Can Huddle be the next Autonomy?

UK software companies rarely become big players but cloud collaboration vendor Huddle aims to buck the trend
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

UK-based software success stories have been a rare commodity and one of the most successful until its $10 billion acquisition by HP has been Autonomy. Now London-based enterprise cloud collaboration provider Huddle is aiming to follow in its footsteps. Here are some pointers to how that could work.

Alastair Mitchell, CEO, Huddle, speaks at a EuroCloud UK event

The cloud collaboration and content management space in which Huddle operates is a booming market with plenty of headroom for growth. Huddle is ambitious to be one of the leaders, CEO Alastair Mitchell told me in a phone conversation late last month: "There will be several-billion businesses and we plan to be one of them." (The picture shows Mitchell speaking at a EuroCloud UK event earlier this year). Of course the competition is stiff, with well-funded competitors such as Box and Dropbox (both already valued in the $1 billion range by their venture investors) as well as more established companies including Microsoft and Google. The key metric for a UK-based company to prosper against such rivals is how successfully it can penetrate the US market.

One key factor that helped Autonomy gain traction in the US came through proving its worth as a secure platform. Huddle yesterday announced it has achieved FISMA accreditation to supply the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. This puts it on a par with Google and Microsoft (who exchanged blows last year in a spat over the validity of each other's FISMA accreditations — there's no single test, each government agency has its own criteria, which can muddle the picture). This gives Huddle a significant leg up against more mass market-focused contenders Box and Dropbox. What's more, Mitchell is confident that Huddle's relationship with In-Q-Tel, a US-funded organisation that helps onboard needed technologies into intelligence departments, will ensure that it can rapidly translate the accreditation into signed contracts. "With In-Q-Tel, this provides both — the accreditation and a base in which you are working with customers. It doesn't just throw you over the wall once you get accredited," he told me.

As well as paving the way towards significant wins in a key fiefdom of arch-rival Microsoft Sharepoint, the federal endorsement can only boost Huddle's growth elsewhere in the US market, which is already contributing over half its new business billings, Mitchell told me. "About 50% of our new business is coming from the US out of our offices in San Francisco and New York," he said (and that in the context of 800 percent annual growth in its total enterprise sales). "When you talk to customers about what we're doing, this is a great way to prove you can deliver their needs into enterprises that have these demands for secure collaboration and content management."

A stock market listing is another necessary milestone on the path to a multi-billion-dollar value, and that too is firmly in Huddle's sights, which so far has raised $40 million in venture funding. "We're in line with our goal to build Huddle into a public, billion-dollar company," said Mitchell in a press statement issued yesterday. Whether that will come in London, as in Autonomy's case, or in New York remains an open decision, he told me in our conversation last month. "Right now, the London market is effectively closed — there is very little IPO activity in the UK right now," he said. "I think it will come back on stream. If we were floating today it would be in the US, but in one to two years' time, who knows?"

For more on Huddle, see WebEx founder backs Sharepoint killer Huddle from May this year.

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