A very British success story: Interview with Huddle.net

By Chris Lee

The growth of cloud computing – the sharing of resources, software and information online – has given businesses the opportunity to cut costs and improve efficiencies. IBM estimates that the value of the global cloud computing market will hit $126 billion by 2012.

One of the UK’s fastest growing new media companies is Huddle, an online collaborative tool for businesses. When NMK last caught up with the co-founders in mid-2008 the company had just received $4 million in funding and was growing at 50 per cent per month. Following deals with online business network LinkedIn and a further $10 million in funding, the company has its sights set on conquering the US.

NMK caught up with Huddle’s co-founder and CEO, Alastair Mitchell, to see how it was all going and to gauge his view on where UK new media innovation sits in a global context.

For the uninitiated, briefly describe Huddle to us:

In a nutshell, Huddle enables intercompany collaboration in the cloud. Andy [McLoughlin – co-founder] and I built Huddle because we were becoming increasingly frustrated with how painful it was to communicate and work with people when in the office. Trying to get people to approve documents, work on projects together or organise face-to-face meetings with customers or suppliers was a real challenge. Huddle is a secure online environment that enables people to access all the content and collaboration tools they need to connect with colleagues, partners and suppliers, and work better together. Whether you need to share documents, have discussions, manage tasks and approvals, or brainstorm ideas, everything can be done in Huddle.

How does it compare or differ to other collaborative sites out there?

We’re certainly in a crowded space, but I believe that Huddle is unique because we’re not just providing users with a single point solution. Unlike [online collaboration platform] Basecamp, Huddle isn’t just about project management. We offer people numerous collaborative tools – from document and project management through to web conferencing, discussion boards and approval management – in a single online space.

For true enterprise collaboration, it’s not just the employees within one organisation that need to communicate and work together. They also have to share information and content with people in other companies. A lot of other collaboration systems don’t enable staff to work with people externally. Content is trapped behind or beyond firewalls and many important collaborations can’t happen. Being cloud-based, Huddle enables people from different organisations to work together effectively. As Huddle has been built with enterprise users in mind, it also has the correct security measures, full permission controls and audit trails required by businesses.

Huddle last spoke to NMK in 2008 – what’s changed since then?

Well since I last spoke to NMK, a lot of exciting things have happened at Huddle. At the end of 2009, the company became the only non-US company to launch on LinkedIn’s application platform, with Huddle Workspaces sitting alongside the likes of Google and Amazon. Our app also launched on social networks Ning and Xing.

We’ve also got partnerships with a number of great companies, such as InterCall and HP. Most recently, Huddle secured $10.2 million in Series B round funding and we’ve set up an office in San Francisco to drive our expansion in the US and provide more local support to our US users. The Huddle team has also grown to almost 50 people so it’s certainly been a great few years.

What are your top tips for firms looking to get into collaboration working online?

I think my key tip would be: Don’t be scared to give online collaboration a try. Many organisations may be concerned about security, control and permissions, but SaaS [software as a service] has really come of age and there are now tools out there that address these issues for businesses. By avoiding online collaboration tools, companies may be missing out on the chance to increase staff productivity and efficiency.

Also, with online collaboration, organisations don’t have to rush into a decision. There are many websites out there that provide great, honest reviews on these services. Many collaboration tools also offer free trials so companies can try web-based services before they make a purchasing decision.

Where do you see the UK in the wider context of digital media globally? One of the leading pack?

The UK has a strong history in traditional media and advertising, but a smaller population and take-up of online means that it risks falling behind.  The US is really leading the way, with Israel, China and Brazil rapidly moving ahead. In Europe, Germany is as strong, if not stronger, than the UK. A massive online/young audience is driving new media take-up and online technology.

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