Lithium Technologies CEO Rob Tarkoff
Lithium CEO Rob Tarkoff sees synergies between his company and Jive-x and promises Jive customers will be a priority

Lithium Technologies CEO Rob Tarkoff said the company will give newly-acquired Jive customers the option to continue using their Jive-x online community software or move to “something better in a relatively near-term period of time.”

Tarkoff was short on specifics in his interview with CMSWire the day after Lithium announced it acquired Jive’s external online community business, bringing together two of the online community software space's top providers.

Multi-Year Roadmap Plan

The CEO promised Lithium would make “incremental” gains in its online community products with the addition of Jive. It will unveil a “multi-year, joint-product roadmap” after input from customers and stakeholders.

“We’re taking ownership for the code and for the customers but we’re also taking ownership for an innovation plan that combines the best of both,” Tarkoff, a former EMC and Adobe executive who became San Francisco-based Lithium’s president and CEO in 2011.

“While customers will be able to stay on Jive-x if they choose to,” Tarkoff added, “we’re going to try to create an opportunity for customers to get something better in a relatively near-term period of time.”

Tarkoff said he expects to announce the combined roadmap at his company’s next user conference (LiNC), tentatively scheduled for September 2018. The company has yet to announce the specific date and location.

“At that point,” Tarkoff said, “we will have done a lot of incremental work over the year … and will have gotten a lot of customer input during the 12-month period leading up to that.”

Jive Customers Want Answers

Lithium gained about 250 Jive-x customers with the acquisition. 

Some of them as recently as last week felt “left in the dust” looking for answers on the Jive online external community product roadmap.

At the time, that was former owner Aurea Software’s problem. Now it’s Lithium’s.

Multiple Jive-x customers expressed frustration over unknowns concerning Aurea Software's roadmap for Jive in an Aug. 22 post on the public JiveWorks customer forum.  

ESW Capital bought Jive in May for a $462 million and folded the software company under its Aurea portfolio of companies. Aurea retained Jive-n, the internal collaboration side of Jive's product suite, in this week's deal.

Screenshot of Jive Software
Jive Software's community platform.

‘Time Isn’t An Option’

“Sadly,” one customer said in a JiveWorks post Aug. 23, “time isn't an option for many of us who have been stuck in the middle of all of this, and have invested thousands to get a community up and running. I fully believe that Aurea may build something, and it will be great ... for the customers signing up then. For the folks stuck in the middle of a two-year window of rough customer service and Aurea figuring out the business … it frankly is supremely disappointing.”

One Jive-x user was even aware of a possible Lithium takeover.

“I think the Jive-x users are being left in the dust and have heard rumors they are going to sell off our contracts to Lithium,” she said in an Aug. 23 post. 

CMSWire reached out to Jive-x customers who commented in the forum via LinkedIn. They had not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.

Neither Aurea nor ESW Capital officials responded to requests for comment.

Lithium CEO: Jive Customers a Priority

Lithium Technologies hasn’t had much time to develop — let alone deliver — roadmap clarity for its new Jive-x customers. Jive has communicated to its customers, and Lithium will be communicating with them directly, closer to when the transaction closes, a Lithium official told CMSWire today. 

"Until that happens, the companies will continue to operate separately on deals, product roadmap development, etc." Lithium spokeman Eddie McGraw said. "Upon closing, product development and roadmap will be a key priority and understanding features critical to both platforms will be assessed. We will communicate a full integrated product roadmap at the LiNC event next year."

Jive’s "quality of customers" — and the company’s innovation plans — attracted Lithium to Jive over other potential technology acquisitions.

“Our job is to convince them that we will support them in any scenario, and we will,” Tarkoff said of his message to customers. “It they want to stay on Jive-x we will continue to support that. If they want to collaborate with us on what innovations we can build with them and other customers, that’s going to be our main focus. Our hope is that we’ll take advantage of the opportunity to have the best-in-class insight going into the products and deliver that value proposition to them.”

Screenshot of Lithium community.
Lithium Technologies community platform.

Will Jive and Lithium Mesh?

But can two former fierce competitors play well together, technology wise?

Technology companies that acquire competitors naturally run the risk of product duplication and therefore wasted resources.

Lithium and Jive have “substantial functional overlap,” according to Tony Byrne, co-founder and CEO of Olney, Md.-based Real Story Group.  

He added in a blog post yesterday the partnership has “limited potential for combining modules and achieving ever-beloved 'technical synergies.'"

In the long-term, Byrne added, "vendors selling multiple products that do mostly the same thing is a story that rarely turns out well. One product becomes Cain and the other Abel."

Will Jive-x Survive?

Carrie Melissa Jones headshot
Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones, founding partner and chief operating officer at community management training firm CMX told CMSWire Jive-x won't disappear immediately. Jones wrote about the ESW acquisition of Jive in June. 

"But I believe," she said, "it will eventually be absorbed into Lithium. For those new to Jive-x, it is not a bad time to go back to your technical requirements and community member research and look back at the software landscape to see if there's a better fit for you. But also know that none of this will be immediate."

Countless Jive customers have told Jones that Jive-n had driven the roadmap for Jive-x, which never, she said, made much sense for either party. 

"What I hope this means for Jive-n is that they can concentrate on their core product strength — and become more integrated than their competitors — and I hope for current Jive-x customers that Lithium can wrap up the best of its features and UI and slowly fold them into the platform without immediately shifting on anyone," Jones said. "This will affect customers' experience in these communities, so this will not be without bumps in the road, and Jive and Lithium need to communicate with these customers directly, transparently and immediately. I wouldn't hold my breath for that, unfortunately, but I hope I am wrong."

Jive's 'Complementary' to Lithium

Tarkoff stood by his optimism for the marriage of Jive and Lithium, however, saying Jive focused on a different subsegment of the external community market “than we did in a lot of cases.”

A number of features and capabilities developed by Jive are “very complementary to what we have,” Tarkoff added.

“As we started looking at that and started thinking about the broader set of use cases that are emerging ... particularly how those are tying more broadly to social media management,” Tarkoff said, “we saw an opportunity.”

Those opportunities: bring together 700 of the “top customers in the world and …. also to revitalize our innovation roadmap.”

Asked about future technology acquisitions, Tarkoff said that will “happen pretty fast.”

Another Day, Another Private Equity Tech Grab

Lithium’s acquisition of Jive’s community business also reflects another growing trend for enterprise technology in the past year or so: private equity buyouts.

Some acquisitions include:

And of course, ESW Capital bought Jive for $462 million and put it under Aurea Software, only to sell the Jive-x part of the busines to fellow PE firm Vista for an undisclosed sum this week.

Ironically, Vista Equity Partners (Suite 3100) and Aurea Software (Suite 2650) share the same office space: 401 Congress Ave. in Austin.

“Capital structure can oftentimes be an unnecessary limitation on innovation,” Tarkoff said. “Companies are often times constrained on their investment choices given the time horizons and return models of their backers.”

However, he said, companies like Vista represent “enlightened private equity,” using private money to fuel innovation and growth rather than “buying operationally damaged companies with huge install bases then fixing them up and cash-cowing them.”

And judging from Twitter, that private money is good for investments in more than just software: