Opal Targets Enterprise with Purpose-Driven Social Apps

opal-brainstormEnterprise platform startup Opal Labs wants to make Enterprise work more like a consumer experience.  The Portland-based startup launched officially in October 2012.  The founders had previously founded a digital agency, We the Media, where they served very large Enterprise clients.  The exposure to Enterprise enabled the team to work closely with a flagship customer to create its first market-ready app.  Opal Brainstorms was designed to enable workforce professionals to contribute unique ideas and collaborate on problem-solving. Completely SaaS-driven with a simple signup, employees and partners can get started in minutes.  Built with user experience in mind, the Brainstorms app is elegantly designed with a Pinterest look and feel.

I stumbled upon Opal because the company recently teamed up with TEDxAustin to enable participants, partners, speakers, and the public to engage in conversations around this year’s event which took place this past weekend.  George Huff, Opal Labs CEO and co-founder, spoke to me last week about the company.  I asked him, “Why Enterprise?”  He responded, “I want a business model that isn’t advertising.  We started in Enterprise, and that’s what we know.  We know we can have so much impact there– and we want to have impact.”  Huff recognizes that just like cash flow is critical to a successful business, “idea flow” will secure its future.  He wanted to key into the ideas and problems every company faces.  He asks, “Who has problems in a business?”  The answer, of course, is “everyone.”

Opal Labs is 100% bootstrapped with about a dozen employees. Huff says they have been making money for about a year with a solid portfolio of large enterprise clients.  The company headquarters are in Portland and has a London-based subsidiary that serves a flagship client: ARUP.   Pricing for Opal Brainstorms is $10/user/month with an annual contract, but the company will negotiate larger scale enterprise license agreements.

I’m looking forward to watching this company grow.  With HTML5 and superb design skills, there is no limit to the problems Opal can start addressing in large Enterprise.  You can find Huff on AngelList, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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Mama Weer All Crazee-Social Now!

Indeed, a Quiet Riot is percolating in the heretofore boring ERP sector.  I spotted Josh Greenbaum‘s post on “Enterprise Relationship Planning” this afternoon.  In the Council, we have dredged up a 90s label– The Extended Enterprise— to categorize discussions about how our members are architecting their socio-collaborative initiatives to span partners in their supplier, distributor, and delivery chains.  Included here is the massive momentum around Social CRM that is touching the customer in personal ways as well and reinventing what it means to be proactive and responsive to existing and potential buyers.  One of our largest members recently  made a platform selection choice based nearly exclusively on the chosen vendor’s ability to bridge to external collaborators while retaining the ability to keep the conversation secure behind the firewall.  All of our members are somewhere in the adoption phase of evaluating these options.  The confluence of all SaaS and enterprise legacy systems and social is coming… It’s not if, it’s when.

The unique thread that links the revitalization of  all these mechanical, cumbersome, process-driven software “systems” is people.  People with intelligence, with tacit knowledge, with “exceptions” expertise.  We had a fantastic Council guru Q&A last week with Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield.  Socialtext cites a whopping statistic that turns traditional ERP on its head, “An estimated 60 to 80% of an organization’s work is ‘exception’ oriented.”  Squeezing the life (variability) out of a process is passe and will be replaced or supplementing with social data to improve its effectiveness, not detract from it.  This is a revolutionary idea.

This sentiment is expressed by one of our members, Todd Weidman,  who was discussing the rigidity of the Six Sigma process:

“In my experience in financial services, it’s used as a framework to eliminate as much process variation as possible. The processes become repeatable, follow a strict pattern, and ideally you reduce the cost of any transaction (and make it predictable, standard, and outsourcable). That’s fine if your building something to spec (manufacturing), but in any service-based industry, client needs demand many different types of solutions – think financial planning – there may be a number of different inputs for a customized solution. That, of course, requires collaboration between participants.”

Indeed, the future is about relationships.  And relationships are about people, not stuff.

Already there: 100% SaaS

I try carefully not to post too much about nGenera on this blog, as its focus is centered more generically on trends in Enterprise 2.0. It occurred to me as we’re pulling together the Office 2.0 agenda, that the nGenera story is one which hopeful SaaS enthusiasts can look to for guidance and real world benchmarking.

nGenera is 100% SaaS. The company was designed to deliver on the promise of “on demand” computing. With well over 300 employees now on three continents, we manage all our operations on a SaaS basis. The image to the left sits on our internal collaboration hub where all employees have one-click access to all the SaaS applications that run our company. Intacct, in fact, just issued a press release featuring our use of its Intacct Plus offering. We also use SaaS apps for collaboration, all our talent management (hiring, compensation, payroll, learning) and research projects.

We’ve done a good job integrating Salesforce.com, Intacct, and Open Air so our execs can make “on demand” decisions will real data. After only a year or so, with a run-rate close to $100M and profitability on the horizon*, we’re probably one of the better case studies out there for SaaS-as-a-Successstory.

So while some may declare the SaaS model bankrupt, as Lawson’s CEO recently did in this interview, we’ll continue to run our business on demand, and offer SaaS-based solutions to our customers. Our CEO is somewhat passionate on this topic and spoke recently at the AlwaysOn Summit at Stanford. You can watch the video here.

*“But nGenera has made a great deal of progress in a short period of time, has a great customer base to leverage and grow, and top notch senior management and investors to guide it. We believe that the company’s journey thus far has netted it a revenue run-rate approaching $100 million and could be cash flow positive by year end as the Talisma integration is completed.” (source: JMK Securities, July 2008.)