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Chris Cardell

Interview with Joe Griffin (iAcquire)

iAcquire provide enterprise level digital marketing for search and social.

I interviewed Joe Griffin, iAcquire co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and fifty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Joe!

Describe iAcquire in under 50 words.

iAcquire is a digital marketing agency that helps large and medium-sized businesses better compete online. Specifically, we combine intelligent digital strategy with SEO, social media, reputation management, and content marketing to ensure our clients maximize their presence in search and social.

Describe yourself in three words.

Stubborn. Passionate. Resilient.

I hear you were introduced to computers by your grandmother at age 7 and went on to co-found SubmitAWebsite.com with your father at age 17, which was later sold to Web.com. What would you say is the most important thing you learned from your father?

My father taught me how to be confident, and taught me that taking risks is part of life, and without risk life is boring and bland.

What led you to start working on iAcquire in 2009? How did you meet business partner, Jay Swansson?

Jay and I go back to 2004. He was one of the original guys that started up Text Link Ads, which later became Media Whiz. Jay and I became friends, and shared a mutual passion for building businesses and being aggressive in work and life.

After my contract with Web.com ended I became restless and wanted to get started on my next project. I dabbled in a few different areas and invested in a couple companies, but ultimately my heart belonged to search, and that’s what I went back to. I wanted to build something special, and I wanted an opportunity to do it on my own – without my father or a group of corporate masterminds holding my reins (no offense to those guys). It just so happened that Jay was thinking the same way, so, we kind of came together at the right time.

How long did it take to build iAcquire?

We formed the entity in April in 2009, and took on our first client in July. We started in a 500 sq. ft. executive office in Phoenix. In November 2011, we expanded to a 1600 sq. ft. space in the same building. In July of 2010 we moved upstairs to a 3,800 sq. ft. space with a non-leased section of 900 sq. ft. available to us. We took the 900 sq. ft. over this past October with the addition of around 40 new hires in 2012.

While we filled up that space we also took on a 4,200 sq. ft. space in Manhattan. In October we tore down the walls to the adjacent space in Phoenix to form an 8,000 sq. ft. office. That space was full as of June 2012. Now we are living in tight quarters, and I’m hoping we get more efficient, and don’t have to expand in the near term. NYC is nearly full as well.

What was the most challenging part of developing iAcquire?

The most challenging part was managing the growth. We built iAcquire from scratch with no venture capital or outside money. That means that we lived deal to deal, and obviously it was imperative for us to service what we sold – and get results. Doing that is very hard. Not just grow at the scale and speed at which we grew, but also keep up with the demand on all fronts. We had to balance people, clients, servicing, technology, finance, legal, etc.

Growing a business at that pace is very hard no matter how you slice it – especially if you’re not lying on the comfortable cushions provided by investment capital.

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

We made the mistake of promoting people that were really good at the job they did into a job they had no experience doing. With enough management and hand holding some of these folks could have been more successful, but in a start up environment those luxuries don’t necessarily exist. I think we took steps backwards at times by wrongfully changing people’s roles.

iAcquire were banned by Google in May 2012. What’s the story?

iAcquire is really strong in SEO, and specifically off-page SEO (which consists of building links to a particular website domain, for those of you who are new to SEO). Leading up to that point brands and agencies of all sizes including iAcquire were willing to be very aggressive to get results. The industry demanded results in a short period of time, and wanted it done on a budget. One of the best ways to do that was to procure really strong home page links on quality sites. The only problem is that getting these types of links at scale wasn’t possible across our client base without compensation.

We would pay a webmaster or business owner to link to our client, and were 100% transparent with our clients about the process. The only concern was that we didn’t overly leverage any particular site or create a “link network.” So our process was to find quality and relevant websites through an extensive process using technology and manual prowess, and create individual relationships on a one to one basis. We built a lot of great relationships with webmasters.

Toward the end of 2011 and throughout 2012, Google launched a series of major updates that year starting with Panda and then Penguin. Google took a strong stance on link building practices they felt broke their guidelines. We began taking serious measures to transition away from paid linking and began converting to more natural link building methods like content marketing. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that a reporter from Kansas would spend 30 hours exposing our process before we had completed our transition. We had started promoting our brand heavily during this transition, which I feel made us a target – in hindsight we should have waited a few more months before we began pushing our brand.

We weren’t able to get in line with Google’s more aggressive position fast enough, and because we were “outted” Google decided to make a statement. We spent a lot of time assessing our work, and more quickly transitioned away from paid links. After 60 days Google let us back in the index. That experience gave us a unique perspective, and now we consider ourselves to be one of the most Google-compliant SEO agencies out there. We’re not willing to put ourselves or our clients under that type of scrutiny, regardless of the market demands.

Has iAcquire got the feedback and growth you expected?

Yes, and then some.

Where do you see iAcquire in another 4 years time?

I see us as either a top 10 interactive agency with annual revenues exceeding $50 million, or owned by one of the major ad agencies (one that we feel would have a similar culture and that would empower us to be great).

In your opinion, are entrepreneurs born or made?

Entrepreneurs are neither born nor made in my opinion – though environment plays a major role. Entrepreneurism comes from hard work, risk aversion, and ego. You can’t be an entrepreneur without ego. You have to believe in yourself. You have to be willing to go it alone if you must, put your work first, or even be proven wrong on more than one occasion. You can’t be perfect and be an entrepreneur. You must understand your weaknesses, be aggressive, and above all your head has to be hard enough to knock down any wall.

What has been the most insane moment of running your own business?

The Google ban was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever faced professionally. Other than that we’ve dealt with some pretty crazy clients over the years – not every client is a good one. We’re getting better at picking the best partners.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

I admire Matt Cutts (you have to have really big balls to be the face of Google’s spam team – and not to mention Matt was one of the guys that started Google SafeSearch and I admire him for that too). Also Elon Musk, Bob Parsons, and Mark Zuckerberg.

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

Don’t take no for an answer if you believe in something bad enough, but don’t build your business blindly. Validate the market before you start building. For me, I like to start with a financial model, then build it. You’ll never hit your numbers exactly or even close most of the time when it’s a start up. Usually you go way smaller, or way bigger. Also, network like crazy, and you should move to where your scene is hot – go to San Fran for tech, Manhattan for finance- that’s where you’ll meet people that can plug you in.

Also, play the part of your business, but also look sharp. If you’re building a new electric guitar you can be the rock and roll guy but be the sharp looking version. Don’t be the dirty pants version. No one likes an overkill look, but creating a persona is important in business. I wrote a post I really love called “99 Lessons Learned as an Internet Entrepreneur”.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The new iAcquire website is slated to go live in February. It is one of our best works. Our creative team is getting better by the day. We are also working on rolling out a new business division, which I hope you hear about. It’s going to be late Q2, but I’m really excited about it.

Can you convince the reader to start using iAcquire in under 100 words?

iAcquire does two things REALLY well: (1) strategy and (2) execution. If you have a really big team you need strategy and maybe some execution, and if you have a small team you need execution, and maybe strategy too. We’ve done our very best to hire the greatest minds in search, social, and digital marketing as a whole. Give us a shout – we’ll make you a hero.

Finished reading? Check out iAcquire!

Interview with Gabriele Mittica (UpCloo)

UpCloo is a fully hosted indexing and correlation engine that helps increase pageviews.

I interviewed Gabriele Mittica, UpCloo co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and fifty second in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Gabriele!

Describe UpCloo in under 50 words.

UpCloo is a cloud-based application that helps blogs and online newspapers to get quality traffic increasing pageviews and reducing the bounce rate. After a very easy integration, less than a minute, it starts analyzing your content and providing semantic based correlations (most related links) to your users.

Describe yourself in three words.

Nice Italian startupper?

What made you decide to start working on UpCloo?

UpCloo was the response to a specific need from one of our customers, a big tech blog: find a way to increase the pageviews and reduce the bounce rate, in order to make advertisements on the website more profitable. We started designing the core of the technology and providing the first API for the server-side integration. After good feedback by a small set of private beta testers, we improved the platform and developed SDKs and plugins for several languages and content management systems.

How does it work?

UpCloo is fully deployed on the cloud. Thanks to our SKDs and plugins, you can integrate it in all platforms and apps (web and mobile). After integration, UpCloo starts analyzing all your content, both old and new. Each time you publish a piece of news, review or an article, UpCloo analyses it and extracts the main sentences creating correlations between other content you published.

When a visitor comes to read the content, UpCloo shows the related stories in a box (floating or inline) providing great suggestions defined on semantic analysis. That’s all.

To start, you just have to signup and get the JavaScript code to paste in your web pages. After 60 seconds UpCloo is running on you websites.

You can easily edit styles and options directly in the reserved area, where you can also get reports about performance of the service. It’s also possible to track UpCloo with Google Analytics!

How did you meet your co-founder Walter Dal Mut?

We worked together for 4 years in an Italian software house, developing lots of web apps. After a while, we started dreaming about a new business together. With plenty of courage we started our business one year ago, renting a small office in Turin. It was very exciting: to create something from scratch and watch it grow. Day by day, we developed UpCloo and other cloud based services, getting good feedback from our customers.

Tell us about your experience of the Oxygen Accelerator Program 2012.

After we applied to Oxygen (in July, just one hour before closing), they sent us an email saying that we were in the top 40. We were really surprised, but the challenge wasn’t over. We had to overcome two other selections to be accepted into the accelerator. Lots of Skype calls and pitches followed. But I can remember in exact detail the two moments when I received the notifications. The first in August, I was on the beach, they said we were in the top 20. And the last one, in early September, I received an email: “you made it”. I was driving and almost went out of road!

We arrived in Birmingham October 1st. Everything was different from Italy where the market is firmer and less open to startups. The first weeks were very hard, but the whole experience of Accelerator was something new, intense and exciting. A series of meetings and lessons with mentors from various companies followed. We bonded immediately with the guys from other teams. They looked at us in amazement at the amount of coffee (7-8 espresso per day) we drank, and we threw ourselves into the world of startups with enthusiasm. Week after week, with the help of Oxygen, the mentors and our teammates, we redesigned the business and opened the service to everyone.

How have you marketed UpCloo? Which tools and techniques have been most successful?

UpCloo is now on the market and everyone can try it. UpCloo is based on freemium model: it’s free for everyone and premium plans (with dedicated support and extra features) are available for bigger customers. Our goal is to talk about UpCloo, making it popular between bloggers and online magazines, so we’re trying to enforce our presence in developers communities and websites talking about blogging.

One of the most important decisions we made was to make UpCloo really simple to use: thanks to JavaScript you can start with UpCloo in less than a minute, getting the best from the service immediately. This helps us to be really close to our customers, reducing the time of integration and getting more users along the way.

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

We have collected a lot of feedback from our customers, improving the service and introducing new features each month. We started with just one thousand requests per month, and we now serve tens of millions. We’re growing fast!

Where do you see UpCloo in 5 years time?

Our main goal is to make UpCloo a worldwide product. We’re working a lot on marketing and thanks to the cloud we can scale up immediately serving new customers each day. We’re starting new marketing strategies here in UK, in Birmingham and London, and we’re designing the next steps to make it popular everywhere.

What else are you working on right now?

We are organizing a conference in Italy about Cloud Computing to let companies understand this technology better. It’s very exciting and puts us in contact with a lot of interesting people!

What do you love about your work?

Firstly, I believe it’s the possibility to play every day. Web technologies are growing so fast that you have to learn, grow and change continuously, without stopping. Secondly, the opportunity to get up the morning in a foreign city, being scared and not knowing how this thing will evolve but also happy to work on something that is truly yours.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

Let me think about that… I would probably have to say Sean Parker; he raised two great tech revolutions, Napster and Facebook, that’s incredible! And… Bill Gates: a lot of people don’t like him: badmouth Microsoft and you collect a lot of applause but I think he really changed the world.

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

If you’re a tech guy like Walter and me, remember that you can deploy the best app in the world but you also need to manage the business development. Try to get traction and work also on the presence of your project on the web.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Investor day, the final event (in Jan) of the Oxygen Accelerator where the startup teams will introduce their projects to a large set of investors and companies.

Can you convince the reader to check out UpCloo in under 50 words?

If you have websites rich in content, you know how important it is to get quality traffic and better monetize your back catalogue. UpCloo is a smart technology that helps you to put more value into your digital content, making them more easily discovered.

Finished reading? Check out UpCloo!

Interview with Paul Rhodes (Loggable)

Loggable is a simple way for freelancers, developers and creatives to track time and control costs.

I interviewed Paul Rhodes, Loggable founder to find out more. This is the hundred and fifty first in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Paul!

How would you describe Loggable in under 50 words?

Loggable is an intentionally simple time tracking and analysis tool designed to help talented businesses who are great at what they do but not so great at managing their time. It facilitates retrospectives and helps businesses improve their processes and profitability.

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

A thirty something, developer turned business owner.

Tell us more about how Loggable works and who uses it.

The system is based on split level reporting. For every project there is a budget (time sold, set by the manager) and the actual time taken to complete a task (time taken, completed by the team). The team members enter the time taken to complete a task against a project using a simple categorisation system. This data is then processed to report progress, split off type of work completed and a visible history of the project. Loggable is not designed as a stick with which to beat team members with. Instead, it creates conversation around what to do differently next time to improve. You can see where calendar deadlines slip but profitability is maintained. It demonstrates what happens when you throw resources at a problem. The main users of Loggable at the moment are creatives and developers, however, we are reaching more sectors with chartered surveyors and professional service companies adopting it. As a result of a freelancer using Loggable for 1 week they increased their prices :-)

Tell us a bit about your background. How did your interest in web development start?

I’m a naturally lazy person and have always been interested in music. I went to University pre dot-com boom because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I loved playing in bands and wanted to create digital music CDs with video and multimedia tracks for bands.

I did a computing course that was 50% programming (PHP, Director, Flash) and 50% design. I quickly learnt that I am not a designer. Whilst at Uni I worked for a multimedia company in Manchester and loved it! We created educational and promotional CD-ROMs for large corporates. After graduation, I moved back to the Midlands and got a job as a multimedia / web developer with the focus on web. Over the next 8 years, I worked as a junior developer and progressed to senior web developer for a number of early mobile web companies. The companies were early adopters for mobile and we developed mobile delivery platforms to get content onto green screen mobile phones over WAP. This gave me a taste of both service and product development. I didn’t realise at the time how much I loved product development.

You started 22 Blue, a web and mobile development consultancy. Did you always want to be your own boss?

I never imagined myself running a business. I kind of fell into it. I’d worked for 2 previous companies where I was tasked with building the development teams. On both occasions, I was one of the first developers in and grew the team of developers to 8 and 10 respectively. During this phase, I became a certified Scrum Master and was doing more and more management, when all I really wanted to do was develop and cut the code for 8 hours a day.

I was lucky enough to go on a business trip to Boston, USA and see the likes of Jason Cohen, Kent Beck and Jeff Sutherland talk about Agile, Continuous Integration and TDD. This was a moment that changed everything. On the flight home I saw there was “another way” to address some of the core issues we were facing as a product development team. Unfortunately, my boss at the time didn’t see it that way. So with my 2nd child on the way and no real plan, I decided that I would start my own company that allow me the freedom to pursue my idealistic view of development.

Tell us about your recent startup, Green Gorilla Apps. What made you decide to start working on Loggable?

Despite my best intentions, huge amount of stress, late nights and long hours 22 Blue sadly went into liquidation in May 2012. I had grown the company from my bedroom to a team of 6 in 12 short months and after 2 years it started to unravel. We traded on raw talent and I learned some big lessons about the commercial aspects of business – sounds simple now. After a lot of soul searching I had to made a decision about the future… I decided that despite all the negatives, if I corrected a number of the core problems then it would work.

Green Gorilla was born and the very first thing we did as a team was to conduct a post mortem on the past 12 months – the highs and lows. We identified that as a service based business there were some key questions about our delivery that should be able to be answered at any stage of the project. Out of this requirement and the need to get things right, we developed Loggable v1 in the first week of trading. We wanted a solid base to build upon.

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

We (Paul, Sam, Kyle and Jon) are based in Bromsgrove, in the Midlands, UK.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Loggable?

The system isn’t that complex so nothing was particularly challenging from a technical perspective. We spent a lot of time promoting, reviewing and gaining user feedback. Of all the technical tasks, the user invites system was the most complex. Users have their own accounts, as well as being team members and / or collaborators with other accounts.

How long did it take to put together Loggable?

We developed the original version in CakePHP in 1 week.

Over the next 6 months, we rolled it out to early adopters and gained feedback. We reviewed and implemented the key ideas over the next 6 months whilst working fulltime on service contracts.

During those 6 months, we had transitioned as a business from PHP to Rails (part of the idealistic approach).

So in Dec 2012 we rewrote the entire application in Ruby on Rails and launched it on 7th Jan 2013 out of closed Beta.

I can actually tell you the exact hours completed to date: 353 hours / approx 44 days.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Lots. We have kept Loggable intentionally simple. It doesn’t do invoicing or classic project management or CRM like many other time tracking tools. Our plans for 2013 are to build upon the key reporting suite and also integrate with third party systems like Xero, Nimble and Basecamp.

What do you wish you’d have known 3 years ago that you know now?

From a commercial perspective, the importance of strong legals, good financial team and most importantly credit control. That said, had those been in place Green Gorilla and Loggable would not exist today.

From a technical perspective, be idealistic and follow through. The power of creativity from within your own team is unparalleled. We use Rails, TDD, Agile, CI all because we all believe it the best thing for the job.

Where do you see Loggable in 3 years time?

I want Loggable to have a dedicated team pushing it forward, rolling out new features and supporting users. Currently, we are a service company supporting a product part time.

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

It’s early, early days but so far we are slowly but surely building our user base. The most important thing is that we engage with our users and listen to their ideas.

How many users do you currently have?

As of launch at the start of Jan we have 80 users.

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

The hardest job of all is ahead of us, growing the user base through marketing and supporting our community. We want to be a human, approachable company. If someone is having a bad experience, we want to engage with them and help. The feedback so far has been great in terms of ideas and also our promptness to fix issues.

Name 3 trends that excite you.

Continuous Integration, Open Source Opinionated Software and Frameworks.

What tips do you have for effective time management?

Log it and review it. If you don’t log your time, how can you ever improve.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I’d like to say Xbox and Guitar, but it has to be spending quality time with my wife and 2 kids at the park.

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

Take action, don’t think about doing it too much. Planning is overrated. Get out there and prove a concept as quickly and easily as possible. Oh, and read Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Promoting Loggable. We have a big launch event at the end of Feb that is going to be pretty cool.

Can you convince the reader to sign up to Loggable in under 50 words?

Question: do you know how much profit is left in each of your projects at this moment in time?

Finished reading? Check out Loggable!

Interview with Chris Hefley (Leankit)

Leankit is a simple, visual process management and collaboration tool.

I interviewed Chris Hefley, Leankit CEO and co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and fiftieth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Chris!

Describe Leankit in under 50 words.

LeanKit is a visual project management system. It provides visibility into the status and pace of work that traditional project management systems can’t deliver. It’s simple and easy to use, so people doing the work actually do use it. And it provides greatly improved visibility and analysis to management.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

I’m a software developer turned entrepreneur, with a passion for improving the way that work gets done and thereby improving people’s lives at work.

What is the meaning of Kanban?

Kanban is an adaptation of a concept from the world of “just-in-time” manufacturing, now being applied to knowledge work. In Japanese it means “visual card”, and it provides a way to visualize the work and workflow, and the mechanism to limit the amount of work-in-progress. The idea is to stop starting more work, and start finishing work. The fewer things you have in process at one time, the faster each gets done.

If you can make the progress and priorities highly visible to all stakeholders, you can greatly improve throughput while making sure the highest priority work gets the focus it deserves. It also helps keep teams working at their most effective pace by not overloading the team with more work than they can handle, forcing them to be constantly re-prioritizing their work, and slowing progress down to a crawl.

How did you meet co-founders Stephen Franklin, Daniel Norton, and Jon Terry? What roles do you each take?

We all met working together at hospital giant HCA Healthcare, headquartered here in Nashville. Jon was the project manager and Stephen, Daniel and I were developers on a major project there that lasted a couple of years. After we went on to other teams and some to other jobs, we all kept in touch and had lunch together once every couple of months. After a couple of years of this, we decided it was time to “get the band back together”. We got together knowing we wanted to work together before we really had an idea of what our company would do. We polled the group for ideas and LeanKit was born.

Stephen is our Chief Technology Officer, Daniel is VP of Product Development, Jon is Chief Operating Officer, and I’m the CEO. Our senior management team also includes Denise Grey as Chief Marketing Officer, Len Safford as Chief Financial Officer, and Kemp Maxwell as Director of Business Development.

Where are you based?

We’re located in Franklin, Tennessee, about 30 minutes south of Nashville. Nashville is a great hub for technology, companies, with many of the country’s largest healthcare, entertainment, and manufacturing companies headquartered here, as well as dozens of universities. Franklin is home to a big part of the technology industry here, as well as the headquarters of some major manufacturing companies, like Nissan North America.

How long did it take to put together Leankit?

The founders worked on it “nights and weekends” for the first two years, while we kept our day jobs. We got our first customers after about 10 months of development, but things really started to take off for us in early 2011. That’s when we started quitting our jobs one-by-one, to work on LeanKit full-time. Five of us moved into our Franklin office in January of 2012, and now we have a staff of 21, and we’re growing faster than ever.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Leankit?

We invested the most effort in making sure that the visualization capabilities of LeanKit would be superior. It’s fairly easy to build software to visualize vertical columns that work moves through. But it’s much more difficult to provide the kind of flexibility that LeanKit provides, while still making it easy to set up and use, and providing the ability to measure and analyze all that flexibility via charts and reports. Our first attempt at building this part of LeanKit resulted in us working for a couple of months, then scrapping everything we’d built and starting over based on what we learned the first time. We’ve built and rebuilt these aspects of our software several times, and it continues to be our biggest differentiating feature.

Any big clients on your list?

Absolutely. One of our oldest clients from way back in 2010 is Spotify, before they were in the U.S., and before I’d ever heard of them. Today our client list includes many major companies including NBC Universal, Rolls-Royce, JetBlue, AOL, GEICO, Monster.com, OfficeMax, DirecTV, Groupon, Nokia, and the government of Ontario, Canada, to name a few.

What advantage does Leankit have over its competitors?

The biggest advantage is that you can use LeanKit to model any process. We have customers from fashion designers to physicists, preschool teachers to avionics engineers, and everything in between using LeanKit to help them manage their work. It doesn’t assume anything about your process, and gives you the flexibility to to design the process to fit the way you actually do your work-something that traditional project management systems and even other visualization tools struggle to do. It’s also easy and fast to design your workflow. It usually takes about 5 minutes, and rarely requires any training – allowing people to just pick it up and do it for themselves.

Where do you see Leankit in 5 years time?

I think we can make a huge impact on the future of how work gets managed. The project management software in use today hasn’t changed much in decades, and the principles upon which these methods are based are as much as 100 years old. People that “do the work” hate working with the systems they have now, and managers struggle in vain to get the visibility, forecasting, and risk management capabilities that they need.

We have a project management approach that is truly different, not just more attractive or more collaborative, as many recent entrants into the project management software market are. As we get our message out, we can transform the way that people plan and manage their work, the way people collaborate on their work, and the way that managers and project managers plan, forecast, budget, and manage their organizations.

This is much bigger than managing the work of software developers and corporate IT. That’s where we started, building software that we would want to use. But it has grown from there into something that marketing teams, construction companies, university research teams, sales organizations, and all types of people can use to manage their work.

What future do you see for Lean and Kanban software development?

Lean and Kanban in software development and IT in general is starting to become a big deal. After 10 years, much of the world is coming around to the idea that Agile software development practices are far superior in many ways to the traditional methods that have been used for software development, especially in corporate IT. But there are classes of problems that Agile doesn’t solve well, like how to scale it to large organizations and how to manage incremental improvement for teams and organizations that struggle with the revolutionary nature of Agile.

Lean and Kanban predate Agile, but share many of the same core principles, like “fast feedback loops”, “smaller batch sizes”, and “build in quality from the start”. Learning about Lean and Kanban can be the answer for organizations who are working to improve their processes, improve their delivery speed, and generally improve the quality of their work, as well as helping organizations manage their implementations of Agile principles and practices.

Finished reading? Check out Leankit!

Interview with Dusan Babich (Device Magic)

Device Magic lets users build software applications for mobile devices.

I interviewed Dusan Babich, Device Magic CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and forty ninth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Dusan!

Give us the elevator pitch for Device Magic.

Device Magic aims to make building mobile business apps much quicker, cheaper and easier by concentrating on the key functionality most organizations require.

We’ve identified data capture and replacement of paper processes as a pain point most businesses have and want to digitize/automate.

Tell us about Mobile Forms.

With Mobile Forms we’re replacing clipboards and paper-based workflows with an online tool to build your solution, accompanied by a rich set of apps for iPhone, iPad, Android devices and tablets and BlackBerry.

We figured there are a few key things you need the app to do, like work offline in areas of limited connectivity, automatically stay current with the latest version of a form, interact with the native device features (camera, GPS, barcode scanning etc).

Most importantly, an organization wants their mobile-originated data to flow into existing processes, whether they be a PDF in an Inbox, a spreadsheet, Google Doc, or proprietary database.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

My co-founder and I have been in the mobile space for about 8 years now. We started building dev tools at Red Five Labs for Nokia/Symbian smartphones, specifically a .NET runtime for Symbian OS.

When we worked with customers trying to get their Windows Mobile apps running on Nokia, we kept on seeing the same kind of app being built over and over.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Mobile Forms?

Probably supporting different codebases for each of the mobile platforms. We wanted to deliver a great experience on each OS, so that meant writing the code as close to the metal as was feasible.

We have customers all around the world in every timezone, so making sure everyone’s data arrives in a timely manner keeps us busy!

Do you have any products in the pipeline?

We’re focussing on our core Mobile Forms product for now, adding direct integrations into systems our customers care about and improving our developer API.

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

That both Nokia and Microsoft were going to fail in mobile? Our last startup was basically a bet that those two would always remain relevant…look how that turned out!

Where do you see Device Magic in 5 years time?

From day one we wanted to be both a platform and a product…by having an API, more and more people are using Mobile Forms to solve the “last mile” of data collection. We see ourselves (hopefully) solving that problem completely for people needing to get data from the field.

What is the most magical thing about running your own business?

Business (especially tech/Internet) is so global these days…it’s really interesting to interact with people from all over the globe, applying our tech in ways we definitely didn’t imagine. We’re humbled by some of the institutions that rely on us.

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

US Immigration reform for entrepreneurs probably. We’d love to be building our business from the US, but that is currently quite difficult.

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

Hmmm, that’s a difficult one…I’m really enjoying my Klipsch in-ear headset – I use it for everything from gym to conference calls! In terms of an app, if you follow NFL and live outside the US, NFL Game Pass app+service is really, really impressive.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

That’s easy! Elon Musk. Who else tackles 3 of the most challenging problems facing humanity? I admired him before I realized he was born in South Africa.

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

Get through as many startup iterations as possible, as early as possible. My theory is that entrepreneurship is a learned skill and most of the success stories that emerge are the result of a few prior attempts at company-building.

For example someone of 23 with three ventures under their belt is more likely to succeed, all other things being equal, than someone at 30 without a startup under their belt. You can’t mitigate the lack of experience by reading either, at least not completely; you have to do it.

Also watch our for winner’s bias. But that’s just my 2c.

How important is it to love what you do?

Extremely important. When you multiply probability of success by the size of that outcome, you have to be doing it for more than monetary gain.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m really excited that we’ve finally entered the area of privately-operated spacefaring. That’s a huge milestone for humanity and it almost seems to have gone unnoticed! Also, the commoditization of electronics hardware with things like Arduino has opened up a whole bunch of possibilities and innovation.

Finished reading? Check out Device Magic!

Interview with John Hanger (Contact At Once!)

Contact At Once! is a SaaS proprietary chat software that embeds in websites and landing pages.

I interviewed John Hanger, Contact At Once! CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and forty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to John!

How would you describe Contact At Once! in under 50 words?

Contact At Once! pioneered the use of live chat software in advertising, enabling instant connections between online shoppers and businesses through online marketplaces, merchant websites and social media.

What industries does Contact At Once! currently work in? Any plans to open up to new industries?

Contact At Once! currently provides industry-specific solutions for automotive, apartments and Real Estate. The company will continue development in markets where demand exists for solutions that can connect online shoppers from multiple advertising channels with businesses who sell high-value or complex products and/or services face-to-face.

Who uses Contact At Once! and how does it work?

Contact At Once! provides industry-specific chat and text solutions for online marketplaces, merchant websites and mobile devices for automotive, apartments and Real Estate.

Contact At Once! chat and text solutions draw out more online and mobile shoppers, enabling instant connections between them and sellers with a non-threatening communications tool. Our chat and texting solutions typically increase the number of sales opportunities companies drive from websites and advertising by 25% or more.

Contact At Once! has two pending patents related to its exclusive ability to provide live chat in online advertising and “presence-awareness”, the attribute that allows the software to dynamically change advertisements, depending on user availability. Contact At Once! recently launched Mobile Text Connect, new features that allow advertisers to enable texts or chats from any advertisement, including digital and traditional promotions.

You are US based but also have a strong UK customer base. Has this always been the case?

Our UK presence continues to rapidly expand as we develop relationships with key advertisers and motor dealerships. We expect our UK operations to grow in a similar trajectory to the US market, as the basic value proposition is the same, regardless of geography. Whenever shoppers are spending a good deal of time researching a complex or expensive product online that they will ultimately purchase face-to-face, Contact At Once! provides an opportunity for businesses to generate better customer relationships and higher sales.

What is your background? What was your first big breakthrough?

Contact At Once! is my fifth technology start-up and I enjoy the energy and innovation of high-growth technology companies. We work fast and are constantly evolving, so every day brings a new challenge. I’m an engineer by training, so that experience not only helps me problem-solve in a fast-paced, fluid environment, but I also have a natural love for how disparate systems, technologies and people can be brought together to solve problems in all-new ways. I knew I would always work in technology when I was fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the e-business revolution and see how we were able to transform companies by changing the way they did business with partners and suppliers.

What brought you to Contact At Once!? How did you meet founder, Marc F. Hayes?

In mid-2004 I had just sold the last company at which I was CEO and I was looking for a new company to invest my talents in. I was introduced to Marc by a friend-of-a-friend. Marc was at Accenture, had a cool idea, and itched to start a company but he wasn’t quite ready to pull the ripcord on his very successful 18 year career there. I guess you could say that I helped convince him to jump out of the plane, and we’ve enjoyed a great working relationship ever since. Marc has a rare combination of technical and business skills, and an amazing work ethic.

What technologies have been used to build Contact At Once!?

Contact At Once! is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution built with technologies including .NET, jabber/XMPP, and HTML5 for our mobile solutions.

Contact At Once! has grown by 693 per cent over the last three years and was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 500 fastest growing companies for 2011. What are the main factors that have led to this success?

The way people shop for high-ticket products has fundamentally changed in the last few years and opened the door for a product like ours.

Let’s take cars, for example. Consumers do the majority of their information-gathering on the Internet but are using traditional “lead forms” less and less because they provide such a bad experience – there’s no immediacy yet personal information must be provided. Contact At Once! chat in advertising and dealership websites provides consumers a new way to connect with dealerships and ask questions at the very moment their interest in a given car is highest. It also gives the dealership’s salespeople an opportunity to build rapport and relationship with a consumer earlier in the sales cycle, and because Contact At Once! chat is scalable to many sites, the dealership can be “present” in all the places consumers are looking for information. It reinforces their brand and creates impressions early in the buying cycle before, or while, preferences for specific products and merchants are developing.

Congratulations on recently securing $3m in equity funding from Fulcrum Equity Partners. What do you intend to use the funding for?

The additional funding is being used to accelerate growth into new markets and to allow product development to more rapidly address innovations for existing markets, so that we can maintain market leadership and dominant market share.

Did you expect the feedback and rate of growth that Contact At Once! has experienced?

We expected the company to do well because we believed the fundamental value proposition was sound. We’ve been very pleased with the growth we’ve achieved, but more importantly, that we have been able to sustain it year over year in some of the toughest economic times in decades. It is testament to the fact that the product provides measurable benefit to our customers, and to the great team we’ve assembled.

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

Always in high-growth technology companies, the biggest challenge is projecting when the market will transition from an early-adopter phase to a mainstream adoption cycle and ensuring you’re just ahead of the curve with sales, marketing and product investments, so you can ride the wave. There’s some science to it, but also the art of being able to read market trends and anticipate customers’ needs, oftentimes before there are clear signs of where a market is tracking.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Empirical data about how our solutions are helping businesses increase sales. The more we learn about how consumers use chat to connect with buyers, the more we are able to apply that knowledge to create better products for our customers. Being able to apply what we’ve learned in automotive to other markets is also a very exciting prospect.

Can you convince the reader to start using Contact At Once! in under 50 words?

Contact At Once! helps you connect with more online shoppers and sell more of your product or service. It’s that simple.

Finished reading? Check out Contact At Once!!

Interview with Anthony Ng Monica (Swogo)

Swogo is a free online shopping recommendation service that helps you buy.

I interviewed Anthony Ng Monica, Swogo co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and forty seventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Anthony!

Give us the elevator pitch for Swogo.

Swogo is a free online recommendation service, that helps anyone make purchase decisions for consumer electronics like an expert, on the web or on the go, in just 60 seconds.

More people are shopping online than ever, but choosing a product still isn’t easy. Search engines point users to information, not answers. Making the best purchase decision requires expert knowledge, a great deal of time, and up-to-date information on the market.

We found that 77% of consumers are overwhelmed by technical specifications. On average, it takes someone three weeks to buy a laptop.

Our vision is to bring this down to just 60 seconds. We ask users a short series of easy-to-understand questions about what they’re looking for. Our algorithm translates these answers into technical specifications and features, and is able to determine the best product for the user, alongside a tailored explanation as to why it suits their needs. What calculators do for maths, Swogo wants to do for purchases.

We’ve overcome many of the disadvantages that our competitors face, including inconsistent data. With missing and inconsistent information, a service can’t recommend the best product. We believe we’ve cracked it.

In its current form, Swogo recommends laptops in the UK. We plan to expand to the US in early 2013, and will soon branch into other consumer electronics, before later expanding into different product markets.

Tell us a bit about your background and what made you decide to start working on Swogo.

While studying, I was working part-time as an IT Support Analyst. I was consistently asked to help my colleagues choose the right laptop, camera, tablet, and other electronics and gadgets. Despite keeping up-to-date with the industry, I would have to research for hours across several sources to find the right product. I felt that there had to be an easier way.

Most consumers start their research using a search engine, but unfortunately, search engines tend to point consumers to information instead of answers. After conducting primary market research, the opportunity became apparent. We began to see the difficulties consumers face every day choosing the right product or service for them. I wanted to make it easier.

What appealed most about being your own boss?

I think it’s the thrill, the freedom, as well as the impact I feel I can create on the world. At Swogo, we work in a high-octane environment, we work hard and we have fun doing so. As we’re often working long hours, having the ability to hire based on the culture of the team really helps. Our roles are also flexible, which means each day is different. One day, I could be meeting up with investors, working on business development, or assisting with our marketing efforts. Lastly, I enjoy knowing that my work is changing the way consumers approach their purchases.

Who is the team behind Swogo and where are you based?

At the moment, our team consists of five founders and a small development team. We also contracted a designer, Danny Keane, whose work we were incredibly impressed with. Our team of five consists of Dimitar Kazakov, as CTO, Ivor Stankov, as CMO, Lucy Foster, as Head of Content and PR, Andre Rego, as Head of Business Development, and myself, as CEO.

We’re currently based in North London (Enfield), but are often popping central for meetings, so we end up seeing quite a bit of Old Street too.

How did you come up with the name?

Actually, it wasn’t originally intended for our company. About a year ago, I was investing in domain names and I came across Swogo.com posted on a Facebook Group. There were a number of reasons why it seemed the ideal fit for us. It was a short five letter .com domain, and the availability of .com domain names has greatly decreased. It also passed the radio test, it has an upbeat sound, and it’s highly brandable.

What technologies have you used to build Swogo?

We used Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js and CoffeeScript.

You successfully raised investment via FSA-regulated crowdfunding website Seedrs. Tell us about your experience of crowd-funding.

We needed to raise investment to expand our technical team and develop a marketable, minimum viable product.

A few years ago, I worked as an Intern at Seedrs. I believed in the team and I knew they would look after me. As a predominantly B2C startup looking to raise idea-stage capital, we thought it would be ideal to use a crowdfunding platform, as the problem we set out to solve is one that the general public regularly faces. Therefore, we wanted to see if our idea would be further validated by “the crowd” as opposed to an institution or a few angel investors.

Overall, the experience has been fantastic. It was simple to coordinate and keep track of, the team were helpful, and any questions we had were answered promptly. We were also able to secure many insightful, experienced investors and entrepreneurs – we couldn’t have asked for a better service.

I believe that many entrepreneurs make a couple of fundamental mistakes when raising money via crowdfunding. Often, entrepreneurs ask for too much money. We did so ourselves at first, but after reconsidering what we needed, we adjusted the investment accordingly. You should only ask for what you need, so that you can retain more equity, and ensure you’re careful with the investment given. Also, many entrepreneurs ignore traditional methods in order to meet investors, such as offline networking. Most experienced angel investors will still want to get to you know you and your team in person before placing any capital. Plus, it can help you get the initial push of investment, which will then make your investment seem more appealing to the crowd.

What is your business model? How do you plan to make money?

We currently use the affiliate business model. The retailer, i.e. Amazon, will pay us a commission for each product sold through us.

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

Many entrepreneurs are too protective over their idea. Often, they believe that someone will steal their idea. Quite frankly, it’s highly unlikely. Even if they like your idea, it’s unlikely that they’ll execute on it, and even if they did, without your passion and the time you’ve already placed into the idea, it’s likely it wouldn’t be executed as well. So, be prepared to talk about your product or service. We’ve received some fantastic input from the general public, experienced entrepreneurs, and investors.

Apart from the Swogo launch, what are you most excited about at the moment?

Swogo has just been shortlisted for the Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award for November 2012, which is really exciting. We’ll be pitching at the end of the month, so fingers crossed it all goes well. Just last month we also won the NACUE Varsity Pitch Competition 2012, and the validation of both these awards has been a really great boost to get just before launch.

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

Making a decision takes too much time. You need expert knowledge, up-to-date information on the industry, and tireless research. Swogo offers the fastest, simplest, and most accurate way to find the best product for. We will save you time, at absolutely no cost, and you won’t regret your purchase.

Finished reading? Check out Swogo!

Interview with Bruce Stronge (TriggerApp)

TriggerApp is web-based task collaboration app for project and billing management.

I interviewed Bruce Stronge, TriggerApp founder to find out more. This is the hundred and forty sixth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Bruce!

Give us the elevator pitch for TriggerApp.

Team and client collaboration, task management and time tracking in one, elegant web app.

What’s your background? Am I right that you own three businesses right now; trigger app, Charter Yachts and NetEngine?

I had a real estate investment business in Central Europe for a few years before moving to Australia in 2007. I then started NetEngine building ruby on rails software for clients, and TriggerApp was born as an internal NetEngine project.

My business partner and I satiated our love of sailing by setting up CharterYachts – which at one point was the largest yacht charter agency in Australia – but we now focus only on TriggerApp and NetEngine.

What led you to start working on TriggerApp?

An internal need at NetEngine to better manage team collaboration, whilst communicating with clients and recording time. Actually, I was sick of spending my weekends putting together invoices, so decided we needed a single system to generate invoice line items from the task titles we’d been working on with our clients.

How do you balance your time between your businesses?

We probably messed up CharterYachts by trying to focus on too many businesses at once (the financial crisis and the strength of the $aus didn’t help). NetEngine software development is my core focus, and the ongoing development and support of TriggerApp is becoming more and more of a ‘thing’. As TriggerApp becomes more of it’s own entity, we’re gradually splitting the NetEngine team and hiring around TriggerApp.

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

We have about 12 people currently at NetEngine and TriggerApp, a few of which are now dedicated TriggerApp team members. Most of us are in Brisbane, one in Manila and one in Sydney.

What’s the startup scene like in Brisbane?

Actually it’s buzzing – I can’t wait to see what emerges in the next 12 months from what is now being dubbed ‘Silicon Beach’.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing TriggerApp?

Annoyingly we spent ages on the subscription billing part, just before Braintree came to Australia and made things easy.

How long did it take to put together TriggerApp?

We’ve built it very very slowly over about 3 years, mainly during NetEngine downtime – an excuse for our team to play with new technologies and libraries – hence why the UI and frontend has radically changed a few times.

What are you working on right now?

We’re midway through a rewrite of the TriggerApp backend this time. We’re leveraging new tech to improve performance and search, and will be bringing out Dropbox, Google Drive and some CRM integrations – to close the loop a little more.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Yes, mainly integrations with 3rd parties (including Amazon web services), otherwise the big ones are scheduling and quoting.

Where do you see TriggerApp in 5 years time?

Probably all in javascript files. But seriously,we’ve done a lot more customer development recently and we’ve started to learn who our key markets are and we’re learning what direction TriggerApp needs to take from that.

We know we aren’t for software developers (NetEngine uses sprint.ly), and we know that digital agencies and designers (who appreciate our beautiful UI) love TriggerApp – and basically any professional services business who manages tasks/projects and tracks time.

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

Having done almost no marketing, I’m really happy with the steady adoption rate we’ve had since we launched earlier this year. With the next version coming out early 2013, we’ve kind of been lying low in anticipation – ready to show off.

How have you marketed TriggerApp? Any big clients on your list?

Mainly we’ve been noticed through our integration with Xero.com online accounting. Also in a few web design blogs in the States which sent us ridiculous amounts of traffic and signups. Most of our clients are small businesses between 3 and 25 people in size – so no, sorry no big names.

What advantage does TriggerApp have over its competitors?

It’s being built by the seriously talented development team at NetEngine, and most importantly it has no VC or investors, so we’re in the driving seat.

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

Working out who our customers actually were and, learning how to say no to feature requests.

Can you name 3 trends that excite you.

Big Data, open innovation and Dr Martins coming back.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

The guys from developmentseed.org I have followed for years. I really respect their leadership in the open source and open data arena, and their ability to turn that goodness into a business.

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

You better love and know the area you are about to enter, because you’re going to have to live in it to succeed. If it doesn’t excite you, don’t bother.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I stubbornly refused to tweet until about a month or so ago, now I’m learning crazy amounts from people passionate about the same stuff as me, from Twitter, on my iPhone, in bed, at crazy hours of the morning.

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

If you have a team who you collaborate with, and clients who you invoice – use a beautiful piece of software to keep everyone happy.

Finished reading? Check out TriggerApp!

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