What 8x8's Sameroom acquisition says about cross-platform collaboration

Validation of an opportunity or an end for an idea? It's up to you to decide.

collaboration
Credit: Thinkstock

I’ve written about Sameroom a couple of times in the past. The idea of the platform was to allow individuals to collaborate, no matter which chat tool they used. When I last checked in with Sameroom a couple of years ago, the company was pivoting from its original product vision -- its own chat tool, Kato -- and becoming a kind of hug, or integration bus for chat.

And Sameroom was hitting it hard. At its launch it was supporting a plethora of different chat products -- HipChat, Campfire, IRC, Slack, Glip, Fleep, Gitter, Kato, Hall, Flowdock, Wire, Zulip, ChatGrape, Cotap, Unison, Quip, Cisco Spark, Jive Chime, Mez, Skype for Business, Facebook at Work and Talko -- in an effort to truly deliver a "from anything, to anything" paradigm.

The pitch for Sameroom was that it addressed all the fragmentation that occurs within diverse teams and organizations, and allowed individuals to stay in their own "home" collaboration product and connect to other individuals via intermediate "rooms."

Sameroom most recently reported that it had 200 organizations -- including universities, tech companies and sporting teams -- using Sameroom to power this cross-platform collaboration.

Which all sounds awesome, right?

Well it would, except for the fact that Sameroom is announcing today that it has been acquired by 8x8.

For those unaware of the company, 8x8 is actually 30 years old. It started as a semiconductor vendor and pivoted into a data compression play (yes, like Pied Piper). It then pivoted again into being a videoconferencing vendor and finally, for the past 15 years or so, has had various iterations as a VoIP vendor. Today it offers cloud-based voice, call center, video, mobile and unified communications solutions.

None of which covers the increasingly important area of chat. The above list of chat vendors that Sameroom integrates with is huge, but just looking at a couple of them -- Slack and HipChat -- it is amazing how much value is being built here.

As someone who is involved, either formally or informally, with 20 or more different startups, I can tell you that Slack usage is astonishingly high. I see entire organizations almost completely moving off email and communicating through Slack.

Which is awesome if you're Slack or one of its investors, but not so awesome if you're trying to perpetuate a line all about integrating diverse chat products in a market with no one dominant player. That was the mission that Sameroom created for itself -- a mission made all the more difficult because, frankly, Slack does seem to be the dominant platform, bar none.

The deal (the terms of which were, sadly, not disclosed) allows 8x8 to not only provide unified voice and video comms, but chat as well. It's actually an acquisition that makes sense, especially since my assessment is that Sameroom was unable to build a viable standalone business off the back of a chat integration play. As part of a broader UC platform, that economic imperative is different.

In talking up the opportunity, 8x8 points out that the team collaboration market is continuing to grow and that messaging tools are outpacing other popular apps. It then goes out on a limb and assumes something that my experience suggests isn't the case:

"... today most solutions place users in communications silos due to their inability to interoperate with each other. Increasingly, companies are using chat services to augment or replace email for team collaboration, but the result is fragmentation, siloed information, multiple accounts for each employee, and a violation of corporate data governance policies. This fragmented user base and scattered information ultimately deters enterprisewide adoption of team collaboration solutions."

MyPOV

As I said, if anyone was going to acquire Sameroom, 8x8 was an ideal candidate. Sameroom fits naturally into its broader platform and is a nice additional offering to its other tools.

That assessment, however, doesn't really answer the question as to whether this acquisition is a reflection on the lack of a need for chat integration products, or simply a validation that Sameroom does have a big opportunity.

I find myself on the side of the former assertion. while it is true that Sameroom gained some 200 customers, everything I'm seeing in organizations big and small suggests that, when it comes to chat, cross-platform collaboration isn't a critical requirement.

I asked Sameroom's CEO, Andrei Soroker, about this perception of the deal. His response was telling.

"I'd limit my failure to my inability to properly make noise, which is also a euphemism for raising money," he said. "So, when you say that 'most people will see this as a failure,' I don't think enough people knew about us or our mission to notice. 8x8 gives us a larger platform upon which to achieve that mission."

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