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This event was put on by Tech Meetups, an international setup with events all over the world – the first of theirs I’ve attended.

I was unfortunately late, so I missed the presentation from HootSuite, who aim to allow management of multiple social media campaigns. My loss.

PRESENTATIONS

ProdPad: As I arrived, Janna Bastow was presenting a tour through the set of tools offered by ProdPad, the startup she founded with her partner, and which they have successfully bootstrapped. ProdPad offers a suite of services clustered around the earlier stages of product development for teams – starting with ideas, offering tools for capture and management, for gathering comment and feedback on them, all recorded and transparent to all stakeholders – specific permissions can be given to users outside the organisation.

As an idea develops, ProdPad allows more granular information to be added, stored and organised, to develop detailed specifications, user journeys, business case information. From there, tools are offered to support the development of a product roadmap.

ProdPad can support Agile approaches, implements a version of the Business Model Canvas, allows integrations with tools from git to Trello to UserVoice and, as it can create a Zapier link, allows connections to many other web-based tools (and no, I hadn’t heard of Zapier before, but if you don’t know it, and if you use more than a few web-app type services – [it talks to more than 250, 16 of which I use, which gives me over 3500 integration actions to choose from!], it’s worth a look for the potential to simplify all sorts of integration/workflow issues – and also as a crude discovery tool for web applications you might not know but which might be useful – really, rather remarkable. Look here for zapier’s recommendations for a flavour of what is possible).

Altogether, ProdPad looks and sounds fairly mature, although it’s been live for just over a year (the founders had worked on it for their own purposes for a couple of years prior to launch), and by their own account, they are picking up customers fairly steadily, aiming at SMEs rather than startups (no free basic service, for instance), which was a little surprising, given the title of the event.

MY TAKE: a tool squarely aimed at a particular function within a particular sector (to be more specific, as a designer, I wondered whether prodPad would be useful in designing a physical product, but I’d say no, having looked around the features on their site). If you are using the methodologies and approaches that ProdPad is built around, and building modern software-based products then it might well be a good fit, and a reliable support to development of products. On the other hand, if you are diverging even a little from these, then it might seem unhelpful/irrelevant.

It was clear from the presentation that the developers have learned well from their clients, watching which aspects are used, and how, and the tendency appeared to be that looser tools frameworks were more useful – they had abandoned some rather specific tools. For companies in the sector, I would say it’s definitely worth a look – I’ve already recommended it to someone.

Given that they are cashflow positive, in a growing market area, and seem to have their heads well screwed-on, I would back them to be a steady growth business. One of the features of the app is that product roadmaps can be made public (with appropriate controls of course), and this appears to be happening – obviously this brings a sort of intra-company social dimension to the platform, which sounds like excellent free marketing with a built-in network effect.

Podio: This tool was described for us by Maggie Langley – not the developer or founder, but someone who uses the tool extensively in her business as a virtual assistant at Officehounds. (which she didn’t cross-promote at all, but it looks as if the service might be useful for time-poor startup types).

I have to admit that, apart from getting the clear impression that Maggie found it extremely useful, I didn’t really get what Podio did from her talk, apart from that it helps you to ‘tame’ email, and that you can create ‘virtual apps’.

This last seemed interesting enough though, so I’ve had a look myself, and now I understand why I didn’t really get it.  Imagine you’d never seen a database before, and someone tried to explain it to you in a few minutes – you’d barely scratch the surface. Podio is not quite like anything else, and it can do an incredibly wide range of things, so it’s hard to explain. It’s a cross between a straightforward collaboration tool (like the one I use, hall.com), a CRM app like capsulecrm, and a flexible suite of office tools like zoho – offering aspects of the functionality of all three.

The attempt is to put together a single space where all of the generic office interactions can be present, in a relatively calm, integrated workspace. To achieve this, Podio tries for something quite ambitious – a suite of simple tools for each workspace, but allied to the ability to create new tools, or use one developed by other users. Typically, you set up one or more workspaces (typically, by department/team/project), and add in a set of ‘apps’ (either build your own or choose from the wide range available).

This is the middle ground between dedicated apps (like ProdPad above, or Capsulecrm) with relatively specific tools that address particular sectors/workflows, and sites like zoho which offer everything but the kitchen sink.

The middle ground is typically the hardest place to be in any marketplace these days, and I think this may apply to Podio. The sector specific tools are easy to understand, and can be used with very little training or setup investment. The all-singig-all-dancing systems allow larger enterprises to build custom tools that are precisely tailor-made to their workflow. Podio is neither, so market position is less clear.

On the other hand, the middle ground is also often the most useful, in reality – the cliched ‘big enough to cope, small enough to care‘ offer. Certainly, building or modifying an app in Podio is much less intimidating that zoho (or Filemaker for that matter), and although it offers less power, it is quick and straightforward enough so that you can imagine a fair number of users being empowered by it. There is a fair-sized library of pre-defined apps that are aimed at a wide variety of functional and industry-specific uses.

Podio can integrate with many other online services for added functionality (including zapier!). There is also an API to allow further services to be built onto podio, using it as a platform.

MY TAKE – As the service is free for the first five users and $9/user/month for larger groups, this might well be a tool that startups could find useful for automating/communicating a wide range of tasks/information. Take a look.

EVENT RATING – Good, pleased I went.

WHO I TALKED TO – After the event proper, I got talking to Maggie Langley of OfficeHounds, and it turned out that she is a veritable powerhouse, involved in a couple of startups as well as her ‘dayjob’; one in the crowd-funding space, but with a strong local/social/charitable bias, called CrowdPatch, and another in the pipeline which will be something around personal productivity, called the Planning Game (you can’t do anything with this except sign up to a mailing list for now).

I was particularly interested in CrowdPatch, as I’ve helped found and run a few social enterprises myself over the years. From a first glance at the website, it seems to be a humble little site, with many proposals seeking to raise £200 or even less, in support of precisely targeted needs from small charities and support groups. It also aims to support artists, entrepreneurs, science and IT. But there’s more to it than that.

The underlying idea, which I suppose will be tested as the site develops, is that communities of interest – ‘patches’ in their usage – can form and grow the site, using it not just as a fund-raising but as a social and marketing tool. This is a brave and bold undertaking, which goes hand-in-hand with the clear focus on people who are not necessarily digital natives.

To suit these looser, less ‘world-domination-or-bust’ initiatives, Crowdpatch is looser itself – you still get what you raise even if you don’t meet your target, and you can post ongoing campaigns, as well as one-shot missions.

In a future post (I’m a week behind on my reportage…), I will be talking about another startup that aims to capitalise on the realisation that by setting up campaigns on Facebook, organisers trade exposure for pretty much all the reality of a connection with the people who use their pages – which might suit corporations, but certainly doesn’t suit actual humans at all. Perhaps CrowdPatch is another manifestation of the same realisation.

WHAT I THOUGHT – Another interesting evening, with the icing on the cake, as usual, being the conversations afterward. Thanks to everyone involved.