While in San Francisco recently I took a detour to meet Loic LeMeur, CEO Seesmic. Loic and I have a long history going back to his days at Six Apart and it had been more than a year since our last meeting. At the time, he was just getting involved with Salesforce.com's global roadshow and wanted an off the record conversation. Given what we're seeing today with Seesmic, I'm sure Loic won't mind if I talk about some of that conversation.
Back story: ever since I've know Loic I've hammered him with the message that consumer would never cut it for those with aspirations of building kick ass social tools. There is no money in that game except for Google, Facebook and possibly Twitter. The advertising model is the only game in town and those three have - for the time being at least - pretty much got the market carved up between them. AOL/Yahoo aside.
Making it in the enterprise is a different matter. Companies and public bodies will pay for social features and especially those that are security related and from which information can be aggregated. Regardless of how open the consumer world may be, enterprise is a long way off becoming transparent. It may never happen. The problem for Seesmic was that Loic could not get his head around enterprise. His favorite answer to me on that topic: "It's boring." My favorite response to him: "Boring is good. Boring means money." On that occasion, Loic listened. I'm not sure he had much of a choice.
The last few years, Seesmic has had the luxury of a large pot of money - something around $12 million - with which to experiment. First came the idea of video comments. Great idea, way too early. Killed off this week. Next came Seesmic desktop, another Twitter client, ergo no money given that Tweetdeck has run away with that market for the time being. What next?
Perhaps more by accident than design, Seesmic started turning its desktop client into an aggregation platform that takes feeds from as many social tools as it can. That caught Salesforce.com's attention: "Marc Benioff and I met early July and decided together it made sense to bridge external and internal social communication, integrating Seesmic and Salesforce Chatter would bring that. That's where it all started," explained Loic at the time.
Our conversation then turned to what enterprise means for companies like Seesmic. This was the point where I explained that while you might get 1, 5, 10 million consumer users for a particular tool, enterprise companies that have scaled offer captive markets that effectively provide distribution channels. In essence, Salesforce.com offers the potential to reach more than one million users via a single channel. That was one of the prime reasons the ESME team originally developed for the SAP NetWeaver platform. We knew that there was the potential to snag over 400,000 users in a single company. I think that's when the light went on for Mr. LeMeur.
Since that time, Salesforce.com has been dragging Seesmic around the world and it seems this has finally opened the company's eyes to the enterprise potential for platforms like Seesmic. There's still the small matter of pricing to solve. Will companies pay say $1-5/month/user for such tools? Yammer thinks so for its internal version of Twitter. But what might enterprise pay for a platform?
So where is Seesmic today? I wont go into that part of our discussion but Loic has made clear in recent back channel conversations that he is "very excited about enterprise." Even so, the challenges his company face are not trivial.
Tweetdeck could turn itself into a platform similar to Seesmic. Despite its dominant position as the non-web client out there, Tweetdeck has yet to make an enterprise play. Its problem is Flash and the need to develop for multiple mobile clients.
Seesmic 2 has focused on Silverlight based development. That seemed a smart move except that Seesmic hasn't ironed out all the wrinkles of making it work on Mac. And then there's the small matter of whether Silverlight has a future given Microsoft is making it clear it is going balls out on HTML5. And like Tweetdeck, Seesmic will have to develop for multiple mobile clients.
Seesmic will have to quickly learn about enterprise. Today, much of what the company is absorbing comes from the foot of Salesforce.com's throne. But that is not the only game in town. In reality and despite its $1.6 billion revenue stream, Salesforce.com is a small player in enterprise terms. Compare Salesforce.com to Oracle, SAP, IBM or even Infor and you get a sense of what I mean.
My feeling is that Seesmic would be best served by ensuring that it is vendor neutral. In a world where we're only just starting to envision how different public clouds might interact, Mr. LeMeur's next phone call should be with Narinder Singh and the Appirio developers. Of course he could always sit down with the Constellation team (ahem.)
In a final twist of irony, I see that LeWeb 2010 has Shai Agassi, CEO Better Place slated as one of its keynote speakers. Mr Agassi was once in line for the CEO spot at SAP. LeWeb is Loic LeMeur's side project that brings more than 2,400 participants to Paris each winter for a two day 'edge' conference about web topics that range from consumer to politics to the arts. Now in its seventh year, LeWeb has been conspicuous in avoiding the enterprise. Until now.