PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

Yet another successful year but a branding faux pas

Posted by David Cornwell on 14. January 2013 15:34

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


The first part of the January blog is somewhat repetitive yet again. 2012 was yet another successful year with decent revenue growth, the delivery of some great product enhancements and a brand new product, the ‘soon-to-be-renamed’ PleaseAuthor (see below for more detail)! 

2012 revenue growth over 2011 was 32%. We remain profitable and retain a large cash balance which is still running at approximately 12 months of projected overheads. Given that we now employ more people and have recruiting plans, and thus have ever increasing projected overheads, this remains an excellent position.

Revenue in 2012 brought us a total of 25 new corporate clients and the revenue split remains approximately 1/3rd annual renewable (such as support and hosting, etc.), 1/3rd new business from existing clients and 1/3rd new business from new clients. We are particularly pleased with the new business from existing clients as it shows that PleaseReview delivers the benefits it promises!

The trend of Life Sciences being our largest sector continues with 77% of 2012 sales and, once again, North America is our largest market accounting for 74% of all sales.

2012 saw the release of PleaseReview v4.4 (associated with the PleaseAuthor v1.0 release – see below) and of PleaseReview v4.5. Key enhancements included the iPad module and a delegation module. 

Last, but by no means least, we were finally able to release a new PDF plug-in. This new plug-in (which, as previously, only works with the ‘paid for’ versions of Acrobat) allows you to use the full range of Acrobat mark-up tools and have all annotations recorded and managed by PleaseReview. Thus you get the consolidation, the reconciliation report and other clever tweaks like the ability to specify the name of the annotation author on the consolidated PDF file (usually this is used to provide a generic name, like a company name, for the annotations). It is a major enhancement to our PDF review capability. 

The new PDF plug-in was in danger of becoming a never ending saga for two reasons: (i) everything which could go wrong did, and (ii) new releases of Acrobat kept shifting the goal posts.   It seemed every time we thought we had it in a position to release something would change and we were back to re-coding and re-testing.  The experience has caused us so much pain that we will be investigating other options for PDF review which don’t include Acrobat.

Something else which caused us pain in 2012 was the focus on the UK market.  In January last year I explained that we were recruiting a business development manager to focus on developing the UK market.  We duly recruited and he has spent 9 months hammering away. Hammering away, it must be said, with strictly limited success.  Despite creating some decent opportunities, it’s taking somewhat longer than expected to turn opportunities into sales in the UK. I’m not sure whether this is a ‘UK market thing’ or the economic environment or a bit of both. So, whilst continuing to work hard in the UK, it looks like we will be seeking this year’s growth from our traditional market.  

2012 also saw the release of PleaseAuthor. Unfortunately, whilst there is nothing wrong with the product itself, the name is causing major confusion. It is clear we have committed a serious ‘branding faux pas’. 

In short, both clients and prospects are confused between the differences in ‘structured authoring’ (the product formerly known as PleaseAuthor) and ‘co-authoring’ (i.e. the collaborative authoring part of PleaseReview).

In retrospect this is understandable. For those immersed in the technology and products (i.e. us) the difference is clear and distinctive. However, for those who aren’t so immersed it is really confusing! So, we have taken the decision to re-brand. Better do it now whilst the product is new and not established. 

Other than the re-branding of PleaseAuthor, what does 2013 hold? 

The economic outlook remains unstable with the fiscal cliff issues having been delayed and the European situation limps on with no end in sight. Furthermore the whole debate around Britexit (the UK leaving the EU or at least re-negotiating its relationship with the rest of Europe) simply adds to the excitement.  Whilst all the media keep telling us that the uncertainty doesn’t help anyone, as far as I am concerned, it’s been uncertain for the last 5 years and it’s now the new normality. I’m not sure I’d believe anyone if they started telling me there was certainty.  Life continues and so does business. 

In fact, Gartner has just revised upwards its 2013 Worldwide IT spending growth forecast from 3.8% to 4.2%. Though they note: “although much of this results from projected gains in the value of foreign currencies versus the dollar. When measured in constant dollars, 2013 spending growth is forecast to be only 3.9%.” Still a forecast 3.9% growth in IT spending is a good thing as it means they are expecting corporate IT budgets to reflect this - meaning opportunity for IT vendors such as us! 

Unfortunately, implicit in the statement, is a weaker dollar. This is bad news for us. We set our prices in US$, as that is our main trading currency. So, if the US$ weakens it means we need more of them to purchase every UK pound and Malaysian Ringit – our overhead currencies. However, most forecasters have the £/$ rate more-or-less unchanged for 2013 whilst the general opinion is that the Ringit will strengthen by ~5%. So, as the Ringit accounts for only a portion of our overheads, the overall effect will hopefully not be too hard on us.

So, we continue to be optimistic for 2013. However, we approach it as we approach every year, with caution. Despite this caution we are planning to expand and will shortly be recruiting and have plans for further recruitment later in the year. We go into the year with a strong prospect list and looking forward to v5.0 of PleaseReview which is due out at the end of Q2 this year.

On a personal note, having had a ‘year off’ from interesting physical challenges in 2012, I am hoping to be part of a team in the ‘6 Peaks Challenge’ in July (WaterAid 6 Peaks Challenge). The headline figures are:
50 miles to walk

  • 20,000 feet to climb
  • 1,000 miles to drive (with two sea crossings)
  • 72 hours in which to complete it

It’s climbing all the tallest peaks in England, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and both North and South Ireland - all in 72 hours. We are expecting to have a team of six climbers and two drivers. It’s not set in stone yet as there are some issues we are discussing with the organizers but I’m hopeful we can secure agreement and help raise funds for a worthwhile charity! I’ll keep you informed. 

I conclude that PleaseReview is social media for documents

Posted by David Cornwell on 5. December 2012 16:20

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


Two months and no blogging. Poor effort. Note to self: must try harder.

In that time I've been in Sacramento, Baltimore, Atlanta, LA, Seattle, Orlando, Malaysia and London attending conferences and visiting clients and prospective clients! Apart from the on-site demo when my PC turned itself off – twice – all went well. Apart, that is, for a small hairdressing faux pas which, if you have been following the PleaseTech Twitter feed or visited our Facebook page, you will have been party to. The good news is that it has grown out now.


I now have a nice new *light* Samsung SSD (‘solid state drive’) machine which, so far, has been perfect. Whilst I love the new PC, I think my mistake was to be persuaded to go for Windows 8.  I've now installed a bit of software (Start8 - $4.99) which removes the ‘metro’ interface and re-instates a ‘Start’ button, so now it’s just like Windows 7 and all is well.  As a side note, I’m not an expert on these things but tend to agree with those suggesting that Microsoft couldn't decide on what it wanted Windows 8 to be. 


There is no doubt the future has a strong mobile element and the iPad experience has set the standard. In my own family I've seen user adoption of the tablet by individuals who have never touched a PC. They are now happily Skyping, emailing and surfing from a Samsung tablet. I remember introducing them to the capabilities of the tablet using my iPad in mid-2011 by holding a Skype video call with our niece in Dallas. Their kids then bought them a tablet for Christmas – the Samsung was their only option as they didn't own a PC to connect it with! 


Most readers of this blog will be thinking ‘so what’ there is nothing clever in Skyping, emailing and surfing from a tablet.  But remember whole generations have grown up without a computing background. I consider myself lucky that I was ‘in’ on the personal computing revolution.  It was less than 20 years ago (~1995) I first added an email address to my business card (for Computerised Document Control which became CDC Solutions) and had to explain to people what it was! 


Now, we are now allegedly in the ‘post email’ era, but more on that later. But, 20 years ago, did you ever imagine that you could sit on your sofa video chatting in real time with someone across the world using something the size of a notepad with no wires attached? People take this as standard now but there is no doubt it’s not only extremely clever but also that the whole mobile tablet genre represents a step change in the evolution of personal computing.


I think the main question for us is: ‘to what extent will the tablet revolution continue into the enterprise’? Personally I don’t see the tablet replacing PCs in the next 10 years. In terms of where corporate computing will go I suspect that my new Samsung Series 9 is an example of a constant process of evolution in which PCs become increasingly mobile. For example, my new PC with its SSD is only 1kg (2.2 lbs) heavier than an iPad and is considerably more flexible and useful from a business perspective. 


So, how will the tablet impact us? Currently, the way I see it is that there is increasingly a line between information producers and information consumers. I can’t see people writing serious documents on a tablet. Even typing this blog entry on a tablet would be challenging and it’s hardly a serious document. However, information consumers – and here we are mainly talking  management who are regularly on the move (and can ignore the edicts of their IT department stating that tablets do not fit into their device management strategy) – are adopting tablets and using them for most, if not all, of their work. So the message to us is we must assume that an increasing number of those with input to documents will be using tablets.


In this respect it is worth noting that ‘approving’ documents (i.e. viewing a document and then clicking on an ‘I Approve’ button) is much, much easier than providing ‘input’ to documents. By input we mean review capabilities such as red lining (i.e. proposing changes) and commenting as part of a greater collaborative review.


We spotted this trend a while ago and released our optional iPad module in Q1 this year. However, as the importance of ‘mobile’ continues to grow, PleaseReview v5.0 (currently scheduled for the back end of Q2 2013) will run with it and will have further tablet enhancements.


Hang on a minute. Did I just slip a major product announcement in there? Yes I did. Having recently released PleaseReview 4.5 with the new delegation module, we are now concentrating on the next release which will be called v5.0 and we are looking at a release mid-2013.


Forthcoming blogs will address additional features expected in v5.0 but, for now, I’m more concerned with strategy. We are constantly informed that the future is (i) Mobile, (ii) Social, and (iii) Cloud.

We have numbers (i) and (iii) sorted. I've addressed mobile above and we've been offering cloud options since we first launched PleaseReview in 2005. The challenge is ‘social’. 

If we look at the definition of ‘social’, Wikipedia says “In the absence of agreement about its meaning, the term "social" is used in many different senses and regarded as a fuzzy concept ……….”. No help there. But, of course, when the IT Analysts and strategists say social they mean ‘social media’. When people think social media they think of Twitter and Facebook and it’s tough to see how PleaseReview can become social in this sense. It has been said that we are in the post email era and that reminders and notifications which currently come from PleaseReview as emails should leverage social media. But how? Do people really want reminders that the deadline is approaching tweeted or posted on their Facebook timeline? I think not. 


I’m increasingly of the view that PleaseReview in itself is ‘social’ in that it’s collaborative and if social isn't collaborative what is it? Wikipedia is some help this time. It says: “Social media employ web- and mobile-based technologies to support interactive dialogue and introduce substantial and pervasive changes to communication between organizations, communities, and individuals ………….. Social media are social software which mediate human communication.”


I think that summarizes PleaseReview pretty well. PleaseReview leverages web and mobile technologies to introduce substantial changes to the way in which documents are reviewed (i.e. communication with respect to documents) and mediated between organizations, business communities, and individuals (in our case Authors and subject matter experts and others with input to the document creation process). So, in so far as Pinterest enables engagement around pictures, Youtube around videos, Twitter around instantaneous messages and Facebook around friends, PleaseReview enables engagement around documents. In short, PleaseReview is social media for documents! Maybe that is a thought we can use in our marketing!


So, from a product strategy perspective, I’m pretty comfortable that we are hitting the main targets. We continue to improve the base product, we have a great story with respect to mobile, cloud is old hat to us and we are now social media for documents! 


From a market strategy perspective we continue to expand into new sectors both from a technical and business perspective.  Watch for announcements in the New Year.  


So with travelling over for the year and the v5.0 development spec’d and started, focus now moves to closing the year out.  I’ll let you know in January how that goes!

Focusing on controlled document collaboration

Posted by David Cornwell on 24. September 2012 16:24

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


We had a marketing workshop last week and, following our decision to emphasise the ‘control’ we bring to collaboration, we addressed the tag line issue. In my last blog post I said it would be ‘controlled document collaboration’. Silly me.

Needless to say the marketing gurus felt they could do better. So a happy (?) time was spent with the whiteboard rearranging the three words: ‘controlled’, ‘document’ and ‘collaboration’. The result of an hour’s hard graft was: ‘Document collaboration. Controlled.’ 

So forget what I said back in August. Our new tag line is: ‘Document collaboration. Controlled.’ 

And here is the logo to prove it:

 

You heard it here first!
 
On a personal note, those of you who follow me on twitter will be aware that I’m no longer trapped on this island. Last month my passport became full. Literally, there was no further space for stamps. So it was necessary to apply for a new one. September was a travel free month, so I took the opportunity to send off the old passport and get a replacement. Thankfully, it has arrived just in time for my travels which start again in October. In the five weeks of October I’ll be in the USA for four of them. I’ll be at the following conferences: AMWADIA EDM and ERS/eCTDAPMP SPAC and RAPS(what a lot of acronyms!). Thankfully, I do get a week home in-between. If you are attending one of the conferences please do drop by our booth to say hello.
 
There has been a bit in the press recently about focus on the enterprise. The latest being from Jim Goetz who says he's “floored that so few entrepreneurs are focusing on building products for businesses” (see here). It brought to mind a report I read about this time last year which suggested that that the best start-ups had no experience of enterprise software and that this could be a good thing as it allowed 'outdated conventions' to be challenged.
 
This brings to mind one of the age old sayings: ‘If it was easy, everyone would do it’.
 
Let’s face it, building enterprise software applications is not easy! And selling to enterprises is not easy either! If I were bright enough to think of something which allowed me to build a great company without dealing with corporate IT departments and corporate purchasing departments, I’d do it like a shot!
 
From a software perspective, it’s particularly hard when you have to install the software on the client’s site. In other words, when you have to install the software in an environment over which you have no control.
 
So, build a functional, well tested software product which meets a business need and you are but half way there technically. Now you need to ensure it works in a complex corporate computing environment, integrates with the environment’s other components (such as directory services, etc.) and is sufficiently well documented that under-pressure IT staff can install and maintain it.
 
Then, no matter how compelling the product and no matter how great an ROI it has, you have to convince multiple people across the organization it’s a good and worthwhile investment. This takes time. In large organizations, wheels turn slowly and are driven by budget years.
 
Finally, you have the product, you have a willing purchaser and then you hit corporate purchasing and legal. Now the fun really starts. We have even had one purchasing department come back to us and tell us that they will place the purchase order if we deduct 5% off the quote. This is after we have been involved in lengthy discussions with the sponsoring department! Our response, by the way, was to tell them to *** off.
 
And people wonder why there aren’t “more engineers and entrepreneurs interested in enterprise”.
Please don’t think I’m complaining. I’m not. I’m just pointing out that conceiving, developing and delivering enterprise grade applications is non-trivial. And that is before you start trying to sell them.
 
From my perspective, the simple fact is that the built-in lag of the enterprise market means that it is simply not possible to grow companies in the same way that that it is possible to grow companies focusing on consumer stuff such as social media. If you are a ‘bright young entrepreneur’ and saw the explosive growth of Facebook and Twitter, and the slog of the enterprise focused companies, where would you focus?
 
I had planned to stop the blog there but I was told I shouldn't end on a negative note. So, on the positive side my share price hasn't crashed and focusing on the enterprise isn't all bad. Our software helps reduce the time it takes to get drugs to market and thus improves and saves lives. That's got to be good - right?

Our new product hits the streets!

Posted by David Cornwell on 23. August 2012 16:34

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


Long time no blog! I find it hard to believe that it's been four months since my last sensible blog post. The time has just flown past. My excuse is that we have been focusing on getting our new product, PleaseAuthor, out of the door. The effort taken to complete, document and deliver it has been all consuming. 

PleaseAuthor is targeted at what I consider to be the ‘light weight’ structured authoring market - in other words those who need to implement structured authoring but who don't want to make the investment in, or require, the more complex solutions currently available. Structured authoring is not new but what is new is our approach - by basing it entirely around Microsoft Word we keep it within a familiar user environment and make it extremely simple to learn and use and, most importantly, set-up. 

As always, with a new product, the aim of the first version is to provide a catalyst for debate and to initiate discussion with customers. Of course, this first version must work. But the real value is for potential customers to actually see, feel and play with it. By using customer feedback to develop enhancements to PleaseAuthor, I have no doubt that it will prove to be a very valuable tool for clients. As with any iterative process, each journey starts with a single step and we are actively working with clients to define the next step in PleaseAuthor’s journey.

One of the toughest aspects of extending a single product solution into a suite of products is to get the look and feel right so that the products co-exist seamlessly. There are, of course, two ways to approach this – the cheap way and the expensive way. The latter consists of employing user interface designers and the former involves asking everyone in the company for ideas. Needless to say we chose the former and, I think, it has worked rather well – as those of you who are lucky enough to use our products will discover. 

Moving away from product development, what has worked less well in my opinion is some of the social media marketing we have been concentrating on. LinkedIn has been useful and provides value in driving traffic to our website, Twitter helps develop conversations where there is a defined hash tag (such as for a conference) but otherwise has yet to prove its worth and as for Facebook, not a success. If we were a ‘B2C’ business then I’d see Facebook in a different light, but as a ‘B2B’ I can’t see its value. Anyhow, we have a comprehensive review of the whole social media campaign in early September...I’ll let you know how it goes.

We are now at the stage of deciding ‘what next’ for PleaseReview, aside from a delegation module currently in development and to be delivered at the end of September.

In examining the document collaboration market, the big vendors seem fixated on the Google Docs ‘co-authoring’ approach. This is where Microsoft has focused its efforts with SharePoint 2010/Office 2010 and, from reading initial reviews of upcoming releases, interactive co-authoring continues to be the focus. I believe that whilst this is interesting, it’s not really what people want as it causes as many issues as it solves. True, people can work on the same document - but there is no control over who can do what to where and users can easily overwrite others' changes. As we say it requires ‘well trained, rational and courteous’ users.

People may think they want simultaneous, interactive co-authoring, but, given that not all users are rational and courteous, what they really want is control, reporting and a complete solution. Thus we have engineered more and more control into PleaseReview. For example, our ‘ReviewZones’ allow individuals to be locked out of part of the document or see sections of the document as ‘read only’. Authors want people to be able to ‘mark-up the document but not mess it up’. PleaseReview provides complete control over ‘who can do what to where’ and thus prevents over-enthusiastic reviewers messing up the document.  

Clearly there are user cases for both approaches but we are planting our flag firmly in the ‘control’ territory. Going forward our tag line will be ‘controlled document collaboration’ – the emphasis being, of course, on the word ‘controlled’.

As evidence that our approach is extremely valid, we are finding that as people start experimenting with the interactive co-authoring provided by SharePoint and Office, they realise that control is a good thing and that PleaseReview is the only game in town. We add that layer of control and reporting to SharePoint which enhances its capabilities and delivers a more complete solution. 

On the subject of SharePoint we finally released our SharePoint whitepaper reporting on the research we undertook at the SharePoint USA and European conferences last year. Two key findings really stood out for me. Firstly, 90% of respondents experienced issues with their document review process but nonetheless were ‘satisfied’ . This, to my mind is about education. People simply aren’t aware that a better alternative exists and make do with what they have. Secondly, a surprisingly large number of participants had a very simplistic view of what constitutes collaboration. For example, over 25% of respondents agreed that sequential access to a document was collaboration, whilst 32% were neutral on the subject. Oh dear, a fair amount of education to do!

Finally, as you may have noticed, the Olympics have just finished here in the UK with the Paralympics still to come. We commissioned a series of cartoons for the Games which are published on ourcartoon website. I hope you enjoy them.

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