Could Huddle be the next Autonomy?
HP's acquisition of Cambridge-based software company Autonomy for Â£7.1 billion was the great British technology success story of 2011. Not only did shareholders see a huge return on their investments, but the company's founder and CEO Mike Lynch...
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Although the sale was widely celebrated, some commentators mourned the loss of another British champion. What hope is there for the future of hi-tech innovation in the UK, they said, if fast-growing British firms sell out to transatlantic giants at the first opportunity?
To its credit, Autonomy stayed independent longer than most. Lynch stuck in there throughout the dotcom bubble - when his stake in the company reached its peak - and after it burst, remaining quietly determined to build a British software giant. It was only after the company went public that he decided to sell.
Now there is a new kid on the block hoping to replicate Autonomy's success. Hailing not from the leafy glens of Silicon Fen, but from the concrete piles of Silicon Roundabout, cloud-based content collaboration firm Huddle wants to do for the internet era what Autonomy did for on-premise.
“What is particularly interesting about Autonomy is not just that they're a great British success story, but that they really revolutionised the use of information within the enterprise,” says Alastair Mitchell, CEO and co-founder of Huddle.
Autonomy's software is very clever at finding information on servers, figuring out what is useful, and then allowing people in the enterprise to discover that information, he says. However, the paradigm is changing. Now information is stored in multiple places and accessed using a plethora devices - and it is not just people within the enterprise that want to access it but a whole ecosystem of customers and partners as well.
Everyone is creating content and moving it around at an unprecedented rate, and CIOs are struggling to keep a handle on all of this information. Meanwhile companies like Microsoft and Autonomy are in a dilemma, according to Mitchell, because they are unable to help.
“It is not an on-premise problem any more. This is about capturing information from your legacy servers, from the cloud, from people's email, from people's social tools and making it available in one place. That is what Huddle helps to address, because it allows everyone to share information, discuss ideas, work on documents together with people inside and outside the business, on any device, and it captures all that information on one platform.”
Mitchell claims that traditional companies are scrambling to keep up with new trends through acquisition. “This is why SAP bought SuccessFactors and why Microsoft bought Yammer,” he says.
However, adapting existing business models to new paradigms can be a slow process. Opportunities are therefore arising for newer, more agile companies to grow up in their place.
Huddle has big plans for the coming year. The company is currently co-headquartered in London and San Francisco, and recently opened a third office in New York for sales and customer support. The next step will be to open a Washington DC office, to reinforce the company's growing relationship with the US government.
Mitchell says that Huddle's focus in the coming months will be on developing its technology platform so that it can scale up to the size that some of its biggest customers require, and redoubling its sales and marketing efforts. “Within the next couple of years,” Mitchell says, Huddle will be seeking an IPO.
One of its biggest stumbling blocks along the way could be Box - the enterprise cloud storage and collaboration vendor that recently announced a new round of investment worth $125 million (£80 million). Amusingly, both companies characterise the other as having more of an SMB focus.
“Small businesses don't care as much about collaboration, they just care about storing their stuff in the cloud, and that's why Box is a great tool,” says Mitchell. “Bigger business really care about collaboration because they've got many more people trying to find information and use it, and they really care about security and scalability, so that's why they would use a tool like Huddle.”
Mitchell said that Box had done a great job of raising the profile of business-grade cloud technologies, and admitted that the two services may overlap more in the future as Box pushes further into the enterprise. However, he expects them to be united by a common enemy: Microsoft Sharepoint.
“We get all of our users from Sharepoint because people love switching off it and finding a new product, so that's a great place to have a market; they're a great competitor to have,” he says.
According to Gartner analyst Tom Eid, Sharepoint is a good target for smaller vendors like Huddle to focus on. Many enterprise users have a love-hate relationship with Sharepoint, he says, and there is a definite market opportunity.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” says Eid. “It's a little bit like your email system; it's a little bit like your Office productivity system too. Where a smaller vendor like Huddle has an advantage is in supporting a variety of marketing functions, as well as customer service, because it has this way of bringing in external users in a secure way.”
It is still early days for Huddle, but the company is growing fast. Since launching in 2006, it has raised $40 million (£25.5m) in funding and boasts 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies among its customers. Recent figures also show that the company secured 89 percent of the £450k that was spent in the first two months of the UK government’s G-Cloud framework going live.
Only time will tell if Huddle will fulfil its dream of becoming the next Autonomy, but already it is a British IT success story to be proud of.
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