“Well, if you had video conferencing equipment, this wouldn’t have happened”, quipped James Campanini, VP / GM EMEA of Blue Jeans, as I burst into our briefing a full ten minutes late after a Google Maps error directed me to the wrong hotel. “With a video meeting, it’s just one virtual meeting room in the online space. There’s no way that you can’t find it.”
It’s a smooth opening sell of Blue Jeans, a startup who in just two years has become a leader in providing interoperable video collaboration services. In its most basic form, Blue Jeans is an app that allows users to conduct face-to-face meetings anywhere in the world, on any device, on any video conferencing platform all brought together into one virtual meeting room.
This simple premise has allowed Blue Jeans to grow to represent over 30 per cent of the video conferencing market globally, and last week they launched officially in the UK, capitalising on a rapidly-growing presence that has made our green and pleasant land the service’s second largest market behind the US.
It means that Blue Jeans has quaffed a significant slice of the profit pie, a fact that CCO Stuart Aaron attributes to Blue Jeans’ USP. Before now, he says, “video conferencing has always been like a New Year’s resolution, in that everyone talks about it, but few people actually follow through and do it.”
According to Aaron, “the barrier was incompatibility. Imagine for a second that we had to do a phone call, and I had to know before the phone call what kind of phone you had, and if you had a Samsung and I had an Apple, or you were on Vodafone and I was on BT. That sounds absolutely ridiculous, but that’s how video conferencing has always been”
It meant that previously, if you had a Cisco conference room and wanted to hold a meeting with someone using Skype, it would be impossible to make those solutions work together. Rather than just organising the date and time of the meeting, you’d have to also establish what device each person had and what video conferencing hardware each company used.
Not only that, but video conferencing has previously been very expensive. As Aaron puts it, “you literally had to pay through the nose for the privilege of seeing the other person’s nose.” The bottom line was that most companies, understandably, preferred the simplicity of an audio call.
So Blue Jeans’ founding premise was making the video experience as easy, interoperable and affordable as an audio call.
“With that in mind,” says Aaron, “we realised that the way to do it was staring us in the face. There was already this model that people were used to in audio conferencing, where if you want to set up a meeting, you get out the number, everybody dials in and you meet in the cloud, and we built that for video. So Blue Jeans is essentially the video equivalent of audio conferencing in the cloud.”
It means that up to 25 people can meet face-to-face in a virtual meeting room, with one person on a laptop using Microsoft Link, one on an iPad using Skype and two still using audio call technology, but all brought together by the Blue Jeans app.
“I think that’s one of the nicest things about Blue Jeans,” chimes in Campanini. “People have made the investment in video conferencing already, and we’re not saying that they’ve made the wrong decision, they can still use that, but we’re actually enhancing their ROI by allowing everyone both in and outside of the office to connect to what they already had.”
Whilst old video conferencing businesses were based around selling their hardware for physical set up in offices, Blue Jeans is software. “If you listen to a customer’s requirements as a hardware manufacturer,” says Campanini, “you immediately translate those requirements into how many rooms they have, how many systems they can sell, how many ports they can sell. But if you listen to it from a services perspective it’s about how many people you can connect, and that’s a very different thing and a very different role that Blue Jeans have.”
The unique position that Blue Jeans holds is difficult to emulate by old video communications companies who are used to selling hardware, or as Aaron puts it, who “are addicted to short-term sales like crack cocaine”. Hardware sales mean large up front profits, whereas the Blue Jeans business model is based on cloud services whose sales are more of an annuity for businesses.
The freedom software-based service companies have, however, means that according to Aaron, Blue Jeans can “roll out new features basically every 6-8 weeks whereas on a hardware platform you have basically 12-18 month development cycles.”
Consequently, the freedom not only of usability, but of development, sets up the Blue Jeans service as a workable tool in the modern business environment.
Interestingly, it’s a tool that’s also mined a lot of data. Aaron pulls up some statistics they’ve found on UK usage over the past two years, and have found that the average UK usage of the service runs from 7am – 9am as peak hours, whilst in the EU it’s 8am – 6pm, so we work longer hours.
Clearly, the game is changing in video conferencing. As the move towards mobile solutions like BYOD transforms businesses, solutions as flexible as Blue Jeans will be increasingly cried out for. For the moment though, only this Californian startup has seen the opportunity.
As Aaron surmises, “Almost two years ago Microsoft acquired Skype, so that now it has two video conferencing technologies: Microsoft Link and Skype. And the only way in the world for Skype and Link to talk to each other is through Blue Jeans. Not even Microsoft after two years can make their two technologies talk to each other.”
Let's see how big that slice of the profit pie can get.