The risk of (good) innovation

The risk of deploying an innovative product is that your users might just fall in love with it. And, they will be devastated when you have to pull the plug.

The mark of good user satisfaction is no longer a score in the “I don’t hate it” realm or even a measure of system usage.  With the consumerization of workplace applications and the growth of freemium, user-selected applications, the new bar for user acceptance is “I can’t live without this application.”

This is how many users of Cohuman* feel.  But, unfortunately, according to an announcement to customers last night, Cohuman is shutting down it’s services in 34 days. Here are some reactions from customers on the blog announcing the shut down and the mysterious acquisition as well as the Facebook page enabling users to share their reactions and go-forward plans with each other:

“I’m very disappointed and very sorry to hear that cohuman is shutting down. Since I’ve discovered and shared it, I’ve gotten several clients used to it when NOTHING ELSE BEFORE HAS WORKED.”

“This makes me so sad. Along with other comments we would be more than happy to pay for the free service.”

“Since I discovered this software, me and my team has discovered really how to work in collaborative way. This news is very sad too us, we was justing starting to use it, and the results was very good. And everybody was excited with the solution.”

“I have used a lot of productivity tools and I’m very surprised to see Cohuman leave the scene. What is it that good products never stay very long even though they seem to be loved by many?”

The public outcry – including anger over the sudden shutdown, support for charging a fee (even for free stuff) just to keep it going, and praise for giving them a product that makes work better – is startling.  It makes one wonder why a) necessary funding never kicked in and b) the acquiring company is shutting this gem down.

It is a sad, but poignant example of the industry’s growing pains.  There is a lack of a standard measurement for true user success for workplace applications – one that can be used in determining appropriate funding and investment.  Neither current measurements for workplace usage (based on top-down enterprise buys) nor pure consumer applications (based on wide-spread open usage) apply to these new applications that make work better. That needs to change.

In addition, there is a big unknown with regards to the balance between freemium, viral user adoption and charging a fee for value.  What is the right turning point?  What are the right tiers?  These questions are being played out as we speak and there will be many more examples like Cohuman before we get answers.

If you are contemplating deploying an innovative technology at a broader enterprise level, Cohuman’s blog post and Facebook page will provide a good anecdotal understanding of what to prepare for – both the positives and the negatives.  It is a good reminder to have a back-up plan, get a contract that incorporates potential acquisition, and closely follow the viability of the company.

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*Cohuman is a social-oriented task management application that allows employees and external collaborators to track and prioritize to-do lists and projects.  The work “goals” and completion are transparent and can automatically change in priority based on the needs of others on the team.  I highlighted it in my Enterprise 2.0 presentation as an example of connecting goals to work.

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One Response to The risk of (good) innovation

  1. Tony Mobily says:

    Hi,

    This is an very good blog post. I worn in the same industry as CoHuman, and could really see that you have some very good points.
    (I am the co-founder of Apollo, http://www.apollohq.com — Apollo does project management and CRM, so it fits pretty well within CoHuman’s market. We have things like Calendar, timers, etc. but features here are not the real issue).

    I work in this industry every day (SaaS, and specifically project management as a service). The market is really quite crowded. Apollo came out as “yet another one” — proving ourselves has been very hard.

    I frankly think there are several issues in this industry:

    * It’s very crowded — with really good products. Users have a lot of choice now
    * Products are struggling establishing themselves.
    * People shutting down, like Bantam Live or CoHuman, create uncertainty and fear
    * Expectations on sales and funding are really high
    * Some products are created for the wrong reasons — not to create a great product, but to get more and more funding and eventually sell it. I am proud to say that this is _not_ our case: http://www.applicomhq.com/content/applicom-the-maker-of-apollo-project-management-and-crm-is-not-for-sale-our-users-come-first

    When we started with Apollo, we already were an established development company. We must be the only people out there for which forecasts actually matched actual sales — because we kept our expectations right.

    We realised that we couldn’t have offered a completely free version of Apollo, and decided to have a cheap solo plan instead. This was possibly the best move we made.

    In the end, it’s not even about loving a product, but trusting it. This is probably why some customers will pick the industry’s veterans (with all their limitations) rather than the new kids in the block (that is, anybody created after 2009).

    If you can convince your customers that you will still be in business in 5, 10 years, you are doing things right.

    Just my 2c!

    Merc.

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