Five minutes with: Krish Ramakrishnan, CEO, Blue Jeans Network

The co-founder and CEO of the videoconferencing startup discusses collaboration, competition and Marissa Mayer.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Former editor on
Photo courtesy Blue Jeans Network

In 2009, Krish Ramakrishnan and Alagu Periyannan founded Blue Jeans Network with the goal of creating a cloud-based conferencing service that didn't require proprietary technology to work. We spoke with Krish.

ZD: So, "unified communications," huh?

KR: (laughs) The company was founded on the principle that largely, communication cannot be an island. A lot of interoperability in the space depended on the communication vendors in it. Every one of them actually created an island, intentionally. Technology was not the problem. They designed it as, "If everybody uses my stuff, people can communicate." The thought behind it was, "If I grow my island, and build a bridge from my island, people will leave." That business model is what prevented people and companies from interoperability. Unified communication is the most oxymoronic term in the industry.

When Blue Jeans got started, I wanted to solve why videoconferencing was not pervasive. One, interoperability. Two, ease of use. Three, scale. Unlike a telephone where you can actually call other people, videoconferencing was done on private networks. The Internet gives you the reach of communicating with everybody; before, nobody communicated with outside vendors.

People want to communicate with what they want to communicate with. I use the device that I have with me at this moment in time.

ZD: There's a lot of discussion around unified communications right now. Why?

KR: There are two reasons why there's a lot of chatter. First: tablets and mobile phones. Tablets in the enterprise are usurping the desktop. And then there are phones. All of these things have to work together. They need software that works together. These devices may be on different types of networks. No single vendor can solve that, even if they want to.

The second aspect is that customers are demanding interoperability as the number one selection criteria. Therefore you have these vendors talking interoperability. The "i" word comes out.

There's Cisco. There's Microsoft. Both have lots of unified communication properties, if you will. Neither have incentive to work with each other.

ZD: Speaking of Microsoft, you announced support for Lync in February.

KR: Right. It means you can communicate with a meeting room—that has Polycom or Cisco—or with a mobile tablet outside the office. We've expanded the reach to the outside room without having to install hardware in the network. The other companies they announced partnerships with are hardware companies.

The Microsoft announcement is extremely complementary to Blue Jeans. I want it to happen. The more number of devices capable of video, the more that will connect to Blue Jeans. A lot of customers want that because they want the freedom of choice.

ZD: Is that a sustainable proposition?

KR: No one single company will have share of more than 30, 40 percent. Diversity is the strength of technology. Not plenty, but a few choices. I have not come across a single enterprise that says they are 100 percent one or the other. In that environment, a company like Blue Jeans has a very agile process to stay a step ahead.

The second part is, what is the incentive for companies fighting tooth and nail to make their stuff work together?

ZD: Right. At ZDNet, we use an enterprise vendor in our conference rooms—I can't remember which—but I often use Google Hangout to talk with writers who don't work in the office.

KR: If you were to have a call with Marissa Mayer, would you do it over Google Hangout?

ZD: Fair point.

KR: As an entrepreneur of a Silicon Valley startup, I have to believe that my destiny and aspiration of this company depends on open innovation. That I can out-innovate on problems.

One of the number one issues to solve is that there are no pre-requirements to know how everybody is joining. You called into this conversation at first by phone, and then by browser with video. Having to ask, "Is the person I'm talking to on Google Hangout?" That's a blocker. That's not scalable.

Look, nothing beats face to face. Let's face it. But we're about creating this universal fabric. A network, as you know, is called a fabric. It's not just video. It must be more inviting than a suit and tie.


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