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WebEx Founder on Startups Then & Now

WebEx Founder on Startups Then & Now
Post the dot-com boom, Y2K marked a new era of technological innovations / Credit: Time image via Shutterstock

Remember Y2K? It was the turn of the millennium, and potential technological glitches caused mass hysteria.

At the stroke of midnight, many feared that computers would transport humanity back from 1999 to the year 1900, causing all technology to die. Many believed financial systems, airlines, electric companies, hospitals and the rest of the computer-based world would be left in utter chaos. While nothing really happened — most computer chips were perfectly capable of computing the date from 1999 to 2000, it turned out — a different technological apocalypse was on the millennial horizon: Y2K saw the rise and fall of Internet-based companies, as the dot-com bubble burst its way into a new generation of startups.

Subrah Iyar, Co-Founder of WebEx and Moxtra Credit: Courtesy of Moxtra

Subrah Iyar was at the forefront of this evolution. Iyar co-founded WebEx, a Web conferencing and collaboration platform, in 1999.  The startup survived the dot-com crash and was sold to Cisco in 2007 for $3.2 billion. Today, Iyar is the CEO of Moxtra, a mobile content collaboration app that he co-founded in 2012.  

Over the past 25 years, Iyar has created superstar teams and held senior positions at Intel and Apple. Below, Iyar shared his insights on the changing landscape of startups and the past and future of business tech.

BusinessNewsDaily: What was the startup landscape like pre-Y2K?

Subrah Iyar: If you recall, it was the time of the dot-com boom. So it was crazy. It felt like everyone was part of a startup.

BND: Two of the biggest buzzwords we hear today are "big data" and "cloud computing." What were the biggest buzzwords in the '90s and early 2000s?

S.I.: Buzzwords are an ongoing hallmark of this industry. "E-commerce" was a big buzzword then, as well as "Y2K."

BND: Today, we get really excited about the latest gadgets and mobile apps — what types of technology did startups get excited about back then?

S.I.: This was still the early days of the Web. We were witnessing the massive movement of the Web-based business model, both for retail as well as for B2B. Also, this was the beginning of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) revolution.

BND: Social media has forever changed the face of marketing and how brands engage with consumers. How did startups ever live without it?

S.I.: Online marketing had just been born. The concept of banner ads, click-through and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) were all new concepts transitioning the world of marketing from pure traditional media.

BND: Today, startups are facing all types of IT issues, such as challenges posed by Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). What IT challenges were startups facing back then?

S.I.: In the late 1990s, the biggest challenge was the acute shortage of finding highly skilled people. So leveraging the use of IT talent was the biggest challenge.

BND: Based on your experience as co-founder of WebEx and Moxtra, how have collaboration tools evolved and how difficult was collaboration for startups in the past?

S.I.: Collaboration solutions were primarily restricted to on-premise software solutions. For example, to enable simple email for its employees, every startup had to have and maintain the equivalent of an Exchange server for email. The cost and hassle of using such services was a barrier for many startups.

BND: Moxtra announced this week its completion of its first round of funding, raising $10 million. How does today's funding climate compare to that of the past?

S.I.: The funding climate in the late 1990s was frenzied. It seems relatively calmer now. Also, nowadays there is a lot more participation of angels [angel investors] in earlier rounds of funding. The crowdfunding trend is also another indication of the further democratization of funding, making it more accessible for startups. 

[What is Crowdfunding?]

BND: How else has business technology evolved in the past 25 years and where do you predict it is going?

S.I.: Technology in the business world has certainly evolved. It's more collaborative, but also more sporadic. It has started to change based on the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we live. It's going to continue to become focused on how businesses can close the gap of separate communication platforms.

BND: What negative implications does technology have today and in the future?

S.I.: Today's technology solutions have evolved to be point solutions focused on solving specific problems in collaboration. Communication systems like email, telephony, voice messaging, text messaging, file-sharing and online meetings have served their purpose well, but have also created silos. As users juggle through these siloed solutions, information gets fragmented, duplicated and stale. We knew the future of technology needed to disrupt this status quo. Moxtra brings all the essential elements of collaboration into one service across multiple platforms. Now users can focus on their business goals, instead of focusing on the tool.

BND: Do you have any advice for startups on embracing or keeping up with new technologies?

S.I.: Embrace it fully — and adapt to it quickly. Interact with new technologies while you're a startup and ingrain this into your company culture.

Sara Angeles
Sara Angeles

Sara is a tech writer with a background in business and marketing. After graduating from UC Irvine, she worked as a copywriter and blogger for nonprofit organizations, tech labs and lifestyle companies. She started freelancing in 2009 and joined Business News Daily in 2013. Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles.