The business-to-business of Gist

Gist, an online service that integrates your social stream with tools like Microsoft Outlook and Salesforce.com, recently launched its public beta to bring in individual users, but is wasting no time spreading its B2B wings.

Gist, an online service that integrates your social stream with tools like Microsoft Outlook and Salesforce.com, recently launched its public beta to bring in individual users, but is wasting no time spreading its B2B wings. Gist will ride shotgun with Microsoft's launch of its new CRM software and tag along with Exchange. And the company is talking with potential partners like SAP and IBM's Lotus unit in upcoming weeks.

Those tidbits emerged from a conversation I had with Gist CEO T.A. McCann and Robert Pease, vice president of marketing. Gist had a presence at the Gartner IT Symposium as it went about educating CIOs and tech executives about its service.

Gist already has a strong following among sales types because its algorithms can surface important contacts and flag folks they should be in touch with. It's pretty clear that McCann and Pease get the business market and how it could be a handholding service to enterprises that still aren't sure what to make of social networking. Gist's pitch to the CIO types could be: You don't have to Twitter, but you need to follow it. That's where Gist comes in.

The Gist service analyzes your activity stream---think Outlook, Twitter and Facebook---and uses its importance algorithm to highlight and organize contacts. There's an obvious business case if Gist can save people time and help close sales. "Business professionals will trade money for time and insight," says McCann.

Among some of the key topics we discussed:

The business model. McCann said that Gist will deploy a freemium model---a free service with premium services that users would pay for---in the "first part of next year." For now, Gist is focused on landing users. How would this freemium model work? Gist currently analyzes your contacts going back 30 days in your inbox and two weeks on your calendars. Gist could charge to analyze data going back six months or longer, says McCann.

Enterprise applications. Gist said it would add proprietary content to its service from the likes of Dow Jones and Hoovers. With real-time updates, Gist could point out to an HR recruiter how many contacts changed jobs in the last six months. For a business development executive, Gist could foreshadow contacts that are growing in importance to close a deal.

Google Wave. McCann said Gist sees Wave as another inbox to couple with instead of a rival. "Wave may be a richer inbox, but it's a potential platform for us," says McCann. However, Wave's development is just getting started.

Gist's secret sauce. McCann broke down Gist's innovation into these categories:

  • Aggregation of email, contacts and social streams.
  • Algorithms: Who's important right now and why? Gist's priority is refining the algorithms to put contacts in context to create business insight.
  • Matching contacts. Along the lines of context, McCann said Gist is wo
    rking to nail down contacts and avoid confusion. For instance, a search on Paul Allen would bring up various contexts: Former Microsoft executive, investor and owner of the Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Seahawks. The goal for Gist is to match the contact and the context.

Distribution: McCann said Gist's plan is to bring its service where the users are. Gist launched an iPhone app and is working on deeper Facebook integration. Gist is also likely to talk to potential partners such as Sage and SAP. However, McCann says that Gist is likely to focus on the easy integrations for the next six months---and that means it will partner with Oracle's Siebel on demand, but not the on premise software. Ditto for SAP and others.

Individual users as enterprise advocates: McCann said he hopes that Gist users will evangelize the service so IT departments take notice for larger deployments. "We're focused on getting Gist in the hands of people as a tool," says McCann. If successful, these individuals will then become advocates for Gist. And if there are enough advocates the enterprise will notice this young company of 15 people.

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