I’m often asked for advice when it comes to partnering with Novell. Small technology companies struggle when attempting to do business with Novell and are often confused and frustrated by the process.
What they don’t realize is that the experience is often the same no matter what company you work with and partnering with Novell is often easier and can be more lucrative than working with other similarly large vendors.
I think of myself as a fairly smart guy, but I know that I have a whole gallery of fans who believe I’m an idiot. They believe I’m sincere, that I try hard, but that I’m still an idiot.
The reason is because they observe my actions from a distance, are not able to understand the reasoning behind those actions, and thereby determine that my actions are not reasonable, therefore I must be an idiot.
Let me give you a couple of examples which might help shed some light on the difficulty of dealing with a large vendor like Novell.
About 8 years ago, Novell GroupWise had a problem. The market had written it off for dead and third party vendors didn’t want anything to do with it. The GroupWise ecosystem was dying.
This is what I faced when I came on board at Novell and began the process of pulling the product back from the brink of death.
One major issue that the sales force was screaming about was that the increasingly popular RIM BlackBerry service and RIM devices didn’t integrate with GroupWise. Entire GroupWise systems were being ripped out and replaced with Exchange and the Novell sales team needed the bleeding to stop. When GroupWise was ripped out, oftentimes the entire Novell infrastructure went with it.
My first task was to strengthen the health of the GroupWise Eco-system was to begin recruiting and nurturing 3rd party vendors who supported GroupWise. I’ve touched briefly in my previous blogs about some of this success (and failure).
RIM was a particularly important one. GroupWise was well established in law firms, and it was law firms that were some of the first adopters of the BlackBerry devices. And law firms were ripping and replacing their GroupWise solely to gain integration with the device and their email.
I had to do something quick, anything to stop the bleeding. I attempted to speak with RIM, but back then, Novell was dead and dying and my phone calls didn’t get returned. (NOTE: This is definitely not the case now. RIM is very responsive)
In the market I had a lot of small 3rd party vendors that wanted to be recognized by Novell as the solution for RIM. Many of these smaller vendors had solutions that worked, integrating GroupWise with RIM Devices. These companies included Toffa, Jarna, Notify Technologies, Consilient, Motient, and Mobilestash.
They were all calling me, wanting me to pitch their product as the official solution for GroupWise users to connect their BlackBerry devices.
Here was my dilemma. At the time, RIM’s devices were not officially called BlackBerry’s. They were called RIM devices. BlackBerry was the name of the server and the service that carried the data to and from the RIM devices. Almost all of the vendors talking to me had a solution that connected the RIM device to GroupWise but it did it by bypassing the BlackBerry part of the equation.
What I needed was an announcement that GroupWise worked with BlackBerry, and I couldn’t make that announcement as long as the service I was recommending bypassed the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
Now this is the part where I get called an idiot.
I had to do something, make some kind of announcement for a solution to work with BlackBerry. And only one of my vendors actually connected to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. That vendor, Consilient, was able to connect the GroupWise system to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, thereby allowing me to make public statements that GroupWise worked with BlackBerry through a 3rd party vendor.
Here was the catch. Consilient’s solution required you to purchase Microsoft Exchange to get it to connect. Microsoft Exchange was hidden away inside the solution, but nevertheless, it was still there. And if there is one thing a GroupWise customer DOESN’T want to do, and that would be to install Exchange.
You can easily hear the argument from upper management…”Hey, if we already have Exchange in place, let’s just get rid of GroupWise”
There were many many people who did not agree with my decision. Almost all of those people were technical types who were freaking out when they realized the technical details involved.
But, for the next year, I was able to tell the press and analysts that GroupWise worked with BlackBerry. I was able to tell the truth. In the marketplace, everyone referred to the devices as BlackBerrys, but I was making official announcements of the capabilities and GroupWise didn’t work with BlackBerry unless you used Consilient.
The good news that let me off the hook was about a year later, RIM officially began calling their devices BlackBerrys. I immediately pulled the Consilient references, much to the disappointment of Consilient (Sorry Trevor), and began to promote all of my partner’s solutions as working with RIM.
Toffa, Jarna, and Motient didn’t survive as GroupWise partners, although Chris Jukes, with Toffa, is doing very well partnering with Google and their GooSync solution.
Notify Technologies focused heavily on the GroupWise market and was able to begin to dominate it immediately, and still has a sizable chunk of the market due to their supporting all devices with a single solution.
MobileStash ironically was acquired by RIM and became the basis for the RIM BlackBerry GroupWise solution. RIM began publicly supporting GroupWise and MobilStash’s founder/owner, Jesse Boudreau, is now a VP at RIM.
There are people who still think I’m an idiot for my decision, but sometimes you have to make the difficult decisions to achieve the goal that lies beyond the current popular decision.
I like to think I did the right thing and kept GroupWise alive and breathing on CPR for those critical years so that it could recover and become a healthy, vibrant eco-system that is thriving today.
You can read more of my blogs at http://gwbliss.blogspot.com