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Collaborating in the Cloud: Q&A With PBworks CEO Jim Groff

Cloud computing is remaking just about every software category — and project management is no exception. In the on-premise software era, collaboration was limited by the technology of a particular firm, as well as the security requirements of a particular industry. That was then, of course.

Now, cloud computing is giving providers of all stripes the tools to expand functionality. CRM Buyer caught up with Jim Groff, CEO of PBworks — a provider of hosted business and educational wikis — to find out how his company is faring and talk about its go-to-market approach.

CRM Buyer: How is PBworks weathering the economic downturn?

Jim Groff:

We are still seeing growth that is about double year over year — which we consider very good. Also, of the customers that do renew with us, they are doing so at significantly higher rates. In other words, the renewal is usually accompanied by an expansion in the number of seats a customer is purchasing. But these are certainly challenging times. Our renewal rates are not as high as we would like — we are seeing some customers that have been with us for several years not able to renew.

CRM Buyer: What are some of the cost-cutting measures you’ve taken?

Groff:

We were spending on online advertising and marketing at the beginning of year — generating leads for people that want to do project management. What was happening was that when we would talk to them, we didn’t have all the features they wanted in, for example, project management. So we cut back on advertising until we had a product that could offer this, which we do now.

CRM Buyer: How can your products help your customers’ bottom lines in the near term?

Groff:

Our software is aimed at making teams more effective and efficient. If a customer can accomplish the same goal with a team of fewer people, or can accomplish a goal and finish a project three weeks sooner — that all flows directly to the bottom line. Our products can cut email overhead by 90 percent; they can cut project cycles in half.

CRM Buyer: What are some of the bright spots for your company right now?

Groff:

Our new Project Edition has only been out for a week or so. This has a heavy focus on collaboration. We are seeing a strong reception, especially among companies whose teams cross company boundaries — ad agencies and their clients, for example, or design firms and their clients. When you have a company that is doing work for clients, there tends to be creative collaboration — and that is a good match for in-the-cloud collaboration.

CRM Buyer: How will your company look a year from now?

Groff:

I think you will see a continuation of our vertical strategy. Six weeks ago, we introduced a Legal Edition, for example. In February, we introduced a Campus Edition. These special editions address the specific project management needs of these industries. For instance, with Legal, more emphasis on security and auditing is necessary. These special editions require maybe 5 percent to 10 percent of customization at the top layer.

CRM Buyer: What other sectors do you think you will issue special editions for?

Groff:

Right now, we are looking at consulting firms and business partnerships as possibilities.

CRM Buyer: Going back to the Project Edition. That seems to have represented a shift in approach for you — with a greater emphasis on large-scale collaboration in the cloud. Could you talk about that a little more?

Groff:

Well, you are right about that — we are definitely focusing more on collaboration across boundaries. But the project management part is key too. What we are doing is giving users the ability to manage not just the collaboration part, but also schedule and assign tasks — and with the capability to do that across many projects at once.

CRM Buyer: It seems this application would attract a larger user group than you have traditionally had.

Groff:

Yes, that is true. The majority of our clients were small groups with five or 10 people. We would support the end users directly. Now, we are looking at companies with hundreds of thousands of end-users. So, our support is shifting to the trainer, so to speak — by that I mean enabling the client to deliver front-line support itself to its own end-users.

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