Interview with John Hurley (Smartfile)
Smartfile provide secure file storage and transfer for businesses.
I interviewed John Hurley, Smartfile founder to find out more. This is the seventy third in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to John!
How would you describe Smartfile in under 50 words?
SmartFile is an online file platform that allows businesses and developers to securely send, receive and manage files and the users who have access to them. From Fortune 500 companies to the one-man enterprise, people trust SmartFile to move big data in a secure environment.
How did you meet your co-founder Ben Timby?
Ben and I met in early 1998 while working together in tech support at a local ISP (Local Internet Service Provider). Ben was 19 and I was 22. Upon meeting Ben, I was completely blown away by Ben’s technical ability and I, myself, wanted to learn web design.
With a few books and Ben’s coaching, I started to design a few web sites. I focused on graphic design and Ben worked on making the pages actually work. Soon after, Ben and I were doing all of the web design/development work for the business clients. About a year later, our company was sold and the web design portion of the business was phased out. After several conversations, I convinced Ben that we could take the work and start our own company. In December 1999, we started our first company called Webexcellence and the rest is history.
What influenced you to start working on Smartfile?
FTP hosting was something we always did. We understood how valuable it was to setup a server so you could send and receive large files. In 2002 we registered ftphosting.net with the intent to start selling FTP hosting services on a large scale. Unfortunately, our web design business got in the way so the domain was left doing nothing. That was until 2008, when I put some analytics on the site to see what kind of activity it was getting. When I saw we were getting several thousand page views, I knew I had to do something. That was when FTPhosting.net was created and we later renamed it SmartFile.
How long did it take to put together Smartfile?
The initial product took us about 4 months, but like all SaaS providers it is never fully put together.
Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?
We identify our customer as the “hands-on professional”. Any business that stores or shares files internally or externally is within our market.
All of our business is generated with people finding us on Google or other search engines. We focus all of our marketing efforts around creating great content that is engaging to our target audience and then pushing it throughout our marketing channels.
What technologies have you used to build Smartfile?
SmartFile utilizes Open Source software for both development and operations. In cases where existing Open Source tools are not a good fit, SmartFile often chooses to develop an Open Source solution. At the heart of our open source technology is Python and Django.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing Smartfile?
Our storage pods became the most challenging part of our system. These are storage boxes we designed in-house to store our customers’ files. The goal was to take PC grade components and design the systems to fail by adding lots of these boxes to our cluster. This sounds easy, right? The problem was we designed it with inadequate power, which kept causing us to corrupt data. This is a major problem if you are in the file hosting and sharing business. So after many nights of swapping hard drives, mother boards, and memory, we finally figured out what the problem was. The lesson we took from this was: Don’t pinch pennies when it comes to your power.
You recently started a competition described as a ‘bake-off’ in which students are encouraged to undertake a Smartfile related project to win a share of $17,000. What are you hoping the students will achieve both for your company and for themselves?
Our first goal is to promote open source technology to the student body. We are firm believers in open source and without it, SmartFile and many other companies would not be here today. This is also a great opportunity for these students to show the tech community what they are all about by showcasing what they are working on and also adding to their portfolio.
We are creating the first online file platform for developers that allows them to easily, quickly and securely implement file storage and sharing within their application or internal system. To kick things off, we saw this as a great opportunity to get developers using the platform and getting immediate feedback.
Which site or app do you check first when you wake up?
The first thing I check when I wake up is our internal analytics program. I see how many trials we got overnight and how many conversions to paying customers we got. I never get tired of seeing new customers come aboard.
If you had the knowledge you have now what would you have done differently with regards to the start-up?
I would have looked for more money early on, rather than take an organic growth approach.
The economic climate at the moment obviously doesn’t lend itself to expanding a business; with this in mind do you foresee considerable growth in your own company?
We have seen amazing growth in our company, but this is because businesses are forced to do more with less. IT is being squeezed out and we are able help to fill a part of that space nicely. What use to take servers, security and an IT person can easily be done by anyone that has a credit card and knows how to operate a computer. This gives us an amazing opportunity to capitalize on this market.
How have Dropbox and Google Drive affected your business?
Even though these are single and/or home user products, the popularity of both Dropbox and Google Drive has increased people’s trust with storing files online. So when these same users are trying to find a solution that is designed for business, we can focus on features and functionality, not fear of the unknown.
What do you think puts you ahead of your biggest competitor in the eyes of your clients?
There are two features that really set us a part from our competition. The first is our rich branding. Our clients can change the logo, color scheme, domain, and even the system emails to make it seamlessly integrate with their brand. The second thing that sets us apart is our 24/7 live support. Even if our clients don’t use our support, it is nice to know there is human on the other side of the screen.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I am most excited about the launch of our new platform. We have spent over a year redeveloping our entire application to offer the most complete API in the file sharing industry. This API, or platform (as we are calling it), has been designed by developers for developers.
The intent is to provide developers a simple tool set to rapidly integrate file storage and sharing to an existing or new application. With a few lines of code, a developer can add file access, file permissions, file auditing and even search to files. Almost every application has some file component and we believe that our application will become the premier application for developers.
Can you convince the reader to start using Smartfile in under 50 words?
SmartFile was built specifically for businesses wanting an easy and secure solution to send and receive files of any type and size. Within 60 seconds, you can have an FTP site setup and ready to use, all without having to spend a lot of time learning something new.
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