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Building a Cutting-Edge Telecollaboration Company: John Underkoffler, CEO of Oblong Industries (Part 5)

Posted on Saturday, Sep 17th 2016

Sramana Mitra: Where are you today from the revenue range point of view?

John Underkoffler: Our revenues are now well into the respectable double digits – that’s with two commas. We’re vectoring towards an intermediate goal of a hundred million dollar run rate. The proposition that we’re working on is broad enough for it to be a very brief and temporary waypoint. What we’re after is a new kind of computation – a new ubiquity for collaboration that’s supported by, rather than impeded by, these digital machines.

What we ended up with is almost infrastructural. We get a situation where the world is always on collaboration and, at every minute, you could be deeply engaged with a number of different people working on the same process and documents. Literally at an operating system level, the machine will expect that there is more than one person, which is a very strange historical liability with the way we’ve built computers and interfaces.

Sramana Mitra: Currently, is the vision of collaboration that you have implemented in some of your use cases?

John Underkoffler: That is what Mezzanine, as a product, offers. In a million different forms, that is exactly what our customers use us for. Here in the 21st century, every business has problems that are bigger than one person and that require more than one person’s input to be meshed. The problem is that the digital tools we’ve built for the last 35 years don’t allow that and didn’t anticipate it, and even get in the way.

From an enterprise point of view, the last century has been about coming up with a human organization that tries to make three people create, at least, three times the output of one person. When it’s done badly, the sum of one and one and one is less than three. My personal view is that rarely does it get to be much greater than three.

I think we all know that it’s possible for that kind of collaborative approach to create a situation where one plus one plus one equals six or nine. The key, we believe is to harness everyone’s ability to see – to see a lot of stuff, all at the same time. If you’re at a meeting or a work session, the interpersonal stuff is fantastic. There’s eye contact. There’s gesture. There’s conversation. There’s more happening in the air between them and different people. The moment that someone looks down at a laptop or some other device, that person is not in the room anymore. The devices are getting in the way.

If you can do what Mezzanine does and fill the room with screens that are on the walls in places where you, ordinarily, have whiteboards, then everyone has a heads up experience. Everyone is looking in the same direction and seeing the same thing. Now everyone’s contributing data, applications, documents into this visual space where the stuff can sit side by side and be understood collaboratively.

Sramana Mitra: Very cool. It was nice to meet you.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Building a Cutting-Edge Telecollaboration Company: John Underkoffler, CEO of Oblong Industries
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