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

Will online word processors ever become mainstream?

Posted by Tim Robinson on 17. June 2013 12:54

CTO at PleaseTech

You have to hand it to Google. In the early days at least, they achieved success by unleashing a product on the market that was so far ahead, not just of current offerings, but of people’s expectations, that they changed the game. First this happened with search, then with webmail and then again with online maps. In each case they went into an already-busy marketplace and blew it away purely with the superiority of their product.

Of course you can argue that Google and Microsoft are now head-to-head on all 3 applications (and on online word processing which we’ll come to in a second), but there’s no doubt that Google defined the genre and MS have been playing catch-up. And I’m not naïve enough to think that these offering (either MS or Google) were developed from scratch in house, but it’s the Google machine that has rolled them out and made them ubiquitous. The point I’m making is simply that if anyone can make a web application work, Google can.

Not long after maps and Gmail, they turned their attention to Google Docs and the fields of online word processing and spreadsheets. They’ve certainly made their mark here but in terms of overall adoption to this type of application, it’s still relatively a minority activity. The obvious corollary to my previous conclusion is: If Google can’t make it work, maybe nobody can.

I think there are several reasons for this: firstly the fact that Google Docs by a massive margin falls short of the usability and functionality of Microsoft Word (even the 10% that most users use) and, judging by the lack of improvements in the last couple of years, Google isn’t that fussed about catching up. Even the idea of writing a word processor inside a web browser using JavaScript is a really difficult (some might say crazy) thing to attempt. Secondly the “always connected world” isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as those living in Southern California would like us to believe (I regularly find myself in locations without even cell phone access, and I don’t exactly live in the middle of nowhere); and thirdly there’s the fact that if you have a document saved somewhere you control (whether that’s on your hard drive or EDMS), you can at least have a strategy for security, backup and Disaster Recovery whereas with the online world you’ll never really know where your data is or who has access.

But lastly I think there’s a more philosophical angle: writing a document is a very personal activity, even when that document, as a piece of intellectual property, is owned by your employer. Of course there is a need for collaboration – that’s what PleaseTech is all about – but for the creative business of writing, I want to work on my own, and I don’t want people messing with my content until I’ve decided I’ve finished with it and am ready to hand it over.

We use both Google Docs and spreadsheets in PleaseTech but only where the need for real-time multi-user access overrides all other considerations, and in 95% of cases (maybe 99 – I never counted) that doesn’t apply. So, for all those reasons above, I’m writing this blog post where I write all my documents: on my PC in Microsoft Word, and while I’m actually posting it, if the network connection drops or gets timed out, I can just paste it in again.

Disclaimer: other non-JavaScript Word processors are available. I am most definitely not a Microsoft shill – I hate the ribbon, I hate Windows 8, and I hate SharePoint, I’m not specifically attached to MS Word other than familiarity, and apart from WYSIWYG, I don’t really think the state-of-the-art in word processing has advanced that much since Word Perfect 5.1


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. 

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?

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