After leading several successful exits, Peter Jackson can spot a winner. The serial founder/CEO took the helm at visual collaboration platform Bluescape in 2017 and is now evangelizing its power to reshape teamwork at creative, financial, design and government enterprises around the world.
I spoke to Peter about the need and impact of improved collaboration, and why a startup’s fast-growth “tidal wave” can keep him up at night.
M.R.: How did Bluescape identify the need for visual collaboration software?
Peter Jackson: When you look at how a team collaborates on a project, you can see the core problem: Collaboration is clunky. There are Dropbox links, videos, photos, folders, documents, and spreadsheets involved. People are moving information from PDF to PDF, or email to email, or via WebEx or even photos of whiteboards.
Then you look at collaboration on Bluescape and it is very exciting. Many people could see its potential very early on.
Now, in the past year, Dell has dropped the price of their 86” touchscreens to under $8,000. A year ago, this hardware cost more than $50,000. These monitor makers are in a “race to the bottom” to install their brand in enterprise conference rooms. But how will these monitors communicate? No one had an operating system.
Bluescape filled that role in a big way. Bluescape’s customers include three of the top five major movie studios in the world. When we walk into one of these movie studios, you see a complete transformation of the movie-making process. The wooden slats that used to hold storyboards for a film being developed have been replaced by a Bluescape canvas. Movies are being created from beginning to end on Bluescape and the canvas is 7 miles long by 7 miles wide, and you can swipe back 20 screens to back where the movie started.
I’m restricted from talking about one of the most powerful applications of Bluescape. It used to be that the federal government was one of the least innovative market segments but in our case, we are seeing federal agencies teaming up to use Bluescape to monitor operations critical to our nation’s safety.
And better collaboration is speeding innovation. One of our larger brand customers is a very large shoe company that creates new shoes from beginning to end on Bluescape products. They recently announced that their typical nine-month timeframe for bringing a new shoe to market has been cut by 50 percent. And we’re seeing benefits for fintech and real estate development clients as well.
M.R.: What has been Bluescape’s greatest challenge to date? How do you foresee that changing as you grow?
Peter: We’ve had tons of challenges. The first one is that you’ve got to market to your software’s opportunity. Where our market might have been worth $180 million last year, analysts predict a $5 billion market in just a few years. That means you’ve got to staff up to grow from $20 million to $500 million in revenue overnight. It is tough to provide customer support, ensure uptime, maintain security and more during that pace of growth.
I’ve already built a couple hundred-million-dollar companies so I know this is where CEOs fall apart most often. This is the stage that can keep you up at night: You know there is a tidal wave coming. You can’t mess up growth. It is a high-class problem but you can lose your job if you don’t grow effectively.
CEOs also have to consider financing and exit strategy – whether the company is best suited for an IPO, acquisition or a round of late stage venture. You are the “operating system” for how the investors and employees collaborate, how each group is governed, and how they need to be managed. This dynamic dictates a lot about how you run your business.
On top of all this, managing a high-growth startup means you must iterate your product line. You have to offer freemium or seat- or site- or room-related contracts depending on what is needed. And you have to be compatible with all platforms. You can’t just sit with the products you have.
M.R.: What advice would you give new founders/CEOs?
Peter: I have been around at the beginning of a lot of startups that grew into giants. I was Salesforce.com’s first customer. I was early at Eventbrite. I invested in Google’s seed round. The common denominator? These disruptors knew the potential of their markets.
So with would-be disruptors who are just starting out, I like to ask, “Do you know what market you are selling into?” The founder will always know. Then I ask, “What is the size of that market?” There’s usually a pause. They don’t know. Very often the founder will say something like, “Well, my target customers aren’t doing this yet but they will love it.”
Unfortunately, investors don’t want to hear that. They want to hear that there is a developing market and how big it will be. The successful founders can say, “My market will be this big on this date and these things are going to happen to bring it to fruition.”
M.R. Rangaswami is the co-founder of Sand Hill Group and publisher of SandHill.com.