eHub Interviews CentralDesktop

Posted by Emily Chang on Wednesday, October 5th, 2005. Filed under: eHub Interviews

Visit CentralDesktop, originally added to eHub on Sep 30, 05.

imageThanks to Isaac Garcia, CEO of CentralDesktop for this email interview on October 2, 2005.

eHub: What is your web application/service about?

CentralDesktop: Central Desktop is a productivity environment for teams.  Most users use our service for functions that require group collaboration such as project management, company intranets, managing complex sales opportunities, product development cycles or organizing research.  We aim to make simple, web-based tools that anyone can use, regardless of the technical background, without downloading or installing software.

While there are plenty of enterprise-grade collaboration tools (MSFT Sharepoint, Lotus Notes, Oracle) few are web-based and most of them require heavy installation, integration and administration.  We believe that these tools are inefficient and too complex to use so teams default to their favorite collaboration tool:  email.  When a team or group uses email as their primary means of sharing files, managing documents, communication and collaboration… the system really starts to break-down.  We all suffer from these symptoms:  Team spam, version-itis, lost files, document hot-potato etc.

As a company, we are really focused on providing tools that serve small teams first and best.  Our philosophy revolves around the concept of “the Team” as the building block of all companies.  The “team” might be a small group focused on a specific project such as product development, software deployment or a sales opportunity, but in the case of a small business, the “team” is often made up of the entire company.  In the case of a medium sized or large company the Team might be an entire department.

eHub: Why did you start this project?

imageCentralDesktop: I believe that Central Desktop (along with many of the other Web 2.0 type companies out there) is trying to fulfill our initial expectations of what we all believed the internet was supposed “to do” from the very beginning.  The internet was supposed to fulfill dreams of telecommuting, eliminate corporate offices and provide us with the ability to share “stuff” with anyone in the world.

Do you remember the MCI commercials in the mid-nineties about the woman that “emails over oatmeal” and “take faxes in my pajamas” and “I still don’t shower.”?  While millions of people work this way, its still the exception and not the rule; mainly, because we lack the tools and the technology.  It hasn’t been until the past 1-2 years that broadband/wifi have become pervasive and only recently has browser technology matured enough to handle heavy AJAX and DHTML.

In between Central Desktop and our previous venture, we spent three years working at CNET Networks.  During our first venture, we had offices all around the world and we REALLY needed tools like Central Desktop.  While at CNET we were exposed to a tremendous need for tools like Central Desktop.

CNET is far more advanced than the average company in America, but the need for Team Collaboration was very real in our everyday lives.  Even with the adoption of enterprise sales tools, company wide content management software, heavy intranet adoption, Salesforce.com and even Wikis and Blogs. . . the real collaboration needs were at the team level.

It wasn’t a stretch of our imagination to realize that we could build tools for teams that could be used in small business or large companies.

eHub: How much time do you devote to its growth?  Do you have a day job?

CentralDesktop: This is a full time venture for us.  We quit our jobs at CNET Networks about six months ago to focus solely on Central Desktop.  We average 12-14 hour days during the week and work lighter days on the weekends.  The nice thing about weekends, though, is that you can work more efficiently without interruptions.

eHub: How large is your team and what are your backgrounds?

CentralDesktop: The company is comprised of its two founders (myself, CEO and Arnulf Hsu, CTO).  We are also backed up by a few strong contractors that we use frequently.

This is our second venture as a business team together and we each have previous start-up experience.  As founders, we both share operations and business grunt-work.  As the CTO, Arnulf is the technology driver with a strong engineering background.  My experience is much more sales and business development, with an odd background in English Literature and Literary Criticism.

eHub: What is your design philosophy?

CentralDesktop:
Action instead of Talk.
Go with your gut.
Create and Ship instead of Process and Document.
Customer needs drive the road-map.
Don’t be afraid of change.
Listen, listen, listen, listen.

eHub: What technologies are you currently using?

CentralDesktop: Apache, PHP, PostGres, HTML, CSS, JavaScript.  If you wanna call it AJAX, that’s fine with us.  At the core of Central Desktop, is a wiki foundation.

We felt that wikis provided the best collaboration environment for teams and groups.  We just felt that wikis were (and still are) too complicated for the average user.  The average business user has no idea what RSS is . . . even fewer have heard of, much less understand wikis.  We seek to simplify wikis into an easier-to-use collaboration platform for the average business user.  With the exception of interviews like this, you’ll never hear us describing Central Desktop as a Wiki.

eHub: If your project is live, what are the most requested features from your users/community?

CentralDesktop: More calendaring functions, integration with other web-based applications (Salesforce.com, GoToMeeting, etc), more email integration. (Its funny, in the web 2.0 world . . . people want Web 1.0 functionality)

eHub: Does your user base reside in a primary geographic location or is it distributed?

CentralDesktop: We have users in more than 15 countries right now.  Although, a majority of our users are English Speaking.  This is mainly b/c our website and product is designed in the English language.

eHub: Where do you see the project heading in the next 6 months?  The next 2 years?

CentralDesktop: Over the next 6 months, we see the product incorporating more email functionality.  While we are quick to eliminate “team spam” we also recognize that email is still the worlds most use collaboration tool.  Greater user adoption will come from technology that is less intrusive and less disruptive.  We feel that email needs to be more tightly integrated into our offering.

Over the next 2 years, we really see Central Desktop becoming more integrated with existing apps (tighter MSFT Office integration, links to Salesforce.com, close integration with web-conferencing and calendaring).  It’s all about user-adoption at this point.  What do we need to do to make Central Desktop more complimentary to the average business user’s existing desktop.

eHub: What is the greatest challenge to your success?

CentralDesktop: We don’t have a superstar or celebrity to evangelize Central Desktop.  Neither Arnulf nor myself have founded a billion dollar company in the past (although we have founded successful ventures in the past), and neither of us pretend to be visionaries in the realm of team collaboration.  The stuff we are doing isn’t new.  Collaboration is old and is rarely considered sexy.  So, our initial reaction from most people is “Oh, web-based collaboration?”

My answer is usually, “Was Salesforce.com sexy or new technology?  No.  They took a broken software industry, CRM, made it cheaper, simplified it and executed faster than their competition.

Our greatest challenge is getting the word out without spending lots of cash.

eHub: What is the one thing you need to get to the next phase of the project?

CentralDesktop: Funding.  We think we’ve got the right product, the right business model and the right infrastructure; we just need more gasoline to put into the engine now.  As a low-overhead company, though, we can continue to self-fund Central Desktop and grow it organically for quite some time.  That’s a good feeling.

eHub: Do you have a business model?  If so, what is it?

CentralDesktop: Central Desktop revolves around the concept of Teams and Workspaces.  So, our business model is built on the # of Workspaces your team requires, the number of team members and the amount of storage space required.  We offer a 30 day free trial for users, after which, they can subscribe to one of our plans that start at $25/month.  As users invite their colleagues to participate in Central Desktop Workspaces, we expect viral growth to help us out here.

eHub: If you’re able to disclose this information, how much traffic or usage do you see on an average day?

CentralDesktop: We have over 600 users on Central Desktop right now.

eHub: What is the one thing you’re most proud of about the project?

CentralDesktop: Bringing a solid-working, usable product to market in less than six months with two people and a couple of contractors.

It’s also a tool that we can’t live without, personally.  So, at the very least, we love what we’ve built because it makes us more productive, and proud.

eHub: How would you describe the shift that’s occurring with the web right now to future generations?

CentralDesktop: Help making the internet what it was meant to be.

eHub: What site(s) do you visit everyday other than your own?

CentralDesktop: I track over 200 blogs a day.  Some of my favorites include:

GoFugYourself (the wit makes me happy every day)
I, Cringely (even at once a week, his insight stands above the crowd)
Fractals of Change (Tom Evslin is THE MAN)
Michael Sampson (I lean on him for all of my market research)
Brad Feld (An honest, straight-forward VC perspective)
43 Folders (Getting Things Done mixed with humour)
Charlie Wood (I like reading the musings of a fellow start-up)

eHub: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?

CentralDesktop: I average about six hours a night.  The thing is, whether I go to bed at 11pm or 3am, I always have to be up at 6:30am with my daughter.  She is my natural alarm clock.

Thanks to Isaac Garcia, CEO of CentralDesktop for this email interview on October 2, 2005.

Visit CentralDesktop
Originally added to eHub on Sep 30, 05