New Visionaries: An interview with Bill Burnett

I recently wrote about a clever pitch I received from Kari Hernadez of Ink PR, which leveraged the PointDrive social CRM tool to get me interested in taking another look at that product. After a short email discussion with folks at the company, I decided that I wanted to interview the founder and CEO, Bill Burnett, regarding his vision for the company.

About Bill Burnett

bill burnett

Bill Burnett

Bill Burnett is the CEO of PointDrive and is the guiding hand on the company’s direction. He formerly headed Fippex, and has a long background in sales. Which explains why PointDrive is such a strong entrant to the social sales market.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: I am intrigued with the idea that a social sale approach via email can lead to closer relationships with clients, but then, it seems to make email less impersonal and lowest-common denominator feeling. Is that what motivated you to create PointDrive?
Bill Burnett: Definitely. What motivated us to create PointDrive was feedback from sales professionals that they wanted to know when their emails and content were received, opened and shared. Sales professionals default to email, as we all do, for its convenience and ubiquity but the truth is, it’s really hard to stand out these days and you typically have no way of knowing if you’re getting through. PointDrive allows you to turn existing sales content into a personalized, professional presentation without requiring any more effort than it takes to write an email. Then we deliver feedback and analytics on how your customers are engaging with your presentation to help you follow up more effectively and make more accurate sales projections.
SB: I guess getting that insight into emails being opened is an example of transparency in communications, like presence in IM tools. Knowing that a correspondent has actually read something is more than just a check box in the sale pipeline, it’s knowing that they are participating in the discussion. It has social value greater than just the step in a sales process.
BB: Absolutely. In a face to face meeting you have the ability to engage with one another and gauge interest. PointDrive allows you to present your digital content with some of these same benefits.
SB: Looking at some of the upcoming features, PointDrive’s dashboard is starting to look more like the analytics that brands point at their Twitter and Facebook mentions and accounts. I guess that follows: they’re all social mechanisms of interaction, after all.
BB: Exactly. We want to show our users how people are engaging with their content and that in turn allows them to follow up more effectively and adjust strategies. The fact that our social communications are primarily 1:1 only helps us to provide more individualized analytics. For instance, with PointDrive, you can see a ranking of your most active people, but you can also search for a specific customer/recipient to see how many actions that person has taken, and with which content. You can do the same for a specific presentation to determine what content is performing best. We provide high level numbers and then drill into the specifics. We’re also working on a team plan that will allow a manager to analyze overall team activity and content performance.
SB: In one blog post, you recommend PointDrive as presentation software. It’s interesting, because I have a vision of a not-too-distant-conference, where there is no overhead projection of presentations. Instead, all the attendees will be watching a synchronized shared presentation — with chat and other capabilities — on their handhelds or laptops. The attendees have a richer and more social experience — instead of watching the backchannel on Twitter, for example — and the conference organizers have better data about actual views, and built-in surveys and other metrics. And of course people attending remotely would would have a similar experience to those in the room. Any thoughts about that?
BB: Well first off, thanks for reading our blog! I think that vision – of a more engaging and flexible presentation environment, one that integrates with other communications channels and aligns with peoples behaviors and attention spans, AND delivers feedback – is very much where we’re headed. PointDrive is a first step. It’s designed to present all types of content beautifully on mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc. It allows you to have some control over how your content will be experienced, and then delivers feedback on how folks engage.
SB: I’d like to learn more about those next steps. It seems to be that an option for a recipient to move from an asynchronous interaction to a real-time conversation — like chat, audio, or video interaction — would be a natural. Is that in the works?
BB: Yes, we see chat as a natural progression along with integrations with some of the web conferencing tools that will allow for video interaction. We are also working hard on our team version of PointDrive that will include sales management analytics along with better collaboration around presentations.
SB: Bill, thanks for your time.
BB: Thanks for the opportunity, Stowe. is an amazingly small presentation solution

I stumbled across, a new approach to online presentations, based on a very simple and lightweight approach. It doesn’t follow the complex and nausea-inducing Prezi approach, but is much more related to the sort of presentations web developers have made for years with static HTML pages. It also reminds me of CheckThis, because of its small and simple feel.

Users are provided profiles based on presentations they have created there. Here’s mine:

The app is fundamentally social, integrating Disqus comments in a Slideshare-style player.

The navigation is handled by clicking the blue compass points, and the icons to the lower left control full screen and jumping down to the comments.

Note that the Navigator allows for either purely linear slideshows, or moving vertically, about which more later.

Slide editing is intended for making very simple slides: text, maybe an image or two, bulleted lists. The sophistication of Powerpoint is absent, There are no complex builds, shapes or lines, and no background images. There is no provision for presenter’s notes.

Here’s the editor UI on the title slide of my Work Media 2012 preso:

There is provision for different sorts of slide transitions and a smart collection of various slide ‘themes’, which are all unhelpfully labeled as ‘reveal.js’:

Below the hood, the slides and the player are basically javascript, CSS, and HTML. Escaping into HTML slide editing can allow those proficient to hack the presentation, and at the present time that seems to be the only way to change font size away from the defaults, for example: provides a large canvas area, taking one page from the Prezi playbook, but it isn’t an infinite canvas navigated by path definitions and zooming. provides the capability of adding slides   on any side of an existing slide, as shown in the preview mode here:

The premise of is that a user can publish presentations and later present them online, using the full screen mode in a browser. Presentations default to being private — meaning only accessible to the author — but can be made public, which is where the social dimension comes in. But presentations can be exported for offline viewing, or for embedding in web pages. The rigmarole involved would be intimidating to any but the initiated, since it involves editing HTML manually, although I was able to follow the instructions and successfully play my slide show offline in a few minutes.

The Bottom Line

I am in the camp that thinks a great deal of the machinery of Powerpoint and Keynote is overkill, especially for everyday purposes, like creating a hour-long presentation on technical issues, or showing a bunch of product or web site mockups. I can see the utility of a utility to build web page style presentations  and I certainly see the usefulness of the ability to publish and share them online at

However, I’d like a bit more polish for my own purposes. For example, my presentations generally have images in the background, and my titles are both text and a rectangle filled with a color and then made semi transparent. Perhaps I can achieve that result with some more sophisticated tweaking of the HTML or CSS in

I will keep you updated as gains in capability.

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Babelgum Shutters 2 European Offices

UPDATED: Babelgum is closing down its Dublin headquarters and an office in Nice, according to a report in paidContent, moves that could signal the end is near for the online video site.

Babelgum says the cuts will allow it to streamline its business to “ensure continued growth.” The company told paidContent that it will continue to develop applications from other locations, spreading the operations from its shuttered offices across those in London, Milan and New York. But there are questions as to whether Babelgum will continue to develop technology or keep focusing on content investment.

Babelgum is backed by deep-pocketed billionaire investor Silvio Scaglia; he invested €50 million ($73 milllion) in the company in 2008, and has said he plans to spend €40- €60 million annually on the company over the next 2-3 years. But the recent cuts could mean he’s losing patience while waiting for a return on that initial investment.

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