If you are one of my American readers, I'll bet you've never heard of Digital Samba. It is a 12-year-old web conferencing vendor with a product called OnSync. Still not ringing any bells? That may be changing soon.
Digital Samba is headquartered in Spain, making it one of the relatively few web conferencing manufacturers not based in the United States. US sales have been handled by a channel partner operating independently, and in the way of such things, have gone through several acquisitions making it hard to trace the lineage. Most recently the North American operations were handled by Access Fiber Solutions.
But that is not the only reason OnSync and Digital Samba have been flying under the radar. They haven't done much advertising and marketing to the direct end user segment, concentrating instead on offering OnSync as a "white label" technology that can be rebranded and resold under various names by other companies (most commonly Telcos and other communication service providers). If you use a proprietary web conferencing product from a communications company, you may actually be using Digital Samba's OnSync.
Last week the company issued a press release announcing that they had bought back US operations from Access Fiber Solutions and were seeing revenue growth averaging more than 25% per year. I thought it would be interesting to get a perspective on the web conferencing business from a non-US viewpoint, so I had a talk with Robert Strobl, the Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Digital Samba.
We set the stage by identifying what types of applications OnSync is best suited for and where it competes in our fragmented industry. Digital Samba's OEM partners compete with the usual big names in the marketplace to satisfy the need for peer-level web meetings and structured webinars, offering the technology along with service and support, which they can deliver locally.
Digital Samba also offers these types of services directly to end customers, but this is a relatively small portion of its overall business and they prefer not to compete with their channel partners in this space. Instead, Digital Samba focuses on virtual classrooms and large webinars supporting 1000 participants or more, both of which are a competitive strength for the company.
Sales are strongest in Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, and the US, with significant contributions from South America and the remainder of the European continent. Interest from India and Far East Asia continues to rise as well. The product is offered with a user interface supporting more than 10 languages, and Robert says more can be added on demand.
I asked Robert for his opinion on the understanding and acceptance of web conferencing in the different geographies they serve. He said that at a very general high level, North America is probably 3-4 years farther along the adoption scale than Europe, which is 3-4 years ahead of Asia. But most of Digital Samba's sales are made to customers coming off bad experiences with other web conferencing solutions rather than to companies just getting started with web collaboration, so the OnSync sales cycle does not include much persuasion to adopt and use a web conferencing product.
I asked Robert about the support burden associated with having customers in so many cultures, languages, and geographies. Digital Samba runs its own support department internally rather than using outsourced first-level responders. But in a way, they get the same advantage… The concentration on white label resellers means that those companies take on the task of providing primary support for end users. Robert thinks end support is getting easier anyway, as computer users become more familiar with multimedia issues, use of audio/video peripherals, and web-based applications. As he put it, "Web conferencing is a lot less scary now than it used to be 10 years ago."
Robert echoed a sentiment I have heard from many other web conferencing vendors. We are on the cusp of a major shift in platform functionality and interoperability with WebRTC. We are going to see more innovation and startups investing in niche applications for web and video conferencing. For instance, "Click to talk buttons on websites are going to be huge."
Robert thinks this will lead to more fragmentation and competition as newcomers race to leapfrog older technologies that can't transition as quickly, creating a social shift in the way we use video and audio over the web. He says that Digital Samba is tracking the gradual stabilization of WebRTC standards and business adoption of newer WebRTC-compatible browsers before trying to make the transition itself. He thinks we are probably 3-5 years away from practical widespread use and Digital Samba will be working on prototypes and beta-platforms during this transition period so they are ready to take advantage of improved technical opportunities.
I closed by asking whether European customers demanded strong multilingual features from their web conferencing products. Do they need multiple language streams, provisions for simultaneous translation, multiple language captioning and other specialized functionality? Robert surprised me by saying that there is minimal call for such software support. English acts as a lingua franca for businesses across the continent, and presentations are usually designed for one country at a time so that visuals have text in the proper language and cultural touchstones and priorities can be incorporated that will be most persuasive for the targeted audience.
It will be interesting to see whether OnSync develops stronger name recognition among North American users now that Digital Samba has pulled it back "in house." Possibly not, given the company's focus on supporting OEM use under its clients' branding. But at a minimum, I may be featuring more press releases under the company's own name as it continues to grow and develop its international business.