If your customers haven’t already enhanced their communications with video, GO could be just what they need. James Goulding finds out more from Lifesize Chief Product/Operating Officer Michael Helmbrecht
It’s been a busy few months for the fastgrowing video meeting and collaboration company Lifesize, a provider of complete end-to-end, cloud-based video conferencing solutions, encompassing hardware, software and services.
At the end of 2018, it announced a new 4K global cloud service architecture, before, earlier this year, introducing a range of 4K-capable meeting room systems for smaller huddle rooms, mid-sized meeting spaces and conference rooms.
In June, Lifesize made another eye-catching announcement with the introduction of a freemium service, Lifesize Go, to give individuals and businesses of all sizes a new way to experience Lifesize video, audio and web conferencing.
Suitable for meetings of up to eight people, the free Lifesize Go service is a browser-based solution for PC, Mac and iOS/Android tablets and smartphones that requires no software installation – to join a meeting, invitees just click on a link. Yet, it still provides key features of the paid-for product, like video, audio and content encryption.
Recent developments such as these are likely to give a further boost to a company that has been enjoying an 80% compound annual growth rate in annual recurring revenue over the last four years. In 2018 alone Lifesize saw a 62% year- on-year increase in enterprise customers and the addition of several hundred new partners.
Today, Lifesize has an annual turnover of more than $100 million, split between hardware sales and, increasingly, services. Two years ago, the ratio of hardware sales to service revenue was 60:40. At the end of 2018, it was 50:50 and by the end of this year it is likely to be 40:60.
Michael Helmbrecht, Chief Product/Operating Officer at Lifesize, says that despite the company’s rapid growth, there is still a huge and growing market for Lifesize and its partners to go after, particularly amongst users of rival solutions.
“We have tremendous growth opportunity,” he said. “It’s really just a question of how rapidly we can build awareness of our brand and generate opportunities for our salesforce and our partners. There are no structural barriers to growth.
“As the market changes, the people with the greatest share, for example Cisco Webex, are haemorrhaging customers. There’s $2 billion in recurring service revenue just between Cisco Webex and GoToMeeting. Yet, most of the people who use those services have used them for a long time and aren’t particularly fond of them. That creates a great on-going opportunity for us.”
Helmbrecht points out that while almost all organisations have some experience of video conferencing, most have been dissatisfied with its quality, ease of use, cost and ability to scale. He cites all of these as major strengths of Lifesize’s cloud-based service, particularly its scalability.
“We really have changed that value proposition in a way that makes it very cost-effective to scale an extremely high-quality service across a customer’s locations worldwide, without the need for them to add people to manage it. That extraordinarily low cost of ownership is one of the differentiators that allows us to grow,” he said.
Helmbrecht adds that the strengths of the Lifesize proposition, including the hardware itself – the all-in-one camera unit with integrated processing and separate speakerphone – mean that once Lifesize is in front of a customer it has a very high win rate.
“We are very proud of our system holistically: the service, the hardware, the software. When we get to the point where a customer will let us (or us with one of our partners) demonstrate on site, we see win rates as high as 80%.
“Most of our competitors don’t do that and instead try to take customers to a corporate facility. The fact that we are able to go to someone’s site and demonstrate the system or give them the equipment and software licences so they can do it themselves across multiple sites shows a level of confidence in the ease of use and ease of management of our technology that very few of our competitors will attempt,” he said.
Ease of use
Lifesize is able to do this, says Helmbrecht, because ease of use has always been a priority for the company and the focus of much of its investment.
“Ease of use has always been something we have prided ourselves on. The more people use a technology, the more ease of use is critical because there is a limit to how much support and IT training an organisation can provide. Things need to be intuitive for users, whether they are on a laptop, mobile phone or in a meeting room, and consistent. That is where I think we stand apart,” he said.
“Generally, we are replacing something organisations already have. Most have three or four different web and video communication tools; these will have pockets of acceptance but overall there won’t be a tremendously satisfied user community, because the technology they might have bought several years ago will be difficult, low quality or not truly usercentric. The reason people use video is because it is a better experience, it makes people more effective over distance and to do that it has to be compelling. If our solution was only marginally better than what people had before, there would be no reason to purchase or use it.
“We invest a tremendous amount to provide the highest quality service, the highest quality experience possible. We are delivering a 4K end-to-end video content network today and we are the only ones to do that,” he said.
Creating a system that more people want to use more often raises additional challenges, notably how easy it is to scale as usage within a business grows. This, says Helmbrecht, is another area where Lifesize’s cloud-connected approach gives it an edge over the competition.
“Generally, what we are trying to do is give organisations a viable solution that is compelling for every one of their employees and every one of their meeting spaces, where it is cost-effective and engaging, not just for internal communications but also for interacting with customers and partners and suppliers,” he said.
“Before, customers would prepurchase a certain model, licensing and equipment and stay within that footprint and not scale very much, or they would do it in very long cycles. Today, customers are expanding their footprint towards complete saturation, and that is a change. We have customers where every single employee has access to Lifesize and, with that, usage continues to compound. It’s becoming the default technology that businesses use to communicate, not only internally but externally. It is starting to replace not just the web conferencing workflow but phone calls and audio conferences as well.”
Already, Lifesize runs billions of minutes of service, with “hundreds and hundreds” of its customers logging 200,000+ minutes of usage a month, driven in part by easy integration of Lifesize with the tools that office workers use every day.
“If a customer is a Microsoft Office 365 shop, we will tie into Azure Active Directory for single sign-on and authentication; we will tie into their calendaring so they can book meetings through Outlook. The same thing for G suite and Google or Slack and other technologies. It’s a very familiar workflow,” explained Helmbrecht.
“I can schedule meetings in a meeting room or on my phone or on a laptop and it will alert me when the meeting is about to begin. Even large group sessions are extremely lightweight and easy to schedule and participate in and that makes a huge difference because it takes away the learning curve.”
Helmbrecht says the free Lifesize Go service will give even more people the opportunity to experience the benefits of Lifesize collaboration and conferencing.
“Go is a way for people and teams that may not be using Lifesize today, or video at all, to get a professional secure video experience that they can use on any device without installing software. It is completely browser native, whether on your iPhone, your Android tablet/phone, your PC or your Mac. You just click a link and join a meeting, with video and content and audio all securely encrypted. It is a way for us to show what’s possible.”
Helmbrecht adds that Go’s ability to work natively in a browser on any device is indicative of how the paid for Lifesize service is likely to evolve in the future.
“Our fully featured paid offering is rapidly moving in the same direction, with everything able to take place in the browser. In the coming weeks and months, more and more functionality will move in that direction, so you won’t necessarily need downloadable applications unless you want them. We have done that extensively today with the Chrome browser. It makes an enormous difference for customers’ guests who can click a link and be in a video call with a very high quality experience. We are going to extend that to everything – to Microsoft Edge, to Safari, to Firefox. We are already showing that with Go. It’s a way to give people an experience they might not have had but also to show where we are taking the technology.”
He added: “There will always be downloadable applications that customers have internally, particularly for recurring power users. But for that occasional or first-time user, we think making it a simple browser experience, using whatever is native to the device, whether that is a tablet or smartphone or PC or Mac, will remove the greatest barrier to adoption, while remaining interoperable with videoconferencing systems and phone calls and everything else. We are working right now to expand that from the freemium offering to the full paid offering, from Go to everything.”
Coinciding with the development of its product offering, Lifesize – a 100% channel company – has been expanding its partner network. It added hundreds of new partners globally last year and in the UK now has around 200 partners, 50 of which it describes as very active. This figure is likely to grow again this year, following a doubling of Lifesize’s UK sales team to 8 people (any business won is directed through its channel partners) and the expansion of its product portfolio.
Helmbrecht points out that there are a number of reasons why resellers might want to partner with Lifesize, such as the attractions of having a recurring revenue model; the fact that Lifesize sells exclusively through the channel; the reliability of the product itself, which helps maintain good relationships with customers; and the flexibility of being able to offer a complete end-to-end Lifesize solution or a customised implementation using components from other suppliers.
“We work with a variety of different technology providers for customers who need that – companies like Crestron, Extron, AMX, all the different display manufacturers, whiteboards and so on”, he explained. “But the great thing with Lifesize is you don’t have to do that. You can just take our technology and drop it in a room with a network jack, power and a TV and be up and running in a few minutes. You can send something by DHL or Fedex to a remote office and the person sitting at the front desk can hook it up in a matter of minutes, with everything managed remotely.”
He added: “Partners can offer customers a range, from very elaborate, integrated deployments in boardrooms and lecture halls to simple small meeting spaces, huddle rooms, where the customer is very budget-conscious and doesn’t want, or doesn’t have, the ability to spend a great deal of money. We can still give them a true enterprise-class experience. All the partner is doing is taking our equipment and perhaps a TV and deploying it very quickly and inexpensively, yet still have the ability to scale it.”
For IT resellers that are seeing audio, video and web conferencing becoming more and more part of the day-to-day business workflow, Lifesize is definitely worth a closer look. From its broad product portfolio and 4K-capable cloud platform to its scalability and technical support capability, it is a reliable partner for the full spectrum of channel organisations.