Monday, March 14, 2005
Interview with Steve Strickholm, CEO of KnowledgeDNA
Steve Strickholm is CEO of Santa Barbara-based KnowledgeDNA (www.kdna.com), a company that recently launched a web-based, information management tool. I spoke with Steve to better understand the technology and idea behind the company.
BK: What's the idea behind KnowledgeDNA, and how do customers use your product?
SS: KDNA CompanyIQ provides access to on-demand, real-time business intelligence and execution to organizations dependent on email for their business communications. We take thousands of fragmented emails that represent hundreds of simultaneous tasks, projects and discussions, and thread them into a central database. Comments, status changes and documents are fully threaded and instantly accessible, keeping everybody on the same page. Individual dashboards continuously track personal deliverables. Managers, over a cup of coffee in the morning, can instantly access the status of their projects and issues, find out which are in trouble, and drill down into specifics to take effective action. We dramatically reduce information overload, shrink communication cycle times and support good and timely decision-making.
BK: Is your software installed in-house at your customers, or is it provided as a service?
SS: We designed KDNA CompanyIQ as web-based application. It can run on any standard web browser. As a result, we can host it externally for companies that need to get up and running immediately and want a lot of flexibility. In addition, we can provide KDNA CompanyIQ to be run on an in-house server, as desired.
BK: How did the company gets its start, and why did you decide to found the company?
SS: KDNA CompanyIQ is based on original research I did in graduate school applying the mathematics of Information Theory to the optimization of social networks. Current software such as email, blogs, P2P networks, etc. rely on Social Network Analysis. Conventional "point-to-point" SNA mathematics counts the degrees of freedom between people, and then seeks to establish routes of contact between them. KDNA CompanyIQ however is a "multi-point to multi-point" system that optimizes the amount of complexity in the social network itself. Research data shows that complex problems require complex networks. We continuously optimize the social network for hundreds of ongoing issues so that companies can operate more nimbly and efficiently than before.
The Individual productivity revolution has been resolved. Fifteen years ago it took you five days to type, edit, retype, mail a letter and have it read by somebody on the other end. Today with word processing, email, etc. that cycle time has shrunk to twenty minutes. But the nature of work is changing. Today the challenge is the Group productivity revolution. So much of what we need to do to survive is based upon our work with others. But all we have is scattered email, status meetings, phone calls and manual To Do lists. We're one of the first to bring a multi-point to multi-point productivity solution to market.
BK: How long has your product been in development?
SS: We spent several years in the development of KDNA CompanyIQ, listening to the "voice of the customer", gathering a great deal of customer intelligence and doing a lot of end-user tests. Last year we beta tested our product and the response has been fantastic. We picked up a number of paying customers prior to launching our enterprise version. Our vision is unique in that we develop business intelligence and execution software that helps a company reduce information overload, shorten communication cycle time, and enable good and timely decision-making.
Most software focuses on technological hurdles, or pushing data to different points in the organization. We target the human intelligence component - thus our software utilizes thousands of routines that automate the human communication process. It takes time and insight to meld social and intellectual business processes with hardcore computer technology. We've made the investment in time and effort to get KDNA CompanyIQ done right.
BK: What kinds of customers are you targeting with your product, and have you signed up any customers yet?
SS: We specifically designed our system to operate both inside and outside the enterprise. Companies need communication efficiency not only with their own staff, but in their relationships with outside vendors, partners and suppliers. That's why it is a thin to no client, web-based application. You need something you can rapidly deploy and engage across boundaries as appropriate. Our target customers are companies that need to generate transparency and efficiency internally, and perhaps externally as well.
We are in the process of launching our product and currently have about a dozen customers. While in beta a number of them became paying clients. We have a number of smaller firms of fewer than one hundred employees, but also have a couple with several hundred users, and are doing a pilot with a Fortune 100 company as well.
BK: What are some of the kinds of problems your customers are looking to solve with your product?
SS: Companies need on-demand, real-time visibility into the current status of projects, tasks, issues and discussions to efficiently run their operations in a highly competitive environment. They need to get the right information to the right people, at the right time for them to make good and timely decisions. With KDNA CompanyIQ™ teams of people can efficiently work together, in an electronic environment, to get things done. Here are some examples:
1) Bringing a group together to review a problem and associated documents, and generate a solution, no matter of what size. Imagine trying to herd 10 people with 40 comments and 8 different documents. Currently, companies rely on scattered email, status meetings, conference calls and manual to do lists. We want to shrink their cycle time from a week or two down to one or two hours.
2) 95% of all Projects do not run through Project Management software because they are short-term, somewhat volatile, and not requiring in-depth planning, but requiring an execution "get it done" mentality. Studies have also shown that 70% of these projects fail; either they are over-budget, over-time or never completed. Companies need to execute dozens, often hundreds of Tasks on a daily basis - this is the life-blood of their business. We make business intelligence and execution a much easier and efficient process.
3) Companies have become more "virtually" distributed and work regularly with outside partners and vendors. We provide a way to bring staff at various locations (including home offices), along with selective external users, into a centralized business intelligence and execution system. We also give organizations greater efficiency in managing projects, customer leads and issues as well.
BK: How is KnowledgeDNA funded, and how far along is your company in terms of stage?
SS: The company is privately funded to date. Some of us on the management team have worked as CXO's for public companies, and some of us have strong entrepreneurial credentials. This gives us a good perspective on bootstrapping, and when to go for more institutional money. The last several years for fundraising have of course been lean, which is a good thing because it forces discipline and weeds out the competition. We are now in the process of ramping up sales, the great majority of the development risk has been mediated, so it now makes sense for us to look for outside capital to support these efforts. However, as we have instilled a corporate culture of strategic frugality, we have no intention of changing this key asset as we continue to grow the company.
BK: Finally, what's the next steps for your product and launch?
SS: We continue to listen to our customers and continue to add features to KDNA CompanyIQ. This means we will diligently continue to focus on automating and reducing the number of steps it takes for people to work together and execute the large number of individual, team and company-wide deliverables that must be addressed on a daily basis. We're already planning the next major upgrade to our product, and are actively, but selectively looking for partnerships with other companies striving to be on this next major curve of business evolution. In the future people will look back and say, do you remember when we managed our business operations in such a hap-hazard manner? Our goal is to make on-demand, real-time business intelligence and execution a business competitive weapon today.