Q&A: Subrah Iyar, WebEx Communcations

Subrah Iyar’s work on one of the industry’s first handheld computers at Apple Computer years ago taught him important lessons about timing a market for a new product release. Apple eventually abandoned its early PDA push for lack of demand.

Now, as head of Web conferencing specialist WebEx , the 45-year-old is putting the sum of his experience to work. With business and home users embracing high-speed Internet connections, Iyar is spending less time parrying the question, “Is this an idea that’s still ahead of its time?” Instead, he’s concentrating on ways to make the service ubiquitous and the San Jose, Calif., company a long-term success.

All the while, he must guard against potential competitors, including Microsoft, which is making another run at the sector with its acquisition of Web conference company PlaceWare earlier this year.

Shortly after WebEx posted strong results for the most recent quarter, internetnews.com spoke with Iyar about the evolution of the company and the industry and where he sees both going from here.

Q: What did you learn about new products at Apple and other companies where you previously worked, such as Intel and Quarterdeck?

Things take longer than people anticipate — you have to last it out. (Web Conferencing) isn’t close to reaching its maximum potential. Even though we have 8,000 customers it’s still in pockets. We see it becoming as broadly used as e-mail or phone calls. Conference calls were once new but evolved to be part of the converged communications services that are all around us.

Q: What can WebEx do to accelerate adoption?

Our greatest challenge is education, but that also includes service and capabilities. From a broad perspective, there are several pieces that make (Web conferencing) compelling. Blending rich media and high levels of interactivity so it’s contact specific is one example.

Q:What are the ramifications of Microsoft’s purchase of Placeware? You have 64 percent of market, how will you keep it?

(Microsoft has) been in the market before, this is their third entry. (With Placeware) they seem to be leaning more to the software than service side, while we offer as a service. If they are wildly successful, we can absorb the technology and differentiate as an outsource service provider, running a high-availability service. We have a very good basis to compete. It’s a complete niche for Microsoft. For them it is a bundle within a bundle.

QEarlier you mentioned the consumer market as a potential growth area. Why do you think it’s ready?

The barriers to entry are getting lower and lower. There are a number of consumer video chat services that are beginning, and there will be more over the next two years. (The service) lends itself to a ‘prosumer,’ someone who would be willing to pay on a paid subscription basis along with data, voice, video communication. These high-end consumers would receive one bill of $100 a month and would be willing to pay $20 or $30 of that per month on data/video conferencing to keep in touch with family.

Q: Will WebEx make acquisitions to bolster its intellectual property and the services it offers?

Earlier this year we acquired Presenter.com (a maker of technology for presentation recording and replay), so we will if we see components or capabilities that will help us differentiate ourselves we will.

Q: The airlines have taken a hit because of 9/11 and the economic slump. Has that lead to more people trying Web conferencing for business meetings?

When the economy is bad the sales cycle lengthens, although we may not be hurt as bad as some other industries. It’s a good time for us to build on our base of people, to change behavior.

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