Ben Smith stepping down as Spoke CEO

I read a rumor late Tuesday that Spoke CEO Ben Smith had been “fired”. Given our recent conversations with Spoke, this came as quite a surprise to me, so I checked it out with some other sources, as well as directly with Spoke. Here’s what Spoke VP of Business Development Andy Halliday had to say (posted with permission):

Ben had announced internally over three months ago that he and the board had arrived at a decision that it was time to bring a new CEO in who would take Spoke beyond the startup stage. A retained executive search is underway for his replacement, and there are several very substantial successor candidates identified and in conversations with us. Ben is still a member of Spoke’s board of directors, so I think it is incorrect to say that Spoke’s board “fired” Ben. Yesterday Ben and two other board members met with the assembled company and announced that Ben was stepping down now, and that Mike Trigg and Dave Schreffler would share CEO duties internally until the successor is retained. Inside Spoke, things have never been better. You will continue to see us make progress with a focus on hosted OnDemand services to companies of all sizes, in partnership with the major SFA companies.

This just isn’t that unusual in a startup company, particularly one with over $20 million in venture funding, and isn’t necessarily the sign of any internal trouble. Michael Dell and Bill Gates stepped out of their CEO roles, too, so Ben isn’t exactly in bad company!

It’s no secret to anyone who’s watched the industry closely that Spoke’s sales have perhaps not gone as quickly as they hoped or expected, but they have consistently moved their product forward, and at the moment, its arguably the closest thing to a comprehensive social networking platform currently available.

Given the robustness of their platform, I can only surmise that the main reason they haven’t gotten more traction has to do with marketing, and primarily their positioning. Halliday’s reference to their focus on OnDemand services to companies of all sizes seems a clear indication that their initial concept of focusing on larger enterprises and just using the public network as a showcase missed the mark. The smaller enterprises are better positioned to see the value of personal relationships as a competitive advantage and are more agile in being able to implement and leverage a tool like Spoke than larger organizations.

Hopefully this shift in both focus and leadership will pay off for Spoke.

There’s a detailed profile of Spoke Software in our Guide to Online Social Networks and Business Communities.