Does the world really need another software add-on product?
That was my first question to Pat Sullivan, a serial software entrepreneur who started ACT and SalesLogix CRM. What was so broken that needed to be fixed with his latest company, Flypaper Studio?
I suppose you could ask the same question about any number of so-called Web 2.0 apps that have appeared in the last couple of years. Still, as a former heavy-duty ACT user, I was especially curious to hear Sullivan's explanation.
The way Sullivan explains it, we're basically talking about something akin to Flash animations for dummies (my take.) With roughly a couple of million professional Flash programmers out there, ginning up fancy pages for their clients, the idea behind Flypaper is to give non-programmers the ability to repurpose that professional content. And, best of all, without paying anything extra for the "privilege." With so many companies in the United States battling the sub-prime blues, any cost-saving idea is worth serious consideration.
"There was a big problem in that Adobe Flash...is unavailable to the masses. The only way a mere mortal can do something really cool on a Web site or in a presentation is to hire a Flash programmer for a lot of money," said Sullivan. "They deliver (the finished project) to you in a form you can never edit or change. You're tethered to that programmer. We came to believe that that was really a big problem."
The project recently moved out of beta testing and is being offered in a free general release as well as a professional version for $195 per seat. The paid version also lets customers poll data through Web services and includes up to one gigabyte of storage.
I don't know if Flypaper's destiny is to remain an independent company or become a cool feature in another company's product portfolio. But the idea is intriguing. Flypaper would help businesses bypass pricey tech gatekeepers, who otherwise would be able to demand extra payment for extra work on their creations. As someone working in the Fourth Estate, I can't help but note the irony here. Over the last several years, so many techies have expressed delight at how technology was allowing the masses to bypass the former gatekeepers (ie: the press) to get their message out to the wider world. Now, it's come full circle. The implications potentially are profound. But that's fodder for another day.
In the meantime, the business plan was compelling enough to convince Sierra Ventures and SCF Arizona of Phoenix to supply $3.5 million in funding to Flypaper. The announcement hits the wire today. Last February, both organizations were participants in the first round of funding for the Phoenix-based company.
One immediate hurdle is the absence of enthusiasm among most regular people to try their hand at coding. Even if this is as simple as Flypaper claims-and nothing's ever as simple as they say in a press briefing--there's a lot of missionary work remaining. Flypaper will need to convince businesses its product is worth their peoples' time and invest the effort in training them. Corporate marketing departments and content creators will understand the gist of that argument without much trouble. But that's only a small part of any organization.
Sullivan says he heard similar arguments when he was selling contact management software.
"With ACT, there was a certain amount time the salesperson had to invest to get what they wanted out of it," he said. "But once they caught vision of what they wanted to do, they invested the time. I think the same thing will happen here...this is kind of like ACT in the beginning, where you had to convince people that yeah, you can do it. Every product has its market mountain to climb. That's part of the fun of it."