Last month during the Web 2.0 conference I stopped by the office of ON24 to meet with their CEO Sharat Sharan. I was interested in meeting with Sharat for three reasons: 1) he was funded by USVP, 2) his company is doing extremely well, and 3) he’s lived through two bust cycles.
ON24, a venture backed company, has built up a business that is now global. Initially they were focused on “Live” events and now have focused on servicing the enterprise via webcasting, demand generation, and rich media offerings. I was very impressed with Sharat in that he is very geeky and is deep technically. More importantly, he kept his company alive through two up and down cycles. ON24 has built an infrastructure platform that handles corporate casting, conf call, demand and lead gen. However, what got me excited is the new direction of virtual conferences.
As Second Life struggles with it’s virtual business approach, ON24 is kicking butt. Trade shows and conference are the areas that companies cut during a recession and having a viable platform like ON24 makes sense. To me the big upshot is the trend in social networks where trust and communications are now being established. This will lead to a viable model for virtual collaboration or better yet virtual events. Although the product isn’t what I had hoped, it delivers the basics and it is state of the art.
ON24 isn’t going out of business anytime soon. In fact they are doing great even in this market. They have the ultimate recession product – it increases revenues for companies while reducing costs. Now that’s a business model.
ON24’s challenge is to make the user experience truely social instead of some vendor speak “spam party”. I know that they are working on that but that is not their job. Corporate customers need to adjust the ON24 product to fit the market rather then just fit their marketing message.
A couple of sound bite comments from Sharat worth noting:
– Second Life is inappropriate for business
– Brands want control over their virtual environment
– demand generation and lead generation is key to the ROI for corporate customers
– users enjoy exciting new apps but it complicated things – the latest and greatest don’t necessarily translate to success
– the social web is becoming more cluttered (noisy) and we need new filters and look to expert systems or guides to lead in this area
– in 3-5 yrs rich media will be the standard not the exception with interaction capabilities being front and center
– patience is what allowed him to survive and keep his business on track for the 2 down cycles (including this one)
– reinventing and serving customers that drive revenue help companies survive – eliminate the heavy cost structures if revenues aren’t in sight
– revenue is the ultimate success story for this current market condition; revenue equals product/platform validation
– Erwin Federman was the key to the success of ON24 with Erwin Federman ON24 never would have made it
I have to say that I really liked Sharat and his team. Sharat is a true entrepreneur, tech guru, and great executive. We shared some great entrepreneurial stories including some about USVP which will remain off the record. PodTech and ON24 where both funded by USVP. USVP shut down PodTech, but supported ON24 (Erwin Federman wasn’t on the board of PodTech).
Sharat success as he puts it comes down to patience and support of his team (including Erwin Federman of USVP).
My prediction is that we will see a massive rise in social “virtual” collaboration very quickly or more short term – “virtual” events. The question is can ON24 platform enable and accelerate that trend. The key to success will be user experience.