Document Management

Nitro CEO on Documents, Adobe, California, Oz and Beer

Blame political correctness, media desuetude or the general fading of the business world into a beige/dun monotone, but beer and press interviews don’t tend to go together these days. So it’s a pleasant surprise when I meet Sam Chandler clutching a glass of the amber nectar that’s shortly to be replaced by another… and one for the thirsty interviewer.

Chandler has earned his drop. He says he’s midway through conducting 42 interviews for his document editing and sharing company, Nitro. And anyway he’s an Australian: born in Tasmania, a place that gave the world the eponymous devil and pugnacious cricketer David Boon, and has never been known for its people giving a XXXX for the niceties of formal etiquette. Wearing a T-shirt and in his early thirties but with eight-and-a-half years behind him at the company, he’s excellent company, providing a frank view of his company’s history, the market and life in general.

Mention of the scarcity of alcohol in meetings these days brings Chandler to say his company’s HQ in San Francisco has a bar that has helped the firm recruit, as even unsuccessful applicants give the company a good report.

“They all said, ‘I interviewed with this cool company that’s got a bar!’”

Chandler cheerfully confesses that Nitro is another contender for that questionable accolade “biggest small company you’ve never heard of” despite serving about 400,000 businesses, from one-man bands to the European parliament. This he puts down to being “too Australian and understated”. An oxymoron, surely?  “Well, compared to Americans.”

Chandler is another example of an entrepreneur upping sticks and settling in California to grow the business, and he doesn’t regret the transition but has short shrift for the notion of non-stop networking and glad-handing, and prefers Nitro’s location in San Francisco to the Valley proper.

“I remember arriving in Silicon Valley in 2008 and the Australian expat community said you’ve got show up here and there every night. I tried it but it was so commercial and dehumanised almost. We already had decent revenue so I said I’m going to stay in my office.”

Australia has seed money but next to but no VC, he laments. “So companies are being forced to leave and they’re all going to the States and most of them are going to Silicon Valley. Startup ecosystems nearly as sophisticated as Silicon Valley have emerged but there are places that are epicentres, and the Valley is that for tech. The Valley is probably the best place for you to locate but you need to bear in mind that it’s frightening expensive and crazily competitive. You have to be fully committed and spend money. You have to put on a show to compete with Google and Square and Twitter. You need the perks and to show you’re an exciting place to work.”

Nitro is a mature company in many ways with $30m in annual revenue but with the rise of Dropbox, Box et al, it finds itself in an odd position of being a small fish in a big pond full of exotic rivals. But Chandler believes Nitro can prosper by occupying the “white space” as an online/offline solution and acting as a ‘frenemy’ rather than itself attempting to become a broad platform for file synchronisation and sharing in the cloud.

“If you look at the way documents are stored in organisations today, they live in a range of different places and the problem with storage as the collaboration platform is that it suggests documents all live in one place. The modern enterprise will want to store documents everywhere and allow document authoring from anywhere. We want Nitro to be the trusted service for sharing and we don’t care if it’s created in Word or [tablet word processing program] Quip. Most documents today start their lives on the desktop and we’re both a web play and on-premise offering. We don’t say ‘throw your legacy out of the window’ and we think the desktop business has been ignored, underrated and underinvested in for most of the decade.”

The new competition comes in as the old competition pursues other opportunities. Nitro’s strong PDF handling capabilities have always led to comparisons with, and competition against, Adobe, which has called Nitro “an ankle biter”.

But Chandler says, “We’ve been competing directly with Adobe for most of the company’s history. In this new era we’re entering I don’t see Adobe as much. We’re a trusted place to share documents: that’s a great place to be.”

Nitro is currently riding a wave with 40-50% year-on-year growth and 60 staff added last year, representing a near doubling in headcount.

Chandler is open about options for Nitro but takes the view that the rapid growth is preferable to hyper-growth which is “great but extraordinarily chaotic”.

And with that there’s just time for one more beer… and more interviews.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


« Crowdsourcing Innovation: Scott Ma, Vice President, ICE Computer


The CMO Files: Kirby Wadsworth, CMO, Limelight Networks »
Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?