Lithium, Jive-X, and Some Thoughts

Wednesday Lithium announced they had acquired the code base and customers from Jive-X (the external community product from Jive).

Let’s face it, this should be a non-event.

At least, that is what I thought at first.  After all, I wrote off Jive some time ago: great architecture, bad management, poor understanding of their target market – and the worse sin: they abandoned their user needs in favor of flashy, crappy “features” no one wanted.  I thought they had a potential way, way back when they first entered the external market; failed to deliver.

Lithium has had a good run, but very limited functionality and had invested a lot of time and effort into building a value proposition for marketing departments, and focused a tad too much on social for my taste (and most everyone else’s) with a product that trailed the one that Jive had re-architected for itself.

What good could possibly come from this merger?

Here is a good interview in CMSWire (words I never thought would come out together from my mouth, considering they are mostly a clickbait outfit for ads) with Rob Tarkoff that sums up pretty well the overall feeling in the market for this event.

You can search Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and every other Social Network for Pundits, Analysts, and even Users poo-pooing the effort.  If you don’t know where to start, go to my mentions column on Twitter – where everyone is posting comments about how horrible this is (sorry, Twitter changed their interface – don’t know how to point you there… yeah, I suck at social — but only because it sucks itself worse).

I even told them so.  When I got the notice from my contact at Lithium I told him: this is a non-event, my data shows that people are not interested in the product either of you are offering, the best you can hope for is what the market is saying: this is a customer purchase for renewals revenues, and you can transform the products into a cash cow and remain market leader for a niche that provides good profit.

Same things I read everywhere – usual stuff: “customer will never get value out of this”, “another cash-grab by a vendor”, etc.  Trust me, analysts — we are good at putting any merger and acquisition down because we have seen them all before.  And they all end up the same way – it is very, very hard to make an M&A work.  Automatic first take “analysis” has the same words – we see some synergy, but make sure you get a detailed roadmap, ask for assurances, you won’t get the value, find someone else if you are just getting started, etc.

Same old thing.

Except — once in a while, one of them is different.

I said for a long time, this was a good merger – not just Jive-X, but Jive and Lithium.  Ever since the destruction of GetSat at the hands of Sprinklr, there was no good platform to speak of for customers to use for communities (I like Vanilla Forums, not a client, but not there yet).  While Jive had a good platform, they lacked many things that Lithium had proven they could do – but without a good platform.

Then I got an email from my contact at Lithium, he offered me a chat with Rob Tarkoff (Lithium CEO) to clarify the strategy.

I like and I respect Rob.  I worked with Rob before, we did a strategy session a couple of years ago that was very interesting.  We had many conversations, he never tried to sell me a bill of goods – he was always upfront and respectful.  I like his approach to communities, and I like what he was trying to do before they got acquired (I always said if he was smart enough to keep Katy Keim as CMO, he could accomplish anything).

As with every other strategy session I have done with vendors, the thoughts and ideas leap the implementation, by miles — but the model was very, very interesting.

We had an interesting, frank conversation.  I started by telling him that I saw little I liked in the deal based on what I had heard: a cash grab was not in the best interest of the clients – or basically anyone.  I mentioned that my research was pointing to the fact that most CS practitioners were running (not walking, running) away from communities because of their experiences and their failed experiments.  I explained that while there is a lot of potential value in using external communities for customer service, no one since GetSat had gotten it right (please see my disclaimers for more on my relationships with all these vendors).

Then he explained to me the rationale for the deal (and the strategy) and — somehow, it makes sense.  No one will be entirely happy here: both Lithium and Jive customers will be missing some of the things they want to see in a community platform.  But here are five things that I see as the potential value here (key word: potential, execution is key).

  1. Lithium customers have been mostly focused on social and marketing – and yes, there are customer service communities based on Lithium – but let’s face it, humongous forums are not only antiquated but also very inefficient for the purpose.  A new model for Customer Service was needed – and Jive has a platform that could deliver on that; my hope is to see a return to ad-hoc, integrated, freestyle, knowledge-powered communities a-la GetSat (but updated, and better).
  2. Jive customers had been abandoned some time ago by a very poor management team that was focused on building flashy apps for internal collaboration rather than focus on the communities. Their focus on flashy apps made them lose sight of the potential the platform could bring.  Very sad.
  3. There is a huge value prop in this deal, one that Rob mentioned in our call, the talent Jive had: leverage the Portland and Argentinian development teams that had re-architected and strengthened the Jive product and use their knowledge and passion to move the Lithium platform forward (this I see as a great point, and not just because there are Argentinians involved: Lithium needs more talent to move their dated product to a services-based platform for the next decade).
  4. While the plan is over the long run to move Jive users to the Lithium platform (and all M&A events are about this, in essence) the part that was most interesting was that Rob mentioned he did not intend to do so before he could figure out what was the value for all customers going forward.  Thus, for the next year or so there would be no roadmap other than studying the code bases, seek synergies, do all those nice-sounding words about finding value, and then in September of 2018, they will present a roadmap.
  5. We also talked about a way to overcome the reluctance from previously-burned customers to come back to communities, and how to leverage the lithium use cases and work with the technology work Jive did and find a new model to offer.   This was the most interesting part of the conversation, he gets the challenge – but is seeking the solution, and open to conversations with customers and prospects about it.  I’m a sucker for anyone open to conversations (ask my girlfriend – god bless her for putting up with me).

I get excited when I see potential in an M&A event.  Call me a romantic, if you may.  I see my role in this world as making bigger pies, finding the way for everyone to get more value.

I mentioned before I trust Rob and I like him, and I see something here that may — just MAY work.

Let me preface, as a disclaimer, that a part of the conversation was about working together again – which means there may be some who believe, and who don’t know me, that I will ben biased by the possibility to make some money.  If you do, your problem.  I have never written anything just for the purpose of making money and I stand by everything I ever wrote – even the punishing words I used for Lithium when we had a “fallout” back in the old days.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for maybe.  Just maybe…

disclaimers: all the vendors mentioned here have been or are customers.  I have had strategy sessions, content, and advisory work paid for by them, in addition to them paying for my attendance to their events and others.  I work with everyone that has potential in their plans, I choose not to work with people who don’t know what they are doing – I had canceled contracts with both Lithium and Jive in the past because they had no idea what they were doing; we fought about it, we discussed it intelligently, then I told them to take a hike, took my ball and walked away.  Nevertheless, I do see potential in this, and I think not a merger of the code base, not a rush to make money, but a methodical approach to building a new platform for communities that the market needs and no one is providing right now may just be the answer here.  I’ve been wrong before (twice divorced, among other things like driving a FIAT) — will see.