Cisco Scoops Up After Boston Startup Rebrands

Collaboration software for businesses is hot, so it helps to own the domain name

That was one smart move in a series of many by CEO Matt Cutler and his team over at Boston-based (formerly known as Kibits). Today, Cisco Systems said it is acquiring Collaborate to strengthen its offerings in document sharing, task management, and team communication. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the number of congratulatory tweets flying around suggests that Collaborate’s investors and founders did pretty well.

Collaborate had raised about $2.3 million from Google Ventures, General Catalyst, CommonAngels, and other investors since getting started in early 2011.

I met with Cutler (pictured) back in the spring, when the company was in the midst of rebranding. It had previously released its Kibits app in March of 2012—the idea was a micro-social network, a way to create private groups on the fly, tailored to mobile devices.

It didn’t work out. Within 48 hours of the launch, Cutler says, “I thought, ‘There’s no social play here.’” But certain use cases looked promising—in particular, small businesses were using the app to help their distributed teams share messages and documents internally.

So Cutler and company refocused on the problem of business team collaboration. They got feedback that they needed to provide desktop software as well as mobile. Whatever they offered also needed to work with Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, and e-mail—the hodgepodge of storage and communication tools you’ll find in a lot of workplaces. “There’s got to be a better way,” Cutler thought.

Through a couple more iterations, his team built a new product around the concept of virtual “rooms,” where you could gather people, files, media, tasks, and conversations, and make them searchable. Each room could be dedicated to a different part of the operation—payroll, insurance, contracts and invoices, and so forth. Managers could assign tasks and get status updates and feedback from employees on the fly.

By mid-2013, was selling to a wide range of customers in marketing, advertising, retail, field-based sales, healthcare, oil and gas, and other fields. The common denominator? The software “needs to be easy, friendly, and simple,” Cutler says.

What’s more, changing the name to “helped crystallize what the service should be,” he says.

Earlier this year, Collaborate had a team of about seven people working on Newbury Street. We’ll have to see what the integration plan is with Cisco, and whether the team will continue to grow in Boston.

Today’s Cisco announcement sounds promising (as these things always do) but sheds little light on the future: “Together, Cisco and Collaborate plan to provide a comprehensive solution that enables the mobile workforce to work smarter and more efficiently from virtually anywhere.” The blog post, by Cisco senior vice president Hilton Romanski, praises Collaborate’s “cutting-edge technology and strong engineers” and says the acquired technology and talent will become part of Cisco’s collaboration technology group.

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