My own cloud history (Part 1)

This is a partial re-post of a rather verbose post from last year. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own personal cloud history lately and this story is worth sharing again.

The Birth of Document Management | Interleaf was known for their technical publishing software (Interleaf 5 and 6 at the time) that ran on Unix and later PC. Because the documents our clients were creating were quite complex, we needed to provide them with ways to manage the documents and the Document Management industry was born. (It was a relational document management system sitting on an Oracle database, they called it RDM…very creative!) This was a fundamental that Interleaf got right. They listened to their customers and filled a need they were willing to pay for.
There was a real excitement over the future of document management and one of the most exciting times came when a developer web enabled RDM and our viewer technology called WorldView. (Way better than Adobe Acrobat at the time but Adobe decided to give away their viewer for free… well played Adobe. Well played.) This was in the heyday of Netscape and we called this web enabled viewer of business documents “Business Web”.
We went after our base and began selling. It was early, bleeding edge, but still garnered purchase orders. I began packaging services with the license and branded it the Business Web Starter Kit to get early adopters. It worked and at $50K a deal, we started doing quite well. Not mainstream success, but validated a need. I got more creative because I had to hit my quota. Working with GE Capital, I started offering customers a way to lease the licenses and roll in the services over 3 years. This approach brought PO’s from a few key accounts that had stalled. Then as objections arose around implementation, we began hosting business webs for clients who paid an annual license fee plus ‘maintenance’. We were able to secure a few clients before the wheels began to fall off at Interleaf and RDM was re-branded Quicksilver and the company sold to Broadvision.
Looking back on that time in the late nineties, I realize that it we had created a business model that made sense, but the technology was too bleeding edge at the time, and not mature enough to succeed. Most companies in the document/content management space eventually went to a hosted or ASP model by the mid 2000’s and Salesforce.com and Amazon matured the business model while addressing the security, performance and support aspects that made software-as-a-service (SaaS) mainstream and branded as “the cloud.” The technology was great, but it was the business model that made the biggest difference. We focused on the fundamentals and listened to our clients. They wanted to try bleeding edge technology to prove concepts and move the business further faster (one of our tag lines) but had limited capital budgets. By changing the business model, we tapped into operating expense budgets and reduced the friction of the sale.

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