VMware sells SlideRocket to ClearSlide. Here's why

In a step toward reaffirming its focus on the IT organization, VMware flips SlideRocket to San Francisco's ClearSlide. We spoke with everyone involved.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

On Friday, ClearSlide, a San Francisco-based company that serves the sales organizations of enterprises, acquired SlideRocket, the presentation platform, from VMware for an undisclosed sum.

The deal ends the cloud and virtualization company's brief romance with workplace productivity tools, and reaffirms its focus on software-defined networking, cloud, and datacenter technologies.

For four-year-old ClearSlide, a well-funded sales engagement startup, it's all upside. SlideRocket's team and technology will be integrated into ClearSlide's broader platform, giving its new owner interactive, multimedia-focused capabilities for work presentations — perfect for the sales teams that company targets.

For SlideRocket, the deal is a dose of stability after VMware signaled that it was walking back the strategy that led it to acquire the startup in April 2011.

"Products we will deemphasize include SlideRocket and other products which are not central to what our customers value the most from VMware," VMWare CFO Jonathan Chadwick said during the company's 4Q12 earnings call.

To get a fuller picture, I spoke separately with Al Lieb, ClearSlide CEO, and Chuck Dietrich, the former SlideRocket CEO who's now a vice president and general manager at VMware.

(Conversations were edited and condensed for clarity.)

Al Lieb, chief executive, ClearSlide:

Sales teams are using a hodgepodge of solutions to tell their story. ClearSlide is a broad, integrated platform to pitch and present to the customer, either in person or over the phone or e-mail. We offer analytics so that the sales rep knows how the customer is interacting with their content.

We've had a very enterprise sales-focus. SlideRocket is complementary to our focus; they've focused on marketing and small business folks. Our sales customers like to tell their interactive stories. For us, this is a new way to show interactive storytelling.

We want to maintain our focus on enterprise sales. Our customer is the VP of sales. [Our interest] is mostly product and technology. They do have some enterprise cloud customers that we find attractive.

They have many years of deep experience in the PowerPoint file format, as well as in the animation and online rich interactive content areas. There is a lot of knowledge and technical know-how there. It just makes sense to buy them, rather than spend lots of man-months building this piece.

We are growing very quickly and starting to hit scale and looking at ways to expand our platform in various directions. We want to improve the value proposition. This is appealing to customers that sell with rich, interactive content.

[This deal] was very mutual. We were selling each other.

Chuck Dietrich, VP and GM, VMware; former SlideRocket chief executive:

An acquisition with the intention of doing X, Y and Z is something we're all familiar with large companies doing.

VMware realized that they have unbelievable opportunities in cloud, software-defined networking and the datacenter. There's so much more headway in those markets. There is absolutely clear innovation that has huge benefits to IT and customers and financial upside for VMware. Those sorts of things require significant investment.

As things started to look debatable as whether they really wanted to get into a new-way-to-work generation of applications, they were wise enough to keep us independently managed and funded. VMware was smart enough — unlike a lot of large companies — to not strangle us. This was by design.

We grew over 400 percent since the acquisition. We've had an exceptional run.

The primary focus was a joint belief from myself and the top executives at VMware is that good things will come if you optimize around customer success. That was the main driver for what we were looking for. What home or future for SlideRocket would make customer most successful?

The best potential partner and fit is clearly this hyper-fast growing startup that has a similar sort of mission. I can rationalize how it all came to be, and it all makes sense.

This is something that we had in the works for quite some time. The connective tissue never formed between the two companies.

It's been an extremely educational process for me. I am 100 percent supportive of the market opportunity where VMware is focused. I am extremely bullish on the strategy.

Image: Screenshot of a comment left on the original VMware-SlideRocket deal announcement, April 2011.

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