BT Acquires Ribbit for $105Million

When I identified VoIP application platform provider Ribbit as one of the “DEMO 10,” I wrote:

My bet: Ribbit is gaining momentum among a range of established companies who need Ribbit’s platform to deliver integrated voice capabilities into their products, giving Ribbit big company potential; expect an IPO in several years time.

I was wrong. There’s no IPO in Ribbit’s future.  Just 6 months after the company rolled out the Amphibian platform at DEMO 08, the startup has been acquired by British Telecom.  The company is among the fastest from DEMO launch to acquisitions ever.

Don Thorson game me the heads up late last week that something was in the offing, and today the company, along with BT, made the official announcement.

Ribbit architected the platform for what the company called “the first Silicon Valley Phone Company.” A high ambition to be sure, and one that has now been legitimized by BT.  The open platform enables third-party developers to deliver VoIP applications that integrate communications services into a range of use cases.

While the $105M price tag may seem modest by some standards, it is a measure of the velocity with which Ribbit – and this emerging market are moving.  The company only emerged from R&D stealth about 8 months ago, and announced the applications platform at DEMO 08 in February.  That the buyer is a telco affirms the shift to IP-based communications and reinforces the vision of Ribbit’s founders that a new-generation of integrated voice services lies just ahead.

The acquisition is also good news for companies like PanTerra Networks that have been pushing similar architectures to enterprise customers.  An endorsement-by-acquisition of the sea-change in telephony can only support their work.

Engaged with Adobe

I am spending the morning with about 120 of Adobe’s customers and developers at the company’s second Engage event at San Francisco’s DogPatch Studios.

Throughout the day, developers are showing the work they’re doing with Adobe’s tools, including the AIR platform which was officially launched from beta today. Here are a few of the demos I saw this morning.

shifd logoShifD was born of a Yahoo! hack event in London a while ago and was launched last night by The New York Times Company. The application lets you easily move content from Web sites to your desktop and/or mobile phone. We’ve seen this application before, but ShifD seems to be super simple. The app is fresh into beta and there are kinks to be worked out, but the developers expect to open up an API in the future.

DEMO fans got a first look at Sprout last month at DEMO 08. The Engage audience got a look today, as Carnet Williams walked the audience through building a sprout rich media player. Sprout lets you gather up media assets from any live Web site or upload them yourself. The beta is live now and open for public trail.

FedEx showed a desktop application that provides real-time status of package movement through the FedEx delivery system. The app brings better convenience and more information directly to the customer, and provides real-time alerts to improve customer experience. The application was built in-house in about 12 weeks on the Flex platform.

MFG.com is a marketplace that links the global manufacturing economy. The site has created a rich internet application to coordinate transactions among suppliers, manufacturers, and customers. This may not be the application you rush to, but it is a great example of a rich Web application.

I’m on next, in conversation with Adobe CIO Kevin Lynch. We’re due to talk about a range of things modestly summarized as “what’s next for the Web.”

Kaazing’s Take on Competitive Corporate Culture

I’m sitting back stage at DEMO and the founders of Kaazing are about to take the stage to demonstrate Kaazing Enterprise Edition. The product is a real time messaging brokering system for the Internet, enabling the next-generation of real-time, “live” Web applications. It support scalable messaging in a range of applications.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I met Jonas Jacobi and John Fallows just after Thanksgiving as they pitched their product for inclusion at DEMO. Having helped launch the first Web server at DEMO more than 10 years ago, I understood immediately the importance of what they are providing in this technology. On the spot, I invited them to come to the conference.

Where, John asked, would DEMO 08 be held? Palm Desert, I answered.

“That’s great. Our families will love it there.”

That’s not an answer I’m accustomed to hearing from early-stage companies. Typically, startups teams are heads down — grateful for their forgiving families, of course — but accepting that, during the startup phase, family time is limited.

Not at Kaazing. Continue reading

Not Business as Usual

One of the aspects I love most about DEMO is the conversations. Unlike most technology conferences, DEMO has a casual, family-reunion-like feel to it. The single-track format allows attendees to relax and enjoy themselves. I think Chris’ gracious, laid-back attitude sets a precedent, one that filters down to every attendee. And just for the record, I had that opinion of Chris long before she started paying me.

So the conversations. Last night, I attended the NVCA dinner here at DEMO. The key theme of the evening was green tech and Chris and I had fascinating discussions with several attendees on ethanol, algae as a biofuel and the end of the world as we know it. (A good time was had by all.) Continue reading

DEMO 08 Opening Points to the Experience Economy

I open each DEMO conference with remarks that reflect the state of the industry. Here is the text of this morning’s opening. – chris

Good morning, and welcome to DEMO 2008.

These few opening minutes of the DEMO conference have come to provide a sort of “State of the Industry” update.

Over the last several months, we’ve talked to hundreds of companies and identified the 77 launching products here this week as the very best of the lot, no doubt. They are also representative of direction and change in the technology markets.

You see, all of those meetings to screen and select products for DEMO are data points about the industry, and so, like runes, we toss them across the table, ask questions, and try to get a read on the present and the future.

So, what do these 77 companies – and the hundreds that didn’t make it – tell us? Continue reading

Of Cat Herding, Fund Raising, and Business Focus

I woke up Friday morning to discover that I’d become a cat herder. You know the role: trying to get dozens and dozens of pieces and people corralled into some semblance of order. I should come to expect it in the few days before a DEMO Conference is set to begin. After all, I’ve been reprising this role twice a year for most of the last eleven. Still, it always strikes me that otherwise smart business people can get so caught up in the weeds that they lose focus on their own objectives.

Here’s a case (and would that it had only happened once these last few days): An exec from a demonstrating company scours the news wires, looking for mentions of other companies also participating in the event. Spying a perceived competitor (for the record: we don’t think these companies compete), the exec searches for every mention anywhere in the media, on blogs, on the company site, that might serve as evidence that the company “broke the rules” of DEMO. The “evidence” is packaged into a stern e-mail — usually couched in a tone of “far be it from me to call out another company, but…” — and sent along to DEMO’s PR team. I then get a call, confirm that the assumptions of the exec are, in fact, wrong. This is followed by an e-mail or phone call that assures the exec that we’re “on the case,” politely thanking him for his diligence.

Normally, I’d let this sort of thing slide, and it certainly wouldn’t be fodder for a post. But this time, the predictable tattle-tale thread dropped onto my desk at about the same time my Guidewire Group co-founder at and I were talking about focus. Continue reading

A few to watch at DEMO 08

As you saw from Chris’ earlier post, we have a host of groundbreaking, just-plain-cool technologies debuting next week at DEMO 08. The first day of DEMO always brings a big exhale, as we can finally talk publicly about all the fascinating products we’ve been knee-deep in for months. I’ll have to keep holding my breath for a couple more days but couldn’t resist telling just a bit more about what’s on tap next week in Palm Desert. If you can’t join us onsite, stay tuned to the brand new DEMO site (launching Monday) for videos of all the live stage demonstrations.

  • Keep an eye out for a rather large delegation that may show signs of jet lag. Following a trip Chris and I took to Taipei in early December, the Taiwanese government is bringing 11 companies to DEMO, showcasing an impressive level of innovation from this small island. Two of the companies, atlaspost and Citiport, will present onstage. All are proof that tech ingenuity isn’t confined to Northern California.
  • Collaboration is a nut that simply hasn’t been adequately cracked. We keep chipping away though and have found some eye-catching and never-before-seen takes on the solution from Huddle, Chalex, and KonoLive.
  • Search engines aren’t just for the mass consumer. The heavy researchers among us are constantly looking for tools that will reduce time spent scouring data for relevant content. You won’t want to miss Silobreaker or Jodange, two companies I now consider indispensable to my work.
  • As for the just-plain-cool category, Capzles, Rove Mobile, and Yoics are good ones to keep an eye out for.

It’s always interesting to see what clicks with the audience; there are inevitably a few that I didn’t see coming and a few favorites that don’t click as much as I’d hoped. Chris and I will be blogging throughout DEMO; add us to your feed reader so you don’t miss a thing.

Look Who’s Coming to DEMO 2008

It can now be said…at least in part.

Throughout the Fall, Carla Thompson and I spent uncountable hours sifting through DEMO applications, turning over stones, and interviewing hundreds of companies to come up with the 77 who will launch products next week at DEMO 2008.

At one point in those intense 90 days from late September through Christmas, Carla asked, “Is this just a better group of applicants? There are so many great candidates.”

We did have a tough choice. After all, when you cast the net as wide as we do — looking at every type of product from core components to consumer entertainment — you find yourself weighing the market impact of, say, an advance in enterprise application development against an implementation of a unique consumer search algorithm. Then again, that’s what makes DEMO unique and exciting . . . there’s something for every interest and often, these interests intersect in serendipitous ways leading to unexpected results.

Now, though, the DEMO organization has released the names of the 77 companies introducing products next Monday. The envelop please. . . Continue reading

DEMO Preview: Building Africa with Investment, Not Charity

A thread — sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious — that weaves through every DEMO conference is the origins of innovation. Among the 70 or so products that debut at the conference, I try to mix some discussion about sources and catalyst for discovery and invention. In preparing for DEMO 08 (Jan 28 -30, Palm Desert, CA), I was inspired by Erica Lee to assemble a panel of entrepreneurs and thought leaders focused on innovation and opportunity in Africa.

Why Africa?

Because too many people in the West aren’t paying attention. And when they do, they think about charity and unrest, not investment and opportunity. Admit it, you have that Save The Children image seared into your memory just as I do. Our child minds remember Africa as that place where children-go-to-bed-hungry-so-stop-whining-and-eat-your-vegetables. It’s that place where, Sally Struthers assured us, we could feed a child for just pennies a day.

The view from our adult mind isn’t much prettier. Africa’s tribal schisms have lead to unconscionable acts of violence. Apartheid is over, but the economic divide has not been bridged. Children still go hungry (and we still don’t eat our peas).

I don’t deny that these images are very real, that many African nations struggle with poverty, war, and famine. Yet Africa is a continent 400 million people strong and the Western response of sympathy and charity misses the very real opportunity to develop an exciting and vast market.

It is time to think differently about Africa, and not just out of some opportunistic capitalist greed. The most successful charity is independence and independence only truly comes from economic development and freedom. Continue reading