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Chris Cardell

Interview with Cem Hurturk (Sendloop)

Sendloop is a full-featured, easy-to-use email marketing service.

I interviewed Cem Hurturk, Sendloop co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and twenty first in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Cem!

Describe Sendloop in under 40 words.

Sendloop is a do-it-yourself, easy-to-use email marketing and list management service, designed for individuals and small to medium sized businesses.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

I like creating…

You co-founded Octeth with your brother Mert in 1999 and went on to develop Sendloop and also Oempro (email marketing software), SenderSuite (a transaction email delivery gateway), PreviewMyEmail (an email design preview service), Wridea (an online idea management and collaboration service), DeliveryIpMonitor (a delivery IP health monitoring service and Cockpito (a metrics measuring and monitoring software). How did you find the time to develop all these products?!

Well, it took almost 10 years to build all those services and software. It wasn’t so easy and took considerable time. At Octeth, we have a key solution in every sub-market of email industry. From email marketing to transaction email delivery, from email design testing to inbox delivery monitoring, we have a professional solution for everyone in the email market.

What made you decide to start working on Sendloop?

Oempro was doing great at that time but it’s difficult building server-side software which runs on the customer’s server platform, which is beyond our control. Therefore, having an online service which will generate recurring income and having full control of the server infrastructure made us quite excited and motivated. And we weren’t wrong…

Who came up with the name?

We came up with the name during a brainstorming session, it was inspired by a t-shirt with the words “killer loop” :)

What is it like working with your brother, Mert? What roles do you each take?

It’s fantastic. Mert is the person I trust fully and walking towards our goals with a person you trust 100% should be called “luck” itself.

Which of all your products was the most challenging to develop?

The most challenging was PreviewMyEmail. 50+ email client integrations, .net development (unlucky us!), screen shot processing and delivering 50+ email screen shots in just a minute was the most challenging part.

With Sendloop, the most challenging part is the load on the system. Millions of emails are delivered through our platform every single day and keeping servers up crucial for our business. We need to deliver emails, track responses, etc. All these operations should be done instantly.

What technologies have you used to build Sendloop?

Personally, I’m in love with PHP, MySQL but we select the right technology/platform whenever needed. We are using PHP, Python, Nodejs, Ruby, .net programming languages and MySQL, Mongodb database systems mainly.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Sendloop?

We haven’t have any challenges worth mentioning when developing Sendloop, we are quite experienced on developing professional email marketing systems; thanks go to Oempro. But the most challenging part of Sendloop is deliverability, keeping on top of it.

How long did it take to put together Sendloop?

It took 3 months to develop and launch Sendloop. But we are always in “development mode”.

What’s the startup scene like in Istanbul?

Turkey is growing quite fast, faster than almost any country in the world right now. Tens of new start-ups are being founded every week, mostly focused on the e-commerce industry. I guess we are one of the few start-ups who are focused on the international SaaS market right now, but we are doing our best to spread the word out and inspire other young Turkish entrepreneurs to build their own international SaaS start-ups.

Do you have any new products in the pipeline?

Well, like I said, I love creating. Therefore, we may release a new product at any time :)

You call yourself a ‘Micropreneur’. How do you manage to maintain a balanced work-life balance?

I am not sure if I am good at keeping work and personal life separated. But I can confidently say that I am able to dedicate enough private time to my wonderful wife and my amazing two kids. Other than this, business is in my mind any time, even on vacation. I am not complaining at all :)

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

I don’t like sentences starting with “I wish I’d have…”. I did the right thing always. Even some of my decisions were a mistake, it was the right move at that time. So, I prefer taking lessons from my mistakes and move on. If I do the same mistake again, then it’s the right time to say “I wish I’d have…”. Luckily, I haven’t said it so far.

Where do you see Sendloop in 5 years time?

Sendloop is doing great and on its way. Growing stable and organically. We will speed up the growth in following years. In 5 years time, I see that Sendloop will be the most popular ESP in Turkish small-business market. Regarding the EU and US markets, I see that Sendloop will be one of the most popular ESP, not #1 but probably one of the top 5 ESPs focusing on small businesses.

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

Yes, since day 1. Sendloop is quite scalable and profitable. We are able to provide service to thousands of users with a very small team. We have loyal, engaged user base and we like being in contact with our customers directly.

How many users do you currently have?

I prefer not to share an exact number but all I can say that we will reach 10,000 users in a few months. This will be the tipping point for Sendloop.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Our biggest competitor is MailChimp. They are doing great over there.

What advantage does Sendloop have over its competitors?

Simplicity and being more focused on the target user segment. Also, we are smaller compared to our biggest competitors which forces us to work more on making our customers happier.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced?

The biggest hurdle I have faced in business is to generate the required momentum on business to bring stability. A business may start making profit from day 1 but without creating the momentum, it will not last too long. Sustainability is the key to the success in business.

In my opinion, everything is momentum in business. When you create enough momentum, things will get easier to focus on level 2 and start growing your business more. Momentum means, visitors coming to your site, sign-ups, plan activations, feedbacks received, revenue, profit, etc.

Name 2 trends that excite you.

Email and SaaS.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

MailChimp’s founder Ben Chestnut, CampaignMonitor’s co-founder Dave Greiner, founder Altug Inci are three entrepreneurs I like most. They do their job very well. I haven’t have a chance to meet with Ben Chestnut yet, but luckily I met with Dave Greiner at one of the conferences in San Francisco. He’s a great guy. Also, I admire a Turkish ESP owner Altug Inci, he’s another great guy dedicated to grow his business.

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

Don’t waste time on adding more features than are needed. Just build the required “must-have” features and open your business. Focus on acquiring customers, “developing” customers. Be sure that someone in another place in the world is working on the same thing, but be faster than them to win.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I am excited about upcoming features on both Sendloop and Oempro. We will have some cool new features on both products and I believe we will start growing a lot faster with the help of these features.

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

Sendloop will allow you to contact your customers quickly. Simply build your email campaign, send and track reports. Grow your business with email marketing. Try Sendloop for free.

Finished reading? Check out Sendloop!

Interview with Joseph Fung (TribeHR)

TribeHR is a social human resources management tool for small to medium businesses.

I interviewed Joseph Fung, TribeHR co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and tweentieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Joseph!

How would you describe TribeHR in under 50 words?

TribeHR make HR frictionless and fun for both employees and managers. It’s the first and only Social HR Platform to offer a fully integrated suite of tools – you can use TribeHR to run your entire HR process from a careers page to performance reviews.

You co-founded TribeHR with two colleagues: Jesse Rodgers and Stephen Heron. How did you meet and what roles do you each take?

Jesse and I met at a workshop where, with a group of local entrepreneurs and executives, we explored a number of business ideas. Jesse and I clicked over one particular thread – the impact of social tools on HR – and continued digging into it after the workshop. We soon after folded Stephen into the conversation (I had worked with him before at my previous startup) and things took off from there. With just the three of us, our initial roles were pretty stereotypical for an early-stage startup: Stephen took point on customer relationships, Jesse on product design and I was the lead on development.

What made you decide to start working on TribeHR?

If I had to distill it down to a moment, it would have been during our first customer development interview. You see, the original motivation behind TribeHR was very employee-centric – the run-of-the-mill HR processes people follow so often leave employees feeling powerless, and we imagined a world where employees have far more control over their own information and HR experience. This was a lofty and admirable goal, but did not necessarily imply there was a business to be made. Our early interviews with prospective business customers, however, were so strongly positive that we quickly realized that the frustrations felt by employees were perfectly mirrored by managers. It was that realization – that we would be able to build a solution that solved the pain on both sides – that really kicked us into gear.

Who came up with the name?

The naming process came out of a session that was run with the early team (there were 7 of us). Although it was a collaborative effort to pick the name and characteristics, the original suggestion came from Jesse.

What’s perhaps more revealing, however, is what spurred us to pick the name – we were lined up to demonstrate our earliest prototype at a DemoCamp when we realized that our project codename, Flypaper (think “attract and hold onto the best talent”), didn’t carry the best connotations. We had little more than a couple of days to pick the new name, update the product, and redo our site before the demo. The name was definitely a case of delivering under pressure.

What technologies have you used to build TribeHR?

Our core is a PHP+MySql stack, although we have deployment and helper scripts in Ruby. Our core app is hosted in a private cloud environment, but we use AWS for some storage, development and testing components. For continuous integration, we use Jenkins + Git + Capistrano + Puppet, plus some nice homebrewed translation layers from Gherkin to SimpleTest.

What was the most challenging part of developing TribeHR?

It was, and continues to be, the UX design process. When you are literally re-designing legacy HR workflows to be more employee-focused, you end up iterating frequently over very beefy UX challenges. Since we see the UX as a critical component for long-term success, I don’t see our workload lessening on this front any time soon.

Has your initial vision changed since launch?

Although the long-term vision has barely deviated, it is fair to say that our understanding of HR challenges and its marketplace have become more nuanced. First, we have a much better appreciation for the specific pain points that employees and managers deal with on a daily basis, and we now do a much better job at monitoring in-app activity, and using that data to inform our design process. Second, since our launch, the demand for mobile solutions in the HR space has continued to grow, and so our roadmap has had to evolve to accommodate.

Last year was a busy year! You raised $1m in seed financing from Matrix Partners, were named one of Canada’s 20 most innovative companies by CIX, and were the “judges’ choice” in the Talent 2.0 category at the Under The Radar event in Silicon Valley. What are the main factors that have gotten you to this point?

I don’t think I could point at any one thing, but if I had to narrow the list, I’d point to a lot of the usual suspects:

1. We came to the problem from the customers’ perspective and built a tool they wanted,
2. We put thoughtful design at the top of our development priority list,
3. And we assembled a team that iterates quickly and values data-driven decision making

Building an incredible product typically isn’t hard because of some esoteric algorithm or proprietary magic – it’s hard because of the diligence and determination required to stick to your guns on delivering a product customers will want and use. We’re lucky in that we were able to build a team that understands this.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

2012 is going to be a very exciting year for us – we launched v1 of our application in 2011 and we spent much of the year ensuring we had the minimal viable product properly fleshed out. Now that we’re beyond that step, 2012 will be all about building on those successes – you’ll see a doubling down on our social features as well as additional data-driven features. For example, the first of these was launched in February this year, when we added in the ability to link employee performance to company values – I can’t give specifics, but you’ll see more exciting work like this.

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

This is a particularly difficult question as the list is far too long for me to get down. However, if I had to pick the lesson that I was most surprised to learn, it would be that the right board does wonders for a business and CEO. It’s generally recognized that the board holds the CEO accountable, but what’s not always appreciated is that a great board will help a CEO focus, grow, and think. With TribeHR I’m fortunate enough to be working with spectacular board members, and every time we meet (in a board meeting or otherwise) they help me focus on what matters for the business, find new areas of professional development, and look at problems in new ways.

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

Absolutely – what’s most satisfying is that we see more and more thanks and kudos from the employees of our customers. The purchaser of our software is typically a business leader or HR professional, so it’s incredibly uplifting to see their employees take to Twitter, Facebook, or even email to say great things about TribeHR. That being said, every time we blow through a milestone, we raise the bar so our expectations are a moving target.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

In 98% of our customer installations we’re replacing MS Excel or nothing – that’s a formidable challenge. You could actually say that our biggest competitor is apathy or the status quo. What’s extremely exciting to watch, however, is the difference the social component makes – when deploying an HR system the administrators are the most active users (as expected) but what’s fascinating to watch is that by the time a company has been using TribeHR for 4 or 5 months, the average employee is busier than the average administrator. We’ve built a system that creates a self-sustaining culture of recognition and employee ownership – that’s something Excel can’t give you.

With your background in startups, what one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?

Talk to customers. This simple suggestion applies at all stages of the business. I see too many startup founders get excited by an idea and start to execute before speaking with the people that will (hopefully) eventually buy their product. When we started TribeHR, we started with the goal of talking to 100 potential customers – the approach helped us frame our product and our business in ways that saved us months of iteration and changes. Similarly, I see too many founders get early traction, then staff up and hire sales people, essentially giving themselves permission to stop talking to customers. This is a quick recipe for losing sight of the market, and needs to be avoided. Above all else, talk to customers.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Get me on a roll and you’ll end up hearing me talk about “small data” – I can’t do justice to how exciting this space is.

Historically, the biggest barrier preventing HR from making strategic decisions was access to the right information in a timely manner, and while one might think the solution is to dig through a big data set, the real insights come from a narrow and highly diverse data set. Because we can connect your hiring sources, to performance, salary history and engagement, we can help our customers uncover incredible insights.

This approach, taking a big-data analysis perspective to a small and diverse data set, lets us do things like recognize the quiet underdog that is quietly making a massive impact, or identify potential engagement issues before they hit a breaking point. We build HR tools, but small data means we’re actually in the business of helping managers be better managers.

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

Rather than having me persuade you, just give it a spin! The best way to make that decision is to start a free trial – the signup is a two-field form, and I know you’ll be blown away with how fast and fresh HR can be.

Finished reading? Check out TribeHR!

Interview with Spencer Lambert (Present.Me)

Present.Me allows you to use your webcam to record yourself giving presentations.

I interviewed Spencer Lambert, Present.Me co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and nineteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Spencer!

For those that have not come across it, how would you describe Present.Me in under 50 words?

Think YouTube meets Slideshare. Whether it’s a presentation, pitching for business, updating your team or applying for a job, allows you to record your ideas online, simply and cost effectively. Upload your content (slides, images, or document), record yourself using your webcam then publish and share, publicly or privately.

What was the motivation behind founding Present.Me?

The idea evolved out of a side project I was working on to move my presentation design consultancy online, and a need that some of our clients had at the time. We were looking at how we could run a ‘Speaker Idol’ contest where we could audition presenters and their slide decks being presented together online. We looked at the tools that were available and discovered that however we looked at it, there was no simple easy way to put a presentation online. At the same time we were charging our clients a huge amount of money to video the presenters and then merge the slides into the background so they had something that had the same impact as a live presentation but could be watched on demand.

The idea for an online tool evolved, but we weren’t doing anything with it until Richard ( co-founder) called me one afternoon and said ‘webcam’ to me. As soon as he said it I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities for where we could take it, and that was the spark that really ignited the journey we’ve been on for the last couple of years..

Who is the team behind Present.Me? How did you all meet?

Unusually, there are four founders behind I’ve known & worked with Mike Marshfield on and off for the best part of 20 years, a little known fact is that we were once in a band together called ‘The Love Sharks’!! Mike introduced me to the web in the mid 90s, and he’s been involved in building websites and web technology ever since. Richard Garnett and I met when we were both working for a senior executive of KPMG, helping him on a career defining speech. Richard was helping on content and performance, and I was helping with slide design. Charlie Simpson is Richard’s business partner in Garnett & Simpson, their communications consultancy. Because of our complimentary skills, Richard, Charlie and I have been working together since that time on helping our clients with a full spectrum of presentation / communication services.

What technologies have you used to build Present.Me?

The whole infrastructure sits on Amazon Web Services. Our recorder is built in Flex, with a Wowza 2 backend which is being upgraded to Wowza 3 as we speak. Presentation playback is in Flash or HTML5 depending on device. The rest of the site is built in Railo, an open source CFML, with MySQL & Heroku databases. We use a whole host of external services for added functionality such as Pandastream, Pusher, Sendgrid etc. It’s a real mixed bag of technologies, driven by 3 basic questions, what’s the best available? How long will it take to implement? Can we afford it?

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Present.Me?

One of our biggest challenges was finding a developer who had the necessary skills and knowledge in a pretty narrow field of web technology. A high end Flex developer with a deep understanding of video is hard enough to find, but then finding one who would agree to build a prototype for something that hadn’t been done before on a pretty tight budget proved even harder! We found the right man, and we’ve been working together ever since. The biggest technical challenge was the realisation that we’d need to include some method of editing into the recorder before we launched. Adding this functionality was a four month project as it took what was a pretty simple application and made it extremely complex, both client and server side.

How long did it take to put together Present.Me?

It took about a year to get it into beta from initial idea. It could have gone faster, but we were self funding and working on it part time. From beta to launch in May of this year was another 12 months, and that involved listening to all the feedback we were getting and basically rebuilding everything from the ground up. Things always take longer than you want them to, and that can be frustrating at times, but I’ve learned it’s not a race, it’s about making something amazing.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline? Any plans for live meetings?

We’ve decided not to go for the live meeting market for now, it’s a crowded place with plenty of big boys with deeper pockets and bigger marketing budgets than we have. We are launching the multi user version of in September, and that will have a massive impact on how & who we can sell this service to. Other cool features in the pipeline are ‘downloadable’ Presentmes, for offline playback and full Google Apps integration.

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

That’s a deep question! The biggest thing I regret (and I really don’t regret much in life) is that I didn’t capitalise on my early experience of the web. I’m going to go a bit further back than 5 years to explain. I was building very basic websites for people back in the late 90s, and had a real chance to extend and develop that knowledge if I’d had more confidence in my technical ability. A bit later on I founded an e-commerce website just as the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. I learned a massive amount in what is now a huge market, but left that after a couple of years and then did nothing with the experience I’d gained.

Has Present.Me got the feedback and growth you expected since beta launch?

Feedback from users has been phenomenal – lots of cool ideas, some of which make it on to the next week’s iteration. I’ve been disappointed with feedback from the tech media, the general consensus has been ‘presentations – that’s boring and old hat’ – or ‘I don’t get it, I’d just do a screencast’. None the less, nearly everyone we show it to that has an office based job, within minutes of seeing it will start telling us how they could use it in different ways. We just did an event called The Startup Games run by UKTI & Start Up Britain, which involved pitching to 100 other startups – everyone I spoke to had a use case they could think of straight away.

Growth has been good, but not yet what I’d call fantastic. We’re building up momentum, and signing up more new users every day – they in turn are creating more presentations, which then makes a richer place to visit for content. That content drives new sign ups, and then we are on a virtuous circle of growth.

Where do you see Present.Me in 5 years time?

A big question! My hope is we are successful in whichever way our path takes us – things move so fast and often in unexpected directions. I do know that nearly everyone could use in some way or another as we have such a wide scope of uses. I’d like to see as part of the everyday suite of applications that are used by the millions of us that are knowledge workers, alongside Microsoft Office, Skype, Yammer or their future equivalents.

How many users upgrade to the Plus account? What’s your philosophy on converting free members?

I can’t give you numbers at this stage, but during the beta period when there was very little difference between the paid and free accounts, the numbers were disappointing. Since the launch in May, our conversion rate is exactly where we thought it would be. I’m not sure we have a philosophy on converting free users, but we do have an email campaign we take them through to point out to them all the lovely features they could get if they upgrade. We also have various touch points in the app that again nudge them to upgrade to get shiny new features that they might find useful. My honest opinion is that most free users will remain free users and will never upgrade no matter what you entice them with, but there are some that need that little prod, and that makes the effort to convert them worthwhile. Most of those that find and find it useful and need the extra features will pay up front anyway.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

There are a number of companies that have similar technology to us, companies like Looplogic or Knovio, but their approach to market and product vision is very different to ours. I would say that Brainshark are the nearest thing to competition, in some ways they’ve validated part of our potential market, but because our application does more and is easier to use, our market potential is greater.

I’ll be keeping my eye on Slideshare & LinkedIn to see what happens there, but my guess is they are thinking and working hard to integrate both platforms further. There are screen-casting platforms that some would say are competition, but I don’t think the average office worker would find themselves using that type of technology. We can’t ignore the live presentation platforms like Webex and GotoMeeting, but my guess is they are working hard to re-engineer as more lightweight live platforms to compete with the web 2.0 players who are stealing market share rather than thinking about launching an on-demand service.

You’ve worked on hundreds, if not thousands of presentations for large blue chip clients. What’s the worst presentation experience you’ve ever had?

There have been a few, but I’ll tell you about the one that could have had the biggest impact. I can’t name names as I signed an NDA at the time, but it was over 12 years ago now so I think I can tell the story….

I was working for a huge multi-national carbonated drinks company, and they were pitching to a huge multi-national burger chain to replace the incumbent carbonated drinks company as the drinks supplier of choice throughout Europe, the Middle East & Africa. In terms of value, the contract was apparently worth the GDP of Lichtenstein or something like that – anyway, it was a big deal, and the numbers were huge. We worked on the presentation for about a month (yes a month!), and then flew out to the International HQ in the USA for the presentation. The morning of the presentation we were making last minute changes in an adjacent office, and with minutes to go we ran to the boardroom and set up. In the rush I hadn’t had time to set up the backup system that we always carried in case of emergencies. Just as the team being pitched to walked in, my computer flashed the blue screen of death and the whole thing crashed. I grabbed the bag with the backup, opened the laptop lid, and luckily it was only on standby. I flicked it on, opened the presentation and plugged it in to the projector just as they’d finished their introductions and were sitting down to start the presentation. Up popped the first slide, and they were none the wiser. I, however, was a nervous wreck!

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

I’m not young any more – it was much easier to start my first business at 26 than it is now, because I had nothing to lose. I’d just got back from travelling, and pretty much had the clothes I was standing in and nothing else. I’m 41 now, I have a partner and 3 children and I’d built a lifestyle that suited my income. Maintaining that lifestyle and the plans we had before I started this business has been impossible, despite the fact my partner owns her own successful business. The whole family has had to make sacrifices because of my ambition – that for me is the hardest part of this, although I’m sure if you asked my kids, they wouldn’t have even noticed!

You have bootstrapped 3 businesses. What one piece of advice would you give to new startup founders?

Don’t be afraid to seek out financing on your terms. I used to think it was ‘cheating’ to get investors, and that perhaps is was nobler to build a business from the ground up using blood, sweat and tears. I’ve suffered from under-finance and had to build something with a chronic lack of people and money, and that is frustrating because you can’t execute on your ideas. I’ve also suffered from over-financing (in this case with bank debt), and that brings different issues. With too much money, it’s very easy to say ‘yes’ to things you might not need right now, or ignore deeper issues within the business because they’re hidden by a comfortable bank balance.

Have a plan for what you want to do, work out how much it will cost, add a contingency for unknowns, and then seek out that amount of money and no more.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Having a night out at the Theatre with my partner and leaving the kids with their grandmother for the night!

Can you convince the reader to start using Present.Me in under 50 words?

Has anyone ever asked you to send your slide deck, and you’ve thought, ‘There’s no point, I’m not there to explain it’?
Have you ever sent an email and it’s been completely misinterpreted?
Ever found yourself explaining the same thing over and over again to different people?
You need

Finished reading? Check out Present.Me!

Interview with Ben Chestnut (MailChimp)

MailChimp is a well known freemium email marketing service.

I interviewed Ben Chestnut, MailChimp co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and eighteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ben!

Describe MailChimp in under 50 words.

Monkeys send your email, so you don’t have to. Only they’re apes, not monkeys.

What were you doing before MailChimp?

I ran a web-dev agency called The Rocket Science Group. Pretty much sucked at it.

What made you decide to start working on MailChimp in 2001? Why did you wait until 2007 to dedicate yourself strictly to MailChimp?

Back in 2001, we had multiple customers who needed help sending their email newsletters. They were using really big, expensive, bloated software. We had some “scrap code” lying around from a previous business idea that failed (e-greetings), so we modified the code and turned it into an email newsletter app for them. We opened it up to the public, set up some Google Adwords, and basically forgot about it.

In 2005, we noticed it was a better business than our web-dev agency (it was growing faster than us humans, and its recurring revenue was basically keeping us afloat) so we decided to take all of 2006 to wind down the agency business and beef up MailChimp’s features. We officially hit the “reset button” in 2007 and became a product company.

How did you come up with the name? Does the chimp have a name?

The big, bloated email software back in 2001 required you to manually code your tracker links, your HTML emails, and all kinds of things. We thought it was silly to force users to do a bunch of repetitive coding that a monkey could do for you. We also had this philosophy when it came to our web design projects: “If all else fails, add a monkey. Clients love monkeys.” So we called it ChimpMail. Then we learned the domain was taken. So we called it MailChimp. One day, a customer asked us for our mascot’s name, so we came up with the most ridiculous one we could think of: Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV (aka “Freddie”). It’s amazing when I look back at Freddie’s history. We really didn’t spend that much time fostering his image or brand or anything. It was our customers and employees who brought him to life and gave him his personality.

Your non-traditional creative culture scared away a lot of typical corporate customers. Did this affect your growth at all?

Yep, it made our growth more fun.

Seriously, corporate customers are stodgy and high maintenance. We avoided them, because we always dealt with them back when we were a web-dev agency. We had our fill. The whole point of starting a software business, in our opinion, was to make scalable, self-serve apps. We felt like we shouldn’t need to talk to customers, nor should they waste any of their time talking to us (they should be spending their time smelling flowers, or hugging their mothers and stuff). The app should be so easy, they just get things done.

So that’s what we focused on: making it easy. Turns out a lot of those big corporate customers seem to like simplicity too, and are signing up to MailChimp despite the monkey business.

You often send customers gifts and handwritten postcards. How have you built customer loyalty?

The gifts we send are just fun. We know they’ll surprise the hell out of our customers, because nobody does that kinda stuff anymore. Plus, we’re an online-only company, right? So it’s ironic to send something hand-written and tangible. We love irony.

The goal isn’t to buy any kind of loyalty. I really don’t believe brand loyalty exists (anymore), and I don’t believe a company should waste any time trying to earn it. People want what’s best for them, and they can switch on a dime, because there’s always a new disruptor disrupting the last disruptor. So companies should just strive to keep changing and adapting to their customers’ needs.

I get the impression MailChimp is a fun place to work! How have you cultivated the culture?

I can’t say we really try to make it “fun” around here. Just “fulfilling.” I do my best to keep changing things up and to keep coming up with new, difficult, challenging projects that make your brain hurt. People who think that kind of work is fun tend to hang around longer. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

What does a typical day as CEO consist of?

On a good day, it consists of a lot of walking around to talk to different teams about what they’re working on. I can help connect ideas, plant new ideas, show people it’s okay to be weird, prevent meetings, etc.

On a bad day, it’s just me stuck at my computer.

MailChimp went ‘freemium’ in September 2009 and increased the number of paying clients by 150%, while growing profitability by 650% during its first year. With now over 2 million users, what would you say are the main factors that have led to MailChimp’s success?

I spoke about this recently.

1) Going freemium.

2) Being different. Different in our design, our name, our personality, our approach with customers, and just about everything. By being different, and therefore not dwelling on the competition or playing by their rules, it basically made us more creative and nimble.

Did you expect such massive growth and success?

Expect? No. But massive growth and success is kinda the whole point of starting a business, so I definitely dream about getting it one day. All. The. Time.

What are your thoughts on the future of email marketing?

Like everything else, it’ll change. The challenge is staying nimble enough to adapt.

Can you tell us about the data research you’re doing under, which you started to help improve the email ecosystem?

It’s been a challenge just wrangling the massive amounts of email data we have. But so far we’ve uncovered lots of awesomely cool things, along with some awesomely disturbing things. Like the predictability of reader engagement. And how we can find the optimal time to send an email to each recipient. And how there are networks of comment trolls, constantly signing up for certain types of lists. We can also uncover trends in email, like whether or not certain industries are dying. We’ve been able to tell when accounts import stolen lists, and identify where the lists originated from. We can tell who is human, and who is not. Perhaps the most interesting part about this “big data” initiative is the fact that it produces so many innovative product ideas, it’s hard to choose where to begin. The data keeps growing, so the possibilities (and scope) keep growing.

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

That it takes about ten years before your company really hits its stride.

Where do you see MailChimp in another ten years time?

Not sure what business we’ll be in, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be coming to work in jet packs. Bet on it.

What is your favourite app or piece of software that helps you every day?

Hmm, that’s a hard one. Helpful and used every single day? Communication apps: Gmail, Apple Mail, iChat, and Jabber.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

About 10 years ago, I put my life savings into Apple stock (when it was around $17 a share). It was a wild bet, but I kinda liked where Apple was going, and I thought OSX might be huge one day.

After a year of no change whatsoever in the stock price, I chickened out. I took some stupid advice I read in a book about “diversifying” and I traded it all in so I could spread it out into safer stocks. All of those stocks–every single one of them–flattened out or declined. Sigh. If I could go back in time, I would’ve put all that money into MailChimp instead. I can’t control someone’s stock price, but I can at least have some control over my own company.

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

It’s hard. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. There’ll be times when it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. Meanwhile, everyone else around you is getting better and happier and richer. You’ll feel like the only one who hasn’t figured it out yet. You’re sinking, your life sucks, and your business isn’t going anywhere. Oh yeah, and you’re not getting any younger, either. And just when you think about finally throwing in the towel, and saying “f* all this!” that right there is the test that all founders are eventually faced with: when things get too hard, you decide to stay, or you decide to quit. My advice is this: Before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.

What’s the best prank someone has played on you at work?

Years ago, someone arranged for some accomplices to ring my landline, send an email, pop up a chat message, send me a TXT, and call my cell phone all at once. Everything just suddenly started beeping and buzzing all around me. I was paralyzed. I had no idea which to answer first. The sheer logistics of making this happen is pretty impressive, considering this was before telephony APIs.

What key goal have you yet to achieve?

Sadly, I’ve yet to finish a business plan.

What gives MailChimp a competitive advantage?

Our weirdness.

Finished reading? Check out MailChimp!

Interview with Craig Bryant (DoneDone)

DoneDone is a web-based issue tracker which helps teams prioritise and communicate.

I interviewed Craig Bryant, DoneDone co-founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and seventeenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Craig!

How would you describe DoneDone in under 50 words?

DoneDone is a single place for your team and clients to log bugs, issues, and requests for web and software projects. It gets folks out of email funnels and spreadsheets and into solving problems more collaboratively.

Give us some examples of how it might be used?

It’s easy. Give your clients and team access to your DoneDone account. Have them create new issues and assign ’em to your production team. Once an issue is fixed, it gets automagically assigned back to the tester to verify it and close it out.

Once you’re up and running, you can share files like screenshots and copy decks, correspond via email, and programmers can interact with DoneDone directly via their Git/SVN repositories.

What’s your background? When did you co-found We Are Mammoth, the company that built DoneDone?

My background started in music then moved into technology around the time Flash 4 came out. After about 5 years of working like a dog at big agencies, I cofounded We Are Mammoth with Ka Wai Cheung. We both knew there was a better way to run a business. Six years deep, we think we’re on the right path.

What made you decide to start working on DoneDone?

There weren’t many client-friendly issue trackers four years ago. One particularly bad solution we were using convinced us to cut bait and build our own. When I say we, I mean Ka Wai. He built v.1 specifically for our internal use. After a few months, we released it to the public.

Who came up with the name?

The original name for DoneDone was BugSpray. We thought it deserved a better name and DoneDone was the best suggestion (could’ve been me, I forget). It’s a tip of the hat to the Agile/XP concept of only deeming a feature (or story) as truly done when it’s able to be shipped to the public. Everything else, well, isn’t finished.

What technologies have you used to build DoneDone?

On the back-end, we use .NET & SQL Server running on a load-balanced environment down at Rackspace. We’re in the process of getting DoneDone running in Azure right now which will help a ton with redundancy, performance, and costs.

Other than that, just some elbow grease, HTML and jQuery.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing DoneDone?

I’m not sure about specific technical challenges, but there’s a whole lot of unromantic UX and programming work involved in building a SaaS like DoneDone. It’s not just issue tracking, it’s customer management, billing, permissions, storage, performance, and a gazillion other considerations which make a good product. That, I think, is the biggest challenge we’ve faced.

How long did it take to put together DoneDone?

The first version took a few months. Version two, which we released in October of 2011, took about 8 months. We’re currently wrapping up v3, due out in October and that’s been about a 5 month exercise.

You recently made some ‘healthy improvements’ to DoneDone. Can you tell us what you have improved?

Back in July, we released a first iteration of what we’re calling DoneDone notifications. It’s a suite of real-time updates in Chrome, FluidApp, and DoneDone itself which folks can use instead of email to stay on top of their projects. It reduces response time because you’re not sitting around waiting for an email server to squeeze out a notification.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We’ve been working on a v3 of DoneDone which should be out in October. It’s a simplified, responsive UI which removes the project-silo feel of most issue trackers, putting users in better control of how to view and filter their issues. It’s also got kick-butt reporting features. After that, we’re working on due dates (or sprints, milestones, etc.) and integration with Harvest for time tracking. It’s a busy fall, for sure.

How did you decide on your pricing model?

DoneDone originally was pay-per-project on top of a base $15/month fee. It was confusing for users, so we moved to tiered-pricing last October which charges by the user rather than projects. All plans now have unlimited projects. Can’t say that about other services, for sure. We’ve also got a free plan for up to 3 users.

What do you wish you’d have known 6 years ago that you know now?

I was watching a documentary on Pearl Jam a few weeks ago, and the interviewer asked singer Eddie Vedder what advice he’d give his 20-year old self. His answer was “be careful.” I think my advice to myself 6 years ago would be “don’t be so careful.”

Where do you see DoneDone in 5 years time?

DoneDone will continue to be the best issue tracker for teams working closely with clients in testing. More so, though, DoneDone will provide just as much value to other phases of projects, such as planning, design and development. For that to happen, we need to break some cultural barriers in project management. There’s some good precedents out there already which we’re paying close attention to.

What has your growth been like?

Growth has averaged between 5% and 10% month over month pretty reliably. It needs to be stronger though. While our continuous improvements and good customer service are the reasons customers stick around, we need to do more to get folks in the door to begin with.

How many users do you currently have?

We’ve got 37,000 active users spread across 2,000 accounts.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Email and panic. Email is the lazy man’s first go-to tool. Panic leads to a loss of reason which in turn leads to loss of process. DoneDone needs to be the first thing which comes to a user’s mind when something goes wrong with a website.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

I’ve always admired the team around the corner at 37 Signals. There’s no difference between their words and their deeds. I also have strong admiration for guys like Ari Weinzwig, of Zingerman’s fame, who place such strong value on team training, customer service, and running a disciplined small business.

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

We’re fortunate to have a successful consulting business in We Are Mammoth which helps fund and staff services like DoneDone. If I were coerced to squeeze a complaint out of that it’d be that we’re not as LEAN a product team as we might be if our very existence were threatened by our product’s balance sheet. I tend to look at the bigger picture though. We’re a successful business, first and foremost.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

Our clients and our customers. We’ve worked with the biggest employers in the world right along side small shops carving out a place in the world. It’s given us a wide perspective and experience which gets funneled right into our product development and services.

My cofounder Ka Wai Cheung is right up there too. He’s a patient, disciplined leader for our company. There’s no We Are Mammoth with out him and I’m lucky to have him as a partner and friend. Hold on, lemme get a tissue.

What is your favourite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

The sun and my moleskin notebook, by far. After that, tools like IA Writer, Instapaper, and Evernote. I’m strangely excited by the recent Moleskin/Evernote smart notebook initiative. Alas, my handwriting is terrible and I’m not sure Evernote’s solved that yet.

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

Run your business before you hire for it. Manage your books, provide customer service, and be a HR manager before you hire for those positions, for example. If you don’t, your shop is probably going to suck at all of those less-glamorous but critical jobs down the road. That is, if you make it that far. You’ll gain respect for the work itself, make better hires, and understand a whole lot more about what makes a good company (yours!) tick if you’ve worked in trenches other than product development.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

With our business, it’s two things. I’m giddy about our company’s second 6 years. We’ve got a great staff aligned towards helping businesses like ours be better workplaces. I hate to say it, but it took us six years to realize our calling.

The second is a new service we’re building, called Ceremony, which helps small shops like ours be better workplaces by helping with onboarding, employee document management, and team communication.

Outside of We Are Mammoth, I’m excited by Chicago’s relevance as a tech and software community. There’s a workingman’s ethic in this city which is a great match for the huge amount entrepreneurial spirit here. Take a look at Starter League (formerly Code Academy) and our city’s chief data officer (@ChicagoCDO) and you’ll know what I mean.

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

You know all those times you’re sorting through files, emails, and scribbled-on napkins during production and testing? DoneDone fixes that. For up to 3 users, it does it all for free. Stop throwing your time out the window. Sign up for DoneDone.

Finished reading? Check out DoneDone!

Interview with Christian Lanng (Tradeshift)

Tradeshift is a free web-based invoicing tool.

I interviewed Christian Lanng, Tradeshift co-founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and sixteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Christian!

How would you describe Tradeshift in under 50 words?

Tradeshift connects businesses on a secure online network to help them work collaboratively and manage tasks such as invoicing and cash flow. In the Tradeshift business cloud, companies create a network with their suppliers, customers and partners to streamline common business processes powered by the latest social technologies.

What made you decide to start working on Tradeshift?

The initial driver behind Tradeshift was frustration with business solutions and technologies that were currently available. Soon however we realised that a fundamental shift in the focus of business networks was needed to truly change things. We wanted to create a new kind of network – one that focused on people and business relationships.

How did you come up with the name?

Originally, we were working with the stealth name “Porta” but it soon became clear that we weren’t going to be able to get the domains we needed so went back to the drawing board. This was all accelerated when suddenly we had an enquiry from Wired and were about to appear on TechCrunch as well…

With 24 hours to go, we made a very long list of possibilities – but the second we saw Tradeshift, we knew it ticked all the right boxes. It felt revolutionary, it felt like it summed up what we wanted to achieve – and it also led to our slogan “shift happens”. Sometimes the least expected ideas are the best!

Where is Tradeshift based?

Tradeshift was founded in Copenhagen but now has offices globally including London and, most recently, San Francisco.

What technologies have you used to build Tradeshift?

Tradeshift is a 100% cloud-based platform, built from the ground up on open standards and open source technology. You can interact with Tradeshift using our REST API, and we exchange documents in UBL, an open XML standard for business documents which was co-created by Jon Bosak, one of the creators of XML who is also sitting on our board. We have used technologies such as Java, Spring, Groovy and javascript to realize our solution. We built our own continuous deployment pipeline using technologies such as puppet and MCollective.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Tradeshift?

When you’re concentrating on something designed to connect every business in the world, scalability is always a key challenge – but when you match that with a financial service that needs the security of a bank, like Tradeshift, you’re really pushing things.

On Tradeshift, everything happens in the cloud which takes an enormous burden off of the infrastructure and makes everything very secure. It has taken some of the world’s best software engineers out there to put this highly sophisticated technology together.

How long did it take to put together Tradeshift?

From first concept to launch was a very intense ten months. Of course, that’s calendar time – in reality we had a fleet of software teams working on it. We slept about two hours a night!

Tradeshift was valued at $137m in the last investment round-up. Why has nobody heard of TradeShift yet?

In the world of B2B tech, we’ve only been around a couple of years but have already appeared in everything from TechCrunch to the Wall Street Journal, FT and beyond. We might not be as sexy as Facebook but as we approach 100,000 customers – including big names like the NHS – we are becoming mission critical and have some powerful advocates.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Our latest offering, rolling out at the moment, is Tradeshift Instant Payments. This feature revolutionises the supply chain finance industry by giving businesses immediate access to money stuck in approved invoices. Once the buyer accepts your invoice through Tradeshift, you just press a button and the money is yours – at very favourable rates.

Tell us about your first startup, launched when you were 19 years old.

I’d just read a book about how cool it was to start a company and, just like the author, my friends and I found ourselves hanging out and geeking out making things, so why not. it was about making a little money from doing what we were doing anyway.

Six months into that and we were building websites for companies and doing creative. At that point, Siemens approached us about creating a browser for the mobile web. And that led to us making one of the first ever mobile browsers in 1998.

In 2010, Tradeshift was awarded Best Enterprise at the TechCrunch Europa awards and Most Innovative Solution by Financial-I. In 2011 it was also highly commended for ‘Kicking ass globally’ at the TechCrunch Europas. In what way is Tradeshift innovative?

In the purest way possible really – we’re trying something that has never existed before. Look at something like Skype which essentially took your telephone system and ran it across the web more cheaply, more efficiently and with new features. That’s the kind of thing we’re doing here – but with all your business processes.

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

A key thing I learned was that you shouldn’t think about the market too much. After a certain point, you should just get down and make whatever you think has potential. The greatest ideas are always independent of trends – be sure you have confidence in your idea.

Where do you see Tradeshift in 5 years time?

I believe we will have really proven the benefits of connecting Tradeshift around the globe and will be close to connecting most companies – large and small – worldwide.

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

We’ve been delighted with the feedback so far and we’re thankfully staying on top of the meteoric growth so far – partly because of some vital design decisions up front.

How many users does Tradeshift have at present?

Tradeshift does have paying customers and is approaching 100,000 companies across 190 countries. Businesses on the Tradeshift platform include ASP NHS, the French Government, Kuehne+Nagel, TDC, DT Group and DSV, with more to be announced this year.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Because the scale of Tradeshift’s offering goes beyond anything that has been done before, there are no competitors and there are also thousands! When you think about creating a network through which all organisations can conduct their business transactions, that naturally plays into many many areas – but at the same time can really complement them. We have lots of companies trying to do a little bit of the jigsaw, but only Tradeshift joins it all up in one place.

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

Like any startup, it’s always going to be that initial hurdle of uncertainty while you’re still proving what your business can do and that your idea is solid. That means everything from the struggle to get in front of the right people for funding to the possibility that someone else might be working on a similar idea in parallel and beat you to the punch.

Thankfully we’re past much of that now but it’s the journey that faces anyone with a fresh idea today.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?

Don’t be afraid to break stuff – get out there and try new things, if it breaks then you know you’re probably along the right lines. Once you unearth those areas, don’t hide from them, confront the challenge and address it. You’ll always end up with something stronger and superior.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

For our industry, I think people pushing the possibilities of big data are doing some really exciting work today. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing a lot of the near breaking waves of 2011, like mobile, finally reaching critical mass and showing the fruits of their labour.

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

One day, we will all do business this way – and it will be because Tradeshift is the most advanced, efficient and effective way to work with other companies, and one you’ll want to share with everyone you know.

Finished reading? Check out Tradeshift!

Interview with Alari Aho (Toggl)

Toggl is an online time tracking tool.

I interviewed Alari Aho, Toggl co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Alari!

How would you describe Toggl in under 50 words?

Toggl is a simple tool to help you easily track your time – work time, personal time, onsite, offsite. It is suitable for everyone, but works exceptionally well for teams.

Tell us more how Toggl is used.

There are two main reasons why people use Toggl: to easily get accurate time reports to send to clients, or to improve their own productivity by keeping track of where their day really goes.

The average workflow looks like this: you come to the office, you click ’start’ as you begin with something, enter a description and choose the project that you’re working on, then click ’stop’ when you’re done or take a break. Then continue this with one click.

Alternatively, you can always fill in the things you worked on at a later stage. Most people use a mixture of both.

Depending on the kind of detail they need, some users set up clients, projects and even tasks with time estimates. For others, a simple time entry description is sufficient.

To make tracking even easier, they use our simple interface on their laptop, phone or tablet and use the web to pull varying kinds of reports – Toggl syncing capabilities between devices makes this very easy.

Who uses Toggl?

Toggl is mostly used by so-called professional services companies. Bookkeepers, lawyers, PR consultants, software developers, graphic designers, business consultants, etc. There are even some university students who have told us that they find Toggl useful in tracking their studying habits. We also have a lot of productivity hackers who constantly measure and improve their time usage. Our user groups vary from freelancing individuals to large corporate teams.

Toggl was initially created for your own in-house use, because existing time-tracking software was far too complicated. What led you to launch Toggl as a product?

We’re in the same town where Skype was established. At that time we were still doing software consultancy gigs, we saw how massively a product can scale, we thought that we could try it ourselves. We just took an existing in-house tool we had made, and turned it into a product.

What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

I guess there isn’t a mistake that we haven’t made. Our start was quite slow, and coming from a software consultancy sector into making a cloud-based product meant that we had quite a steep learning curve. We have had a lot of technical issues, and product usability was initially a huge problem-child.

What is the startup scene like in Estonia?

The startup scene has become really vibrant back here in Estonia. It’s quite a closely knit bunch of people who openly share their experiences and help each other. The country has a good infrastructure for starting companies – it’s easy and not expensive to incorporate, you can get government grants for starting up, there are several incubators that support you with backoffice and mentoring. VC market is not so active, though, so most of the post-seed money-raising is done in the US and Europe.

How did you come up with the name, Toggl?

That’s a good one. I used a random name generator (NameStation) to jot down different name options. When the list was approx 20 names, I noticed that one name had appeared in-sequentially twice. It was Toggl.

What technologies have you used to build Toggl?

Toggl was originally based on Ruby on Rails. We started with version 1, and have worked with it since. Starting this year, most of the data-crunching in the backend is handled by Go, a new open source language by Google. Frontend is heavy on Javascript (Backbone.js, Coffeescript). We also utilize several new and cool features of HTML5 (offline storage), and websockets for realtime syncing between different devices. Database is handled by PostgreSQL and occasionally Redis.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Toggl?

The application itself is nothing complicated. What made it challenging was our decision to support Toggl also on mobile devices and as a desktop application for Windows/MacOS/Linux. After trying out native clients we decided to stick with HTML5, and encapsulate a web interface into native applications. For mobile devices we use Phonegap, and for desktop we use Chromium.

How long did it take to put together Toggl?

The first version was launched in 3 months. This was 6 years ago. Since then we have rewritten it multiple times, and continue doing so to pursue speed, scalability and great usability.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We have 2 main targets – mobile and integrations. We’re improving our mobile interface extensively to keep up with professionals who spend more and more time working on phones and tablets.

How did you decide on your pricing model?

We wanted to go freemium from the start. Getting a good pricing point has been an evolutionary process. The current pricing model is our third. We started out as being too low-priced, and the lesson learned here is that it’s always harder to increase your prices than lower them. So, when starting up, don’t be too shy in setting your prices.

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

Focus brings success. For the first couple of years Toggl was more of a side project for us. Only when we really started focusing on the product and decided to drop software consultancy gigs, we got traction. It’s all or nothing, you can’t build a successful product by trying to leverage your risks.

Where do you see Toggl in 5 years time?

Toggl is a synonym for time tracking in the New English Dictionary.

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

We love user feedback, and try to encourage it in every way. It’s the most important source of our development decisions. Our growth keeps accelerating, but I still believe we’re only in the early stages of our story.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

There’s an internal joke that our biggest competitor is Microsoft Excel. Many of our new users have used some kind of spreadsheet with complex macros. There are a couple of cloud-based tools that we consider as competitors, but everybody is growing quite fast. It seems that the whole cloud sector is exploding and taking customers away from the old ways of business computing.

You are a mentor at Startup Wise Guys, an accelerator that provides seed funding and an intense mentorship program to early stage technology startups. What one piece of essential advice would you give to someone starting up?

Start now, find your customer, give them something of value. Do it fast. That’s it.

Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?

You need a certain amount of stupidity and persistence to carry through. Most people fail because they give up too early. Other than that, every normal human being can be an entrepreneur. How can you do it?!

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

It’s so easy to keep chillin’ in your comfort zone. Getting out of it is a constant effort and is not easy at all.

Name 3 trends that excite you.

  • Clean energy
  • Commercial spaceflight
  • The way internet is changing how companies work

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

People who are not in it for the quick buck. Who value long term partnerships and care about the general environment they’re operating in.

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

How often do you find yourself wondering what you spent your whole day doing? Any idea how long you really spend every morning replying to your emails? Try Toggl, it’s a real eye-opener.

Finished reading? Check out Toggl!

Interview with Liam McCallum (QVIVO)

QVIVO makes your entire media collection available on many devices via the cloud.

I interviewed Liam McCallum, QVIVO founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fourteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Liam!

How would you describe QVIVO in under 50 words?

QVIVO is the simplest way to build your personal media cloud. Add media to one device and it shows up on all of them. In sync and ready to stream around the home or on the go from any device.

How did QVIVO come about?

The idea for QVIVO was formed when EA execs Jon and Liam were discussing how to stream personal media libraries through a game console. With a long career in media, Jon couldn’t find a single product for his family to enjoy their vast media collection on any device. And as a tech geek, Liam was dismayed that despite all his connected gadgets the most foolproof way of sharing media around the home or on the go was still a simple USB stick.

In 2010 Jon and Liam left EA to build a product with the pick-up-and-play friendliness of a console game that gave anyone access to their entire family’s media collection on any device, from a large screen TV to a small screen phone.

Where is QVIVO based?

We’re spread all over the world! The QVIVO business and main development studio is based in Hong Kong. Our online development studios are based in Croatia, while our design partners Future Büro are based in Sydney and our PR team in New York.

How did you come up with the name?

The QVIVO name (pronounced “cue vivo”) was inspired by the word “vivo” in many European languages to represent, life, music and entertainment. The word “cue” is used in many daily media interactions but the letter Q also provides a visually pleasing balance to the brand and logo.

Previously you were Director of the Online Technology for Electronic Arts Asia. What skills and experience did this bring to QVIVO?

I was fortunate to have co-ordinated many other similar online platforms at EA, but never on the scale of QVIVO, and with so little resources in comparison. You take for granted the vast support system a well established corporation like EA has at its disposal, from testing centers, to finance teams and human resources. Talking to other startup founders within the industry, it became clear that the skills you bring from the corporate world only take you so far.

What appealed most about being your own boss?

The ability to make quick, smart decisions that are untainted with political bias or bureaucracy. We can brainstorm a feature and have it live the next day.

What technologies have you used to build QVIVO?

There are many separate parts to the QVIVO platform, but at it’s core, all QVIVO apps connect to the QVIVO Online API. Our API is built using a LAMP stack hosted in an auto-scaled cloud environment. Media files are encoded using a 3rd party service and then stored and streamed from Amazon’s S3 and Cloudfront.

Our website is exclusively HTML5, making use of Drag and Drop, File Reader, Local Storage, Video and Audio tags and more.

Each QVIVO application is built using technologies suited to the target platform. On Windows it’s C++ and DirectX with DXVA2, on Mac is C++/Objective-C and OpenGL with VDA, on iOS it’s written using the iOS SDK with wrappers for our common C++ libraries.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing QVIVO?

From an online point of view, scalability is a challenging issue, although it has become much easier to manage with the availability of cloud services from Amazon, Storm, Google and others.

From an app development point of view our media playback technology was by far and away the largest project we embarked on. The hard work has paid off, with the QVIVO app for PC and Mac being able to play back massive high-bitrate 1080p videos that most other apps struggle with.

We have a challenging 20GB MKV file that currently runs at 1% CPU with hardware acceleration turned on and we’re quite pleased to note that even with hardware acceleration turned off it runs with less system resources than most of our competitors using hardware acceleration!

How long did it take to put together QVIVO?

We spent nearly a year building QVIVO as a stand-alone media center to compete with the likes of Apple TV, Roku, and Google TV but then completely shifted focus to building the QVIVO platform as a cloud media service with free apps to access your media on any device – including the aforementioned boxes we first thought were competitors.

It took another year to bring QVIVO to where it is today – a truly unlimited cloud based media service allowing you to sync your media to the QVIVO Cloud to stream to any device including PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad and other devices coming soon.

How have you promoted QVIVO?

We haven’t promoted QVIVO at all so far. We were amazed when we reached our first 100,000 users and it’s been growing strong ever since. We attribute our growth to QVIVO’s social nature. From the very first time you sign into using your Facebook account, QVIVO allows you to check-in, rate your favourites and see what you’re friends are up to.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Absolutely. We’re focused on developing a QVIVO app for every device with a screen or is connected to one. QVIVO apps for Android handsets and tablets are coming very soon along with native Windows 8 apps. We’ll then focus on TV connected devices such as Roku and Google TV.

Where do you see QVIVO in 5 years time?

On every device in every market of course ;)

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Media centers and media devices are no longer considered competitors – they are platforms to develop QVIVO apps for. Cloud storage services are considered competition but we feel QVIVO sits within a very specific niche due to our exclusive focus on media.

Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player lack support for movies and television shows while the entire cloud storage industry is still stuck in a price per GB war. We allow user’s to store media – and a lot of media at that.

Try syncing a 20GB MKV video to any other cloud storage service and you’ll quickly understand why QVIVO’s different. Our plans only come with unlimited storage and start at $1.99 per month. The top Dropbox plan caps out at 500GB and costs $49.99 per month – hardly a replacement for the multi-terabyte media NAS drives QVIVO was designed to replace.

Who do you see as your target audience?

That’s a good question and one we were surprised to discover ourselves during our beta. Coming from the video games industry we imagined our early adopters would be a young male demographic with enthusiast PC hardware. We found it was quite the opposite – being a much more mainstream demographic using relatively low hardware specs. We were also surprised at the huge non-English European and South American user base – which directly influenced our automatic subtitle features.

Unlike traditional video games, apps for movies, TV shows and music appeal to all ages.

How many users do you currently have?

We’re holding off on that information until our next milestone press release.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Ditching my computer! Steve Jobs’ Post-PC world is still a distant dream but since we went live with our new web app I can drag and drop a few media URLs directly onto before I leave work and stream them on my iPad when I get home. It’s a very cool feature which has changed the way I build my media collection.

Can you convince the reader to start using QVIVO in 70 words or less?

All new users start with a free QVIVO Unlimited trial for 14 days so there’s nothing to lose in giving QVIVO a try. Start by dropping a few of your media files (or URLs) onto, then download the QVIVO app for your iPhone and iPad to start streaming them. At the end of your 14 day trial you won’t want to organize and access your media any other way!

Finished reading? Check out QVIVO!

Interview with Matt Byrom (Wyzowl)

Wyzowl provides a service for creating videos about websites or web apps.

I interviewed Matt Byrom, Wyzowl founder and MD to find out more. This interview is the hundred and thirteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Matt!

How would you describe Wyzowl in under 50 words?

We create videos about websites, web apps and mobile apps. Our videos help people promote their products and services, increase conversions and sales.

I’ve read that ‘customers who view product videos are 85% more likely to convert’. Why do you think this is?

I think that people fly through websites so quickly these days that long portions of text are too onerous for people to read. A video can explain a website, web app or mobile app in 1-2 minutes or less and leave the viewer understanding what the product is and the benefits of using it. Our videos help a viewer understand what the product is by actually demonstrating it. This helps them quickly understand whether it is right for them.

How did you come up with the name?

I had the name for quite a while before I decided to go the video route. I knew it had to be some sort of knowledge transfer business due to the name Wize-Owl. In short the name came before the business but I think it fits perfectly for what we do!

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

We are based in the North West of England in a town called Southport. Our closest city is Liverpool around 20 miles away. We are a team of motion graphics experts, illustrators and copywriters. We all work in the same office meaning we can chat about projects and be flexible when it comes to client requirements. We find this is the best way to work.

Where are your clients based?

We work with clients all over the world. We have done business with over 25 countries. Our biggest market is USA followed by Europe then UK.

How do you promote Wyzowl?

We promote through a lot of online methods, email, online advertising including Adwords, BuySellAds display placements etc, content marketing through our blog and a lot of Skype!

You offer a monthly free video competition where someone on your mailing list wins a free Website or Mobile app video. Has this been a successful way to promote Wyzowl?

Yes, this has been a great way to build our email list and connect with people who are not ready to buy or inquire but would still like to be in the running for a free video.

We also love to learn about all these new startups and businesses so you can find me regularly scouring the list to find out all the newest signups.

What price are we talking for a Wyzowl video?

Our videos start at only $595. That includes the full package, we write a script, a professional voiceover, music, SFX and the final HD quality video files. No hidden charges or extras, just 1 price and a great video.

What’s your favourite part of creating a video for a website or web app?

Learning about our customers business and software. I find it so interesting learning about all the innovative stuff that people are creating at the moment. There is a lot of creativity out there and that certainly makes our job enjoyable.

As a CIM Chartered Marketer, how did your interest in marketing develop?

After I graduated university I started my career in marketing and always wanted to be the best at anything I do I decided to go through the CIM Chartered programme.

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

Wow, there is not 1 thing but probably 1,000+ things I wish I had known. Creating and growing a business is hard and requires knowledge in so many different areas, marketing, finance, hr etc. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way but I guess that’s how you learn! It’s great fun!!

Where do you see Wyzowl in 5 years time?

I would like Wyzowl to be a dominant player in the web video market. I would like to grow our team and out customer base.

With your experience, what piece of advice would you give to someone starting-up?

Make sure your product or service is awesome. If you have an awesome product it will be so much easier to grow than if your product is average. Business can be hard and pushing something that isn’t all that great is no fun at all.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We have a complete partner programme launching on 3rd September. This will allow others to resell our videos. Our package is completely white labelled so designers / developers / agencies etc can resell our videos to their clients without them ever knowing we were involved.

We provide loads of videos, voiceovers, print literature to help them sell our videos. All white labelled so they can rebrand them to fit their brand. We work on fixed turnaround times and provide a complete project management system so partners can feel confident that we can be relied on to do a great job that will reflect well on them.

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

Our videos will help your customers understand your product or service better. We take something that can be complex to explain and simplify it so that it can be explained quickly. Once a viewer understands your product it’s much easier to decide if it is right for them.

Finished reading? Check out Wyzowl!

Interview with Veselin Stoilov (Brolmo)

Brolmo is an online provider of free remotely-hosted applications built specifically for non-technical users.

I interviewed Veselin Stoilov, Brolmo founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and twelfth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Veselin for the interview!

How would you describe Brolmo in under 50 words?

Brolmo is an online software solution that provides users with a way to embed and manage web applications on their websites and improve website interactivity. Brolmo-remotely hosted applications can be used by web developers and designers when building a website and by users with no programming experience or knowledge.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

Entrepreneur, who will never stop looking for new opportunities.

Tell us about Brolmo’s web applications. Which one is the most popular?

There are 4 different web applications that we have at – Event Calendar, Poll, Availability Calendar and GuestBook. Event Calendar application was the first one we did a long time ago and it’s the most popular one at the moment. GuestBook is our latest web application and has quickly gotten more and more subscribers. We aim to build easy to use web applications which everyone can use and that’s the main reason why our apps quickly become popular. In the next few weeks we will add a Contact Form Builder!

You’re CEO of StivaSoft, a web design and web development company, that built Brolmo. What’s your background? What led you to startup StivaSoft 7 years ago?

In 2002, I earned a Bachelor Degree in Information Technology from the University of Economics, Varna. I then decided to devote myself completely to freelance work. I developed a number of web applications and programs which resulted in my own company, now operating worldwide.

Leveraging my experience as a web programmer, I teamed up with two graduate school buddies — Sasho Valkanov and Kosta Todorov — to launch a small website called Our initial offering consisted of a few “off-the-shelf” web applications. Through intense efforts, PHPJabbers was thus transformed into a huge resource for webmasters, and StivaSoft Ltd was established in 2009. Since then, our team has grown from the three friends to over 20 professionals in three offices on two continents. As of today, we have over 18,000 clients around the world.

What made you decide to build Brolmo web applications?

We’d been building and selling website tools for many years before we decided to create the website. During those years we learnt that many people want something which does not require any programming knowledge nor takes time to set up. With we’ve managed to do just that – you can have a web app on your website in less than 3 minutes.

Do you have any new web applications in the pipeline?

We will never stop developing new products and solutions to improve the way web users (no matter if they are web developers or small business owners) handle their daily tasks and business in the online world. We are currently working on several new projects and initiatives, including:, planned as an online service that will provide companies and brands with easy self-hosted software solutions to collect clients’ opinion, gather customer ideas and suggestions in order to improve quality and increase customers’ satisfaction. Release date: early 2013., an online service that will provide companies with easy self-hosted software solutions to provide support – knowledgebase software, ticket based support system, online chat. Release date: mid 2013., the only place online that will allow professionals to barter and trade services and web projects. Swopee is all about exchanging abilities and helping freelancers to get the job done by someone else in exchange of something they can do. Release date: early 2013.

Has each Brolmo web application got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

I doubt I will ever say that something met my expectations. We are in a business where everything changes fast. We plan something and within 6 months we realize that potential is bigger so we change our plans. Then we plan again and do more. Fortunately, so far everything we’ve been doing with and all our other products and services helps us grow!

What’s currently your favourite app?

The one that we’ve not built yet. We are full of ideas – almost every week we come up with an idea for an application which makes us excited and passionate about having it made.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

All the people I work with. No matter how many ideas you have, how passionate you are or how much knowledge you have, without the right people next to you there is no way you can succeed.

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

Get the right people on board from the very beginning. Then work hard and never give up.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

It’s the project. Bartering and trading can be a great way to get certain jobs done without having to pay for it and we are sure that will help web developers optimise their work and build customer relationships.

Can you convince the reader to start using Brolmo web applications in under 50 words?

Try it for free! You have nothing to lose! Add more interactivity and new attractive features to your website. I am sure, your website visitors will appreciate it!

Finished reading? Check out Brolmo!

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