An Enterprise Search Mini Case: LucidWorks and Its Accelerating Mission

June 11, 2015

I read “Lucidworks Accelerates Product Focused Mission with Major Fusion Upgrades.” LucidWorks (Really?)—né Lucid Imagination—appears to be working on products. (Note that the company names appears in different ways: “Lucidworks” with variants “LucidWorks”, “Lucid Works,” and “lucidworks”.)





Lucidworks wants to accelerate its mission. Will this be a quick and easy task?

Flashback in time. Lucid Imagination was founded in 2007. You can read about the vision of the company in interviews with these Lucid (no pun intended) executives:

  • Marc Krellenstein, formerly Northern Light and one of the founders of Lucid Imagination, March 17, 2009
  • Brian Pinkerton, formerly, December 21, 2010, possibly Amazon?
  • Paul Doscher, formerly with Exalead, April 16, 2012
  • Miles Kehoe, formerly New Idea Engineering, January 29, 2013, now a consultant
  • Mark Bennett, formerly New Idea Engineering, March 4, 2014

These interviews make clear the difficult journey that Lucid Imagination took. (What is interesting is that Lucid’s principal competitor was Elasticsearch, now Elastic. That company came from obscurity to the go-to provider of open source search. To be fair, Shay Bannon, founder of Elastic, had compiled considerable experience with the Compass open source search system.)

Why did I cover Lucid in five interviews?

The reason is that open source search appeared to be the salve to soothe the wounds inflicted by proprietary search system vendors. Satisfaction with search was declining. Users were disaffected with high profile proprietary brands. The community approach addressed, in part, the brutal research, development, and customer support costs which search drags to each meeting with stakeholders.

Lucid had a lead; Elastic benefited. Lucid seeks a focus; Elastic is serving customers. Lucid would be an excellent business school case study, ranking at the top along with the Hewlett Packard Autonomy search situation and the Fast Search criminal charges matter. That is rarified case study company.

In the interviews cited above, it is clear that Lucid embraced Solr and made an attempt to emulate the full featured approach to content processing exemplified by Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer. Elastic, on the other hand, took a more direct approach, relying on Lucene for the heavy lifting, and narrowing its focus to tools which were almost utilitarian. Want to search a log file? Go with Elastic.

The other key difference is the lack of managerial drama at Elastic. Elastic’s management team appears, at least to this observer in Kentucky, as stable. Lucid, on the other hand, has seen the departure of founders early in the company’s history. Presidents arrived and departed. Marketers appeared and disappeared. Major committers joined and then jumped ship; for example, Brian Pinkerton ended up at Amazon, working on its search product. Yonik Seeley also left to start his own search company Heliosearch. Dr. Krellenstein went from strong supported of Lucid to a disaffected founded. He quit.

As recently as September 2014, Lucid Works featured in “Trouble at LucidWorks: Lawsuits, Lost Deals, and Layoffs Plague the Search Startup Despite Funding.” The headline makes several points. First, LucidWorks has ingested more than $40 million, which puts it on a par with Attivio and Coveo in the money department. But Elastic garnered about $70 million at about the same time. The headline also reveals the disjunctions among managers, regardless of which president was on watch. And, the headline focuses on the point that it is a search vendor, which is not in my opinion a particularly magnetic positioning for software.

According to the “Trouble at LucidWorks” article The Guardian and Nordstrom’s abandoned Lucid’s software. The less than flattering Venture Beat story added:

The situation seems to have worsened following shakeups in the sales team, leaving young salespeople inexperienced in the enterprise-software game trying to win deals. “I don’t think any of the sales team hits (their) number except one guy,” said a former employee. And that one guy has resorted to “dropping his pants,” as the sales expression goes, promising to significantly chop the price of a service if his lead commits to buying right away, a different former employee said. The sales goals aren’t increasing. The revenue target for the year is $12 million, right in line with last year, that former employee said. And it doesn’t help that LucidWorks has fumbled with partnerships it was trying to get in place. It was working on alliances with Amazon Web Services, Intel, and Splunk, one former employee told VentureBeat. “Will [Hayes] imploded that with comments he made in the final agreement,” that former employee said of one partnership. And after Hayes stepped up as chief executive in June, he’s laid off people in marketing, sales, and business development. On the technology side of the company, meanwhile, employees have missed deadlines for shipping software to customers, month after month, another former employee said. Outside the office, the company has other distractions — in court, to be exact. Mike Moody, a former senior vice president of engineering at LucidWorks who was terminated in December, sued LucidWorks and certain executives in February for unlawful termination, according to documents submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. LucidWorks is also ensnared in a case it filed against Seeley, one of its founders, in the Superior Court of California, San Mateo County. “This is a case about double-dealing on an employer, which arises from the secretive founding and launching of the company Heliosearch by Yonik Seeley before his resignation from his former employer LucidWorks in October 2013,” the complaint begins. “Unknown to LucidWorks, while Seeley was still employed by LucidWorks, he simultaneously was working directly against LucidWorks’ interests by developing and promoting his new venture Heliosearch as a competing alternative to LucidWorks.”

Now to the present. The June 10, 2015, “Lucidworks Accelerates Product Focused Mission” underscores the plight of the company.

Lucid is NOT a start up. The firm has been around for eight years. I can see a two or three year old outfit sticking with the start up label, but after 96 months, three presidents, revolving sales and marketing staff, and legal hassles with former executives, LucidWorks is not emitting a comforting signal to me.

Second, the company has a product which does search. The challenge with search as a product is that the function is essentially a utility. Elastic delivers search and has taken care to provide developers with guidance on how to make Lucene perform in a number of roles from keyword search to log file analysis to Swiss Army Knife of data access functions. And Elastic has delivered functionality without the strum und drang which seems to accompany Lucid. Lucid’s open source search conference has been eclipsed by Elastic’s conference.

In short, the lack of product focus has allowed Elastic to surf to success. Elastic has been focused and smart. Lucid, in my opinion, has been reactive and somewhat slow on the uptake with regard to industry trends in information access.

In the Lucid news release, I highlighted this passage:

Lucidworks Fusion helps companies work smarter by delivering the tools required to build search apps that transform enormous repositories of data into mission-critical, personalized decisions every day. Features include:

  • Modular Integrations: Current Apache Solr users can overlay the Fusion platform on their existing Solr configuration.
  • Big Data Discovery Engine: Prepares and enriches data, adding features such as language identification and analysis, geospatial processing and synonym identification.
  • Connector Frameworks: Fusion connects, imports and indexes data from systems including JIRA, Slack, Solr indexes, JavaScript and Logstash enabling code to be written more flexibly.
  • Signal Processing: Harnesses machine learning to transform clicks, social, device, geo and other signals into a contextually relevant data experience.
  • Advanced Analytics: Deeply integrated analytics and dashboards make understanding and modifying users’ search experience intuitive and flexible.
  • Natural Language Search: Delivers full text search that simplifies discovery for users at any level of an organization

In my experience, a search vendor gathering such diverse capabilities under one product banner is following in the footsteps of Fast Search & Transfer. Microsoft paid $1.2 billion for Fast Search only to watch as its founder ended up in a legal matter resulting from financial transgressions. In my view, emulating Fast Search & Transfer is not a desirable path from a management, financial, or legal vantage.

Elastic on the other hand has not done the “me too” approach. The company has focused on functional search and utility centric applications, cultivating a developer community, and avoiding the histrionics some search vendors rely upon.

Does LucidWorks deliver a Big Data Discovery Engine? I suppose it does if one builds it. Does LucidWorks provide natural language processing? I suppose it does if one defines NLP in a circumscribed manner. Does LucidWorks deliver advanced analytics? No. In my new study CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access, LucidWorks’ analytics fall short of the capabilities provided Haystax, Recorded Future, and a number of other companies. LucidWorks, in my opinion, does not.

LucidWorks may need to do more than accelerate its product focused mission. Accelerating missions sounds like MBA jingoism, not news about surging revenue.  Stakeholders want sales and an opportunity to refresh their portfolio and bank accounts.

Stephen E Arnold, June 11, 2015


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