A Conversation with Joe Kraus, Co-Founder and CEO of JotSpot

jotspot-logo.jpgRecently, I talked with Joe Kraus, co-Founder and CEO of JotSpot. We discussed how the company started and where it’s going, the evolution of the wiki for more specialized applications, and JotSpot’s new enterprise tool, JotSpot Wiki Server.

Joe K.
Hi Stewart
Stewart M.
Hi Joe
Joe K.
hey
Stewart M.
Thanks very much for doing this!
Stewart M.
Can you give me some background on JotSpot? How did the company get started and why did you decide to focus on the wiki?
Joe K.
JotSpot started over 2 years ago
Joe K.
I think there are two kinds of entrepreneurs
Joe K.
top down
Joe K.
and bottom up
Joe K.
Top down are people who look at an existing, established business model and who look for holes
Joe K.
so, for example, if you start a vertical search company
Joe K.
you’re a top down entrepreneur
Joe K.
search is well established as a business model
Joe K.
you’re just looking for a niche
Joe K.
that’s not me
Joe K.
i’m no good at that
Joe K.
i’m a bottom up entrepreneur
Joe K.
i look for patterns that feel familiar
Joe K.
so, in this case
Joe K.
my business partner and Excite co-founder, Graham Spencer, and I were thinking about our next company
Joe K.
and we decided to use a wiki to collaboate
Joe K.
and in 20 minutes, I said “this is what we’re going to do”
Joe K.
why?
Joe K.
because never before, in the service of business, had I been so easily able to create a private shared space on the web
Joe K.
but, the pattern felt like the internet in 1993
Joe K.
in 1993, the internet was there, it was just trapped in the land of the nerds
Joe K.
gopher, archie, veronica, wais
Stewart M.
ah, i see where you’re going…
Stewart M.
untrap the wiki…
Joe K.
and Netscape brought it out of the land of the nerds
Joe K.
exactly
Joe K.
so that was the first pattern that I felt I could see
Joe K.
the second was that when I went around to companies in Silicon Valley and asked the CEO ‘do you have wikis here’, they’d look at me funny and say ‘what’s that?’
Joe K.
and yet when I went to the bottom of the org, to the engineers and product managers and asked the same question, they’d say ‘yeah, we’ve got 3 or 4’ and we’d never give them up
Joe K.
so, the other pattern was bottoms-up adoption
Joe K.
and this part is key
Joe K.
because no startup can create their own momentum
Joe K.
they can’t spend enough money to create a category and try and get customers and the press to care about it
Joe K.
in fact, I have a saying
Joe K.
for entrepreneurs, it’s better to be a trendspotter than a trendsetter
Joe K.
and in this case, it was clear that wikis were going to “move”
Joe K.
the press was going to write about them, people were going to adopt them, even if JotSpot didn’t exist
Joe K.
so, that was the pattern and it’s why we positioned in the wiki space
Joe K.
even if, today, people question why we call it a wiki given all the things that you can do in JotSpot that you can’t imagine doing in any other wiki
Stewart M.
fascinating – I think your saying is right on the ball
Joe K.
we saw that we shouldn’t be caught up in what a wiki WAS
Joe K.
but what a wiki COULD BE
Joe K.
it’s the metaphor that’s powerful
Joe K.
moving the web from a monologue to a dialogue
Joe K.
it’s not limiting that metaphor to just web pages
Stewart M.
well, at the core, it is the spirit of the wiki. I think you’ve taken it in a unique direction that’s evolving and refining the rote power of the wiki
Joe K.
which is why, from the beginning, we wanted to apply the wiki metaphor to the creation not only of documents, but of applications
Joe K.
and it’s how we ended up in this recent release at “page types” where we’re bringing the wiki metaphor, what you call the “spirit” of a wiki to the familiarity of interfaces and capabilities of things like MS Office
Joe K.
consumer habits are hard to change. conversely, they’re easy to leverage
Joe K.
that’s why page types are powerful.
Joe K.
they introduce “wikiness” in an interface that feels somewhat familiar
Joe K.
make sense?
Stewart M.
thus the introduction of tools like JotSpot Spreadsheets, I assume
Stewart M.
and the applications catalogue?
Joe K.
yes
Joe K.
and we tested those things out independently
Joe K.
and then folded them back into the wiki
Joe K.
with “page types”
Stewart M.
I think it makes total sense, and you’re right about habits
Stewart M.
can you give me a quick rundown of the current set of page types?
Joe K.
web pages (standard wiki page)
Joe K.
spreadsheet
Joe K.
calendar
Joe K.
photo page
Joe K.
file cabinet
Stewart M.
and a sense of what new types may be on the map?
Joe K.
on the roadmap
Joe K.
email list
Joe K.
to do list
Stewart M.
What have your customers told you they like best about JotSpot?
Joe K.
they like many things
Joe K.
it’s probably easiest to tell how we got to page types
Joe K.
what customers liked about JotSpot was in some ways what they like about wikis
Joe K.
they get to create a website that is organized in the way they work
Joe K.
it’s a blank slate
Joe K.
and they can write on it however they want
Joe K.
(this, by the way, is one of wikis biggest difficulties as well)
Joe K.
what they also liked, was this notion that JotSpot was more than a wiki
Joe K.
it was a platform for installing and building collaborative applications
Joe K.
that were built on the same platform, which integrated with the wiki and which could be modified in the same interface
Joe K.
(because they were composed of wiki pages, just wiki pages with code instead of text on them)
Joe K.
but, what they wanted was to thread these together
Joe K.
they didn’t want the old style of outlook
Joe K.
where you had siloes
Joe K.
one for mail
Joe K.
one for calendar
Joe K.
one for todos
Joe K.
one for notes
Joe K.
etc
Joe K.
what they wanted was the notion of a website that they could create, but where they could put down *interesting, useful functionality* beyond webpages in specific locations
Joe K.
and that’s how we ended up merging in the notion of applications crossed with the wiki model
Joe K.
which is really what page types is
Joe K.
people also really like the ability to change the look and feel without having to know HTML/CSS
Stewart M.
and with the simplicity of the wiki, not the complexity of Outlook
Joe K.
exactly
Joe K.
so, in short
Joe K.
they *love* pagetypes
Joe K.
they like that it’s a platform that can extend well beyond wikis
Stewart M.
i see that all the time – people I work with are disappointed when the old tools don’t let them change the look and feel
Joe K.
and at a basic level, they like to customize it in terms of look and feels
Stewart M.
What would you say JotSpot offers the higher-ed market specifically?
Joe K.
well, we have a lot of higher-ed customers
Joe K.
in this case people really like two things
Joe K.
1. they like the self-service part of JotSpot
Joe K.
what I mean by this is that it’s a non-technical,30 second process, to get a jotspot account
Joe K.
in addition, we have a pricing philosophy “expenseable, not approveable”
Joe K.
the idea is the paid versions of JotSpot are cheap enough for you to put on your personal credit card and either pay for it yourself, or expense it back
Joe K.
but the idea is that you don’t have to get *approval* ahead of time.
Joe K.
so, if *you* want to do it, and you think that once it’s done, people will understand how good it is, you can do that
Joe K.
2. they like the ability to run a comprehensive classroom site organized as they see fit
Joe K.
use the calendar page type for class calendar and events
Joe K.
use the spreadsheet page types for tracking items, teams, assignments, etc
Stewart M.
i have a saying for this, which is: it’s easier to get a dollar from a million people than a million dollars from one person
Joe K.
yes
Joe K.
using the file cabinet, or the ability to attach a file to a wiki webpage to distribute materials or assignments
Joe K.
students have the ability to do the same?
Joe K.
so, it’s really a very flexible, multi-purpose, collaboration environment that works well for higher ed. both at the functionality level and in terms of the cost and simplicity of delivery
Stewart M.
and because it’s so easy, straightforward, and quick, wikis are giving traditional course management software a run for its money
Joe K.
without question
Stewart M.
course managment software is easily 10X more expensive than enterprise level wiki software, and for not much more functionality
Stewart M.
which leads to my last question – can you briefly tell me about JotSpot Wiki Server?
Joe K.
sure
Joe K.
we’re in beta with it right now
Joe K.
basically, it’s an on-premise version of JotSpot that we remotely support and maintain
Joe K.
I like to think of it as TiVO
Joe K.
from the management point of view
Stewart M.
gotcha
Joe K.
the details are that we wanted the installation to be as simple as possible
Joe K.
where someone totally non-technical could do it, assuming they had a machine that could run it
Joe K.
so, it runs on top of VMWare and it’s really a virtual or software appliance
Joe K.
which means
Joe K.
that in the download
Joe K.
you get the VMWare player
Joe K.
a LInux OS
Joe K.
a webserver
Joe K.
an app server
Joe K.
and our server
Joe K.
once it’s downloaded
Joe K.
you double click an install-shield icon
Stewart M.
great way to give people everything out of the box
Joe K.
and then the rest just “magically” happens
Joe K.
you do a bit of configuration via a web browser
Stewart M.
very wiki-like!
Joe K.
and then you’re done
Joe K.
definitely
Joe K.
it’s really aimed at those larger organizations who aren’t yet comfortable with a hosted service
Joe K.
for potentially bureaucratic reasons
Stewart M.
Joe, thanks very much for your time!
Joe K.
thanks Stewart
Joe K.
I appreciate it
Joe K.
ttyl
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