He who controls the Spice, controls the universe! ~ Baron Harkonnen, Dune
Every once in a while I stumble across something in the IT space that I am amazed existed, or even thrived, but yet I managed to never see it or hear of it before. I had this experience a few weeks back when I was turned on to Spiceworks. Don't ask me what rock I have been living under these past years during which I didn't know about Spiceworks, but I know of them now.
Spiceworks is a combination IT management application and social network community of IT pros, all made free by the support of Spicework partner/vendors who support, integrate with, and work in the Spiceworks community.
Spiceworks claims over 2 million IT pros are using their tool to manage over 130 million devices. In addition, many of these folks participate in the community. Many of them are in the SMB space, but there are some household-name companies in that group as well. On top of the IT pros, the real special sauce of Spiceworks (or maybe it is the secret spice), is the amazing group of partner/vendors/advertisers they have, over 1,300 at last count. Obviously, it is a long list, but you need to see what is available to truly appreciate it.
They have done an amazing job of building a community, too. Their Spicehead gatherings are legendary. While not open source, they have adopted the freemium model, making money from advertisers and partners. It is a difficult trick, because to attract the partners you need a critical mass of potential customers for them. To attract the critical mass of potential customers you need the offerings and value that will bring them to your door. Trying to solve this chicken-and-egg problem is usually too tough a nut to crack for most companies. Spiceworks has not just cracked it, though, they have written the book.
Another lesson that companies can learn from Spiceworks is how to do social networking in a business context. Yes, Facebook has a billion users or whatever, but how many times have you heard from people that they don't see a sustainable revenue model beyond just ads (don't knock it, it works for Google)? Spiceworks has leveraged what social networking offers to enhance the experience of its user base. It is social networking for both work and pleasure.
Is Spiceworks' model successful due to the unique culture of IT pros, or can these lessons be applied to other verticals as well? I suspect the answer is a little of both. IT folks, I think, appreciate the free tools and understand the technology of the social network. Looking at the kinds of things on the network, it is part Angie's List, part Facebook, and part community-driven help/message board. I think that mix is really perfect for the IT pro.
But I don't want to give you the impression that it is all about the social network. The Spiceworks app is not a joke. Especially for the SMB, it is a great tool that gives them the ability to manage things that, frankly, they probably can't afford otherwise. You can check out the cute YouTube video below to find out more about it.
Speaking of YouTube, Spiceworks, as I guess you would suspect, makes great use of video as a tool as well. Whether in the way of support or sales, this is a company that just seems to get it. I spoke with Adam Schaeffer of Spiceworks and from just speaking with him you could hear the buzz. I have run into that before. Companies who are turning on their employees almost exude a confidence and energy that is contagious. That is the feeling you get from Spiceworks. I will be following up with an interview of some partners and customers in the near future and will report back. But for now, if you are an SMB IT manager (one-man-band and beyond) and have not checked out Spiceworks, go on and do so. It is free and you might both enjoy and use it!