Dave Birchall: Tim, you’ve recently gone to market with your social networking solution for the business environment. What exactly does that mean?
Tim Ayling: We don’t really like the term social networking, as it’s more associated with time-wasting. We’ve called it Social Business Integration – it’s more about getting value from those enterprise applications that companies have spent so much on… like CRM, ERP, document management and more. We just see the Twitter-like interface as the best to encourage people to use them. So people receive “tweets” from these applications, such as “Dave Birchall has closed a deal with ABC Corp for $500,000” or “Tim Ayling has closed a Severity 1 support call with XYZ Ltd”… in essence we want to be the pulse of our customers. When their employees want a quick snapshot of what’s happening in the company, they can go to their homepage and see who is doing what. There’s huge value in that – recognising performance, generating internal competition, and creating heroes in a company
DB: Why Platform 46? Is there a Platform 47 out soon?
TA: You have no idea how many times I’ve been asked what the 46 is! We wanted the word Platform in our name as we wanted to express a place where people meet other people, like a railway platform. I was reading an article about the history of IT and discovered the first computer was finished in 1946. The CEO of our first customer called me a geek when I told him that. I like being a geek!
DB: Many people in the industry dream of running with their own venture. What got you here?
TA: Great question. I think there are a few things. Firstly, I had an idea. I don’t actually think an original idea is necessary, as long as you do it well. But that’s how I started. Secondly, I took that idea to people I respect, who validated it. One of those is my co-founder and CTO, Rich Atkinson. Thirdly, we took it to customers and partners and we haven’t had many knock-backs so far. I read somewhere that there are three things you need to start a company… a market, good people and a good product. On that basis, I think we’re off to an excellent start
DB: What social networks do you belong to?
TA: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m on Plaxo too, but never use it. I used to favour Facebook but since moving to a Mac and downloading “Tweetie”, I’m hooked.
DB: How many tweets a day is too many?
TA: Depends what’s going on really. I can go a week without tweeting. But then have a good day and I’ll do three or four. I’ve passed the Platform 46 tweeting responsibility to Rich. I think giving him the password secretly made him happy!
DB: You’re a fellow ‘Pommie’. What do you make of the software technology scene over here?
TA: I’ve got two passports now actually, and proud to be an Aussie. I still support England in the cricket though! I like the scene here – it’s much more of an underground movement here than in the UK. I didn’t realise the entrepreneurship spirit in Sydney until we started Platform 46, but it’s huge when you look for it. In the UK it’s much more obvious.
DB: What challenges have you faced that you didn’t expect to have to deal with?
TA: Two things have surprised me. Firstly, it was a challenge leaving full-time work to start at Platform 46. It’s a big step that you have to make, especially with a young family that I have. Secondly, I find the speed of going to market a challenge, as we have so many ideas and I want to do it all now. I’m not a developer, and Rich is. He keeps my feet on the floor and sets the realistic timeframes.
DB: How do you see social software evolving in the next ten years?
TA: There’s obviously a big push for consumer-based networks like Facebook to be integrated into the workplace… SocialCRM is the next “big thing” we’re told. But I’m not sure companies are ready for that. I blogged on the Platform 46 website recently that companies aren’t seeing value from standard CRM yet, so they can’t be ready to socialise it. That’s part of the value that we’re offering – a lightweight social network (in the absence of better terminology) that is all about adding value to existing apps. We think CRMs will be key to the success of our company.
One thing people forget is that social networks have been around for longer than Facebook. I was a member of Friends Reunited back in ’97… So who knows what the next social network will be.