Dimdim–A Bright Light In the Web Conferencing Market

With the recession stubbornly lingering, many small and medium businesses (SMBs) are still pinching pennies and looking to trim expenses. Dimdim, which provides free Web conferencing for up to 20 users, and charges just $25 per month for Dimdim Pro (which supports unlimited meetings for up to 50 users) gives SMBs a way to eliminate or cut Web conferencing costs painlessly.

Dimdim’s radical contention is that Web conferencing should be free for small meetings, and less costly for larger ones with more bells and whistles is certainly grabbing the attention of Web conferencing users–as evidenced by Dimdim’s assertion that 5 million people in 195 countries are now using Dimdim for about 3 million minutes every day. It also must be rattling the likes of Webex, Citrix GoToMeeting and other web conferencing vendors, whose services look pretty pricey when stacked up against Dimdim. How does Dimdim do it, and can the vendor make this model work?

How Does Dimdim Do It?

Dimdim employs a freemium model, but there’s nothing chintzy about the services it provides. Dimdim provides audio, web and video conferencing features, along with desktop sharing, and support both Windows and Mac operating systems. No download or invite is required to join a Dimdim conference–all you need is a URL to join. One click from the URL whisks you to the presenter’s desktop–making it ideal for ad hoc meetings. Once you’re in the conference, you can see the presenter on a video screen (two-way video also lets him see you–if you’ve changed out of your fluffy bathrobe and give permission) and chat online and via the audio line. You can also record your Dimdim meetings in the paid version.

The service is available in 3 flavors:

  • Free, for up to 20 meeting participants.
  • Pro, for up to 50 participants, with additional capabilities for custom room branding (you can remove the Dimdim logo and pop in your own), and mashups for integrating Dimdim with other tools. Pro pricing is $25/month.
  • Webinar, priced at $90/month, which adds meeting reporting and analytics and supports up to 1,000 attendees.

Dimdim’s goal is to be the “iPod of Web conferencing services.” We’ve been using Dimdim for many of our SMB Group web conferences for over a year, I can vouch that it’s clean, simple interface usually lives up to this promise (I’ve had a couple of glitches with downloading the code to share my screen, and full screen never really seems to take up the full screen, but other than that, all has been good). In fact, there has been more than one occasion when a client was using a pricier Web conferencing service that crashed out, or didn’t work on my Mac. So, we fired up Dimdim and were back in the meeting in just a couple of minutes.

Backed by several million dollars of capital funding from the likes of Draper Richards, Index Ventures and Nexus India Capital, Dimdim has built its offerings on open source software and leverages Amazon S3/EC2. Dimdim makes its source code available to developers and others so that they can tailor it to their requirements.

Will Dimdim Make the Freemium Model Work?

As we discussed in the SMB Group’s 2010 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends, there’s no such thing as a perpetual free lunch. Vendors using the freemium model have to scale and convert some percentage of their users–typically 5 percent to 10 percent– to their paid offerings.

As Dimdim passes the 1 million registered users bar this month, it is scaling up to the kind of volume it needs to make this model work. The vendor also indicates that it is on track and achieving critical conversion goals. To keep the pipeline growing, Dimdim proactively encourages referrals via its Dimsum program. Dimdim users (even free ones) can refer friends and colleagues to try or buy Dimdim  can earn up to $120 per referral. Dimdim also has an affiliate program for those who want to promote Dimdim solutions directly to their customers or online audience (FYI, neither I nor the SMB Group is a Dimdim affiliate).

In March, Dimdim also started private labeling and selling its solutions through some big providers, which already account for 20% of its business. In addition, Dimdim is taking advantage of application marketplaces, such as Intuit Workplace and Google Apps Marketplace, to gain market traction.

Dimdim’s Web conferencing service is innovative and easy to use. By making the free service available for up to 20 attendees, enabling 1-click meeting attendance, and putting the Mac on a level playing field with Windows, Dimdim has removed many barriers to using Web conferencing. While the combination of rapid, high volume viral growth and paid conversions is a tough code to crack, it appears that Dimdim has developed a successful formula to make the model work.

What is Business Intelligence, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published on July 30, 2010 in Small Business Computing)

What is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term used to encompass the processes, methods, measurements and systems businesses use to more easily view, analyze and understand information relevant to the history, current performance or future projections for a business.  Other terms that people often use to describe BI include business analytics, decision support and executive decision support. The goal of BI is to help decision-makers make more informed and better decisions to guide the business. Business intelligence software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions accomplish this by making it simpler to aggregate, see, and slice-and-dice the data. In turn, this makes it easier to identify trends and issues, uncover new insights, and fine-tune operations to meet business goals. BI solutions can be very comprehensive, or they can focus on specific functions, such as corporate performance management, spend analysis, sales pipeline analysis and sales compensation analysis.

Why Should You Care?

Results from the SMB Group’s recently released survey, 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study reveal that SMBs view “getting better insights out of the data they already have” as their top technology challenge. BI solutions can solve this problem by providing a framework and tools to measure and manage business goals and conduct “what-if” scenarios to evaluate different courses of action.

In very small companies, spreadsheets and other ad hoc tools are often enough to get the job done. But as companies grow, the amount of data decision makers need to understand grows: new products and services, new markets and opportunities, investments in operations, sales, marketing and other systems to support growth.

As a result, more people have to be part of the data collection and analysis process, and different people in the organization (sales, marketing, finance, etc.) need to look at data in different ways. Typical problems with the spreadsheet approach include:

  • Time consuming and labor intensive to set up and maintain. Establishing a company-wide model, creating organizational plans, distributing and collecting information from different managers, consolidating multiple spreadsheets, and debugging broken macros and formulas becomes unwieldy.
  • Insufficient collaboration and feedback capabilities. Desktop spreadsheets are siloed, and don’t enable real-time data sharing and updating. Getting a unified, accurate view becomes difficult.
  • Error prone. Research shows that 20 to 40 percent of all spreadsheets contain errors, and as they become more complex, error rates multiply. Without an audit trail, changes and mistakes can go undetected and businesses make decisions based on bad information.
  • Inadequate analysis and reporting. Collecting information and cobbling it together via spreadsheets is cumbersome. The detailed information that decision-makers need can be hard to get or not even available.

Business intelligence solutions give businesses a way to streamline and unify the data collection, analysis and reporting process. BI solutions are built on a unified database, so everyone involved in the process gets a single, real-time view of the data. Many BI solutions feature self-service dashboards and reporting tools that make it easier and less time consuming to contribute to and manage the process.

What to Consider

Until recently, BI solutions have typically been too expensive and complicated for many SMBs to use and manage. But more recently, vendors have made strides to make BI solutions more tailored, accessible and affordable. For example:

  • Function-specific BI solutions. Many vendors have introduced software designed to focus on the analytical needs specific to a particular department or process. By focusing on a specific need, they can offer solutions that are simpler to use and more cost-effective. For example, vendors such as Adaptive Planning and Host Analytics focus exclusively on corporate performance management; Cloud9 Analytics concentrates on helping companies manage salesperformance; Xactly focuses on sales compensation analytics; and Rosslyn Analyticsaddresses spend management and analysis.
  • Pre-packaged solutions within a broader BI suite. Companies that offer broad, comprehensive suites that include BI, data warehousing and analytics capabilities have been re-packaging their solutions to focus on specific needs. For instance, SAP Business Objects Edgeoffers modules for planning and consolidation and for strategy management and score carding; and Birst offers pre-packaged solutions for sales, marketing and financials.
  • ERP and CRM companies providing pre-integrated BI solutions. Many ERP and CRM vendors now offer pre-integration with BI solutions to reduce the time, difficulty and expense of deploying BI to work with an existing system. Examples include NetSuite, which partners withAdaptive Planning and MyDials and Salesforce.com with Xactly for sales compensation management.
  • On demand, software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI solutions. The SaaS model removes IT infrastructure costs from the BI equation, and it can dramatically reduce or eliminate upfrontcapital costs. Many of the vendors mentioned above — and others — deliver their BI solutions via a SaaS model.

Today, there are more BI choices geared for SMB needs and budgets than ever. However, vendors characterize and target the SMB market differently, and these differences are reflected in pricing, solution capabilities and complexity. Start with a thorough assessment of our internal needs, and then carefully investigate and evaluate how different offerings map to your organizational requirements and constraints. Many vendors provide access to free trials, pilots, demonstrations, etc. to help you get a better idea of whether a specific solution will fit your needs. By taking more time upfront to assess, evaluate and compare your alternatives, you’ll greatly increase the odds of selecting a solution that will meet, but not exceed your needs and budget.