same-o-matic

Need to connect a Freenode channel to a room in HipChat? Or want to give customers a simple way to connect to a channel in your Slack team?

Sameroom does that!
Learn more

 Subscribe via RSS

Andrei Soroker

35 posts

Startup Death Zone

By Peter Hizalev

The metaphor of climbing a mountain is often used to describe the struggle of building a business. I want to take this metaphor a bit further. In high altitude mountaineering, there is a concept called the Death Zone. As climbers move up a mountain, they eventually reach an altitude where there is so little oxygen, any unplanned stay will result in disaster—thus the Death Zone. This altitude is not an absolute number: it may depend on the distance from the nearest camp, the amount of climbing infrastructure installed along the way, and so on. The key is to carefully plan the entry and exit from the Death Zone, and to focus on minimizing the time spent there. To do this right, it takes a lot of preparation and much practice below the Death Zone.

Let’s see how this translates to building a business. In the early days, a business relies on a handful of founders and key employees. Their main focus is to find a repeatable and scalable business model, often called the "product-market fit". This tight group is motivated by owning a big share of a yet-to-be-valuable company as well as by having fun in a highly transparent and informal environment. If things go well, the group may eventually agree that a product-market fit is found. What's interesting is that while there might be a good amount of evidence to support this, a major leap of faith is still required to prove that it works "in the wild", as an actual business. And to prove this, the company needs to grow. Enter the Startup Death Zone.

The company increases headcount to achieve scale, to get to the fundamental proof of having a working product-market fit. New employees are different from that initial “special ops” team in that they are less excited about high-stakes games, an informal organizational structure, and unpredictable working hours. These new employees join a company that has graduated from the proverbial garage and is about to become a real business. They are motivated by good salaries and stock options, but, most importantly, they are motivated by having the feeling of riding a rocket ship.

And therein lies the grave danger of the Startup Death Zone. The only way for a company to survive is to grow quickly while in the Startup Death Zone. The only way for a mountaineer to survive is to move quickly and purposefully while in the Death Zone. A seemingly minor slowdown in company growth may trigger a disastrous cycle, when even a little bit of doubt among employees sets off a real slowdown, causing more doubt. A minor mistake of a mountaineer exposes her to the increased possibility of another minor mistake, and when minor mistakes compound, things can quickly spiral out of control and lead to tragedy. Overnight, an awesome startup can turn into a toxic wasteland. And, in a matter of minutes, a seemingly well-run expedition can turn into a struggle for survival.

A successful company comes out of the Death Zone when scale has been proven—it continues to operate as a well-oiled money-making machine independently, or joins forces with another company. A successful expedition comes out of the Death Zone when the mountain has been submitted and the most dangerous part of the descent is behind.

Over time, as mountaineering technology matured, a new approach to passing the Death Zone emerged—supplemental oxygen. With supplemental oxygen, there is a lot less strain on the human body to perform at extreme elevation. With supplemental oxygen, not as much preparation is required for entering the Death Zone and staying there longer is not nearly as dangerous. Less-experienced climbers may attempt summits previously thought unthinkable, while not having to consent to extreme risks or rely on extreme luck.

Enter VC funding. A company that convinces a venture capitalist to make that leap of faith required to get from "we think we found a have a product-market fit" to running a real business, proceeds to raise a series A. With the extra money, the company tries scaling and flaring its model quicker and hotter. The money also allows the company to remain in the Death Zone much longer, and to enter less prepared. It's even possible to go through fundamental changes in business direction while in the Death Zone, and still reach a successful exit. But, just like with oxygen in the mountaineering Death Zone, startup disasters become much larger at scale, more unpredictable, and more sudden. They affect not just the "experts" but also the unsuspecting “tourists”, and often to a higher degree.

Death Zone-related tragic events actually happened in both mountaineering and business. In 1996, eight mountaineers died climbing mount Everest, largely because of what amounted to recklessness allowed by supplemental oxygen. In the dot-com bubble, the Death Zone funding supply extended into public markets, with disastrous effects. Both events were much reflected upon; systemic changes were called for in both industries.

While it is impossible to add supplemental oxygen to an ongoing climbing expedition in any amount that will allow it to achieve “unplanned” success, like going to a higher summit, it is very much possible with venture funding. Otherwise successful companies that execute exceptionally well against their planned climb are seduced to load up on oxygen, gather "tourists", and keep heading deeper into the Death Zone, in search of that elusive higher mountain.

Announcing Mattermost Integration

By Andrei Soroker

Mattermost is a open source team chat service that’s compatible with Slack’s API and is trivial to self-host.

I’m happy to announce that Sameroom now integrates with Mattermost, which enables Mattermost users to share channels not only with 20+ other services, but also with channels in other Mattermost instances.

Below is a copy of the announcement post I guest-wrote on the official Mattermost blog.


My name is Andrei—I run Sameroom, where we make chat interoperability easy. I’m excited to announce the integration of Mattermost with Sameroom.io, allowing users of the open-source Slack alternative to connect to 21 different messengers, including Slack, Skype, and HipChat.

Let’s take a step back for a brief survey of the current business chat landscape—I’ll show why cross-platform and cross-instance interoperability is an important stepping stone in making chat a viable model for external communication.

Team chat has long been the internal collaboration approach of choice for technical teams. Traditionally, these teams have been small, closely-knit units within large organizations. Since corporate IT rarely, if ever, offered team chat as approved technology, each unit chose its own platform and used it under the radar.

After decades of quiet, the word got out. The number of team chat solutions mushroomed, seemingly overnight. VC and corporate investment in the space jumped from virtually zero to billions. The New York Times and The Economist announced the end of email.

Small, closely-knit teams, accustomed to email for anything external, began getting invites to other units’ collaboration solutions. There was excitement—they were right all along!—but also a feeling of the implacable undoing of everything that was right in the world.

Unlike email servers, various team chat services, and even isolated instances of the same type of service, generally don’t know how to work together—there is no “universal ether”, a protocol similar to SMTP, for chat. XMPP was a solid attempt at one, but it didn’t work out.

Lack of cross-team and cross-platform interoperability results in two fundamental problems. The first problem has to do with compliance—most corporate policies require all company-related communication to be retained on company-owned systems. Therefore, for every “guest access” scenario, one of the sides invariably violates its corporate policy.

The second problem is account creep—if, for every external project, every person in a tightly-knit team has to create and maintain another account that has to be monitored on desktop and mobile, it’s easy to see that this approach doesn’t scale.

We built Sameroom to fix these two problems. Sameroom makes it easy to create real-time, 2-way bridges (we call them “tubes”) between chatrooms belonging to different environments.

A tube connects two rooms or channels into a virtual “same room”. Tubes can be arranged in an arbitrary topology. Each room retains its own copy of chat history, making chat-based cross-company communication compliant.

img

Fig 1. Six chatrooms, all connected into a virtual “same room”.

With Sameroom, account creep doesn’t happen at all: For every external project, a team can designate a channel shared with a channel in the service used by the other party.

Over the past few months, we’ve heard a steadily increasing choir of requests for an integration with Mattermost. Today, we’re happy to announce its general availability.

The integration is full-featured, and is actually superior to Slack’s in one important way: Files appear to be posted from the actual author, not “sameroom”.

img

Fig 2. Files shared in Slack come from the “sameroom”, with actual author’s name appearing in a comment.

img

Fig 3. Files shared in Mattermost come from the actual author

In addition to cross-platform integrations, Sameroom makes it easy to share channels between different Mattermost instances—as Mattermost grows in popularity, it’s safe to assume there will be an increased need in Mattermost-to-Mattermost connectivity.

To get started with the Sameroom Mattermost integration, follow this URL: https://sameroom.io/integrations/mattermost-integrations.

Announcing GroupMe Integration

By Andrei Soroker

Today we’re happy to announce support for GroupMe as a part of our new set of BridgeBot integrations.

With this integration, it’s easy to sync GroupMe groups with groups/channels/rooms in other collaboration systems (Sameroom supports over 20!).

Connecting to Skype

Let’s take a look at connecting a GroupMe group to a group in Skype.

  1. Select your GroupMe group
  2. Type -sameroom open in your GroupMe group. (Wait for the BridgeBot to respond with a code.)
  3. Add skype-bot@sameroom.io to your Skype contacts
  4. Invite Sameroom Bot to your Skype group
  5. Type -sameroom connect <code>, with code from step 3 above.

This will create a 2-way, real-time Tube between the two groups. For more info, post -sameroom help in either group.

Connecting to Slack

Slack is an example of a service without a BridgeBot: You’ll have to add your Slack account to Sameroom (part of step 3, below).

  1. Select your GroupMe group
  2. Type -sameroom portal (Wait for the BridgeBot to respond with a Portal URL.)
  3. Navigate to the Portal URL and follow instructions.

If you have any questions, please contact us or send us a tweet.

Introducing BridgeBots

By Andrei Soroker

Over time, we realized that more often than not, we suggest that our users create special “bot” (or, in other word, “relay”) accounts for Sameroom integrations.

The main reason for this tends to be user experience. With the exception of Slack, Fleep, and Flowdock, none of the services we support offer a way to safely “impersonate” a user, leading to confusion.

While we can’t fix this situation by ourselves—we’ll need some help from the chat services to expand their APIs—with some systems we can remove the need for creating new “relay” accounts.

All the messaging platforms with a global user directory1 will eventually get special Sameroom BridgeBots that you can invite to rooms or channels and create connections (Tubes) to other systems through -sameroom open or -sameroom portal commands. As a bonus, Tubes between BridgeBots will be on us—free as in beer.

Today, we’re announcing the first three BridgeBots: for Skype, GroupeMe, and Telegram. (These bots use the very impressive Microsoft Bot Framework.)

To create a Tube between BridgeBots, create or join groups in Skype, GroupMe, or Telegram and invite the BridgeBots:

Skype

Add skype-bot@sameroom.io to contacts, then invite Sameroom Bot to your Skype group

GroupMe

Invite sameroom

Telegram

Invite sameroom_bot

Then, type -sameroom open in one group, wait for the BridgeBot to respond with a code, and copy that code.

In the other group, type -sameroom connect <paste code>.

To create a Tube between a BridgeBot and some other system (Slack or HipChat), invite a BridgeBot, type -sameroom portal, wait for the BridgeBot to respond with a Portal URL, click on the URL and follow instructions.


1 IRC networks (e.g. Freenode), GroupMe, Skype, Hangouts, Twitter, iMeet, Telegram, Gitter, Fleep, Spark.

How Hanzo Used Sameroom to Simplify Client Communications

By Jared McGriff

Hanzo helps early stage hardware companies build and launch products. Hanzo serves in a hands-on and advisory capacity to drive all aspects of early stage growth, including operations, product development, marketing, sales, and support.

The nature of Hanzo’s business requires frequent communication with client teams. As such, Hanzo’s first deliverable is to set up their client’s Slack instance. In order to remain in contact with the client teams, members of the Hanzo team joined client Slack teams. While Hanzo members enjoyed the benefits of being in close touch with the customer in this manner, they also noticed certain usage patterns that proved problematic in an environment where team-to-team communication was critical to the success of the engagement.

Benefits of joining client Slack teams

  • Real-time communication with core client team throughout the duration of engagement

  • High visibility into all client team activities and communication flows

Problems with joining client Slack teams

  • Confusion/information overload associated with joining so many Slack teams

  • Being a part of the team increased DM (direct, 1-1 message) potential

  • Frequent DMs meant Hanzo team members did not receive relevant information at the same time

Due to the above problems, Hanzo CEO Zach Kelling sought a solution to simplify his team’s usage of Slack.

Sameroom helped Hanzo restructure their client communication with shared channels between the Hanzo Slack team and client Slack teams.

Since most communication during the engagement involves the Hanzo team providing answers to questions and offering advice, this method turned out to be beneficial, since both the Hanzo and client teams receive all information at the same time (by eliminating DMs entirely) and each retain a copy of the conversation.

This single point of connectivity forced all stakeholders to collaborate publicly, maximized accountability, limited superfluous conversation, and forced focus. Another benefit to using Sameroom included the ability to share Slack integrations with client teams.

Primary functional benefit of shared Slack channels

  • Hanzo team can respond to client matters without joining client Slack teams

  • By eliminating DMs, all Hanzo team members can respond and/or view responses in real-time

  • The Hanzo team can remain in their home environment without switching Slack teams or sharing DM and presence information with outside teams

There were two unintentional benefits of sharing Slack channels

  • The approach forced good behavior: a single point of connection required all stakeholders to discuss topics in public (as opposed to DMs)

  • Sameroom allowed Hanzo to share integrations across Slack instances: it’s easy to share key integrations with external teams, creating more value throughout the engagement

By using Sameroom, Hanzo was able to foster an open and accountable communication environment to drive successful client engagements.


About Sameroom: Sameroom provides real-time interoperability gateways available for Cisco Spark, Skype for Business, Yammer, Fleep, Flowdock, Gitter, Google Hangouts, HipChat, Intercom, IRC, Salesforce Chatter, Skype, Slack, Telegram, and Twitter. Sameroom can work with any other chat platform, given an API.

About Hanzo: Hanzo is a creator-first ecommerce platform that helps you quickly build scalable companies, fund innovative products and grow community around invention. Hanzo is made up of complementary features that you can mix-and-match to fit your needs.