Summary:

Under-the-radar collaboration suite Wiggio has managed to rack up a million users by courting college students looking for a low-effort tool and by insisting that the product be simple enough for a fourth grader to use. Now they’re piloting a paid premium version.

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As far as collaboration tools go, Wiggio isn’t flashy. The suite of dead simple collaboration tools ranging from chat and file sharing to polling and document creation is targeted primarily at college students looking for a way to organize extracurricular activities and group projects. There’s little grandiose talk of democratizing organizations or exploding silos coming out of the company, but what there does appear to be is a fair amount of success.

The company announced today it has reached one million users, about 75 percent of which are students. The company also announced it is piloting a new premium service that allows clubs and other groups to apply their branding to Wiggio (pictured) and offers an administrator level with custom analytics. Previously the product was free to all users, but having decided against adding advertising, Wiggio has landed on this route to monetization.

So how did the company, founded by a team of Cornell grads in 2008, gain its sizable following? CEO and co-founder Dana Lampert explained that their approach is to make users’ lives incredibly easy and then set up the product to grow virally.  “Students are kind of a different beast,” he told GigaOM in an interview. “If they have to learn anything, if they have to read anything, if they have to watch a video even, they will be completely turned off by the tool. And, if I’m in a group of ten people and only eight of them really get it, it’s completely useless. From the very beginning we’ve been really focused on streamlined simplicity.”

Lampert explained Wiggio uses a powerful testing technique to ensure the product is incredibly easy to use – they give it to fourth graders. “I took one of our features to a fourth grade classroom and I said, ‘how would send a text message using Wiggio?’ Basically we adopted the mentality that we wouldn’t put the feature out until these fourth graders can use it easily,” he said, though the technique has run into trouble recently. “Fourth graders are getting pretty tech savvy,” he joked, saying he’s had to call in less tech-skilled family members for testing reinforcements.

So once Wiggio decided to focus on simplicity and ensured their product met this goal, how did they spread the word? “We raised a Series A round about two years ago and we made the decision to use that money to focus on product and not distribution, so our growth has mostly been natural,” Lampert said. “What we found is if we can demo the product to some student and faculty leaders at a university they find it really valuable and they’ll end up doing a lot of promotion for us. We often times have schools and leaders on campus evangelizing the product and bringing it out to the groups.” Growth happens naturally from there, Lampert said, as “the average person is inviting about 20 new people onto the platform.”

Students graduate, though, so what happens to Wiggio fans after they get their diplomas? Lampert hopes they don’t leave Wiggio behind along with their black light posters and dorm room mini-fridges, providing the product with a stealth way into the grown-up collaboration market. “We try to promote bringing it into your jobs, which is how we have some traction within businesses,” said Lampert, noting adult social groups and alumni associations are also using the tools.

According to Lampert this softly softly approach seems to be working, but his company is playing in a very crowded space. How does he see the welter of collaboration options fairing long-term? “From what I’ve seen, a lot of players are trying to become best of breed of one certain feature. Asana has beautiful task management. Dropbox is awesome for file sharing,” Lampert said, but also argued that there is room for tools that do a little bit of a lot of things. “For some organizations and groups with more tech-savvy members, it’s very easy to have them all create accounts and get access to these one-off tools. At least for the groups we serve — the less savvy consumer groups who just need to get things done — I think consolidation is the trend. I’m not saying us, but in general though the tools that bring together what I need into a one-stop shop are the ones that are going to see themselves win this space,” he predicted.

Which collaboration tools do you see winning the war of attrition – narrowly specialized offerings, suites that pull together lots of features or some of both?

Image courtesy of Wiggio.

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