I recently caught up with Aaraon Fulkerson, CEO MindTouch. If you don't know the company you should. I've known Aaron for what seems forever but is more like 4-5 years. He was one of the early cloud based kind of open source wiki pioneers.
The company launched with the idea of seeding the market via free download and then pull through with support services. My problem was that while MindTouch had a great approach, it was just a bit too geeky for my kind of readers. Actually, it was a bit too geeky for me but then I'm not a habitual code jock. Even so, we would have occasional and convivial conversations. All that has changed - well almost.
Today, MindTouch is still a bit geeky but with solid purpose. "In late 2010 we were doing OK but realised that if we are to build MindTouch into a great company then we needed more focus. At the time we were getting a lot of interest from developers wanting to put manuals into MindTouch. It's one of those jobs that has stayed stuck in another century. No-one had really figured it out in the context of help and self help so it represented an opportunity we could build upon and especially since we are inherently social."
All that sounds fine and borderline interesting so why get excited about the company today. From today's blurbs:
“Salesforce.com views customers as database fields, but exceptional customer experiences are not delivered by a handful of database fields. This is precisely why many of our customers have asked MindTouch to improve Salesforce.com by integrating our social help center,” said Aaron Fulkerson, founder and CEO of MindTouch. “Our customers are upgrading their customer experience and support tenfold by adding MindTouch. Quality customer experiences aren’t just about responding to support requests, it’s about delivering an experience that turns users into product experts and customer advocates.”
That got my interest. But what really excited me was what I saw at Autodesk. Check the graphic.
The stats speak for themselves but what really caught my eye was the number of contributions and page edits. Those are huge numbers.
I trawled through some of the content and it is truly outstanding. You don't have to know a thing about Autodesk to see that this is a community that is way more than alive and well. It is kicking. But is it an outlier?
Look at the front page for a partial customer list. PayPal, Mozilla, Intuit and many others. They're some of the world's highest trafficked sites.
In talking further with Aaron it turns out that while the primary purpose of MindTouch's offering is to help with one of the most neglected jobs in IT - documentation - the ease with which contribs can get to grips with the social elements and have that information presented in a clear manner is what scores with customers. "Some companies think that the forum plus wiki approach is the way to go but we've found a better way to do this which really does create a living help desk." It's hard to disagree and, perhaps for the first time, we are seeing documentation as something that isn't just an afterthought but an organic part of what MindTouch customers deliver to their communities.
The question in my mind is this - how far can the company replicate that growing success outside the world of IT? We'll have to watch and see.