Huddle, With a Fresh $24M, Puts a Predictive Spin on File Sharing

5/30/12Follow @wroush

Was Steve Jobs correct that file sharing and synchronization is “a feature, not a product”? That’s what the Apple co-founder told Drew Houston in a now-famous 2009 meeting where he proposed buying Houston’s startup, Dropbox, for nine figures. Houston turned down the offer, Apple went on to introduce iCloud, and Dropbox went on to raise $250 million in one of the largest venture rounds of 2011.

Jobs may yet turn out to be right: Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all busy pushing operating-system extensions that help consumers share and synchronize files across their devices without having to turn to third parties. Meanwhile, though, investors continue to pour money into younger companies offering cloud-based sharing , synchronization, and collaboration technologies, whether they’re aimed at consumers, small and medium-sized businesses, or large enterprises. Jive Software raised $161 million in its December IPO; Box has raised $129 million in a pair of venture rounds over the last 16 months; Yammer has added $103 million to its stash; SugarSync recently collected $15 million; Egnyte raised $10 million; ShareFile got scooped up by Citrix Systems for an undisclosed sum; and EMC just bought Syncplicity.

Then there’s Huddle, an enterprise-targeted sharing and collaboration startup founded in 2006. The London- and San Francisco-based company has had a lower profile in Silicon Valley than competitors like Jive, Dropbox, and Box. But its tools are used by 80 percent of the Fortune 500, as well as quite a few government organizations, including the European Council and Britain’s top-secret spy agencies.

The company raised a $24 million Series C round last week and is nearly profitable, according to co-founder and CEO Alastair Mitchell. General partner Tom Mawhinney at Jafco Ventures, which led the round, said Huddle’s service has “significant momentum in the marketplace” thanks to its signature feature, an “intelligent” file synchronization system that predicts which files workers will need and copies those documents to their devices automatically.

It can be hard to tell today’s document sharing technologies apart—at bottom, after all, they’re just fancy systems for sending files around to your colleagues. (There’s a name for the poor man’s enterprise content management system: e-mail.) But for the moment, Huddle’s predictive sync feature, which was introduced in February, appears to be unique, and could help set the company apart from the other startups in its brood, not to mention the giant they’re all competing against: Microsoft and its SharePoint document sharing system.

Andy McLoughlin, Huddle’s San Francisco-based co-founder and executive vice president of strategy, says some kind of intelligent filtering is needed to make up for the huge volume of data stored on enterprise sharing systems. “If I’m working for P&G or NASA or Unilever, there might be hundreds of terabytes on Huddle,” McLoughlin says. “There is no way I want to sync all of that down to my machine, and I’m not going to know what the most important and relevant information is for me. What we have built is intelligence that recommends content based on everything it knows about me, the actions I’ve performed in the past, and the people I’m connected to, while still respecting permissions and security.”

It’s a little like taking Web-based content and commerce recommendation technology and applying it to file management. McLoughlin says intelligent sync “is going to be a huge differentiator going forward,” and not just with respect to Box, Dropbox, Jive, Egnyte, and the like. “We really don’t see those guys as competitors as much as Microsoft SharePoint, and there you are looking at huge organizations that have years and years of files stored away. The big issue is how can we turn all that archived content into a living, breathing thing that people can discover.”

The inspiration for Huddle came from Mitchell’s experiences using SharePoint in his last job at Dunnhumby, a London-based media agency. “I ran a 300-person team, and we worked with consumer packaged good companies like Kraft and P&G,” Mitchell told me. “But we couldn’t invite these companies into our SharePoint server. We spent $3 million deploying a system that no one used internally and that didn’t work externally. It was a complete disaster. Yet that is the reality of … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Carl Hamelin Jr,

    ShareFile is better than all those people.

  • Anthony

    The “intelligent sync” feature you describe was precisely why we chose them for our small business needs. Unfortunately, that feature NEVER worked and has since been scrapped. You’re now forced to do everything through your browser which is inherently slower than a desktop application. I call that a bait and switch.