If you're going to be proven wrong, it's definitely better to be proven wrong by good news rather than bad.
Contrary to my previous assertion that no Australian companies were presenting at the prestigious DemoFall 09 showcase in Silicon Valley last week, it turns out there were two entrepreneurs flying the flag for Australia after all. And they made their presence known in the best possible way: by beating 70 other attendees to be named the best enterprise product.
Silicon Valley-based company Liaise was founded 18 months ago by Australian technology entrepreneurs Sidney Minassian and Alon Novy, and had been operating in stealth mode up until just before its presentation at Demo.
The company's software uses natural language processing to scan email messages for potential action items. Hence an email asking an employee to file a report by "next Friday" can be automatically translated into a work flow.
"There are hundreds of action items that are locked up in our current communication streams — email and text and so on," Minassian says.
He acknowledges that this is a crowded space, with competitors including Gist, ClearContext and Xobni, but says Liaise is different because it adds person-to-person communications to standard time and information management tools, and does not force the user to change the way they work.
"The core value proposition is to help people be prepared and in control — it is about the outcome, such as closing a sale or running a campaign," Minassian says. "And we need to do this without changing people's behaviour. And it needs to be smart and easy to deploy."
Information is captured from email messages automatically, or the user can also nominate specific actions within their communications. The system then keeps track of progress on different items and can generate up-to-date reports. While the software is designed for stand-alone users, Liaise is also launching a web service that will synchronise actions between users.
Liaise is the result of the evolution of the founders' previous Sydney-based company, Think Software (the makers of the collaboration and work-flow product Omniscope), and which continues to operate as a subsidiary of Liaise. This led to the development of Omniscope Mail, which has been sold to clients including Deloitte and the Commonwealth Bank, and became the precursor to the Liaise technology.
The new company has received funding from the Sydney- and Silicon Valley-based venture capital group Southern Cross Venture Partners. It employs 12 people, with 10 in Silicon Valley and two in Sydney.
"Once we came up with the idea three years ago, we really believed this was a game-changer, and we really wanted the best chance to have the biggest impact on the industry," Minassian says. "So we packed up our families and secured the money and came over. We wanted to come where the ecosystem is the strongest to push this through the roof."
Liaise's technology has been made available in a limited beta, although this is currently closed. The software has been initially developed to work with Microsoft Outlook, but Minassian says Liaise will work with other email and webmail clients as well as instant messenger services and Twitter. The company will make money by selling Liaise on a subscription basis.
Apart from the prestige associated with winning the award, Liaise is also the recipient of a US$500,000 in advertising through the publishing company IDG.