In a heavily saturated software market it is often difficult to stand out as a smaller player. An exception to this rule is online communities firm Jive Software, which featured in CIO's Twenty Companies to Watch in 2010.

Since then, the firm has continued to expand in both customer and employee numbers, fuelled by newly-installed CEO Tony Zingale.

The company's success is largely down to its unique offering. Jive is unusual among smaller collaboration software players as it targets buyers on the IT side, as well as business leaders, focusing on strong messaging around hosting, integration and security, rather than just on end-user functionality.

Founded in 2001, the firm has seen substantial change in the last two years. Perhaps most significant was then CEO Dave Hersh's decision to step down and take on the role of Chairman of the Board. He was replaced in the interim by Tony Zingale, a board member, who is still CEO today.

In 2011, Jive filed for a $100m IPO as it stated that it was not profitable, despite a growth in users. Its 2011 full year figures showed it had achieved revenues of $77.3m with an overall net loss of $55.8m.

The loss does not worry Jive and in fact, fits the company's roadmap, says CEO Zingale. "We are balancing growth and marketshare with our path to profitability. We continue to expand our gross margin and raise cash," he says.

The firm has gone from a "fairly run of the mill start up" to "stepping out of the shadows" in the last few years, according to Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at MWD, who has been following Jive since 2007. She attributes Jive's success to an enterprise-focused approach when its peers were looking at the consumer space. "At the time and to some extent today, people look at bypassing the IT department and Jive said, we shouldn't encourage that," Ashenden says.

Jive's success is demonstrated by its rapidly expanding headcount, which is now at about 500 staff, a growth of more than 30 per cent in a year. The firm now has around 800 customers over a wide range of industries, from technology firms such as McAfee to telecoms companies such as Vodafone and T-Mobile, as well as consumer brands including Starbucks and Gap.

"Jive is quite a smart company," Ashenden says. "They are not selling for the sake of selling and they are working with their customers to target the right people."

Zingale is confident that Jive is now well on the way to accomplishing its targets set out in 2010. He points towards analysts including Gartner, which he says credit Jive with having "the most robust, broadest and deepest social technology platform in the business".

"It is the one platform that extends inside and outside the enterprise," he adds. "We are a social platform creating a paradigm from the consumer world into the enterprise."

"A few years ago, it was all about differentiating and now Jive has kind of gone full circle," Ashenden agrees. "Customers come to them - they have task capabilities and it's a more rounded story. It's also a lot more slick now; they recognised the need for new solutions for social intranet customer communities."

Jive's expertise is expanding, demonstrated by its recent acquisitions of five technology companies in areas from social media monitoring through to big data analytics, as well as social management and video conferencing.

Despite this, the firm's success continues to be down to a unique offering as it does not have any direct competitors. Ashenden says: "Others do the products: You have people like IBM - very big players - and also a number of small players. Although there are people that Jive competes with, the sales side doesn't come down to a head-to-head."

One of Jive's customers is VMware's owner EMC, which employs the firm inside its community. The company has stated publicly that it sees 48 per cent more revenue from customers who participate in the community than those who don't. "Customers want to feel close to the company they do business with," says Zingale. "The next step is employees - they don't always feel connected."

Another Jive client is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which has 180,000 employees, of which 90,000 use Jive as internal social internet. "PwC's ability to collaborate is very important," says Zingale. "Through the use of Jive they can deliver in half the time, saving millions in costs and becoming all that more efficient."

And it's not just about being social - the system is about a more productive workforce and a company that's closer to its employees. Zingale adds: "From our point of view there is a massive market opportunity to change the way work is done and the market agrees."

If it continues to follow its current path, Jive's future looks pretty solid. Although the firm is forward-thinking in the way it uses analytics, Ashenden advises it to look to the area to create value. "They need to add expertise - more staff in the right areas. Some needs will be horizontal and some more specific, such as numbers-based, which is different to skills-based."

But Jive is not ready to slow down at any point soon. The firm is poised to more than double the size of its workforce in EMEA in 2013. "Historically, Europe has been around 25 per cent of our business," says Zingale. "We feel there is more opportunity there."

In November, the company opened a data centre in Amsterdam - important to Europe as it is local to the region. In Europe and the UK, there were a number of early adopters of Jive's technology, including Vodafone and more recently, PwC, Volkswagen and BMW have joined the fray.

"They are still the leading independent player in the space, both in terms of size and innovation and understanding the market need," says Ashenden. "Clearly they are investing at the moment so how that will pay off is up for grabs."

Zingale says: "I see the overall market continue to expand and be very robust. As a CEO going into 2013 you need to look at how to make your business more profitable. I am very optimistic about 2013 - I think our plate is very full."

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