ThinkBalm – focused on the Immersive Internet

Too often analyst relations (AR) professionals and analyst services buyers, both vendors and end user clients, focus on the larger firms. While this focus is natural because the larger firms have greater market presence and a large dedicated sales force, ignoring boutique analyst firms misses the opportunity to obtain interesting insights and advice or to brief a potential market influencer. Of course, not all boutique firms are relevant, so AR and buyers need to do their due diligence to ensure that time and money is not wasted. This post is one in a series to introduce the community to an interesting boutique firm.


ThinkBalm was launched in June 2008 by former Forrester industry analyst Erica Driver and entrepreneur and inventor Sam Driver. ThinkBalm offers independent Immersive Internet industry analysis and strategic advisory services to technology marketers and Immersive Internet advocates, implementers, and explorers in enterprises. ThinkBalm also operates the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, a serious game-based online community dedicated to advancing enterprise use of the Immersive Internet.

This email interview was conducted with ThinkBalm co-founders Erica Driver and Sam Driver.

Q: Erica and Sam, thanks for speaking with SageCircle about ThinkBalm. Can you give us the elevator pitch for this new analyst firm?

A: ThinkBalm offers independent IT industry analysis and strategic advisory services to technology marketers and Immersive Internet advocates, implementers, and explorers. We focus exclusively on enterprise use of the Immersive Internet, which includes:

  • Virtual worlds and campuses
  • Immersive simulations
  • 3D business applications
  • Serious or industrial games

ThinkBalm also operates the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, a collaborative online community with a serious game at its core. The community is dedicated to propelling enterprise use the Immersive Internet forward.

Q: OK, what is the Immersive Internet and why do we need another buzz phrase?

A: The Immersive Internet is the term we use to describe a rapidly evolving technology category. What we once called virtual worlds as a catch-all category now only describes one small piece of the picture. Other important elements are virtual campuses or 3D intranets, immersive simulations, 3D business applications, and serious or industrial games. What these all have in common is that they deeply engage – even engross – the person who is using them. A combination of these technologies and an emerging culture with roots in gaming is opening up new dimensions in collaboration, engagement, and context.

While enterprise use of the Immersive Internet is still in the “seedling” stage of adoption in mid-2008, within five years it will have transformed the way people learn and train, participate in meetings and conferences, visualize and share complex data, recruit and interview employees and contractors, design and prototype products, remotely manage systems and facilities, and even operate machinery and vehicles. Why so fast? A major factor is the prevalence of social networking. People all around the world who have Immersive Internet expertise and passion can easily find each other and share information and skills at a rate unheard of just a few years ago.

Q: How is ThinkBalm differentiated from other analyst firms, large or small, that cover the Internet?

A: What makes us different:

  • We are specialists focused 100% on enterprise use of the Immersive Internet.
  • We operate and nurture the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, a serious game-based online community focused on propelling enterprise use of the Immersive Internet forward. Community activities include hands-on experimentation with Immersive Internet tools and technologies.

Q: What is your business model?

A: We offer custom consulting services to both enterprises and vendors. The simplest, most flexible, most cost effective way for clients to engage with us is through an annual retainer relationship. We have a philosophy of openness and transparency and do not charge for access to our reports or articles or for membership in the ThinkBalm Innovation Community.

For enterprise technology marketers we offer:

  • Interactive strategic listening and advisory sessions
  • Custom white papers and case studies
  • Business value assessments
  • Market overviews and competitive analysis
  • Go-to-market advice and message testing
  • Speaking engagements and Webinars
  • Opportunity to sponsor Idea Hunts in the ThinkBalm Innovation Community

For enterprise Immersive Internet advocates, implementers, and explorers we offer:

  • Strategy development and review
  • Market analysis
  • Business value assessment
  • Vendor short-listing and recommendations
  • Best practices insights and advice
  • Speaking engagements and Webinars

Q: One of your services is the ThinkBalm Innovation Community. What is it and who should join?

A: The ThinkBalm Innovation Community is a new online community dedicated to advancement of the Immersive Internet. This community, which has an opportunity to positively influence the evolutionary path of an emerging technology market, is:

  • A grand experiment in collaborative innovation and idea sharing
  • Built on a serious game engine designed to facilitate ideation
  • Focused exclusively on enterprise use of the Immersive Internet – virtual worlds and campuses, immersive simulations, 3D interfaces to business applications, and serious or industrial games
  • Made up of bright minds and passionate Immersive Internet advocates
  • Free – there is no cost to members to join or participate

In just its first three weeks of operation, the ThinkBalm Innovation Community has passed the 100 member mark and begun to generate real value for its members. Members are forming into self-organizing teams to develop dual-purpose events where people can share insights and learn about topics of interest while gaining first-hand experience with various Immersive Internet technologies. Teams have come together to flesh out community training materials and organize training sessions, organize a vendor panel discussion on the topic of 3D model reuse and interoperability in immersive environments, and craft a series of brainstorming events where members can pose problems and brainstorm solutions with each other using various collaborative 3D brainstorming tools.

The ThinkBalm Innovation Community presents a unique opportunity for IT managers, information and knowledge management professionals, software developers, and technology marketers to help shape the future of the Immersive Internet. Members get a focused venue for sharing knowledge and getting feedback on their ideas, access to the experiences and ideas of thinkers and doers outside their organizations, and a means of building and enhancing their reputations as Immersive Internet professionals. Membership is by request, invitation or referral only. There is no cost to members to participate.

Q: Who are your target clients (e.g., enterprise IT managers, traditional IT vendors, Internet startups, others)?

A: Our target clients:

  • Vendor: Vendors, large or small, that offer or are thinking of offering Immersive Internet technology for the enterprise
  • Enterprise: IT strategists, enterprise architects, CTOs

Q: What is your research methodology?

A: We are immersed in the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, which is a vibrant community of passionate practitioners and experts. The ThinkBalm analysts are building deep relationships with community members, who provide us with an extraordinary base of experience and knowledge.

Q: Erica, you left a prominent position as a Forrester Research analyst to co-launch ThinkBalm. Why the transition? What can you do at ThinkBalm that you could not do at Forrester?

A: In the fall of 2007 I began doing extensive research into the future of work for a potential book project. As I learned about the growing relevance of free agents, self-forming teams, loosely affiliated experts, personal brand, and innovation I fell in love with this vision of the future. Books that influenced me a lot were Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, The Future of Management by Gary Hamel, and Wikinomics by Dan Tapscott. As I delved into the future of work, I realized that I had to do more than research and analyze it – I had to live it. At the same time, as I began to cover immersive technologies, it dawned on me that I was staring a game changer in the face. Leaving Forrester was tough for me. But I made the leap so that I could: 1) focus like a laser on enterprise use of the Immersive Internet, 2) become an active participant in the free agent nation, and 3) work side by side with my great brain of a husband Sam.

Q: What type of vendors should be briefing ThinkBalm? How would you like those vendors to interact with you in terms of briefings and updates?

A: Vendors that provide, or are thinking about providing, Immersive Internet solutions to enterprises. Please contact us via email to set up a briefing at

Q: Thank you for taking the time to discuss ThinkBalm.

ThinkBalm Web site:

ThinkBalm Innovation Community:

SageCircle Technique:

  • AR teams should carefully evaluate the business value of briefing boutique analyst firms and add them to your analyst lists as appropriate
  • Analyst services buyers should evaluate boutique firms, both to obtain unique insights and lower overall analyst spend by incorporating less expensive providers to the mix

Bottom Line: Boutique analyst firms can be an interesting way to expand your portfolio of analysts. While not all boutiques are influential or have great insights, it is well worth devoting some time to evaluating the smaller firms to balance out your reliance on the large firms.

Online SageContentTM Library clients can read about how to evaluate boutique firms as well as download the Decision Framework SageToolTM “Analyst Boutique Firms — Pretenders or Contenders.” SageCircle Advisory clients are encouraged to schedule an inquiry to discuss the relevance of boutiques to their business objectives and best practices for evaluating the boutique firms.

Question: Buyers and AR – What are the barriers to seeking out boutique firms for services or briefings? What is it that smaller analyst firms can do to get on your radar screen?

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