Friday, April 11, 2008

On the History of Convoq

Chris Herot's entry on his experiences and the history of Convoq is an excellent 'in the trenches' look at the life and death of a startup. We, the early folks at Instant (Carl Tyler, Tim Browne), were actively following Convoq - since they formed at nearly the same time as Instant. At the time, we were named Invitrix - a name that I picked since I didn't know exactly what we would do at the time I formed the company.

The Convoq experience follows many of my own experiences at Bowstreet, now owned by
IBM, as well as my post Bowstreet days here at Instant. I would place Bowstreet in the 'too much money' category and the excessive infusion of cash at Bowstreet created an environment that was disconnected from market requirements and customer feedback. At Bowstree, I can vividly remember far too many discussions around a white board and not enough interactions with customers. However, it's difficult when your company is very early to the market with a product that customers may not yet need. Also...when you have a lot of money, there is a need to demonstrate a lot of action - whether or not that action is appropriate.

My own experiences have demonstrated that market timing, combined with an ability to execute, are critical. Instant's initial product (TeamMessenger for Outlook), was simply too early to attract any substantial amount of traction - read real $s. For us (Instant) integrating the dominant enterprise IM platform with the dominant productivity platform was obvious. However, it took a few years for it become a standard requirement in the market.

Unfortunately, we didn't build a big enough moat around our idea and IBM later included similar functionality (although not nearly as complete) for free in their product. While we considered applying for patents - we unfortunately skipped that process - mostly as a result of both time and money constraints.

Some of my summary notes are:
Attention to details
Speed (sometimes you need to speed up, sometimes you need to enter a holding pattern and slow down)

Startups are pretty tricky...thanks Chris for posting such a great synopsis.