You may have already heard about Adobe’s acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, the company that makes Buzzword. Being an Adobe fan and shareholder, I am excited. Rick Treitman and his gang are a smart, experienced group, and the software is simply amazing.
That having been said, I have a number of concerns. Maybe concerns is too strong. Let’s put it this way. I have some hopes about how Adobe goes about this.
I hope they find a way to make Buzzword available freely to everyone instead of just trying to sell to corporations. There was a bank robber by the name of Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks, replied: “That’s where the money is.” In a sense, this is why companies try to sell software to large corporations.
The most likely scenario that I can imagine is that they try to put Buzzword together with Acrobat and their newly announced Share product into a sort of office suite that they sell at relatively low cost (~5k?) to corporations. Why do I worry about this?
- Online applications are a potentially disruptive technology, but only when combined with easy availability. Look at the inroads that Google docs has already made. That application looks like a toy compared with Buzzword (no offense to Sam and Steve and the rest of the Google docs gang). But if Buzzword becomes a behind-the-firewall application that only large enterprises purchase, it won’t get the momentum it needs to move forward.
- In the enterprise, a better product is not necessarily the most important thing, and Adobe is not yet a company that has a proven track record of selling to enterprises. That’s not to say that Adobe couldn’t get there someday, but it’s hard.
- I’m just speculating about pricing, but a mid-priced (5k?) product is a very difficult product to sell. It’s not expensive enough to warrant a salesforce, but it’s too expensive for people to try out and adopt virally.
In general, I am usually skeptical of freemium models, but in this case, I think it’s the right one. (free product + premium offerings + expensive software sales for enterprises).
I hope Adobe doesn’t stretch itself too thin by trying to do too many things. Let’s count the fundamental shifts that Adobe is trying to undergo, all at the same time:
- Become a platform company.
- Become a technology provider to the mobile industry.
- Become an enterprise software company.
- Become a company that delivers software as a service.
Any one of these is potentially transformative, and very difficult to achieve. Trying to do it all is very scary. Maybe Adobe will pull it off, but I would feel more comfortable if the company was trying to do fewer things.
I hope Adobe finds a way for the Virtual Ubiquity guys to continue working as if they were at a startup. Even when everyone is doing everything right, organizational dynamics tend to change when a smaller company is absorbed inside of a larger one. And this space right now is going to get so competitive that I would rather bet on a small startup than a large company. Or better yet, I hope they can harness the power of both.
So those are my hopes. Overall, I am very bullish. Buzzword is an amazing piece of software, and the Virtual Ubiquity team is outstanding. Adobe leadership is smart and determined. The space is undeniably exciting. I am 100% sure that in 10 years, the way that people use productivity software will have completely changed. So Adobe is getting into a very exciting game with a great product. There is a lot of competition out there, and Adobe has a number of challenges ahead. I hope they come out on top.