Mzinga Nabs New CEO, Alan Nugent, to Raise Its Game in Social Business Software

3/1/11Follow @gthuang

Some more activity is bubbling up in social software for businesses. Mzinga, a social software firm based in Waltham, MA, is announcing today it has hired a prominent techie, Alan Nugent, as its new CEO. He succeeds former chief executive Barry Libert, Mzinga’s co-founder and chairman. (Former co-CEO Rick Faulk left the company in 2009 and is now CEO of Landslide Technologies.)

Nugent has a distinguished record as the former chief technology officer of business-software giants CA (Computer Associates) and Novell. Before that, he worked at Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, and BellSouth, and also co-founded three tech startups back in the 1980s. For good measure, he has played competitive poker for more than two decades.

Which is all to say there’s a good chance he knows social, and he knows business software. It’s clear the company wants him to put it all together and transform Mzinga from a small to mid-size player into a big player.

“Having been there, done that, I can be extremely helpful in shaping what we do strategically,” says Nugent (see photo below). “But you can’t bring any of the big company bad habits.” On the plus side, he says, being at a smaller company means “things move fast—it’s great. I’m not having to sit around in endless meetings. It’s hit and run.”

Mzinga (Swahili for “beehive”) has a bit of an unusual history. The company, which has 180-odd employees, originally came together in 2007 as a merger between Shared Insights and Knowledge Planet, with a leadership team imported from Intranets.com. In early 2008, the company acquired Prospero, a fellow online-community software firm in Massachusetts. Mzinga’s venture investors include W Capital Partners, Shared Capital Partners, Acadia Woods Partners, and BlueCrest Venture Finance Master Fund.

Early on, Mzinga did a lot of “crowdsourcing” work—helping companies create and manage online communities of customers. But it also developed ways to manage workplace communities where employees could share their expertise, and online software for employee training. All of that has been rebranded as social business software. That’s a buzzphrase that refers to social media tools being used by companies to reach and support customers, manage sales relationships, build online communities, and help employees communicate with each other.

“We are capable of becoming one of the leading companies in this space for enterprises,” Nugent says. “Social technologies will be at the core of how companies work.”

But Mzinga faces competition in a crowded field that includes Jive Software, KickApps, Lithium Technologies, Ning, Offerpop, oneforty, and many other players. The company says its differentiators include being able to provide social business software at a large scale, and on all types of mobile devices and future platforms. “Design for change, don’t change the design,” Nugent says.

He declined to discuss revenues or growth stats, but his company has some 300 corporate customers, including large media broadcasting networks, retailers, and automotive companies. “We’re at an inflection point, right where we have all of the right pieces in place,” Nugent says. The biggest challenge now, he adds, is “prioritizing and focusing on things that will yield us the most benefit in the short term and long term.”

“It’s about focus and balance,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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