Why Should a Vendor Actively Engage with Community? This is Why!

Hello all!

If you’ve followed me or read my blogs or heard me speak, you know I’m a huge community advocate.  The EUC community has grown immensely as the technology has grown and matured and expanded far beyond how it started with Server Based Computing.  It entails more than simply knowing terminal services, remote desktop services and other vendor products from the likes of Citrix and VMware.  One of the great things I love about this area of technology is you need to know so much more than simply the core technology.  For instance, networking, hypervisors, provisioning systems, Active Directory, monitoring and the list goes on.  You don’t need to be an expert in all of them, but you minimally must have an understanding of them and how they affect your core environment.

While the community has grown by leaps and bounds, the feel of the community really hasn’t changed much.  It still feels very much like a small community.  When I’m at a show or user group or wherever, I will get to see and talk with members from all over the world. We can trade ideas, have disagreements and still remain friends and help each other out.

That’s great for us but how does it affect a company as a whole?  Why should a company in the EUC space pay attention to the community?  What benefit does it give them?  There are quite a few companies, especially in the U.S. for some reason, that I feel, don’t understand what the community can do for them or how to interact with the community.  EMEA, again, in my opinion, is so much further ahead of the U.S. in this regard.  The first time I spoke at the Dutch Citrix User Group, I was astounded at the amount of people that showed up.  The CUGC XL’s we have in the U.S. come closest to attendance but still don’t get nearly the amount of people as the DCUG does on a regular basis.

What I want to do is take a look at a company that was able to leverage the community, explode onto the scene, gain a huge amount of mind share and turn that into gold.  I am, of course, talking about FSlogix.

Kevin Goodman has been making software for EUC for a long time.  There was RTO Software which was eventually bought by VMware and FSLogix which was recently bought by Microsoft.  Not a bad resume.  I first met Kevin at the first Briforum in Washington DC and we’ve stayed in and out of contact since then.  He has been and continues to be a contributor to the EUC community.

FSlogix started as an application masking product and helping java versions co-exist. It claimed to reduce the number of gold images required. Their second release included a roaming profile solution called Profile Containers. In simplistic terms, the “container” is just a VHD on a network share. FSlogix code then manipulated the file handle to the VHD so that it appeared as if the folders in the VHD were local.

When Office 365 hit, the fact that Microsoft didn’t support OST files or OneDrive files on a network share became a big problem in non-persistent environments. Roaming profiles (whether true Microsoft roaming or other solutions) became a non-starter for users of Office 365 on non-persistent environments. While innovative, FSLogix had a difficult time displacing the incumbents such as Profile Unity. FSLogix subsequently released the Office 365 Container, a subset of the Profile Container, that contained only the Office 365 section of the profile. FSLogix was then able to sell the Office 365 Container to users of other profile solutions.

So what makes FSlogix so special? Kevin knew how to use the community to get mind share.  FSlogix was never a big company but you couldn’t turn around without hearing the name.  They were able to essentially drown out competition that had been around for much longer.  How was this achieved?  Truthfully, I don’t know details or anything like that but I can tell you from an outsiders perspective what I believe was done and that was simply ‘Engage the Community!”. Rumor has it that Kevin and Jim Moyle conceived the idea Office 365 Containers at Briforum London after talking with attendees (there’s that Community again!).

FSlogix was able to get people talking and blogging about their products.  They hired big name and truly smart community members like Dr. Benny Tritsch and Jim Moyle amongst many others.  Kevin not only supported user groups and other activities with sponsorship but would attend many of them personally and talk about FSlogix and EUC in general or he would send representatives in his place that were extremely smart and knowledgeable.  They engaged with community leaders and bloggers both big and small to help get the word out.

Sponsorship, by itself, is great but it doesn’t cultivate community spirit, it doesn’t get people excited for what the product may do for them.  When was the last time you got excited for something when you see a sign?  FSlogix was everywhere and on everyone’s mind.  If you were thinking Office365 or profile containers, you almost always thought of FSlogix first and anyone else later.  In my opinion and from what I saw, it became essentially a de facto standard for dealing with Office365 on non-persistent desktops.  They were the little engine that could.

Now you may say, what about people who aren’t into the community.  They don’t really care and don’t pay attention to it.  My answer to that is simply ‘Everyone uses Google’.  If you do a search and pretty much every first page link is about a certain product, you will pay attention.  Then you are clicking links and seeing reviews, thoughts and everything about that product.  Don’t you want to know why the first page is filled with links about one particular product?  It’s now in your head.  How did that happen?  Community!

I see a few companies taking lessons from this methodology and those companies are, much like FSlogix did, stealing mind share away from incumbent technologies.  There are companies that I look at, though, and think “how much bigger or how much more would this company sell if they were more active in, and engaging with, the community”.  Are there successful companies that don’t truly engage the community?  Absolutely but how much easier would it be to have a whole lot of people talking about your product?  Nothing is 100% but your chances go up considerably.