Cloud Computing

UK's Workshare Has Box and Dropbox in its Sights

Anthony Foy still speaks with the American drawl of his native Missouri but feels passionately that his adopted home of London is creating its own technology industry ecosystem. “It’s no longer a press release… it’s happened,” he says when we meet at his company Workshare’s uber-cool offices in achingly trendy Fashion Street in the East End area that is the epicentre of the UK’s new technology scene.

Foy says London has the second highest concentration of venture capital in the world after Silicon Valley and lists “unique characteristics” as well as an undefinable buzz in the air.

“In the US, New York is the centre for finance and advertising, in Houston you’ve got oil and in California you’ve got movies and tech, but only in London do you get every single industry and talent. There’s such a concentration of talent here from all over the world and we’ve got 60 nationalities out of 150 people. There’s a melting pot of perspectives you don’t get anywhere else. And GMT lets you speak to Asia in the morning and California in the evening.”

That’s not the only change going on of course; IT platforms are also experiencing a tectonic realignment. Workshare is yet another company that lives in the Cloud with a service that lets users share and collaborate on documents.

“The term paradigm shift is overused but that’s what it really is, just a tsunami of new services on Cloud and using multitenant technology, and it’s going to touch everything,” he says.

Workshare was founded 13 years ago for document collaboration and its DeltaView technology for document comparison is a fixture in the legal sector as well as being widely used in financial services, life sciences, government and other highly regulated sectors.

Foy’s route into Workshare was mazy. He had invested privately in Skydox, another document workflow company, and later joined the company in 2011, reforming a longstanding double-act with CMO Ali Moinuddin, with whom he also worked at web CRM firm Broadbase and datacentre hosting company InterXion. Foy oversaw Skydox’s acquisition of Workshare a year later and stayed on to run the company that now trades under the acquired firm’s name. Since then he has been on a mission to combine the respective best of the two companies, using Workshare’s IP in policy management and its customer base together with Skydox’s Cloud know-how.

The result is a company built for business-class file sharing and synchronisation, or “an equivalent to Dropbox or Box for the enterprise” as Foy puts it.

Box and Dropbox had to pop up in conversation at some point and there is no hiding the fact that they have generated a lot of excitement as well as big funding: a whopping $300m in the case of Box and its media-friendly twenty-something CEO Aaron Levie, a mere $257m in that of Dropbox. That puts the £20m ($31m) Skydox/Workshare raised in growth equity to make the deal happen look like pocket lint by comparison. But Foy is keen to point out that the race isn’t always to the wealthy.

“We’ve got deep integration into enterprise content management systems like Documentum, Open Text, Autonomy and so on and we play nicely with the [Microsoft] Outlook ribbon [user interface]. We can augment what people like in Box and Dropbox with policy and security rules because with advent of Cloud you need control over how data flows, where to and who can see it. People want to cloak information like salary details or proprietary information and there’s often no way to strip it out or redact it, or provide access to information by roles. We’ve got a decade-plus in IP here and we have applied that to deployments in the Cloud.”

As the valuations placed on companies in the sector suggest, this a market with a lot of legs.

“It’s a couple of dozen billion-dollar revenue marketplace and today all the competitors in the space have a total of under $200m,” says Foy. “There’s a lot of noise and a few competitors that have raised a lot of money but lots of money in your pocket doesn’t make for good decisions. There’s an evolution of the technology and we’re just at the crest of the wave.”

But aren’t all these companies effectively selling a feature rather than fully-fledged services? And doesn’t that make them candidates for acquisition by 800-pound gorilla companies with a broader set of workflow tools like Microsoft? Foy isn’t having any of this and cites the golden boys of the B2B Cloud.

Salesforce started like that too,” he recalls. “People asked: ‘Is it a feature or is it a company?’ Ultimately it’s the solutions you sell and the problems that you solve that determine your success. The world has devolved away from 800-pound gorillas to an agnostic hub. You need information governance, comparison, policy because these aren’t mom-and-pop organisations but vertical segments that are regulated. The CIO is becoming the gatekeeper or shepherd of the business. The balance of power has shifted. End users can find apps on the web that let them perform their jobs and IT has to respond with corporate governance and management.”

Today, Workshare has 1.8 million users and about $20m in annual revenue and is growing. On its side it has a good mix of regional revenue sources with 60% coming from the US, 30% Europe and 10% Asia. It’s also working on integrating enterprise social networking after buying IdeaPlane late last year and Foy says this will extend Workshare’s differentiation.

“Box is a file structure in the Cloud,” he argues. “Effectively, we’re Jive plus Box in the cloud. Yammer quickly gets kicked out by companies unless they have a community organiser. But having tasks and capabilities attached to goals and outcomes is powerful.”

Workshare might not have the reputation and hype of Box or Dropbox but its plan is solid. “Somebody said to me: you’re coming late to the party but you’re bringing a very interesting bottle of wine,” Foy says. “That sums it up for me.”


By Martin Veitch, Editorial Director, IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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