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Open-Source Rocket.Chat Wants To Propel Communication To Next Level

The company, whose platform offers chat, audio and video, expects to eclipse $4 million in annual recurring revenue this year.

Gabriel Engel’s goal in starting Rocket.Chat was to incorporate the good aspects of email into modern collaboration and communication platforms.

Current iterations of those platforms have created silos, according to Engel, who says they’re tools designed just for team collaboration or inter-company messaging and not for customer communication, for example.

“You look at email, and it works for everybody,” Engel said. “You can talk to your colleagues, you can talk to your supplier, you can talk to your customer, you can talk to a system. And we think the beauty about email is because it‘s an open protocol, it’s open standards. All the technologies that are the building blocks of the internet are open source and distributed, and we think chat should be the same.”

Enter the open source Rocket.Chat, which CEO Engel describes as the “ultimate communication platform.” The integrated solution, which allows organizations to customize their own chat tools, covers all use cases in lieu of a “Frankenstein set of applications glued together,” according to Engel.

“Rocket.Chat is not a single-purpose chat platform like Slack or (Microsoft) Teams that are geared for team communication, or if you consider Genesys or Zendesk, where then you have only external communication, where you talk to your customer,” Engel said. “Rocket.Chat is designed to cover all the use cases -- team communication, customer relationship and even cross-company communications. It‘s a communication platform that you can use to do all your omni-channel requirements.”

And being open source means the developer community and organizations have the ability to mold and extend the platform to meet their own needs beyond what Rocket.Chat already has done.

“It really becomes a building block inside an organization, more than an off-the-shelf solution, and it can be a game-changer or decisive when a company wants to implement a strategy or a competitive advantage on the way they view communication,” Engel said.

“You can add your…organization’s Facebook profile, your organization’s WeChat or WhatsApp profile and then talk to your customers wherever they are,” he said. “They can talk to anyone inside your organization, and your organization can even talk to other organizations using our Federation protocols. And everything can be totally customized and white-labeled, because it‘s an open-source platform. We can run either on private clouds or on prem or as a SaaS (software-as-a-service) offering. It’s very flexible in the business model.”

Rocket.Chat is on target to reach to reach $4 million in annual recurring revenue by the end of the year, according to Engel.

The company, which is looking for referral partners, resellers, independent software vendors and value-added distributors to join its partner program, is deployed on north of 700,000 servers. It has close to 15 million registered users on its free, open-source platform and about 600 paying customers, including Boeing, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bahn, HTC, Raytheon Technologies, Samsung and the U.S. Navy. New customers include Tokyo Electric Power Co., the largest electric utility in Japan and the fourth largest in the world.

“They put 35,000 users in Rocket.Chat just from their deployments alone,” Engel said.

Engel is based in Brazil, where he founded Rocket.Chat and where its research and development is concentrated. Rocket.Chat began as a live chat support tool built on Meteor -- the open source JavaScript web framework. Now the almost 4-year-old company has developers in close to 20 countries, including the United States, where it’s incorporated, Canada, China, England, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Spain and Uruguay.

“The goal in starting the company was to bring back the good things from email into modern collaboration and communication platforms,” Engel said. “There are open source servers of email, so people can have an email from Gmail, or they can host their own mail server, or they can choose a variety of flavors of email. For us, the world needs the same type of technology and openness when we‘re talking about chat applications -- because they are the future of communication -- as we have for all the rest of the internet. If you think of the long run on the internet, those are the technologies that have prevailed -- from the Chrome browser, which is an open source browser, to emails like open protocol to web servers that all run Linux and Apache.”

While Slack and Microsoft Teams are competitors met in the field when answering requests for proposals or otherwise competing for customers, Rocket.Chat increasingly is coexisting with them, according to Engel.

“Companies that sometimes already have Teams are looking into Rocket.Chat, because it opens a whole new world of possibilities of talking to customers, to social media, to do this interaction between the internal communication and external communication,” he said. “Rocket.Chat becomes then this hub of communication where you can integrate other pieces. You can integrate into Teams, you can integrate into Slack. A lot of companies have used Rocket.Chat as a center point to interconnect different communication systems.”

Rocket.Chat just renewed and extended its contract with investment bank and financial services firm Credit Suisse, which deployed the platform internally for office communications for 10,000 employees in Asia.

“That was actually crucial for them coping with the lockdown during the (coronavirus) pandemic response in Singapore, where they had to divide the teams into two offices, and people started working from home,” Engel said. “They say that overnight, the usage of Rocket.Chat in the company grew like 1,000 percent. It became the de facto way of communicating internally. But, also, they integrated their Rocket.Chat into Apple Business Chats and WeChat.”

If Credit Suisse customers want to talk to their account managers, support or anyone in Credit Suisse, they can look up Credit Suisse on the WeChat directory or on the Apple Business Chat directory, locate the Credit Suisse corporate profile, and start talking using their own devices without installing any application, according to Engel.

“When that message gets inside Credit Suisse and goes into Rocket.Chat, then Rocket.Chat finds who is your actual account manager out of the 10,000 people on the bank side, and then makes the connection in the end and makes you talk to the right person inside the bank,” Engel said. “They could turn all this communication into something that they have control (over). They have a secure copy, they can validate security, who the user is that they‘re talking to, who they need to be talking to inside the bank. They can automate some of those flows using bots, so the person can start talking to a bot. And then, once the bot finds out what that person needs, then maybe the bot can complete the whole flow of the request…or, if it needs to transfer the conversation to a human, it can decide what is the best person in the bank to talk to the customer. But all this is transparent to the customer.”

What’s Coming

Rocket.Chat is working on a blockchain version of its database, which will allow for better cross-organization communication and records to be stored in a way that they can be certified and signed, according to Engel.

“When two people are talking, all that communication get verified and certified that the content has not been changed or been edited after the event, so it can actually be used as almost like a signature or a contract or a negotiation,” Engel said. “It‘s a very powerful feature that we’re building with a few financial institutions. They want to have communication among them to do trading and do other negotiations, and they said that one of the important things is this communication needs to be certified...that no side could change the contents of the history. So we’ve implemented that on the next release.”

To address the growing use of chat among remote workforces amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rocket.Chat made a design change that separates conversations, even inside channels, into topics to address clutter.

“A lot of people are starting to get more confused with so many chat groups going, and...they have to follow all the conversations to know what‘s going on,” Engel said. “Sometimes it’s hard to know when a conversation starts and then when it ends, because it’s a channel. We are creating a thread-first approach to the chat, which should be very different from what our competitors are doing, and this will help a lot...in the productivity of teams by separating topics in a more clear way inside chat applications. I talk about email a lot and things I like about email, but it brings back a lot of the email -- when you create a thread of emails per set of topic and then you start a discussion around the subjects. We are bringing some of those aspects back into chat rooms.”

While communication and collaboration platforms can add speed, they also can add complexity, acknowledged Engel, who said companies are going to be investing in research and struggling about how to fix those problems based on the scale of the usage that they‘re seeing.

“My view is that a lot of those problems were already solved in software like (Microsoft) Outlook and having folders and having the subjects of conversations,” he said. “You can see the participants for each subject rather than everybody on the whole team participating all the time. We‘re trying to create those and learn from the past rather than just trying to reinvent the wheel.”

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