Update on the collaborative wiki, I just got a note that because the JotSpot demo was so hot at the Web 2.0 Conference and so many bloggers blogged about it, they can't take on any more beta accounts until their next beta release - or roughly in about two weeks. (Yeah, it's pretty good sign for a company when your potential customer feels like they needed your product yesterday.)
OK, those weren't the exact words in the email message, but yes, the avalanche of beta account requests has something to do with their Web 2.0 launch. (Btw, their public relations agency warned they'd get buried in the big splash - "you'll just be a round-up story" - and advised them not to launch there). Well the demo wasn't ready earlier and they had no choice but to launch there; but it all worked out in their favor.
"There were a lot of bloggers and it just poofed! [imagine CEO Joe Kraus is making a big explosion gesture complete with sound effects]." Their demo hit a chord; bloggers gobbled it up and wrote about it. Thus ensued over 4000 beta account requests.
I think Joe Kraus' excellent story-telling blog (this is a classic and this is my personal favorite), engaging a PR agency that also understands blogs and participatory media, and that Joe and co-founder Graham Spencer are reaching out to the developer community - even in small groups of 30 or 40 - to evangelize their platform wiki and explain how developers fit into the ecosystem (much like eBay enables smaller merchants) are testaments that you don't need a New York Times ads or Superbowl stunts to get word-of-mouth humming along. (Perhaps only someone that has seen the dot-com collapse from the inside deeply painfully groks that big-bang advertising with sock puppets don't equate to credibility and sales - and that includes Kraus and Spencer.)
Yeah, I now, I finally had a friend explain the psychological whys behind the Firefox NYT ad but, gosh, it sure has parallels to Branson's nude parachuting stunt at Times Square. (Referenced MUST READ: David Balter on The Word on Word of Mouth clearly - brilliantly - dissects the difference between viral, buzz and word of mouth marketing. BONUS: Steve Rubels' tips on integrating traditional PR and blogosphere marketing.)
Kraus claims (in a one-to-one question I asked) that his blog really isn't part of a calculated marketing communications and PR strategy. He's been meaning to do a personal blog for over a year and a half, but the right theme or topic to focus on had eluded him. Calculated or not, it works. Several developers at the SDForum event clearly had read his blog and we got more scoop about the infamous Gates encounter in the post-presentation discussion.
During the presentation, the founders were clearly up on the blogosphere memes and framed the whole JotSpot story around the long tail of software. David Weinberger, design for hackability, Clay Shirky's Situated Software paper, and other clues were dropped that they read blogs and that they were hip to the technorati culture. (But really successful entrepreneurs in the tech biz have always remained fully aware of and anticipated the crest of the trends way before the blogosphere's existence.)
It's a little surreal "knowing" someone through their blog and then hearing them speak in person. I felt like I'd had a bit of an introduction in a way one normally doesn't meet a CEO. And not everyone will ever meet the CEO and founders that ought to. You can't exactly package up the presence, passion and enthusiam of the co-founders that is so transparent face-to-face - but a blog is the closest thing I've seen.
Just before this post I had to crank out a new bio for myself and I was hard pressed to speak corporate-ese - it's a bit scary (as if I'm losing some vital skill to function in normal society) but that professional distant sterile tone isn't as easy to crank out as it used to be. I truly think Kraus' personal blog made a difference - if even it gave JotSpot the tiniest competitive edge - when they said they were hiring Java developers. It's an employer's market these days, but still, the most talented aways have options. And so do customers, resellers, third-party developers, investors, and everyone else. They're tipping the scales in their favor.
Oh, and about that email. Just like Joe Kraus said, they answer all their customer service email personally because he acknowledges people will cut you some slack with product flaws if there is a real human interacting with you and not just an automated formulatic reply.
Real takeaway: Without a real product hitting a real need, JotSpot certainly would have been another buried blurb in a round-up story about Web 2.0. Amplified word of mouth rests on a foundation of having a story begging to be told in the first place. Oh, and the founders have internalized the lessons of Excite's Web 1.0 days and in the process have created a lightweight (prefer agile term myself) operations and business model that leverages a platform play with a human touch.