11. Web Office apps. We’re interested in funding anyone competing with Microsoft desktop software. Obviously this is a rich market, considering how much Microsoft makes from it. A startup that made a tenth as much would be very happy. And a startup that takes on such a project will be helped along by Microsoft itself, who between their increasingly bureaucratic culture and their desire to protect existing desktop revenues will probably do a bad job of building web-based Office variants themselves. Before you try to start a startup doing this, however, you should be prepared to explain why existing web-based Office alternatives haven’t taken the world by storm, and how you’re going to beat that.
My Idea – OfficeHours
Considering that I’ve been happily employed at MS for the past three years, I’ve only got two words to describe this post: Awk. Ward. But, a challenge is a challenge, so here goes.
If my idea had a thesis statement, it would go a little something like this: to gain share with an online office suite, you should look at The Facebook and follow the same pattern that Mark Z and the gang did when building their little empire. To begin, target the college crowd in a very specific way. Only allow the site to be accessed by students, and only allow them to access the section that is focused on their school. Why college students?
- College kids have no money. And even if their parents gave them the $50 it takes to buy the discounted student edition of Office, 90% would rather spend it on beer.
- College kids are surrounded by always-on, high speed Internet connections.
- College kids have grown up using Internet-based applications and are not afraid to use them.
- College kids don’t worry about privacy and don’t have to abide by any government or tax regulations around data privacy or accountability.
- College kids often work in groups and have a need to share information.
- College kids are generally already connected via some social network (probably Facebook).
- College kids like to experiment and try new things.
In other words, they are perfect candidates for free, online Office-like apps. Here’s how this could work. Students would first log onto the site using their Facebook credentials (thank you, Facebook Connect!) and would be taken to a very cool-looking home page customized with the school’s logo. First-time users would then be prompted to choose which courses they are currently taking (i.e. CHEM100, ENG425, etc..) to further customize their experience. Once their schedules are set, they would have several options.
First, users could choose to create a new “Word”, “Excel”, or “PowerPoint” document. Each of these standard office apps would have just the basic, most useful features, and would also allow users to invite students from their study groups (via either IM integration or Facebook messaging) to work along with them in real-time on the assignment. Invited users could edit the copy directly or insert “thought-bubble” style comments anyplace within the text. To enable
flirting enhanced collaboration, the sidebar of the app would be configured to feature multiple real-time streaming video chats. In addition, users would see names and Facebook profile photos of any members of their classes who are currently online, and could invite them in for an impromptu study session or to send them a quick question via IM.
While users would have the option to change the privacy settings on their documents, the default would be set to “only show to friends in my classes”. When users would log into the site, they would see a news feed of all of the documents that were recently created by their friends, and could browse through them to catch up on any notes that they missed, validate answers to assignments they’ve already done, etc.. To help combat cheating, the app would keep track of every person who viewed each document (and for how long) and give the document creator the ability to block any freeloaders from any future documents. You could go even further and print out a unique URL at the bottom of each printout of the documents, which the professor could use to view a page listing all the stats of the various contributors and viewers of that document.
What do you guys think about this one? Any college students out there that would use something like this? I’d love to hear any thoughts on this one in the comments below.