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Chris Cardell

Interview with Eddie Machaalani (BigCommerce)

BigCommerce is an e-commerce platform that allows users to setup a professional online store without coding or design experience.

I interviewed Eddie Machaalani, BigCommerce co-founder to find out more. This interview is the ninety second in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Eddie!

How would you describe BigCommerce in under 50 words?

BigCommerce is an ecommerce platform for small business that allows anyone with no technical experience to set up a successful online store and drive a tremendous amount of traffic and revenue.

What made you decide to start working on BigCommerce?

We had been building software for small businesses to take advantage of the internet starting way back in 2003. We’d launched a content management system, email marketing platform and knowledge management tool when we saw an opportunity in the ecommerce space. There were a few products in the market already but no one did it really well. We did a soft launch of BigCommerce in 2009 and within a few months had 1,000 clients selling successfully. That’s when we knew we’d hit onto an opportunity.

How did you come up with the name?

It was a brain-storming session with our team – we wanted something that was easy to remember and build a brand around. I have a rule of thumb that I learned over the years when choosing a name – If people ask you “How do I spell that?” when telling them the name over the phone, then the name will be more difficult to brand.

What technologies have you used to build BigCommerce?

BigCommerce is built on the LAMP stack.

Congratulations on raising $15m in Series A funding last year. Where have you invested the money?

We’ve focused on building our team, hiring a strong executive team, ramping our sales and marketing teams and mostly focusing on building out our product and engineering team. Our goal is to provide as much value to our clients as possible and keep our costs affordable to small businesses all over the world. We do that by investing in our product and technology.

What were your reasons for turning down venture capital previously?

First and foremost, we’d been profitable and didn’t need the money. We could fund the launch of BigCommerce using our profits. Also, the timing wasn’t quite right – we had a proof of concept but wanted to prove we had a scalable business before taking on any investment.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Yes, we’ll be launching some amazing features in the coming months – focusing on a new look and feel and continuing our trend of building marketing features that help drive traffic and repeat business for our clients. We’re also investing heavily into our API and integrations.

You’re on track to reach $15-20m in revenue this year. What have been the main factors that have led to your success?

The biggest factor is an unwavering attention to our clients and their success. We’re investing very heavily in our product and engineering teams to continue that drive of using technology to help make our clients successful.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We have a great team that’s coming together very nicely. We’re ramping quickly, there’s so much opportunity on the horizon and we’re poised to help thousands of small business grow over the next few years.

Finished reading? Check out BigCommerce!

Interview with Ian Landsman (HelpSpot)

HelpSpot is a web based help desk software solution.

I interviewed Ian Landsman, HelpSpot founder to find out more. This interview is the ninety first in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ian!

How would you describe HelpSpot in under 50 words?

HelpSpot is a help desk software application for managing emails, online support and customer self service.

UserScape produced HelpSpot, of which you are founder. What made you decide to start working on HelpSpot?

Before founding UserScape I worked in several different types of help desk and customer service environments. These all universally used horrible tools for managing their customer service process.

At the time I founded UserScape (2005) there were very few fully web based help desk applications. Most were still client/server with a few I used even being mainframe terminal based (ahhhhh!)

It seemed to me that there was a market for a fully web server and browser based solution.

How did you come up with the name?

I spent a lot of time trying to think of a name that conveyed what I wanted HelpSpot to be. Basically a single unified interface for organizing your customer service. I also needed something with an available domain, which as always is tricky.

In the end HelpSpot was short, conveyed the proper message and had a domain that was available from a domain ransomer at a reasonable price ($300). In fact, as we were just starting up I had my wife buy the domain as my birthday present :)

Where are you based?

I’m in Poughkeepsie, NY which is about 1.5 hours north of New York City. We have a small office here, but most of the staff telecommute. Currently we have employees in Kentucky, Arkansas and North Carolina.

What technologies have you used to build HelpSpot?

HelpSpot is built on PHP. It’s really the best choice for an application that can be hosted on-premise as it’s ubiquitous. Also, to be honest for all it’s warts I rather like working in it.

The next major release, which is currently in early development will use the Laravel PHP framework which is a huge productivity boost for us.

HelpSpot also supports several database platforms including MySQL, Postgres and Microsoft SQL Server.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing HelpSpot?

There’s a lot that goes into something as sophisticated as HelpSpot, but probably the most difficult thing is that HelpSpot sits at the intersection of many other technologies. We need to deal with email, website servers, databases, external API’s and more. All while allowing our customers to host HelpSpot themselves (if they choose, we also have a hosted option) which means we’re not in control of their OS, their web server configuration and a million other things.

So building an application that in many organizations is used 24/7/365 and keeping it reliable and up in unknown environments is really the biggest challenge.

What organizations currently use HelpSpot?

I’m not that big on name dropping :) but a few of our long time customers include Campaign Monitor, University of Connecticut, Joyent, the NFL, OPSCODE among thousands of others.

How did you decide on the pricing plan?

Deciding on pricing is always nerve wracking. Even when you do well you never really know if you have optimal pricing. For me though, I just wanted to keep it fair. By going with a named user model we were able to keep it affordable for small businesses and startups while charging larger customers a fair value given their heavier usage of the system.

What would you say is HelpSpot’s USP?

There’s a lot of competition in the help desk space these days, but there’s a few things that make HelpSpot unique.

  • We have a real focus on request management. We don’t do asset management, change management or have other non-request related ‘modules’. We’re completely focused on letting our customers provide amazing customer service to their customers.
  • We allow our customers to host HelpSpot themselves if they like. It’s a breeze to do and lets them run it completely offline behind a firewall, on their own cloud infrastructure or anywhere else they like.
  • At UserScape we have a commitment to keeping HelpSpot affordable. HelpSpot provides the features and power of packages 10 times the price. We also keep pricing stable, licenses have increased once in 7 years and support costs have never been raised.

When did you start work on HelpSpot? How long did it take to put together?

Early development on HelpSpot started in 2004, with primary developing occurring in 2005. It took about 6 months to build V1.

You say version 3 is ‘simply the best HelpSpot ever’. What features did you add and improve?

Version 3 has an all new interface that’s cleaner and easier to use. It also has a lot of advanced new features like triggers. As the name implies, triggers let you watch the system for changes and when those changes occur automate actions. It’s really powerful and allows you to automate a lot of things that would normally be done manually.

As founder of UserScape which was formally incorporated in March 2005, what do you wish you’d have known 7 years ago when you started out that you know now?

Everything I know now :)

It’s such a different world now though. When we started there were really no PHP frameworks, no javascript libraries like jQuery. I hand coded every line of javascript in pure javascript. It was crazy!

If I had to do over again, I might have tried finding a co-founder. Starting a business is so much work and there’s so much to do early on that having someone else to share that with and lean on I think would be great (if you can find the right person).

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

HelpSpot has done far better than I ever expected. I would have been happy to just make a decent wage and leave it at that. However, we ended up building a great community of customers (I think the best out there) and now having the ability to build a great team that I love working with is just awesome. That we’ve bootstrapped it all, is also an aspect I take great pride in.

Where do you see HelpSpot in 5 years time?

We’re working on some things now for HelpSpot 4 that are really going to blow people away. I see us really taking the next step in advancing the art of how you provide customer service online.

We also have some other ideas in the customer service area that I’d like to have firmly in place 5 years from now, but no details just yet :)

What one piece of advice would you give to someone taking their first steps in starting up?

I think you have to decide early on what kind of startup you want to have. What your goals are. There’s really only 2 types.

Type 1: The Lottery) You want to get huge and sell to Google for a Bajillion dollars.

Type 2: Hard Work) You want to replace your day job, make a nice living, make other peoples lives a bit better and if that turns into #1 that’s fine, but it’s not your goal.

Once you figure that out it’s much easier. We’re type 2 and as such I know more about that area. Really the key is to find a niche that’s proven and innovate in it. If you do that your chance of success is very high.

It doesn’t have to be radical innovation, iterative improvement is fine. Do it and you’ll be able to replace your day job easy.

Type #1 is much harder with a much higher failure rate. Of course, if you become Instagram or OMGPOP then you can buy Ferrari’s and miniature giraffes.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Right now I’m really excited with the team we’ve built at UserScape and the work we’re doing on the next HelpSpot. They’re a remarkable group.

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

My main comment would be to those using pure email or a sub-standard help desk tool for support. Switching to HelpSpot will make a huge difference in your customer support quality and efficiency. Give us a try!

Finished reading? Check out HelpSpot!

Interview with Amir Helzer (ICanLocalize)

ICanLocalize specialize in website translation and application localization.

I interviewed Amir Helzer, ICanLocalize founder to find out more. This interview is the ninetieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Amir for the interview!

How would you describe ICanLocalize in under 50 words?

ICanLocalize is a self-managed translating service, which connects professional translators with clients. It specializes in software localization and website translation – making it oriented for small businesses. The great thing about ICanLocalize is that it automates the entire process, leaving only actual translation work to translators.

After a 10 year career in chip development, what made you decide to start working on ICanLocalize?

Mostly, by chance. I had a little side project, in the form of a shareware business and that required translation. It was very difficult at that time to get good translation at reasonable costs. Not because it’s difficult to find translators, but because the process was complicated. Out of my need, the business started.

Which of your services are most popular?

In ICanLocalize, we get the most clients for software localization (mainly mobile apps) and the greatest volume of work from website translation.

Who came up with the name?

That’s me. I wish I could find something shorter, which is made up of one or two words, but ICanLocalize (3 words) works OK too.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Our actual users are small businesses. Many of them are technical people, who are writing software or building web-services. Another big chunnk are small and medium businesses who build their sites with WordPress, use WPML (our multilingual plugin) and find us through that.

What technologies have you used to build ICanLocalize?

The system runs on Ruby-on-Rails and our translation tools are built with different languages that are more for desktop.

Your first project, WPML, was intended as a vehicle for getting translation work for ICanLocalize. Has this worked?

To some degree, it did. Things really took off when we stopped offering WPML for free and turned it into a commercial plugin (paid). Surprisingly, or maybe not, after turning WPML into a paid plugin, we saw more usage, way more sites and even more translation clients. The extra revenue from WPML allowed us to spend a lot more on development, QA and support, so it improved and went into much larger websites than before.

How do you ensure that users get a high quality translator?

We have a complete system for translation quality. Most projects are done by a duo of translator and reviewer. We’ve got an issue management system, in which they communicate and resolve issues. Then, we have a rating system that tells us how well translators are doing and translators who are not good enough cannot continue with us. Also, the fact that two professional translators are managing the system (vs. MBA grads) is a major factor in getting good results. They put more emphasis on good translation than on anything else.

How long did it take to put together ICanLocalize?

We had something running in about 18 months. From that point, it just kept evolving. For example, complete integration with WordPress and Drupal came a lot after that and we’re still adding features to every part of the system.

What’s your background? What appealed most about starting up?

I studied electrical engineering. Surprisingly, it’s not just about replacing light bulbs. Much of the time is spent on Maths, physics and computer science. I had 4 jobs over about 15 years in different things related to electronics. They all had some ‘hardware’ aspect and always a lot of software, so starting a software business wasn’t completely alien. I always wanted to be my own boss and jumped on the opportunity when it presented itself.

What’s your business model?

We get to keep 20% of what customers pay for translation work. Together with PayPal fees this doesn’t leave a lot of slack. We need to be very efficient and keep very very high quality of work so that we can make a good living from that. Imagine what a few percents of refunds, due to unhappy clients could do to us.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

That’s a trick question, right? I don’t need to go back 5 years. If I could just go back 5 months in time, it would be great. We try things and learn every day. Most things don’t turn out quite as planned, but the few that do – you can make a business with.

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

It wasn’t like a linear or exponential growth. When we started, I hoped for a fast break. We spent the first year begging for clients and trying to hold on to translators. Now, it’s a whole lot better. It takes a lot for people to recommend a translation service. It’s just not a very sexy thing to talk about. BUT, once you’re there, it’s equally difficult to replace you, as it was for you to get your foot in the door.

Where do you see ICanLocalize in 5 years time?

There’s a whole new world opening to our East. Everyone is running there and we hope to become dominent. Our system is optimized for people who are looking for quality but can’t spend a fortune. I think that our solution is very appealing for the emerging Asian market.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Secreteries, mainly, but also office assistants. If you combine ICanLoclize and a handful of other online translation services, you’ll get a tiny fraction of the real translation industry. That’s because many small businesses trust their translation work to local staff with questionable translation skills. You can see it when you go to their websites or buy their stuff. It’s written in your language, but doesn’t look too native. Our main challenge is getting people to understand that they need better translation and that it’s not difficult to get it.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak fluent Hebrew and English and Spanish on a so-so level.

What other projects are you currently working on?

WPML, Types and Views and we have new things coming, but that’s for a different talk.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Wind season is starting here, the water is nice and I can go surfing. This is THE major reason I started my own business. I work more than before, but at my hours. When there’s wind outside, I’m excused.

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

If you need to translate books, you can probably find a cheaper solutions than ICanLocalize. For people who run multilingual websites and/or write software, we offer the best value for money. Clients spend the least amount of energy and time with us and get top-notch results.

Finished reading? Check out ICanLocalize!

Interview with Georges Saad (Signsquid)

Signsquid is a secure and legally guaranteed web based electronic signature solution.

I interviewed Georges Saad, Signsquid co-founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty ninth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Georges for the interview!

How would you describe Signsquid in under 50 words?

Signsquid is a simple and beautiful web-based electronic signature solution. It lets you legally and quickly sign your documents and contracts online.

Are signatures obtained via Signsquid legally valid?

Yes, signatures made through Signsquid are 100% legal, and equivalent to having the signatories in the same room singing the documents. The process we’ve developed has been audited and is backed by a law firm. In fact, we are the only electronic signature solution that currently offers a legal warranty. Meaning, if the signature obtained through Signsquid is ever to be disputed in court, we will freely provide the legal expertise in order to prove the legality of the signature.

What was the inspiration for developing Signsquid?

Signsquid’s founders come from a Web development background. And when it came to signing documents, we thought it was absurd, in 2011, to rely on such prehistoric technologies and rigid process such as scanning, printing and faxing. We thought that there had to be a more intelligent and pleasant way to legally sign documents. When looking around, all we found were grey and boring applications that lack personality. In addition, they all simply send an email, which is not very “legal”. Signing contracts is probably one of the most joyous moments of a company so why isn’t the process as pleasant! So it started by the name, then the squid and then came the product.

Who is the team behind signsquid? What is your role?

We’re a team of six: A lawyer, a designer and four geeks and I’m the product manager.

What is your background? How did you get to where you are today?

We all come from a Web development background. We’re the team that founded Spektrum Media, a kick-ass Quebec based Agile web development firm, that’s been developing and delivering amazing corporate solutions in record time, for 5 years now. We’ve partnered with Christian, who is the founder of Sarailis, a Quebec based law firm specialized in business and international law.

How did you come up with the name?

As mentioned earlier, we believe that when it comes to singing contracts, usually it is a happy and pleasant moment so we felt that the product needed to have a cool and friendly name to reflect that. And when it comes to a mascot, what better than a squid and its ink for signing purposes! Putting it all together, with some scotch and beers it gave birth to SIGNSQUID!

How long did it take to put together Signsquid?

From the moment we got the idea to the moment the application went online, it took us around a year. This includes the legal research and validations, the prototypes and the development. Through the year, the application went from being developed part time to full time.

Signsquid is currently the only platform that authenticates signatories in two ways – through an identity link sent by email and an identity code given to the signatories by phone. Do you anticipate competitors in the future?

Electronic signatures are becoming more and more accepted and with all the laws and acts being adopted worldwide it will definitely become the standard signature process in the coming years. Currently the existing solutions simply send emails. This process is simple and probably allows a faster adoption, which is great. But legally, it is weak and if you’re paying a service to send an email, you might as well send the email yourself! As the electronic signatures become the norm and the standard, we believe, that the customers will require a more legal and secure way to identify the signatories. For that the double factor and a more legal and secure process like the one Signsquid offers becomes an obligation. And the competition will have no choice but to offer a double factor to keep up with the market.

Where do you see Signsquid in 5 years time?

It is cliché, but we’d like it to become the electronic signature reference in terms of simplicity and legality. We believe in out-of-the-box and innovative thinking, and we’d like Signsquid to become flagship of that message.

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

Signsquid launched a couple of month back, and frankly, growth and feedbacks are beyond our initial expectations! We initially planned to stick to a single subscription plan for the first year, in order to better know our market and our customer. But, two months after launch we had enough feedback and comments to launch our various pricings, and we are very pleased and happy with that.

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

As mentioned earlier, we are Web developers and we know how to build great products. But when it comes to marketing, we work hard and we struggle to keep up. We’re not marketers and I’m pretty sure we suck at marketing. But we try to do our best, and we naively believe that our product will sell by itself. Time will tell us if we were right or wrong!

What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?

I think it is too soon for us as Signsquid to give advice, but based on our first founded company we believe that focusing on what you do best is the best investment a founder can make!

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Our Google analytics! We’ve dedicated a screen to continuously display our analytics. It keeps us motivated and excited about the evolution of the product.

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

If you need to sign documents online, Signsquid is the friendliest and most legal solution out there. It’s risk free, the service is backed by a law firm and legally guaranteed. Try it out for free for 30 days and let us know what you think.

Finished reading? Check out Signsquid!

Interview with Hillary Elmore Cage (Squad)

Squad is a web-based collaborative code editor. I interviewed Hillary Elmore Cage, Squad CEO to find out more. This interview is the eighty eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Hillary for the interview!

How would you describe Squad in under 50 words?

Squad is a web-based collaborative code editor, so it lets you easily work on files with co-workers even if you are not located in the same office.

Where did the idea for Squad originate?

Squad’s founder, Mike Trotzke, let the idea kick around in his head for quite awhile before he built it. He had previously started a few software companies where he always ran into the problem of trying to work on a single piece of code with various people who worked in different locations. He also figured there was a better way to get help on code than emailing or IMing bits and pieces back and forth, or posting on forums and message boards. Squad is the conglomeration of solutions to all those issues.

What does your role as CEO of Code Together, the company that created Squad, incorporate? Who else is on the team?

The Squad team is small: there’s just Ben–Squad’s developer–Mike, in his continuing role as adviser, and me. As such, my role as CEO is quite broad. I take care of updating the website to keep it current, writing blog posts, coordinating advertising and marketing efforts, doing all the administrative things required to run a business, and I’m always looking for ways to grow the company.

What is your background? Are you a keen coder?

I’m actually not what you would call a “keen coder.” I’ve always been interested in coding, and, like many, taught myself HTML back in the days of <blink> and such. I took a few computer science courses in college but I never turned into a real programmer. My undergraduate degree is actually in International Relations and French. My master’s degree in human-computer interaction design gave me the opportunity to bring together my creative nature and my love of computing and participate in software development in a way that didn’t require much programming experience. Combined with my family’s history of entrepreneurship (my father and both grandfathers started and run their own businesses), Squad is at a perfect intersection of my interests.

What technologies were used to build Squad?

Squad is built mostly on common technologies: Javascript, jQuery, PHP, MySQL. We use COMET for realtime messaging, which we implement through Orbited and RabbitMQ. That combination keeps users and files synchronized and able to collaborate in realtime. Squad is built on Zend Framework, and we use the open source CodeMirror library to create the editor interface.

Does Squad have any new features in the pipeline?

Just last week we added Dropbox integration, and we are considering adding some additional third-party integration, specifically with Git. Other than that we think our feature set is pretty complete. We want to keep Squad lean and easy to use, and to that end we are also starting work on a design overhaul.

Good to see you have special deal for students and startups going through incubators and accelerators. How did you decide on the pricing plan?

The pricing plans were actually some of the most difficult parts of working on Squad. The individual plan was the easiest, relatively speaking. We want it to be accessible to new coders just starting out as well as expert freelancers who want a reliable product but don’t want to pay too much, given the vagaries of freelance income. $3.95/month seemed reasonable on all fronts. The team plan was much more difficult to price. Initially, before I came on board, the team plan was priced at $39.99/month. At that point, however, it had only a few additional features compared to the individual plan. Last summer Ben and I spent a lot of time designing new features for the team plan, and Ben spent a lot of time building them, so we decided the increased value of the team plan versus the individual plan justified the $49.95/month price. It is still accessible to the small business teams who are the target market.

I wanted the student plan to represent a significant discount off the normal price while still charging enough to acknowledge that Squad is a service worth paying for. Charging half the price of the team plan while including all the features seemed like a good compromise between my goals and students’ budgets. The incubator plan allows teams to access Squad for free while they’re going through the program (assuming a 3-month term), and requires the normal team payment after that period.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

One of the biggest challenges of Squad as a business is that when it launched in 2009 it was really ahead of its time, and only in the past 6-8 months have serious competitors emerged. Finding a market for Squad has been difficult simply because most people weren’t thinking about a way to code together–they were content to do it the way they always have, whether that’s by walking over to a colleague’s desk and looking over her shoulder, sending snippets back and forth, or using some combination of version control, cloud hosting, and Google Docs to try to collaborate with distant co-workers. Now that we have competitors like Cloud9IDE and Koding–who have both received significant funding in the past 6-8 months–I think we will start to see the market pick up as programmers recognize their options for collaborative and web-based coding.

You became CEO of Code Together LLC, the company that created Squad, in March 2011. How challenging has the past year been?

I would have to say that the last year has been neither more nor less challenging than I expected. Squad needed a lot of work right after I took over, since it hadn’t really been touched since its launch in 2009. My first priority was finding bugs, then hiring a developer, then getting the bugs fixed. It wasn’t as neat and linear a process as I would have liked, and definitely involved a number of tangents. Once we had fixed the issues and added some crucial features to the team plan I thought there would be a lot more interest, but in reality that’s where the hard work began. Finding our potential customers and convincing them to change their workflow–even for the better–is a constant challenge that I think about everyday. Having heard the stories of my family members as they built their businesses, I didn’t expect smooth sailing from the get-go. The challenge and the fun are in putting together all the pieces that help the business run. I’m certainly never bored.

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

As I mentioned above, the biggest hurdle Squad is facing is finding our niche market, because it seems to be developing very slowly. The existence of competitors is actually a good sign, because it means that more people are starting to notice the problem and do something about it, rather than simply accept the old, cumbersome way of working on code.

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

As a programmer, you know it’s rare to work on a project totally solo. Imagine being able to work with your teammates on any document, at any time, wherever you are. Would that increase your productivity and change how you think about work? Squad helps teams do just that.

Finished reading? Check out Squad!

Interview with Nathan Gilmore (TeamGantt)

TeamGantt Easy way to schedule, track progress and share your projects with your team online. I interviewed Nathan Gilmore, TeamGantt founder to find out more.

This interview is the eighty seventh in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Nathan for the interview!

How would you describe TeamGantt in under 50 words?

Simple web based project scheduling software. You can plan out each task in your project and invite others to work on the project with you. You can even track your progress, upload files, and comment on tasks.

TeamGantt was co-founded in 2009 by you and John Correlli. What roles do you both undertake?

I do the design work and John handles all of the coding.

Tell us how it all started. Where did your inspiration for TeamGantt come from?

John’s family has a large commercial roofing company. We were working there writing custom software for their business and were planning out a lot of projects. We would use gantt chart software for this however it was all desktop based. I would create a gantt chart and email it to everyone or print it out. Then make updates and send it out again. It was getting tough to keep track of the latest versions. It was clear that a web based gantt chart would help us plan and track our progress in a more collaborative way. However, we couldn’t find any web based solutions. We thought that maybe if we built a solution for this that others would be interested in buying it.

What planning did you do before you started up?

The first thing we did was build a simple landing page explaining what we were planning on building. We put some pricing up that we thought we might use and had a place to collect emails for people that were interested so that we could notify them when we had something ready. We then used a $100 free Google Adwords coupon to run some ads to see if anyone would show any interest by giving us their email address. We were shocked when we got about 5 email addresses. That was enough to encourage us to keep going.

How long did it take to put together TeamGantt?

We worked Saturday mornings for about 6 months before we put out a beta product. We then worked another 6 months before we launched the paid version in the end of 2010. We are still adding new features and working every day to make it better.

Who do you see as your target audience? Any big clients on your list?

We have all types of companies using TeamGantt. Everything from creative agencies and startups to construction companies and teams from large corporations. Customers include teams from Twitter, Oracle, Expedia, Sony Entertainment, Time Warner, and others. It’s really a great tool for any business that has one or more projects that they want to keep track of.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Always! Next up is the ability for users to sign up for a daily digest of what happened the day before. It’s just one more step in trying to increase how collaborative the software is.

How do you promote TeamGantt?

We have had a lot of success with SEO. Word of mouth has been great as well.

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

Much more than we could have expected. There seems to have been a real void in this market for a good web based project scheduling tool.

What’s the impact on your home life been like? Is it hard to maintain a work-life balance?

It was tough when we were working full time jobs and building TeamGantt on the side. The same year that we launched TeamGantt, we were both working full time jobs, my wife and I had a baby, and John was involved in helping his father through the construction of a new building for our church. We were spread pretty thin to say the least.

Now that we are full time with the business, life is actually much simpler.

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

If you have a project that you are working on, it’s worth the free trial to test it out. So many people have been excited about how TeamGantt has been helping them get a grip on their projects.

Finished reading? Check out TeamGantt!

Interview with Luke Connolly (Whimventory)

Whimventory allows you to create wishlists while you shop online.

I interviewed Luke Connolly, Whimventory co-founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty sixth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Luke for the interview!

Describe Whimventory in under 50 words.

Whimventory lets you organize and share your online shopping. Add items to your lists while you browse using our bookmarklet or extensions. Then, share your lists with friends and family.

How did you come up with the name?

Since we wanted people to be able to add items from any online source, and we wanted to focus on usable, organized lists that would keep track of lots of items, we combined the word “whim” (as in, “on a whim”) and the word “inventory”. We thought of it as an inventory for anything and everything.

What technologies have you used to build Whimventory?

PHP (built on CodeIgniter) and jQuery / AJAX where appropriate. We also are constantly trying to improve our bookmarklet and browser extensions, since the real power of Whimventory is being able to add items to your lists while you shop, without getting in your way.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Whimventory?

One big challenge was working out how to perform authentication right in the bookmarklet, while running on other websites (most similar bookmarklets redirect you to their homepage to authenticate users). It’s also been really tough deciding what features are essential and which we can cut, since we want it to be useful for as many shoppers as possible, but we also want an amazing, clear user experience.

Who do you see as your target audience?

We think anyone who enjoys shopping online will find Whimventory useful. Typically, though, people who spend a lot of time browsing online stores and collecting items will get the most use out of our service.

It’s also very useful in certain niche audiences, like those who need a wedding registry of items from across the web, product testers, and professionals who like to keep track of their gear and what they’re saving up for.

What’s the most extravagant item on your Whimventory right now?!

I just added my dream house in La Finca, Spain to my “Home & Office” list. I don’t know the price, but it’s certainly extravagant.

While in Beta has Whimventory got the feedback and growth you expected?

We’ve been thrilled about the number of people we’ve had sign up so far, but we know it’s only the tip of the iceberg. For now, we’re OK with that, since we really wanted to get some honest feedback about what’s useful and what’s not. We think we have that now, so we’re excited to take things to the next level.

Where do you see Whimventory in 5 years time?

We want to make Whimventory an amazing place to *share* online shopping. We think we’ve got a really good personal tool for organizing things you find online, but now we want people to connect and learn from each other about what is worth their money.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We’re working on completely redesigning the Whimventory experience. We’ve had a lot of really useful feedback from people using our service, and we’ve got some really amazing things in the works. We’re trying to stay focused on listening to people and giving them something they’re going to love.

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

Whimventory is easy to use, and others can see your lists (if you let them) without signing up. There is no advertising (and we’re going to keep it that way) and it’s free. Plus, you’re going to want to be around for the next version.

Finished reading? Check out Whimventory!

Interview with Andres Garzon (Pricetag)

Pricetag makes it quick and easy to create accurate, customized quotes for your agency.

I interviewed Andres Garzon, Pricetag cofounder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the eighty fifth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Andres!

Describe Pricetag in under 50 words

Pricetag is a quoting tool for interactive businesses. Pricetag guides users to create a comprehensive quote. It takes the burden out of quoting by suggesting costs they may not have thought of before. It forces them to think about how much it really costs to do something.

You say Rework by 37 signals was a major influence in the creation of Pricetag. How so?

Rework was an influence from the very beginning. I came up with the concept of Pricetag by following the book’s advice to “scratch [my] own itch.” I know that quoting can be a real problem, because I deal with it myself on a daily basis. As I am familiar with the process, It was easy for me to tell precisely what was difficult and how to fix it to make it better. I decided to create the tool that I needed to fix my own workflow.

Another big influence was the way it inspired me to pick my partners. Rework maintains that you should pick the best team for your project, no matter where people live. In essence, personality trumps location, so don’t feel pressured to work with those who live in the same town as you. I live in New York City, as does the creative director/UX designer and marketing head, but the lead developer is in Ecuador, my home country. And it works out great, because we use Pivotal Tracker and Skype, and we all get along well. Face to face meetings aren’t that important, not when you have the right team in place. And these guys all came from within my own network of co-workers and friends. They’re not only skilled, but have the drive and creativity to create something new. And they’re also great people. Personal harmony leads to good communication, and that’s essential in any venture like this.

Rework also inspired us in how we structured the development of Pricetag. From the beginning, we decided to separate features into two groups: those that would be ready for launch, and those that would debut later. We knew that speed to market was important with an idea like this, so anything that was not strictly necessary was put on the back burner. And we also followed Rework’s advice to “underdo your competition.” We didn’t make something that was bloated and flashy with a ton of bells and whistles. Pricetag is streamlined and smart. It does one thing, and does it really well.

We brought that same discipline and focus to our workflow. Our core creative and development team was only three people. By keeping it so small, we ensured that there weren’t too many cooks in the kitchen. We were able to keep meetings brief and to the point. And though everyone weighed in on everything, we maintained respect for each person’s specialty: the creative director had the most say in design, the developer in programming, etc. We set aside fifteen (timed) minutes a day for a scrum chat, in which we worked out the goals for that day. This allowed us to divide the work into small, manageable tasks, which made completing them much easier. This way we were able to stay agile and focused, and not bogged down in the enormity of the project as a whole.

Who is the team behind Pricetag? Where are you based?

The team is composed by three very talented individuals and myself. Arturo Sheimberg is the marketing guy. He joined us quite recently but is quickly proving invaluable, as he’s already garnered Pricetag the attention of major media outlets. Andy Pratt is our creative ace (aka the creative director and UX designer). Camilo is the coding wizard who always builds the most amazing stuff. And myself, I just coordinate, push and serve these very talented individuals. BTW, we are based in NYC.

How easy was it to come up with the name?

My wife Andrea has always been a key supporter of my decisions. Many times I discuss business doubts with her and she always gives me great insights. When I asked her about names for this new idea, she came up with Pricetag.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Designers, developers, webshops, media agencies, freelancers and all interactive-related companies.

What technologies have you used to build Pricetag?

We built the tool using the PHP Zend framework. The promotional website was built in Drupal.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Pricetag?

We decided to use a the Zend Framework that by design lacks a “model” (the part that actually stores and retrieves the data from a database), so we had to implement our own. This involved spending a chunk of time planning, building and polishing this piece of software. It is not really a part of what Pricetag is about, but instead something that the application relies on. Like the foundations of a building, the model in a web application needs to be solid, stable, otherwise you won’t get the rest of the building to hold. Now, Pricetag works like a swiss watch in part because of the work put into this.

How long did it take to put together Pricetag?

We built Pricetag’s closed alpha version in less than four months. After the alpha version, we did weekly iterations for three more months until we got to the beta version.

I hear you were very popular at the Launch Conference in San Francisco in March! What did you get out of the day?

The Launch Conference was great. We learned a ton, and we took it as an opportunity to see where we stood relative to the other startups there. The first area we looked at was design. We felt great about this, as every person who heard our pitch had good things to say about the look of the product. The second area we wanted to look at was results. That was also good news for us, as investors were impressed by the subscribers and interest we’ve generated so far. The third area we wanted to measure was the idea itself, and how other startups and investors reacted to it. The feedback was definitely positive, however we also got some advice that will help us take Pricetag to the next level. Just being open to feedback was so valuable. And being honest can also help you attract interested investors.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We do. We’ll start supporting different currencies. We’ll also improve the webview and create a client’s view that allows them to accept the bid. The biggest change we have on tap is to develop an algorithm to create templates. The users will answer a series of questions about their quote, as opposed to filling out form fields. The algorithm will include blocks of deliverables and tasks that are related to the project. That way users can create any type of project with any type of complexity. And because it will assign roles to tasks, we can recommend interested users as vendors for each task. We believe that this kind of value–a combination of quoting and marketing–will encourage even more people to pay for the service. I think is going to have an awesome impact.

What were you doing before starting up Pricetag?

I’ve been on the helm of technology for the last ten years. Before Pricetag I started a company called Jobsity. We have teams of developers in Ecuador that help interactive companies in the US. I still run that company and thanks to Jobsity, I’ve been able to support myself while working on Pricetag.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

I wish I knew how important it was to define my own identity and philosophy as a professional. Integrity comes both from understanding your own beliefs and adjusting them to different parts of your life, and being consistent in how you evaluate things. Five years ago, quality for me was relative to the circumstances. So if I was going to buy a pair of jeans, I would go for the cheapest pair, because I just didn’t care that much about what I wore. However, if I bought a computer, I would get the very best one. My definition of quality and value was not standardized in all aspects of my life, and so I wasn’t in a position to create a product that was excellent in every aspect. Now I no longer feel that way, and Pricetag is the fruit of that discovery.

Has Pricetag got the feedback and growth you expected since beta launch?

It has. We get feedback every week and we consider it very carefully. We’ve grown and evolved, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Where do you see Pricetag in 5 years time?

In five years, I see Pricetag as a fun company that is focused on delivering an amazing product: one that is insanely well programmed, obsessively designed and covers one necessity really well.

Have you passed up any opportunities which you now regret?

It’s a tough question because opportunities are always there, but having the clarity and confidence to choose the correct ones is key. Therefore I would say no, no regrets.

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

The biggest hurdle I face is to stay focused and not lose perspective. At Pricetag, I am constantly distracted by new functionality that is not priority, but is “cool” to build. Or by colleagues pitching me to build another product, or a subproduct of Pricetag.

It is hard stuff building a business, and when you are an entrepreneur by nature, it is very easy to want to create new ideas, companies, and functionality. Staying focused is mastering saying “NO” to you, to your partners, and to other interesting people. It requires discipline, courage and stubbornness. You have to believe in your idea and close your eyes to the rest.

What one piece of advice would you give to soon to be startup founders?

I believe this question is very tricky, because trying to teach experience is though. It’s like trying to teach swimming when you don’t know if the other person has ever gone into a pool. Therefore, If I have just one good piece of advice, it is: cut the bullshit, jump to the pool and start swimming, remembering all the advice you’ve read and the experience you’ve gained.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I am really excited about new features we are creating for Pricetag. With such a great team and the awesome feedback gathered recently, we think our changes can generate great value for our community. If we accomplish that, we know we are building something for the long term. It makes me smile just to think of creating that impact, of building a passionate team and a company that stands for its values.

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

Let’s say there’s great opportunity and you know you’re right for the job. Next step? The dreaded project proposal. Pricetag is easy to use, like Turbotax. It guides you through a 4-step process, and suggests things like rates and deliverables to create an extraordinary quote.

Finished reading? Check out Pricetag!

Interview with Andy Forsberg (SpyderMate)

SpyderMate is a SEO analysis tool that gives a numerical and visual representation of a website’s online marketing effort by using a variety of graphs and statistics.

I interviewed Andy Forsberg, SpyderMate General Manager to find out more. This interview is the eighty forth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Andy!

How would you describe SpyderMate in under 50 words?

A suite of unique and powerful SEO tools structured to make managing any number of SEO campaigns easy.

What does your role as General Manager at SpyderMate involve?

I’m essentially the founder of SpyderMate through an intrapreneurship at MentorMate. The role involves managing and guiding all aspects of the product: budgeting, planning, designing, developing, marketing and supporting.

Where did the idea for SpyderMate originate?

It began as a linkbaiting tactic for MentorMate to increase our overall domain authority and visibility. It was originally a free seo analysis tool that was limited to crawling a web site and reporting on it in one massively detailed single report. We had so much success generating our own web leads that we thought we could benefit the community by giving away a tool to help anyone with their web site’s organically-driven web traffic, while helping our own efforts.

Who came up with the name?

It was a team effort from our marketing team at the time. We name our internal products MentorPRODUCT and our external ones PRODUCTMate. The Spyder comes from it being a web spider and the y was placed there instead because we are focused on the concept of being able to spy on competitor’s web sites in addition to your own web properties.

Could you outline some of the features of SpyderMate. What would you say is your USP?

The Scorecard tells you where you and your competitors are. The Auditor tells you what you need to fix and what your competitors could fix. The Low Hanging Fruit report helps you find keywords that you could easily rank higher for. The SERP Tracker keeps track of your keyword rankings and your competitor’s keyword rankings over time. SEMRush tells you what keywords any domain ranks for in Google and how valuable those keywords are.

What technologies have you used to build SpyderMate?

PHP, jQuery, Git, and many third-party APIs and services such as SEMRush, Google Analytics API, Majestic SEO, SEOMOz, ZenDesk, MailChimp, KISSmetrics, etc.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing SpyderMate?

Dealing with many third-party APIs of varying reliability and quality as well as crawling any web site with myriads of unique circumstances to account for.

How long did it take to put together SpyderMate?

Well we started it in 2008 and we’re still working at it constantly. So an indefinite amount of time =)

How different is the current version of SpyderMate compared to your initial launch?

The first version was basically just an incredibly weak and limited version of the current Scorecard.

You have a new pricing plan coming soon. Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Additional features we’re working on include:

  • Two Additional Pricing Tiers – We’ll soon be adding a $19 and $149 pricing tier to better suit small businesses and agencies respectively.
  • Multi-user Support – Create and manage multiple users with various access levels.
  • 1,000 Page Crawls – The Auditor will support crawling up to 1,000 pages deep into a website.
  • Additional Audit Checks – We have a plethora of additional issues we plan to check for.
  • Audit Your Spelling – We’re in the process of adding site-wide spell checking to the Auditor.
  • Permanent Ignores – We’re designing a way to handle ignored issues and keywords so that they are applied to future reports on the same web site, rather than being unique to each individual report. This way you’ll only have to ignore issues once.
  • Multi-threaded Crawls – We’re working on allowing several crawls to be performed simultaneously.
  • Advanced Crawler Options – We’re working on ways to tell our crawler how you’d prefer it to navigate your web site. This will make it possible to intelligently audit any site, no matter the size; though It may take several crawls instead of just one for massive web properties

You predict that SpyderMate SEO Tools will take off as one of the leaders in the internet marketing software industry. Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

SEOMoz and Raven Tools are the market leaders, SEOMoz is one of our data providers, so I guess I’d have to say Raven Tools is. Their approach is drastically different than ours though, so that’s arguable. They are focused more on integration and reporting at least more so than building their own unique tool sets.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

That SpyderMate was going to become a paid product, instead of just a free one. The direction would have been very different from the beginning.

How many users convert from the free trial?

Less than I would like, but enough to keep us going. The rate keeps getting better as we improve the product so we’re definitely headed in the right direction.

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

Without a doubt.

What’s your background? How did your interest in SEO and web development begin?

I began making money online when I was 12 and have been hooked ever since. I learned SEO initially because it generated more revenue for my various web properties.

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

Learning to be more patient.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

KISSmetrics in general and the impact it will have on SpyderMate’s future success.

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

We have a 30 day free trial with no credit card required. If you have a web site it’s worth your time to check it out. You’ll get all the data you need to make the right decisions when it comes to increasing your organic traffic and ultimately conversions.

Finished reading? Check out SpyderMate!

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