This week, enterprise messaging proved it isn't going anywhere
Don't get too excited guys, but it's "enterprise messaging funding week."
Announcements in a sector do tend to come in clusters, if TigerText and Cotap are any indication. First, on Monday TigerText announced its $21 million Series B in a round led by Shasta Ventures. TigerText is the oldest and most dominant player in the "work messaging" realm, and the additional money is headed to beef out its sales team even more.
Then came the underdog Cotap on Tuesday, raising $10 million from the likes of Emergence Capital Partners and Charles River Ventures. Although Cotap may be a little later to the game than TigerText, it's got the likes of founder and CEO Jim Patterson at the helm.
Patterson was Chief Product Officer at this tiny little enterprise company you may have heard of...I think it's called...Yammer? Having joined the company as an engineer in its early days, Patterson spent 4 1/2 years building and scaling the technology of one of the most popular enterprise communication companies in the last decade. NBD.
Cotap and TigerText's mutual funding celebrations prove two things: One, that investors are starting to bet big that the hotness of the consumer messaging sphere will reach the work realm. And two, even if it winds up being a terrible idea, enterprise messaging isn't going anywhere for awhile. The two biggest players have enough cash reserves to give this space all they've got.
The early numbers are promising. As Pando reported, TigerText has seen its revenue quadruple in the last year alone and its customer accounts double. Although Cotap joined the game much later -- in October 2013 -- it's seeing similar numbers, with its CEO Patterson telling Pando that it has 6,000 companies using the app. Bear in mind, Cotap -- like TigerText -- is under a freemium model, so it's not clear how many of those companies are paying for the pleasure. Patterson isn't releasing that information publicly.
With the rise in the Bring Your Own Device trend at work, the freedom of mobile, and the increasing popularity of consumer messaging apps, it's natural that people want to talk to colleagues in a similar way they do with their friends. Email has long been the Rebecca Black of communication, a boring, annoying, mind-numbing drag for those who must sort through the floods of messages for hours just to do their job.
"When I think back to the Yammer time in 2008 there was a lot of excitement around social networking, and then there came activity around social in the enterprise," Patterson tells me.
He draws a correlation between that period and the current consumer obsession with apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp. If consumer social networking transferred to the work world, won't consumer messaging do the same?
"Mobile messaging will be really important in business," Patterson predicts. "Real time messaging will permeate across all enterprise applications."
Of course, if messaging truly is the way of the work communication future, it begs a weird question: How will it change our relationship with our co-workers?
As we've seen with consumer applications, the constraints of various technologies alter the tone, style, and content of communication. Social networking allowed us to spy on each other's lives and interact casually with people we might not otherwise. Instant messaging was for a personal conversation on a desktop. SMS became the place for tête-à-tête with a particular individual, one that stretched across time and place.
Then, the rise of other messaging options opened the door for a greater variety of real-time communication. Snapchat allowed people to send sillier, more emotional, or (yes) sexual visuals they might not have sent otherwise. GroupMe facilitated group chatting. My personal favorite messaging app, Context, prioritizes images in texting but doesn't make them disappear.
Each and every app slightly changes the way we convey information to each other. Email has become relegated to rare use cases among friends: for more formal, longer, or less time sensitive information.
Aside from messaging apps, which we're just seeing now, the same evolution happened in enterprise, mirroring the consumer world. Each phase of communication has dissolved the formal work barriers (and the lines between work and personal life) more and more.
Up until a few years ago, email was primarily how we communicated at work, with similar structures to old-fashioned letters. Greetings, signatures, and headlines were the norm, making email far from casual.
Then, along came social apps like Yammer, Chatter, and Hall. They created a sense of community through the wall news feed and at tag features. For the companies that used them, the software opened the door for work-wide banter and connections between co-workers who might not otherwise interact regularly.
The next phase of work communication was predicated on what had already existed: Instant messaging. Apps like HipChat and Kato simply focused their entire model on that, encouraging casual conversations among company employees, usually taking place on a desktop.
And now we're seeing the rise of enterprise messaging. It makes work communication even briefer and puts it in real time. It shifts boundaries such that co-workers can send little one-off bits of information to each other without making a whole event out of it. The texting can easily happen at work, at home, at night or on the weekends, because that's how people treat texting. The conversations will be less formal, and won't include signups or introductions like "Hey Johnny."
If Cotap and TigerText prove that there's money to be made in this space, more companies will follow. Variations will ensue, and it's possible we'll start seeing "Snapchat for business" or "Context for enterprise."
The market may not hold it, of course. But if it does, the way we talk to our co-workers will become sillier, more emotional, more visual, more ephemeral, and more informal than ever before.
In other words: Enterprise messaging holds the power to become the most intimate form of work communication yet. And as this week showed, it's not going away any time soon.
[image adapted from wikimedia]