Two weeks ago, PGi, a global leader in collaboration software and services, officially acquired our portfolio company Central Desktop. The acquisition is a great milestone for Central Desktop, and it is now able to leverage the ample resources of a publicly traded corporation that shares its vision and will support it to realize that. For more context, PGi’s CEO, Boland Jones, wrote a great article about the strategic fit between PGi’s product portfolio and CD’s unique online collaboration platform.
In the venture capital and startup industry, discussions about venture capital investments too often are fixated on the end results — the big exits, the IPOs, or the big, bad blowouts and self-critical, no-holds-barred post mortem. But making venture capital investments is really about building a partnership between the VC and the entrepreneur during a long, sometimes arduous and always uncertain journey together. Entrepreneurship is both extremely rewarding and extremely hard, and if the VC is truly aligned with the entrepreneurs on their journey, they will genuinely help shoulder the challenges and share the successes or failures of the company.
That’s why, for me, this announcement is a time for congratulatory messages and well wishes for the next phase for Central Desktop, but it is also a time for reflection and recollection.
Looking Back on Our Journey
I feel lucky to have joined OpenView early enough to be a part of the team that made the investment in Central Desktop, which was one of the investments we made in our very first Fund. I feel even more grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the team there on several projects, and to have been a part of their journey up to today.
Even before we considered Central Desktop as an investment, many of us on the OpenView team had already fallen in love with the platform. I was one of the most ardent believers. I was doing an overall research project on the rising wave of team collaboration platforms in late 2007 — it was one of my very first projects at OpenView — when my colleague Vlad Djuric came upon Central Desktop and brought it to our team’s attention. Scott Maxwell, our founder and Senior Managing Director, asked me to evaluate the platform to understand its features and see whether it was a suitable solution for a young and fast growing firm like OpenView, where we thrived on intense knowledge exchange and 24/7 communication and collaboration. Needless to say, Central Desktop checked all the boxes and more.
As I was putting this post together I looked back and found that I still had the original email I wrote to the team sharing my enthusiasm for finding such a gem of a software platform. That feeling never went away for me.
Isaac and Arnulf
When we started to consider investing in Central Desktop, I got to meet the co-founders, Isaac Garcia and Arnulf Hsu, whom I liked immediately. Then, as now, they were extremely down to earth, honest, and open. They have always been transparent, responsive in everything they did with us, and impressively consistent and persistent in their mission for the company. They have built a very strong, cohesive team that has shared a great culture and worked hard towards their vision. I enjoyed working with Isaac and Arnulf and getting to know others like Mark, Steve, Linda, Chris and others among the team there.
I have always respected the vision of the co-founders to make online collaboration seamless, easy, and affordable. I admire how they have stayed true to that vision, and have made Central Desktop a platform that is extensible and flexible for many different use cases, but at the same time fully integrated and featured with all the collaboration tools and communication channels that a small to medium sized team would need. Features that Central Desktop introduced such as built-in screen sharing, database functionality, forms, etc. were years ahead of the market. As one of Central Desktop’s early adopters, I will personally miss having access to Arnulf and Isaac to give them feedback on the platform, suggest new features, and hear about their vision for the product.
Growing and Evolving
That is not to say that they remained static. I also admire how the CD team has continued to develop on their original platform, adding features and optimizing performance. Over the years, they have transformed it from a general purpose, Swiss-army-knife collaboration platform that was extremely flexible but best suitable for early adopters, to an even more powerful and targeted platform fully adapted to the hectic, project-driven worlds of marketing agencies and marketing departments all around the world.
Over the years, as the company weathered the Great Recession, when tombstones were erected for many startups at the same stage, and then refocused to targeting marketing agencies market afterwards, another thing I’ve admired is that it has always been capital efficient and disciplined in its financial strategies. The investment by OpenView was Central Desktop’s only institutional equity investment until PGi acquired them, at a size several times larger than when we first invested.
Resilient and Dedicated
One more thing to love about CentralDesktop: In all of our seven years of usage — from the very first time we signed up with CentralDesktop in October 2007 up to today — I can only recall encountering one single unscheduled outage. That really is an impressive stat that speaks to both the resilience of the technology stack and also the dedication of the company to literally keeping the lights on for their customers, many of whom base their entire operations on Central Desktop.
Congratulations to the Central Desktop team on taking the company so far, and here’s wishing them all the best as they join PGi to continue building on their vision.
Thank you for letting us be part of your journey, and for helping us learn so much along the way.