Interview with David Friend at Carbonite

by | Jul. 17, 2009

Note: I am a paying Carbonite user (since April), upon the recommendation of my older brother, whose hard drive crashed, resulting in the loss of many digital photos.

I had the opportunity to brief with David Friend, the chairman and CEO (and co-founder) of Carbonite, the online backup provider. The Carbonite folks reached out to me following my quote in an article in PCWorld regarding the recent shuttering of a number of once highly-touted online backup services: AOL (Xdrive and AOL Pictures), Hewlett-Packard (Upline), Sony (Image Station), and Yahoo (Briefcase), Digital Railroad and Streamload MediaMax, which turned into The Linkup.

Despite the failures, Carbonite is sitting in a market that is ripe with opportunity. Our consumer data shows that people are starting to respond to the messaging that they've got to take some sort of action in protecting their data and digital media content. While I understand that some of the marketing messaging from the consumer storage industry players is inevitably going to move from pure backup and safekeeping of content to sharing, networking, and remote this-and-that, the key message to continue to put in front of consumers is that they have robust solutions available today that will help them safeguard their data and digital media collections.

The data below compares the results of two studies - Managing the Digital Home: Installation and Support Services and Customer Support in the Digital Home - both of which focused on consumer needs and interest in a variety of home technical support services and offerings, includign premium technical support, managed security, and backup and safekeeping services. The good news is that consumers are starting to get in the habit of backing up their data in more consistent ways (instead of just burning a CD or a DVD every once in awhile). Even more interesting is the big jump in demand for online backup services.
ChartCarbonite's focus today is on expanding their market presence through partnerships (such as those recently announced with Sun Micrososystems, LaCie, Lenovo, TDS Telecom. Friend indicates that a "keep it simple" mantra really explains the company's focus, particularly as it relates to the ease-of-use of the product. Although users won't find any content sharing or remote PC features in Carbonite (and don't expect them anytime soon), Friend says that the focus on an unlimited and simple storage at a flat rate makes the most sense. Instead of providing a limited amount of free storage and then requiring users to specifically select with files and folder to backup, Carbonite allows everything to be backed up in a minimal number of steps.

This same philosophy applies to the company's relatively new secure remote access feature. Although it was made available in March, Friend says that recent focus groups that they conducted reveal that most people (including yours truly) wasn't aware of it! I tried it out while Friend was talking to me, and I found it not only easy to access, but also very easy to find all of the files from the home computer, laid out in the same logical file structure that I'm used to seeing on the PC. Having this kind of logical arrangement of backed-up content shouldn't be understated. I've been frustrated with some of the consumer storage products that I've tested that all want to stick a new user interface in front of me. Although there was clearly a lot of development and planning around the creation of these UIs, they really have done little to make the experience of actually backing up and seeing my content any easier. In fact, I would have preferred it if the UI would just default into the standard Windows file format that I use to access documents, photos, and other files at home. So, give Carbonite some credit for the simplicity of its acccess.

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