How More Tech Players Are Building Platforms to Cure Creative Headaches

Collaborative software space heats up

Headshot of Christopher Heine

If you've recently worked on a creative project with multiple people, you know how fragmented the virtual conversation can get with email threads, Google Docs, Dropbox uploads and downloads, IM pings and text messages. And more and more software developers aim to untangle the webs we weave during such back-and-forth machinations.

For instance, Hightail today announced a project-collaboration system called Spaces, which lets marketers and artists work together from various locations while organizing assets and communications for the digital channels listed above (email, Google Docs, etc.). Whether creators are making a TV commercial, a feature film or something simpler like a poster, they can employ Spaces to establish a feedback loop that's designed to make everyone more productive. 

"People go in and leave comments like, 'This title is a little long,' or 'Is this the right font?' or, 'This is the wrong logo,'" said Hightail CEO Ranjith Kumaran. "You can create teams. You can have a couple of folks from the PR team and others from the creative department. So when things are added or deadlines are changed, everyone gets notified."

The email component might catch the eye of a few folks, as the software strips out email threads while organizing text-based and image-based information into a project gallery that all team members can access. In other words, no more constantly searching through inboxes and arduously trying to understand the current state of a work-group conversation. 

While Hightail offers cloud storage, Kumaran's real targets are ad agencies, videographers, post-production houses and other creative entities. "The storage component is important," he explained. "But we actually don't care if we are the storage guys behind the creative process—we want to own the actual creative process."

Hightail, based in Campbell, Calif., was called YouSendit for nine years before rebranding in 2013. Spaces builds on the company's file-sharing service, which has attracted 50 million registered users in 193 countries that send videos and audio clips that are too large for regular email. Dating back to its YouSendit days, it's raised more than $97 million in funding from investors Emergence Capital Partners, Sigma Partners, Adam Street Partners and Cambrian Ventures. 

But competition for creatives' market share is afoot. For instance, IdeaPaint—which typically offers physical tool kits that let people turn almost any smooth surface into a dry-erase surface for illustrations and writing—recently released a free mobile app called Bounce that includes similar utilities. Boston-based IdeaPaint worked with fellow Beantown company, the ad agency Hill Holliday, on the app. 

It is meant to quell problem-solving and cross-functional concerns that teams often have, said Jamie Scheu, vp and director of experience design at Hill Holliday. "Once they've captured their ideas in Bounce, it lets everyone work off the same playbook and return to snapshots of their work at moments in time for realignment," he said.

Jen Reddy, CMO of IdeaPaint, said her company and its agency worked with hundreds of IdeaPaint clients to find out what they wanted in the app. "We kept it in beta for over a month to make sure we were delivering the collaboration features they wanted," she said.

Because there's "no shortage" of collaboration tools in the growing space, Reddy said, "building an app was a risky move for us. We sell an analog collaboration product to some of the most admired companies in the world."

Indeed, it's not the easiest business-to-business marketplace to enter. Late last year, Slack was valued at $1.1 billion after getting a $120 million round of funding and is clearly an entrenched powerhouse in the collaboration scene.

Additionally, just earlier this week, Dropbox unveiled an integrated ad campaign with the guidance of agency 72andSunny, repositioning the brand from that of "cloud-storage provider" to "collaborative sandbox." The move resembles HighTail's aims with Spaces.

"As they continue to grow and evolve, we see using this platform of 'creative freedom' to full effect with the goal of activating it in really special and meaningful ways," said John Boiler, CEO and founder of 72andSunny.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.