FuzeBox lights video collaboration spark

18th Jan 2014 | 08:00

FuzeBox lights video collaboration spark

Company is expanding into Europe

Ex-Yammer executive Georg Ell joined FuzeBox as general manager EMEA in late 2013 to lead its European expansion.

FuzeBox - which is looking to take on Cisco, Microsoft, Polycom and Google in the enterprise collaboration arena - combines video conferencing with interactive collaboration features that lets employees share high resolution images videos, presentations and documents.

The California-based company counts Groupon, Evernote and GM among its customers. It's now looking to expand its operation globally on the back of $26 million (around $43 million, or AUS$49 million) in funding. We spoke to Ell to find out more.

TechRadar Pro: Can you bring us up to speed with the company's history?

Georg Ell: FuzeBox was founded in 2009, and is focused on redefining workplace communication and collaboration. We believe the next generation of workplace tools should match the beautiful, low-friction experiences people enjoy in their personal lives.

At work, people need to collaborate in scheduled and ad hoc ways with people inside and outside their organizations, while using a variety of devices from different locations. We've built easy-to-use tools powered by a distributed cloud architecture to meet these needs.

We've assembled an experienced team and recently raised additional funding to drive our ambitious goal. FuzeBox is headquartered in San Francisco, California with offices in Palo Alto, Seattle and Sofia, Bulgaria.

Early in 2014, we will open European headquarters in London to support global expansion. Europe has been an early adopter of FuzeBox from an online and mobile perspective. We anticipate it will be one of the fastest growing markets and we plan to support the region accordingly.

TRP: There's some interesting activity in the collaboration space from Skype, Blue Jeans et al. How does FuzeBox stand out from the crowd?

GE: There is a lot of exciting innovation in the enterprise collaboration sector, which is great news for everyone. Workers are desperate for better tools to help them get work done and SaaS and mobile apps allow them to bring their own applications to work.

We've seen this happen with cloud-based file storage and services like DropBox and Box and with enterprise social networking tools like Yammer (my previous employer).

To date, there hasn't been an easy, cost-effective way to deliver interactive visual communications as part of a flexible collaboration experience with confidence and quality across all devices. We believe there is an opportunity for disruption in this market and are focused on leading the shift.

There are other players attacking the challenges around interoperability of video systems, which we think is important and are also addressing, but interoperability alone doesn't ensure a good user experience – it can actually have the opposite impact. FuzeBox is focused on making it easy for people to connect across devices while delivering a high-quality, consistent user experience.

Delivering this type of simplicity, quality and experience requires some sophisticated technology within the architecture and the applications to optimize the experience based on real-time network conditions. It is not a simple problem to solve, but, in our view, it is the most critical. FuzeBox has been building this technology for more than five years, so we are well positioned.

TRP: What can you tell us about FuzeBox's business model and why you think it's the right one?

GE: FuzeBox is a cloud-based platform for real-time communication and collaboration – voice, video and sharing of content.

It's a single platform and consistent user experience across devices from smartphones and tablets, to desktops, to conference rooms. Native apps allow us to provide the best user experience, with beautifully simple interfaces and consistent, high-quality audio, video and sharing of content across networks.

We also introduced the first, true freemium business model in this space, which means people around the world can use Fuze with their friends, customers and partners for free. Freemium drives us to focus on the user experience and gives us a large pool of aggregate behavioral data to fuel continuous improvement and innovation.

Ultimately this combination allows us to deliver a superior user experience, more consistent quality across the globe and focus our development on the areas users care about most.

Georg Ell

TRP: The company has raised $26 million in funding - what does it plan to do with that?

GE: We are preparing to scale the service globally and putting the appropriate resources in place. The funding will help accelerate our product innovation, expand our global infrastructure, drive market awareness, and allow us to build out our global customer support and customer success organization.

TRP: Can you tell us any interesting ways that Groupon, GM, Oglivy, Evernote and others are using the service?

GE: FuzeBox helps people work more effectively across locations and devices, so the use cases and benefits are broad. Groupon, the daily deal website, uses FuzeBox to help unite a highly geographically dispersed workforce.

Sales reps in the field use Fuze on a variety of devices to connect with corporate employees at their desk or in conference rooms, including connecting to Cisco Telepresence systems without incurring substantial service fees.

Ogilvy, one of the leading global advertising and PR agencies, uses Fuze to help teams in different cities stay in close contact to deliver great results for customers across geographies. Fuze also allows Ogilvy to meet face-to-face more regularly with clients over video.

Educational institutions like Saint Louis University are using FuzeBox for distance learning and to overcome the barriers commonly associated with a distributed faculty and student population across campuses and around the world.

They use Fuze university-wide across nearly 20,000 faculty, staff and students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid. Applications include distance education, online classes, online office hours, test preparation sessions, training, guest lecturers, evening and adult education, and many administrative applications.

The marketing team of a major online retailer uses FuzeBox to share designs, videos, and annotate content in real-time across US and international teams.

They also use FuzeBox for video recruiting, which accelerates the candidate screening process by allowing them to remotely interview candidates, record and share interviews with hiring managers and also reduces costs by reducing the need for candidates to travel for interviews.

TRP: How has your time at Yammer helped you take the service forward?

GE: Yammer was a pioneer not only in enterprise social networking, but in the enterprise freemium model and effective customer success for cloud-based services. I lead the company's growth in Europe, serving as the GM of EMEA, overseeing all revenue and business operations.

We established the permanent headquarters in London, grew headcount to 90 people and won the highest 3-star award in the Best Companies scheme, for company culture. These experiences will help me as we look to grow another successful, hard-working, fun team culture, hiring the best talent in Europe for FuzeBox.

It also helps that I'm truly European, being half-German / half-Dutch but having grown up in the UK, so I have a strong sense of the culture, challenges and opportunities ahead in Europe. I've also long been an advocate of the UK tech community and a big believer in the potential of London's Tech City.

TRP: BYOD, social enterprise and the cloud: overhyped, or the future of business?

GE: It's already here, so I wouldn't question it, but instead consider the implications. BYOD and SaaS has fueled consumerization of IT, which has changed the how technology is brought into the enterprise. Users and business units want to make their own choices and not have them imposed, and they will pick the best solutions, buying cloud services and no longer buying into complete collaboration stacks (particularly on-premises).

You only have to look at the traction of Evernote, Box and Dropbox – all successful even though companies had previously invested in typical enterprise tools with similar capabilities, but nevertheless brought in by users and the business who demand simple, fast solutions that work on all devices. This will continue.

The reality of BYOD and Cloud require companies to rethink their strategy. However, instead of viewing this as a threat, organizations should see this as an opportunity to listen to employees and follow their lead in selecting tools that better match the needs of current work environments.

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