If you talk to me about conferences much you’d probably start to call me a broken record for how much I espouse the virtues of the communities that can grow amongst conference attendees. I regularly tell people that the real value isn’t in cramming a schedule full of sessions (which will generally be recorded) or spending all day on the expo floor loading up on vendor swag, but in meeting and talking with fellow attendees and learning from each other’s experiences. So attending a conference like Spiceworks’ SpiceWorld, which one could argue is a conference built around a community, was a great experience. From the opening keynote where CEO Jay Hallberg recognized several community members for contributions, including giving out Spicie Awards to four who went well above and beyond helping others, and other executives attributing product enhancements to user feedback SpiceWorld marched to the beat of it’s own marching band. Another interesting bit about the conference was a group called The Spice Buddies whom are volunteers that make a point to befriend first time attendees and help make the most of their time at the show. While oriented primarily toward the SMB crowd, with all but 55 of the 1,000+ organizations and businesses represented falling into that category, I would encourage anyone to attend if the opportunity presented itself.
During my time at SpiceWorld I was afforded the opportunity to speak with CEO Jay Hallberg, SVP of Product & Engineering Manish Dixit and Exec. Director of Products Francois Caron about Spiceworks, the evolution of the company and community, and where the company has been and is headed. I’ll spare the history lesson, but suffice it to say the execs realized that their first product (an ad supported inventory application) was not where the future of the company lay. The realization that acting as a trusted broker between the growing community of users and vendors who wanted to sell to those users was the turning point for the company. From this extended building additional free, ad supported, applications based on user feedback and more recently beginning to offer some apps as a SaaS offering. The most recent bit of user driven development sees the release of a common code base version of their Help Desk app for cloud and on-prem, allowing for feature parity and faster updates for all users. The move to SaaS offerings of their existing on-prem applications, and working toward single code bases is the focus going forward. As a company, Spiceworks is setting the groundwork to reposition themselves as an IT marketplace similar to how Zillow is one for realtors and home buyers.