Little Huddle achieves global reach with InterCall partnership

Originally published: 11 February 2009 at The Next Web

Huddle partners with InterCall

Huddle partners with InterCall

Huddle of Bermondsey, London, has announced a partnership with InterCall headquartered in Chicago, the world’s largest conferencing and collaboration services provider, aiming to “deliver the world’s first unified collaboration, communication and social networking platform for the enterprise“.

The deal means that InterCall conferencing customers can schedule phone and web meetings in Huddle (and its applications within LinkedIn and Facebook) and share dial-in details, documents and meeting minutes. They can also use Huddle’s range of project management & collaboration tools, such as discussions, whiteboards, tasks, document versioning, and audit.

By the same token, Huddle customers will be introduced to InterCall’s services, with events like teleconferences and web meetings created, scheduled and managed from within the Huddle environment.

Huddle | Meetings | Add a new meeting

I spoke to Andy McLoughlin, Product Director and co-Founder of Huddle, pictured below right with CEO and co-founder Alastair Mitchell (on left), on the eve of today’s announcement in London, and put a few questions to him.

Q: Andy, this is some deal. How long have you been cooking this?

A: We were approached last year, the better part of 7 or 8 months ago. We are a small company and can move fast, so we were working at the pace to integrate with a large company that can marshall over 1,000 sales people on their phone lines globally. They serve around a million different businesses, with 30-40,000 new businesses joining them every month, so it’s taken a while to get everything lined up.

Alastair Mitchell and Andy McLoughlin of Huddle.net

Q: You’re going to scale to potentially having 1m new customers hitting your servers tomorrow. How have you prepared for this?

A: We have been doing a lot of work in preparation for scaling since doing a deal with LinkedIn last summer. We were the only non-US company to launch on the new LinkedIn platform, and were sitting alongside global players such as Amazon and Google, so we have been careful to make sure we can scale well. We will be taking a phased approach in our partnership with InterCall, and they will be gradually introducing us to their hundreds of thousands of customers. It’s really exciting.

Q: I love the phrase in your release ‘Unified collaboration, communication and social networking platform for the enterprise’. What other social media hook-ins do you plan – you are already in LinkedIn and Facebook – is the future perhaps in widgets?

We have a number of partnerships we are working on that we will roll out in due course – I can’t mention any specific names at the moment. We are also working with Open Social Foundation, we’ve found that idea of adding Huddle.net functionality with a few clicks to any platform is a powerful one that we’ll be seeking to enable. Open Social, in the way that it works on different platforms is not perfect yet, but we’re confident about having some innovative, portable and effective tolls for customers as their needs and different platforms evolve.

Q: Intercall customers get a free account on Huddle – what do Huddle customers get?

A: The InterCall suite of solutions is very broad – we are working on several things immediately – for example accessing great rates for conference calls, and providing easy access to web conferencing. Huddle can in effect be the front end for schedule teleconferences and web conferences in a low cost, scalable way.

Q: I have been using Huddle for a month or so, and I really do like it. I think the new meetings facility and beta’s look and feel are great. I particularly find the RSS feeds useful to keep on top of developments on a project without that tyranny of the inbox, and through just using a browser from anywhere I happen to be. What do you think will be the next areas your customers ask you to focus on?

A: We’re already getting great feedback from our customers as we use Uservoice to manage that important process. Feedback we have had through this has been superb – and people have happy to interact quickly, even commenting on what could be a tiny thing, but they are noting it and letting us know about big and small issues. It’s really valuable to have feedback we might not normally have if we had asked them to mail us or log something in a more traditional forum.

We will have a few more announcements to make in the next few months, as new features and new partnerships are finalised and released to customers, in beta trials, and in other platforms. We also expect to have a lot more interest in our API now that we’ve made this announcement of our partnership with InterCall.

We also have a view to integrating further with social networking tools – and of course, our API is available to let developers integrate their applications and build new services on top of the platform, so we’re very excited about the future in that respect. The API is at http://beta.huddle.net/api

The Huddle crew on Dress-up Friday

A couple of quotes from the official new release are below:-

“Through this partnership with Huddle, our customers around the world will benefit from an experience that takes collaboration to the next level,” said Scott Etzler, InterCall’s president. “Many of our customers are already familiar with Huddle from LinkedIn and Facebook, so we’re excited to extend that experience to conferencing so they can be even more productive.”

“Huddle offered by InterCall is a true differentiator in a marketplace for both companies and realises our vision of end-to-end collaboration and social networking for business, in one place. Our partnership means that the users across the globe can now take advantage of Huddle and work together better, online or during live conferencing, regardless of their size or budget,” said Alastair Mitchell, co-founder and CEO, Huddle.net.

Andy was certainly delighted and very excited about this partnership, and it is nice to be able to write a positive news story about the hard-won success of a small European startup. Thanks to Zuzanna Pasierbinska at Huddle for lining up the interview.

If our fathers can’t go farther online, we are all missing out…

Originally published: 29 September 2008 at The Next Web

I was helping my father to get online just a few days ago – I helped him buy a wireless USB stick so that he could use his neighbour’s wifi signal (with her permission, I must add).

I’d forgotten just how much of a pain it was to deal with a Windows PC when installing a new device. (Before you ask, I did advise him to get a Mac, but there was a good offer at the time). Following the instructions, and using the manufacturers software, this new device just did not work – no connection could be made at all. Using my own hard-won knowledge of Windows, which I have used from version 1.0 up to XP Pro, but given up on at Vista, I disabled some software, had to restart a few times, and then got it all working in about half an hour.

Then I planned to install free anti-virus software, make sure the firewall was configured and working, and change the browser to one I can set up to open with the key pages he needs, and with the defaults for legibility that help him to see what’s going on. I also was going to set up his email account for him, setting up a new mailbox on one of the domains I own.

Pause for 200+ downloads

But I couldn’t do any of that, as there were about 270 different software updates trying to download and install themselves, as the machine had not been online since it was bought. I realised it would take about 2 hours for all of this to download and install, and only then could I make the computer secure against viruses and attack, and get the preferred browser installed. So I said I’d come back to do this when I had more time.

My father, who is an intelligent and intellectually curious man, watched some of this process in silent perplexion, and then asked me whether he should just take the new hardware back to where I got it, and perhaps consider getting a better, more modern computer. (It’s a year old roughly). He knew it was fairly inexpensive, but if it was a TV or a Car, he said, he wouldn’t put up with this sort of pointless time-wasting and unreliability.

And why should he put up with these sorts of problems? If the web is going to engage and excite people, getting online and getting things done needs to be simple, safe, and reliable.

I remember setting up my new cable broadband at home a few years ago – it was pretty easy, and it works really well, but the email account I was given (which I never intended to use, as I know how to set up my own domain and email) managed amazingly to get over 80 really nasty spam emails within a day of it being activated. Had I not had better knowledge, I’d probably still be resigned to deleting dozens of offensive messages every day, and I’d be paying £49 a year or more just to keep malicious viruses from trashing the data on my computer or allowing someone to go on a spending spree with my card or bank details.

How can we expect people to trust, use, contribute to, and enjoy using the internet if it is still so damn difficult to get started with it, and keeping going with it involves endless seemingly pointless downloads, updates, and restarts – never mind getting a whole inbox full of worrying hoaxes and offensive and potentially dangerous payloads?

Is this too much to ask?

It’s a question that hardware and software makers, as well as internet service providers, really need to address, because there is a huge potential audience out there that will use more, buy more, share more and get more fun and enjoyment from the online world – if only they could simply understand how to get it into their lives simply, reliably, and safely.

At the moment, that seems near to impossible, and I think there are huge numbers of people simply giving up on accessing the internet, because no matter who they turn to for help, it’s confusing, unreliable, costly, and therefore, just a waste of their time.

They will stick with the cost and inefficiency of 35mm film, ordering by telephone, printed mail order catalogues and walking to the bank to pay in and withdraw money for all the right reasons – because it’s clear, and it works, and they can trust it.

I don’t do meetings. I do tweetings.

Originally published: 06 September 2008 at The Next Web

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot masturbate” – Dave Barry

I don’t do meetings any more. I used to do a lot of meetings. But not any more. tweet nothings

The change from meeting to tweeting – where a series of brief exchanges (each a maximum of 140 characters) can make up the content – has been brought about by a variety of factors over the past 15 years or so – but here are the ten factors that I think are critical.

  1. IN GOOGLE TIME
    I no longer have a phone book, business directories or yellow pages. Those were essential when I started my first corporation in 1993. But now, I use Google. As a result, I have less patience for slow ways of doing things – I am impatient. I demand speed, efficiency, and immediate results.
  2. HOLA FONEROS
    I have a laptop computer and a mobile phone, I can work from a cafe terrace in Banyalbufar just as easily as anywhere else. As a result, I don’t have the need to restrict myself to doing business with those who are within easy reach of where I live or work most of the time.
  3. HOME OFFICE DRESS CODE
    I don’t need to have an office in the city centre to get my work done – I can do it from my home office. As a result, I don’t need to spend time travelling, and so I use that saved time productively. I also find wearing a suit in my own kitchen a bit pointless, so feel there has to be a very good reason to dress up to go somewhere. I like the fact that my carbon footprint’s lower with less travel.
  4. MY ONLINE VISIBILITY
    Whereas I used to have to push information out to people in brochures, newspaper interviews, in meetings, at trade shows, I now have online profiles at LinkedIn, Xing, Ecademy, Facebook, Hyves, Flickr, Friendfeed, MyBloglog etc, and I have blogs and web sites that I can update easily in seconds. As a result, I don’t have to spend so much time introducing myself, and explaining what it is that I, or any of my enterprises provide – people find out about me before they meet me, or get to know me through following my activities online. People can meet me at airports because my photo is online. They can also decide whether they need to waste their time meeting me.
  5. I HATE COFFEE
    I don’t really like coffee any more. And I especially never liked paying €5 for a cup of it unless it was refilled all day and came with free wi-fi. As a result, when someone says – let’s have a chat over a coffee, I say “No. Let’s save the time and money, and spend five minutes now working out if we need to meet – and if so, what items on the agenda we can dispense with before we need to have a meeting”.
  6. MEETINGS ARE GETTING SHORTER
    I arranged a meeting in London (yes, I do still sometimes meet people) with guys coming from Amsterdam and from the USA without ever using a phone – and although we’d not met before, we have already shared dozens of pieces of information that made the business of the meeting last about ten minutes – and then we ordered some food and drinks. We then talked about other interesting stuff and new possibilities – not just ‘the business we need to discuss’.
  7. CUT THE CHIT-CHAT
    I can get to know people online by following their updates – or by looking at what they’ve said, or who they’ve been talking with, or who’s been talking about them – and so with this background, a lot of ‘chit-chat’ becomes unnecessary. As a result, I can filter out people, or filter them in.
  8. YOU CAN DO THIS TOO
    You are reading this blog. You can send me emails, you can send me stuff without a courier, you can clarify things in Skitch, you can speak on Skype for free, you can send an instant message or a twitter. But you can do this as suits your agenda – and not be dragged into it by another party with an unknown agenda who wants 100% of your attention – NOW.
  9. I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU
    I can now have customers who I never meet. That used to be very difficult. But now, I can see people, talk to them in real time, swap messages and files, send them sound files and presentations, have a video-conference with them… whether they are half a world away or live around the corner.
  10. LIFE’S TOO SHORT
    A friend of mine died suddenly this year. David was 42. He did not suffer fools gladly, and could summarise biblical volumes of information in a pithy, witty phrase. But he ran out of time. We all will.

Now, I realise this might make me sound like an anti-social douche-bag, who’d rather spend his time tapping away at his keyboard than having a normal chat face to face.

But if you’ve met me, you’ll know that I’m a very gregarious and friendly guy who’s always introducing people to each other in social situations. However, that’s because I have time to do that – because I have not been wasting time in avoidable meetings.

I asked a friend about this issue yesterday – here’s what he had to say: –

“I prefer email and tweets and other online communications over telephone and face to face meetings because it allows me to manage my own time. When I’m meeting face to face the other person will automatically assume they have an hour of my time, which seems to be the standard meeting length, and will take all of that time to talk TO me.

In an email I might grasp their concept within 2 minutes and be ready with a reply. Other times I need to think about their message overnight. All of this is impossible in face to face meetings where an immediate reaction and 100% dedication is demanded.”
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

So if you want to have a meeting with me here’s how to start the conversation:- Let’s tweet.

But what about you – what’s changed the way you handle meetings over the past few years?