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Chris Cardell

Interview with Shay Mandel (Otipo)

Otipo is a web based application employee scheduling system. All shift information is available online and shift/availability reminders can be sent out by email or SMS. The service is free for up to 10 employees.

I interviewed Shay Mandel, Otipo co-founder & CEO to find out more. This interview is the twelfth in a series of DoesWhat interviews. I put together an overview of the first week of interviews two weeks ago. Big thank you to Shay for the interview! Support Otipo by following it on Twitter or Facebook. You can follow Shay on Twitter.

How would you describe Otipo in under 50 words?

Otipo is a web-based application that provides a new and fun way of scheduling shifts. Otipo collects requests from the employees and creates an optimal weekly shifts schedule according to the business needs – saving hours of work, phone calls and SMS.

How and when did you come up with Otipo?

In 2008, our co-founder Golan Derazon spoke with a friend who was a Chief Resident in a hospital. Responsible for the residents’ schedule in his department, he was looking for an employee scheduling software to save him time spent on scheduling every week. But the solutions he found were too expensive and not easy to use, so he gave up. After hearing that, Golan started working on such a solution.

Otipo is a five person team, how is work distributed?

We work like a SWAT team – each trying to do his best and assist one another. We do have clear ownerships but we are trying to be less official and more productive. All our tasks, from development through technical writing to marketing are listed in our Agile management tool – we use Assembla for that. Each of us takes on the tasks he can do the best and executes them.

You offer paid plans for 11+ employees. What made you come to the decision of offering a free solution for companies with up to 10 employees?

We want to grow with companies, and we believe that small companies are a great investment. Being a cloud company, we can afford to have many small customers at very little cost, so we do this. In many cases, successful teams grow fast, and in some cases a pilot team is just a small part of a bigger organization – once they see how easy it is to use Otipo, its use may spread to other teams as well.

Has Otipo got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

It actually exceeded our expectations big time. A lot of great reviews and articles have been written about us, and the traffic to Otipo is growing by the day, without investment in advertising. We hope we will be able to grow fast enough to meet the demand, and will not have to move to sign up by invitation only, like Gmail did at the beginning.

Who is your biggest competitor?

There are several online employee scheduling software solutions. But there is a huge untapped market, so we are not very worried about competitors. We have quite a few very innovative capabilities, which are still in development and are being tested by a select group of customers. Once we launch them, we will have a clear advantage over other scheduling solutions currently on the market.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Our current focus is usability – we are investing a lot of time and effort in working with customers and improving our user interface to make it intuitive and flowing. For example, during our Beta phase, we saw that our assumption that users want a regular meeting calendar was wrong. A shifts calendar just looks different. We had to redo a lot of our development, but now we know it was worth it.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We have great traction, and we are working hard to improve Otipo by the day. I am really excited to see this great growth, and even more excited about the new capabilities – concerning the Human Dimension of work and organizations – that we are currently working on.

Can you convince a business to use Otipo in under 75 words?

If you are running a business that works in shifts, take our free trial and see how easy it is to create a weekly schedule. Your employees will be happier because of the ease of use and the sense of fairness in the schedule, and your customers will feel it. And you can use the 2+ hours you’ll save every week for improving your business.

Finished reading? Check out Otipo!

Worried about a tech bubble?

Yesterday Michael Arrington wrote a great article about the current tech bubble/blubble, below is how he summarised the difference between this bubble and the dot-com bubble of the early 90s.
“2000 Bubble: Raise at …

Cloud storm, EC2 startup takedown

I couldn’t get on anyone’s about.me page earlier today, so I checked their compeititor flavors.me, they were also down, seemed like a strange coincidence. I did a bit of Twitter snooping and it appeared that Amazon’s EC2 hosting service, specifically their Elastic Compute Cloud and Relational Database Service in Northern Virginia were having issues. You […]

Interview with Anthony Morales (ThankThank Notes)

ThankThank Notes allows businesses to send handwritten notes (not just thank you notes) to their customers for $3 each. These notes can be sent on-demand or in bulk.

I interviewed Anthony Morales, ThankThank Notes founder to find out more. This interview is the eleventh in a series of DoesWhat interviews. I put together an overview of the first week of interviews last week. Big thank you to Anthony for the interview! You can follow Anthony on Twitter.

How would you describe ThankThank Notes in under 50 words?

ThankThank Notes is the best way to send handwritten messages to your customers. ThankThank Notes sends, on demand or in bulk, renewal or appointment reminders, special offers and of course thank you notes.

How and when did you come up with ThankThank Notes?

Our first company, Cubit, sends handwritten thank you notes to new subscribers. It was important to us to send a remarkable thank you, one that would be noticed, rather than just an e-mail. It worked great too, some customers went out of their way to tell us how much they appreciated the note. Cubit is a two-person so company we were writing the notes ourselves. As Cubit grew it became harder and harder to write the notes. Kristen (my co-founder) and I are efficiency and automation nuts. We thought about hiring somebody just to write the notes. But that’s just outsourcing, and we’d have to manage the writer. We wanted to send the notes immediately. Then someone said “I wish I could press a button and the note would be sent.” And we went a step farther – what if our application could send out a hand-written thank you note automatically like sending a welcome e-mail?

You spent 8 hours and $105 getting ThankThank Notes launched. What did you spend your money and time on? Did you have a production and marketing plan?

We spent our money on a domain name and a WooThemes theme. And I think the celebratory margaritas and queso are in that total as well. Time was split into two phases: scope and production. We spent a few hours thinking of all the cool things we could do. Then we asked ourselves: what did we want to learn? And finally: what can’t we do in 8 hours? The product of that was a Wordpress-backed site with Wufoo + PayPal to process orders. Our marketing plan was to use our existing network of startup founders and investors to vet the idea and find initial customers. Startups – though cash-strapped – have a burning desire to cut through noise and make an impression.

How do you split your time between Cubit and ThankThank Notes?

There are times when you’re busy and when you’re not so busy. There aren’t many slow days at a startup. So it’s a careful balancing act. We have to be ruthless in deciding what gets done for each company. Cubit is data and software heavy. ThankThank is less technical but has a tangible product that is custom made. Some days it’s 100% Cubit and some days it’s note-writing, note-writing, note-writing. Priorities are set daily for each company. Founders meet each morning to trade notes and set the priorities for the day based on overall goals for each company. We don’t do much that doesn’t move us closer to a goal, there simply isn’t enough time.

Has ThankThank Notes got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

The response was greater, and better, than we expected. ThankThank was making sales a few in the weeks after we launch, and has been growing steadily ever since.

Has your initial vision changed since launch?

Our initial vision hasn’t changed significantly – that is to automate hand-written messages to our customers. How we go about fulfilling that vision does change. We’re testing different ideas, looking at different kinds of customers. Scalability is the first question out of everyone’s mouth: like traditional printers, we get asked “can you handle my order?” So we’re looking at interesting ways of solving that problem and providing a quality service.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Companies where customer service is a differentiator. Realtors, car dealer, and other service-oriented merchants don’t sell a unique product. It’s the service that keeps customers coming back. SaaS companies too. When your customer service is exemplary – and it’s often the little things, the details that set you apart – customers begin to act as cheerleaders and partners. Companies that understand that are our target audience.

Who is your biggest competitor?

If we knew we would have used them instead of starting ThankThank Notes!

Have you faced any scalability problems?

We are people powered right now. Us founders and a small squadron of college students, friends and family fulfill orders for notes. Obviously that could be a scaling issue. So we’re looking for ways to scale it reasonably. We’re looking at different partnership options and the possibility of using robots (!!!) to write the notes.

What advice would you give to your past-self?

Don’t do it! Seriously. Running one startup is HARD. Running two startups is crazy. We have to be ruthless about what tasks and priorities we choose. And if you think one startup cuts in to your social life (huh? social what?) two is worse.

What’s your background in startups?

Kristen, my partner, and I founded Cubit a few years ago. We were accepted into Capital Factory 2009 as part of the inaugural class. There we got to work with awesome companies and 20 amazing mentors. We really got a schooling there. It gave us the kick in the pants we needed to dive feet first into startup world. When we found another opportunity to test out what we’d learned in ThankThank Notes, we said “what the hell…”.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Finding customers. Getting them to pay. Isn’t that the problem we’re all facing?

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Robots! To solve our scaling issues, and to build something I think would be really cool, we’re researching robots that can spit out handwritten notes – that is, written by robot hands. And what’s not cool about robot hands?

Can you convince an entrepreneur or business to use ThankThank Notes in under 50 words?

Can you remember the last time you got a handwritten letter from a company? I’ve received two in my life. I remember those companies and I remember the message. Wouldn’t you like to be a company people remember?

Finished reading? Check out ThankThank Notes!

Interview with Kyle Fox (PhotoBattle)

PhotoBattle is an online photography competition where photographers upload their 9 best photos and vote on their favourites. At this point in time, 308,161 “valiant battles” have been fought.

I interviewed Kyle Fox, PhotoBattle founder to find out more. This interview is the tenth in a series of DoesWhat interviews. I put together an overview of the first week of interviews yesterday. Big thank you to Kyle for the interview! You can follow Kyle on Twitter.

How would you describe PhotoBattle in under 50 words?

PhotoBattle lets photographers upload their 9 best photos. Visitors are presented two random photos and decide which is better. The top photos are displayed on the scoreboard with a link to the photographer’s website.

What made you decide to start working on PhotoBattle?

I was originally looking for a reason to make an iPhone app, and decided it would be neat for people to compare their mobile photos with other people’s photos taken at the same location. Then I starting chewing on the ideas of all photos — not just mobile photos — “battling” one another. I decided it would be a quick, fun project to hammer out a web-based version first, so I did.

How long did it take to put together PhotoBattle?

I actually built & launched the first version in about one hour — I literally did it over my lunch break at work one day. I tweeted the link, thinking a few friends might check it out. It ended up going viral, and had tens of thousands of hits within a few hours.

PhotoBattle doesn’t include any buttons to report inappropriate or illegal images. What systems do you have in place to protect against spam and other nasties?

It’s currently based on the “honour system” — when you upload a photo, there’s a message asking not to upload bad stuff. Surprisingly, this discourages people from posting inappropriate images!

Right now the only way to report an image is to email info [at] photobattle.me. Since launch, I’ve only had 2 images reported. I occasionally go through the newest photos to make sure nothing nasty has gotten through.

I have plans to add a “Report this image” link to be displayed during battle.

How much time do you put into PhotoBattle day-to-day? Does it essentially run itself? Do you monitor the Scoreboard?

PhotoBattle requires very little maintenance. I use New Relic to monitor & fix performance bottleneck, so it doesn’t take much effort to keep it running. I probably spend no more than 2 hours per month working on it (and most of that time is truthfully spent voting on images — it’s addicting, even for me!)

I check the Scoreboard periodically to make sure no inappropriate images show up, but also to gauge how well my scoring algorithm works. I can see a lot more data about each photo than everyone else, and this helps me determine if my calculations need tweaking.

Has PhotoBattle got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Yes, far more than I expected. I would’ve been happy with a few friends using it — I never would’ve imagined having thousands of users & photos, and hundreds of thousands of battles!

The feedback has been my favourite part. I often get emails from people saying how much fun they have using the site, which is really cool. I’ve even had people ask to buy the PhotoBattle code from me to build their own voting sites.

You’ve decided to fund PhotoBattle via donation. Did you consider traditional advertising? How did you come to this decision?

I decided that I don’t have to run PhotoBattle as a business, and selling advertising obligates me to meet advertisers targets for growth, traffic, click-through rate, etc. PhotoBattle is just a fun side project for me, and I didn’t want that kind of responsibility running it.

I’ve always liked the idea of donations for side projects. If you like it and appreciate it, I will gladly accept donations, but I don’t expect them. Donations seem like a way to collect money while keeping the fun feel of the site.

Who do you see as your target audience?

It’s primarily been semi-serious and professional photographers submitting photos — I’m consistently astounded by the quality of photos on the site.

Who is your biggest competitor?

To be honest, I’ve never investigated competitors or similar websites. I run PhotoBattle because it’s fun, so I’m not concerned about competitors.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Lack of time. I have a lot of cool ideas for PhotoBattle, just not enough time to work on them!

What other projects are you working on?

I’m currently working with Carbonmade on some really cool updates to our portfolio application (check it out if you need an online portfolio!) I also run FotoJournal, a blogging service for photographers.

I just finished a bookmarklet for working with Typekit fonts and am planning out a few more side projects & products that I can’t say too much about just yet.

Finished reading? Check out PhotoBattle!

First week of interviews

It’s been a really exciting week hunting down the founders behind a handful of interesting online projects. They’ve provided some really great responses, insights and backgrounds. I wanted to put together a few of my favourite responses, full interview links are provided. Thanks again to everyone involved! You can keep up to date with future […]

Interview with Avery Smith (JobGizmo)

JobGizmo is a web based job search tool that helps job seekers by organising their job search. It’s designed from the perspective of the job seeker rather than the job giver. An iPhone app is on its way.

I interviewed Avery Smith, JobGizmo founder to find out more. This interview is the ninth in a series of interviews with people working on interesting online projects. Big thank you to Avery for the interview!

How would you describe JobGizmo in under 50 words?

JobGizmo is a job hunt organizer. Its purpose is to make a job seekers life “simpler.”

What made you decide to start working on JobGizmo?

The idea of a job hunt organizer came to me back in 2005. I was in a continuing education program, trying to expand my web programming skills, in preparation of finding a new job. My instructor told us that a practical way of using our newly acquired skills was to create a database that housed our job search information for each opportunity. Simple stuff like the job title, contact info, job posting link, etc…

Being one to rarely back down from a challenge, I accepted his charge and built one. It was purely for personal reasons but the light bulb went off then–what if I could create a website that others could use? Although a great idea at the time, I just wasn’t that motivated.

After bouncing around for a few years more, dabbling in things from network marketing (of which I greatly regret), to stand-up comedy, to movie making, I needed to settle on a professional vehicle that maximized my skill-set (web software development).

During the summer of 2010 I was thinking about switching from my iPhone to a Blackberry Torch (I know, I know) and wanted to make sure that the apps that make my iPhone most useful were available for Blackberry. One app that I’ve used throughout the years is Mailchimp for iPhone (shout-out to Mailchimp). When I did a search for Mailchimp for Blackberry, I came across a mobile app called, “Minichimp”. It had a beautiful website, and although developed for Mailchimp, it was made by a 3rd party developer, a solo software developer named, Eric. On the bottom of the homepage was a link to the “Micropreneur Academy”, which is a program designed to foster solo-software entrepreneurship. So the combination of wanting to maximize my skill-set, coming across the Micropreneur Academy, and also being married created the perfect storm for me to pick up where I left off with my job search organizer idea.

What made you decide to use Twitter as a development journal?

I needed content for my twitter account. I didn’t think that it would attract many job seekers at the time with tweets about web programming but I needed something to talk about.

You launched a website for JobGizmo 30th November 2010, what were you making available at this point in time?

The website was in “prelaunch” mode, and contained a description of the service, along with an email sign up form for those interested in being notified when the software launches.

JobGizmo is beautifully designed, what’s your background in web development?

Thank you for the compliments. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design (UMBC 2003), and a Masters Degree in Web Programming, Database Development and IT Project Management (Rockwell U 2006).

You’ve gone with just one price plan ($24.95 quarterly). What was your reasoning behind this decision?

At first I was going to launch a month-to-month plan for a 3rd of the price. But when you think about it, job searches don’t go month-to-month. They typically go longer than that. Since that’s the case, users should have a continuous length of time that would enable them to get real use out of the software.

Do you think users will continue to use JobGizmo after they’ve found a job?

No. I don’t expect users to use JobGizmo after they’ve found a job. JobGizmo is for helping people who are in an active transition. I do; however, hope that users pick up JobGizmo again, once they’re ready to hunt for a new one. The purpose of JobGizmo is to provide people with a comfort, a feeling of “progress”, during a time when most people feel frustrated and lost.

When do you expect to release the JobGizmo iPhone app?

My hope is to release the JobGizmo iPhone app any day now. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to be the first to know!

Has JobGizmo got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

I am very surprised and extremely humbled at the overwhelming support JobGizmo has gotten thus far in the job seeker community. Our newsletter and subscriptions have been growing steadily ever since launch. I do wish; however, we would receive more feedback from users of the website and software. We really want to make the job seekers life easier, and we can only do that if they tell us how. We listen!

Who is your biggest competitor?

I’d rather not say except for the fact that there are a couple.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

The biggest hurdle I’ve faced was finding the strength to tell my previous employer that I wanted to resign so that I could work on JobGizmo. Although he was extremely supportive (of which I am extremely grateful), it was scary to bring up the topic. The second biggest hurdle was working on it for months with no pay check.

Can you convince the reader to start using JobGizmo in under 50 words?

JobGizmo exists to make the job seekers life easier. Most job search and organization software is made from the perspective of the job “giver” (employer/recruiter). JobGizmo is made from the perspective of the job “seeker”.  Give it a spin, and tell us what we’re doing wrong! We can take it!

Finished reading? Check out JobGizmo!

Read DW interviews on Android

ANDROID APP DISCONTINUED

Following the recent series of DoesWhat interviews? You can now easily read them on your Android mobile with a free native app. You can find the app on the Android Market.

Interview with Matteo Alessani (Recipefy)

Recipefy is a web based social cookbook, you can share and store your recipes as well as follow other food-lovers and find recipes. I interviewed Matteo Alessani, Recipefy engineer to find out more.

This interview is the eighth in a series of interviews with people working on interesting online projects. Big thank you to Matteo for the interview! You can follow Matteo on Twitter.

How would you describe Recipefy in under 50 words?

Recipefy is an online organizer and bookmark for your recipes, your cookbook online. An easy way to share recipes between friends and discover new one around the world. You can follow and be followed, a la twitter, to get updated from people you like.

What made you decide to start working on Recipefy?

We started thinking about Recipefy after many dinners with our girlfriends. After dinner there was always the same ritual: “Mmmh, this appetizer is very good! and the cheesecake so tasty! Can you write me down the recipe?” So why not create an online cookbook to primarily share recipes between friends?

How did you come up with the name?

We started from the word “Recipe” and we added the suffix -fy which means “forming a verb denoting the process of making into”. So “Recipefy” should transmit the idea of create food from the recipe.

Recipefy is beautiful, far better designed than any of the websites I could find with a similar concept. Do you see this as your main competitive advantage? If not, what is?

We tried to keep Recipefy as simple as possible to avoid a cluttered site full of features that nobody would use. I think that this, together with a good design, should be a competitive advantage.

Building a community isn’t easy, how are you getting people on board?

We are trying to get some exposure on sites and food blogs. We also suggest users to share their recipes on social networks. I think social spread can work when the theme is food!

How long did it take to put together Recipefy?

It took two months to build the community and now we are fixing and improving features all around, as soon as users point them out.

Has Recipefy got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

We launched Recipefy a couple of weeks ago and we have received a lot of exposure on blogs and sites. Now we have more than 400 recipes and more than 1200 cookers all over the world!

Who do you see as your target audience?

Anyone who needs to cook or likes to cook. Those who like to cook will love having an online cookbook and even those who don’t like cooking will be attracted by a friend’s recipe they tasted some days before.

Who is your biggest competitor?

Our biggest competitor is the “old paper cookbook”. We think that the hardest part will be to convert users to transfer their recipes from their handwritten book to the new online cookbook.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Convincing a new user to write down their recipes, not only watch and cook online recipes.

Do you have any features in the pipeline?

We are thinking of introducing a very interesting feature: “Print your cookbook”.

What’s your recipe of choice?

The tasty and colorful cheesecake by Maddalena.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Recipefy has many users signed up all over the world and they are beginning to write recipes from all countries like Iran or Brazil.

Can you convince the reader to start using Recipefy in under 50 words?

Transfer your old paper cookbook here on Recipefy and you and your friends can always use it all around the world.

Finished reading? Check out Recipefy!

10 wonderfully free WordPress themes

In my opinion, if you’re building a website around content, you can’t go wrong with the themes below. If you’re so inclined, a little extra design work can go a long way in making your website stand out. The list is order-less. Photoria (WPZOOM) Homepage | Demo Photoria is a nicely laid out photo centric […]

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