Sramana: When you started this project, what was going on in your mind? Why did you decide to tackle this particular problem?
Aaron Fulkerson: I saw a problem I thought we could address. I had a bunch of friends who worked at WebSphere, and they had a couple of thousand people working on their project. I saw this at Microsoft as well. I wanted to develop a more intelligent environment for these people to have access to product knowledge. My original idea was to do something based on the XML schema.
Steve was much more pragmatic. He wanted to build a service layer with a wiki interface as the user interface. Everything we do has a machine interface before the UI. We knew there were a lot of other systems that we wanted to capture knowledge from. That was the premise of MindTouch. There are a lot of people trying to collaborate around product documentation, service documentation, and knowledge. They are interested in this because it is how they support their customers and how they invest in their customers’ success. That was the problem we set out to solve.
Sramana: By the time you got to the open source solution, what had it evolved into?
Aaron Fulkerson: By the time we realized how popular it was, about a year and a half had passed since we wrote the first line of code. We started a company, and within a week we had closed our first deal. I consider 2008 the true beginning of MindTouch as a company. We had a lot of revenue traction based on our support subscription model, and what we saw then was a lot of people who were steering the product direction toward being a very broad enterprise collaboration platform.
That was the first mistake we made. We went after a very broad category of open source collaboration. There were probably 300 or 400 other people in the same space. It turns out that it is also a very capital intensive project area. The course correction I made was the decision that we were not going after a vast market opportunity of general purpose collaboration. What we started the project around was the idea of getting people from across an organization to produce knowledge in a web-native format that you can expose as rest services to any other platform, such as contextual help, a knowledge center, a hardware device, or even an agent for your entire channel.
The original idea was to get subject matter experts collaborating on knowledge documentation to support the customer service around the products their company sells. We went to a very broad market space and had to contract back to our core value. In January of 2010, we announced to the company that we were not doing on-premise anymore and that we were not doing intranet, either. We became hyper focused on collaboration around product or service knowledge.