LiquidPlanner, Inspired by Social and Mobile Computing, Aims to Make Business Software Sexier

4/11/11Follow @curtwoodward

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tools, it became clear that there was a niche to be filled for simpler, more powerful software—and LiquidPlanner was on its way.

Seybold and Carlson have their own money in the company. They also have angel backers, including the prominent Seattle investor Geoff Entress. LiquidPlanner was the first company financed with the Alliance of Angels Seed Fund in 2009.

The consumerization angle to LiquidPlanner’s product already is apparent in its current form, and will get even more prominent in the company’s upcoming 3.0 version, pegged for release this year. Already part of the mix is an instant messaging feature called “Chatter.” (Salesforce.com also has a feature by the same name. LiquidPlanner says on its blog that “We had our Workspace ‘Chatter’ feature before SalesForce had Chatter. But we’re not making a big deal about it.”)

The design of the LiquidPlanner page should look pretty familiar to anyone who uses Facebook, and that’s not a mistake. In the upcoming release, LiquidPlanner also will move away from a browser-esque tabbed navigation across the top row, instead incorporating larger button-type icons that bring to mind mobile apps. In fact, the intent is for an upcoming iPad app and the Web-based product to be basically indistinguishable.

Instead of just being a glossy extra, Seybold says better design has actually helped LiquidPlanner win business—it communicates that the product will be easy to learn and use, a big selling point for anyone who’s sat through hours of new product training.

“There are whole companies and whole ecosystems based on training people for these things. Project management is the kingpin of tools that require training,” Seybold says. “And the time for that has come and gone.”

LiquidPlanner also taps into a more ethereal element of the new socially networked workforce: An ability to build schedules more from the bottom up. That’s exemplified in the feature that lets team members set ranges of dates for completing a given project, something that reflects real life time-sucks but also could appeal to workers who, in their private lives, are putting increasing faith in the power of crowds to supercharge everything from saving money to organizing political protests.

It’ll be interesting to see how all this plays out for LiquidPlanner. The company has been motoring along and now claims more than 500 organizations are using the product, including AOL, Honeywell and GlaxoSmithKline. LiquidPlanner positions itself between Microsoft Project on the expensive end and Basecamp on the cheaper side, aiming for department-level teams of moderate size rather than whole enterprises.

Seybold wouldn’t disclose any financials or figures for the company, but says “We’re doing well and growing and not seeking any funding.” If he and Geoffrey Moore are right, the market stands to be a major growth area in the years ahead.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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