In my last post, I briefly mentioned that Convoq has changed its name to Zingdom and is no longer selling the ASAP line of web conferencing products. The co-founder and CTO of Convoq, Christopher Herot, was kind enough to speak with me about the change.
Chris says that when he and Chuck Digate formed Convoq, they never intended to create a web conferencing company. They were working with the general concept of bringing people together online and thought that the big draw would be "applied messaging" -- basically the idea of using instant messaging for business and social applications. Convoq created patents on finding people online for spontaneous communication sessions. They decided to build their communications functionality in Flash, which was used mainly for entertainment and animated movie clips at the time. This was a prescient move, as Flash developed into a nice business application platform with great flexibility and cross-platform compatibility.
Although Convoq built in rich meeting capabilities such as text and voice chat, they found that most of their customers were using the software to deliver slide and narration presentations. In response to market demand, they added event scheduling, invitations, and Outlook integration. Suddenly they had a product designed to support scheduled online events for webinars. When Salesforce came out with its AppExchange concept to link external applications to their Sales/CRM package, Convoq jumped on that bandwagon as well.
Of course WebEx was quickly developing itself as the 800-pound gorilla in the web conferencing space during all of this activity. As WebEx spent more and more on sales and marketing, becoming synonymous with web conferencing to many people, Convoq tried to differentiate themselves with their "no download" approach via the Flash platform and a slightly lower price. But as Citrix became more of a force with its low-priced, all you can meet business model, Convoq found itself caught in a pincers move by competitors. On the high end they were up against a company willing to spend vast amounts of money on feature development and niche product versions, with a massive sales and marketing budget. On the low end, they were facing a company that was willing to offer online meeting functionality at a truly disruptive price point. Chris says he decided that trying to simultaneously fight on both price and functionality was going to result in lower and lower returns, so he made a decision to go back to his company's core competency and origins, with real time person to person communications taking the forefront.
Zingdom is the result of that decision. Although Chuck has gone his own way, Chris and CEO Steve Brand are working to push the instant communications framework into new areas. One of the interesting core features of the new technology is the ability for people to sign up in a directory with phone numbers that are known only to the automated system. If two parties want to talk to each other, they can click a button and have the software dial out to their telephones, connecting them in a phone conversation without either party ever knowing the other person's number. This has obvious applications for things such as dating or online transactions (think about a potential eBay buyer contacting the seller to ask a quick question before making a bid). Chris points out that the Zingdom business model is primarily designed around selling the functionality as an embedded technology for application companies to use. So who knows? You might see this new kind of instant communication on eBay or Match.com some day soon [I hasten to add that I picked those company names out of the air for example purposes only... Chris did not share the names of any potential partners with me].
I asked about the wrap-up on the old ASAP business and Christopher told me that he has retained his engineering and support staff, so existing customers will continue to get technical support for the remainder of their contract periods. But they are making no new sales and will not be renewing support contracts. He says that customers were informed about the switch-over and were allowed to withdraw from existing contracts if desired.
And there it is. Convoq is dead. Long live the Zing.