Summary:

Cloud collaboration service Huddle is targeting huge corporate customers, bringing them a new tier of service that allows an unlimited number of users for no extra charge. Can it help win new business and take on the industry’s biggest beasts?

Fishing

London’s Huddle may have started life as an enterprise file-sharing service for smaller companies, but these days it seems to be larger businesses that are taking the bait. Over the last year or two, Huddle’s suite of tools for online project management, file sharing and office collaboration has helped land major customers including ESPN, Diageo  and HTC.

Now the business is going even further, with a new “unlimited” offering deliberately designed to reel in more major customers — and hopefully erasing the barriers between workers who are inside the huddle and those left on the outside.

FishingHuddle’s Unlimited Enterprise offering, which is being announced today, allows businesses to invite any number of extra read-only users into an existing Huddle workspace for no extra cost. Essentially, this means those who already license a Huddle for a number of workers can also open files to occasional or lower-level contributors without any hassle.

It might sound minor, but it’s incredibly useful for big businesses who have a lot of workers, suppliers or contractors who only need a small degree of access, and for whom a full Huddle account would be undesirable, unnecessary or pointlessly expensive.

The move, according to CEO Alastair Mitchell, came from the realization that many of Huddle’s biggest customers had significant numbers of potential users who existed outside the firewall, but still needed occasional access to material inside it.

“Once you’re talking about a company of 6,000 to 10,000 people, cloud software is a really interesting proposition,” he told me. “The usage becomes very different. You have lots of users who don’t need to hook into the system the whole time.”

In particular, he suggests governmental organizations could find it very useful to give read-only access to large numbers of users — something he backs up by proudly proclaiming Huddle is “the largest cloud deployment in the U.K. government.”

Limited access “is one of the biggest issues in collaboration,” he claims. “The first problem is not being able to access the content at all, the second is that you can’t use the software because you haven’t got a license. This solves those problems.”

The idea is to help the company, which has offices in London and San Francisco and plans to push forward with a new Boston base in the coming months, take on rivals like Microsoft’s Sharepoint, Box and Jive.

It’s certainly a better idea than the tacky stunts previously deployed by the company to attract attention — like when it sent an entire marching band to hijack Microsoft’s Sharepoint Conference.

Hopefully, Huddle is learning that delivering a better product to users wins over gimmicks every time.

It could be for a big year for the company, which we labelled “one to watch” in our recent list of Europe’s 20 best startups. The forthcoming Boston office is an attempt to help expand in the U.S. market, which is massively important for software as a service businesses. Indeed, it now generates 55 percent of Huddle’s new leads.

So far, it has taken $14 million in funding from Eden Ventures (Apertio, Blinkbox) and Matrix Partners (Gilt Groupe, Aruba Networks), but grabbing that chance could require some extra money, even for a business which is said to be raking in $25 million annually.

Mitchell was coy about fundraising, but did admit it was a distinct possibility.

“There’s a lot of demand for our business from investors,” he said. “We might well raise more this year, but don’t need to.”

Image courtesy of Flickr uservisualpanic

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