SNW INTERVIEW -- Feb 21 -- Yammer is Twitter for companies. Here’s my interview with the CEO, David Sacks.
What is your background, and what inspired you to start Yammer?
I was COO of PayPal and helped create it. Yammer arose from a need with another start-up I created called Geni.com, a family social network where you build your family tree collaboratively. Once Geni got to be 25-30 employees, we created Yammer to help our employees connect with each other inside our organization. After six months, we launched it to the world.
How would you explain Yammer’s functionality? How is it positioned against the likes of Twitter?
Yammer is explicitly for companies and organizations; Twitter is not optimized for intra-company communication. Yammer creates a private network for your company, for those with a company email address. We create more security and privacy around the communication, and also more relevancy and exclusivity.
Twitter doesn’t have groups or networks based on company email addresses. Within company networks they haven’t created admin tools. Yammer has security features that companies can pay for, such as restricting who can access your network to a specific IP range, and other admin features that Twitter hasn’t delved into.
There would be some significant trade-offs if Twitter wanted to go in a corporate direction. On Yammer there is no 140 character limit on messages. We want messages to be as compatible with email as possible; you can post messages to Yammer by email and receive them by email. Twitter has a 140 character limit. If they were to drop that to better serve corporate customers, you would see a backlash from their consumer side. I’m not sure it’s possible for one company to serve everybody. I think there is a market for a site that is focused on delivering value to enterprises.
Have you seen any companies using Yammer in unusual ways?
We can’t see the messages being created inside these networks. We have this privacy guarantee that messages won’t be shared outside a company’s network, even with our employees. We have procedures in place to restrict production databases, so we don’t know all the ways Yammer is being used. We have general metrics on how frequently and how intensively it’s being used. Our primary source of information comes from blogs, and people are Twittering about how they’re using Yammer.
Email obviously works well but people are suffering from email overload, yet they feel like they’re not getting all the information they need and they’re in effect left off many emails. With Yammer, you don’t have to figure out who the recipients are. If you’ve got information that would be valuable to the company, you just publish it on Yammer and people find it on their own and don’t have to worry about their inboxes being cluttered. That information could be discovered by people you wouldn’t have thought to address in your email, and new employees can use it to get up to speed. It’s a more efficient way of sharing information and having conversations in a company. We’re making email more productive as well because now email just becomes about things that require an active response.
What company uses Yammer the most?
We don’t name the companies who use us, but we’ve got Fortune 500 companies, Hollywood studios, major casino companies, major farm equipment suppliers. We also have a large number of small to mid-sized companies, Internet companies and PR agencies.
Any employee can go to the Yammer homepage, sign up and start inviting co-workers, and it’s free for employees to use. When the company wants to claim its network and exercise control over it, they can pay for optional admin tools. We don’t need a conventional sales force; the employees themselves are our sales force.
What do you have in the pipeline? Are there any new features you can let us know about?
We recently rolled out the ability to create groups within a company so you can communicate with different teams inside your organization and don’t have to broadcast to everybody. Also we have announced a new version of our software that companies can host themselves inside their corporate firewall. Previously, Yammer was provided exclusively through the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, whereby the service was hosted by Yammer and accessed by users via the Internet.