eventually become SPS 2007. This was in August 2004 and I told them they were selling garbage and that they had no idea what real collaboration was. A year later, I was consulting for a Utah company doing $800 million in revenue. I had moved to Seattle but was consulting in Salt Lake, flying out Monday morning and home on Friday night, which was fantastic.

I did that for a year but this company insisted on working with Project Server which was a struggle. They wanted to deploy SharePoint globally and I tried to talk them into something more expensive but functional, but they chose to do the SharePoint thing. In March of 2006, I caught the bug and went to work for Microsoft for a team called Microsoft Managed Services, or MMS. It got renamed as BPOS, Business Productivity Online Services, which then became Office 365. I was a product manager for a company which went public but is now private again, called E2open, and was the project manager hired to build their collaboration manager platform.

We built a dedicated hosted secure collaboration platform which we launched the first version built on a code base of Matrix 1 which we had acquired. It was very robust and secure, and deployed it for two years, at companies like Hitachi and Matsushita in the Philippines and Japan, as well as Seagate and Nortel. When I joined Microsoft, I was the only one who had built what we talked about doing with Office 365. I was frustrated because my primary complaint was the old sales model. SharePoint or WSS was the free version everybody was installing and they were loading it into enterprise agreements and were surprised that, by the end of those EAs, people were not renewing, catching the vision or buying into this thing.

The reason I share my frustration was that, at the time, Microsoft didn't care whether people were using it or achieving business outcomes with it. Fast forward to today and that is the number one metric around that. Microsoft are obsessed with whether people are adopting and are they engaged. Viva is all about the next level of that. They are seeing increased numbers but will they experience burn out, how is it fitting in and what is the actual culture? What should we be thinking about the numbers that we are seeing?

With all that, back to your broader question around the role of intranet. There was a leap ahead with SharePoint 2010, kind of a mainstreaming of SharePoint and a focus on employee experience. Whatever flavor it is, an intranet or SharePoint or Teams or Yammer, the concept is around a centralized place where people go and work. That is much more dynamic and flexible and introduces the bring your own tool kind of concept. You might have an enterprise spread out geographically, with different technologies being embraced in different areas. You try to bring those things together, the concepts of the intranet and the single pane of glass in which you look at all the pieces. All those things are even more important now, especially in a hybrid space.

I left Microsoft in 2009 and went to a little SharePoint migration ISV called echoTechnology. 10 months later, they were acquired by Axceler and three and a half years after that, they were acquired by Metalogix. A year after that I left, and then they were acquired by Quest. I started consulting on the side and joined Beezy for almost two years. I consulted for another six months after I left, but I loved their interface and their head of product is fantastic. I didn't care for some of the other leaders at the company and left because of the leadership, not the technology. Although Beezy doesn't think of themselves in the intranet in a box space, they are.

Yes, they are.

They also tell people they're a packaged solution, but out of all of the intranet in a box vendors, none are what people think they are.

Explain what you mean by that. Is there no such thing as turn key because coding and deployment are always required?

Correct.

And that is not only once but continuous?

Yes, it's a fallacy out there. The big players are Valo and Powell 365; Beezy are not even in the top 10, size wise. They were acquired by an industry who fit them into event management. Their UI is fantastic but I struggled while I was there. You might be familiar with Orchestry. Michal Pisarek is the CEO and founder and had an intranet in a box solution, one of the best-looking products out there. His was probably the closest to being an actual product, and he sold that to Perficient or NSI and no one has heard from it since. I have had many conversations with players in that space who talk about what a deployment looks like around their solutions and where you are then tied in. That was the struggle at Microsoft where it took all of their product teams, and why people were frustrated with the moves Microsoft made. They wanted it to be a product or service you could sign up with a credit card and start using, but to make it truly turn key, you needed the blandest vanilla product in the world.

It has improved and many organizations decided to brand it and personalize but the majority of companies don't realize they do not need to have all those things. They could utilize 70% of the functionality a Beezy or Valo would provide, and get that out of the box with Office 365 and forego the other components. After Jeff Teper stepped away from the role then took back over SharePoint, he met with a handful of MVPs. He wanted my thoughts and I had lunch with him in Seattle. They were working on a new version; it was the May 4th event in San Francisco. It was Teper coming back in and sharing where things were going.

SharePoint 2010 was another turning point and they kept using the word beautiful, the new modern interface. I asked him what he thought the future for intranet in a box providers would be. He said that he couldn't see any of them around within two years, that they would all be gone. I interviewed him for my podcast two years later at an event in Minneapolis where I reminded him of that conversation, and that there was now 5X the number of intranet in a box providers out there. What is that company in London who does the report on it?

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