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Chris Cardell

Interview with Patrick Smith (Convertable)

Convertable is a web-based tool that provides insights about contact form submissions.

I interviewed Patrick Smith, Convertable founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and first in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Patrick!

How would you describe Convertable in under 50 words?

Convertable is a simple web-based closed loop marketing platform that automatically tracks the source of conversions from the moment a lead is submitted through a contact form all the way through the end of the sales funnel enabling you to truly measure ROI of marketing campaigns.

How did you meet co-founder Chris Hull?

I first met Chris in January 2007. A mutual friend introduced us when he found out that Chris was looking for a web developer for his web design studio. At the time, I specialized in building websites and dabbled in SEO, so I partnered with Chris building the websites that he designed.

Before long, we found that most of our web design clients were asking about how to get traffic to their website now that the new site was built. Since we were hearing the same question over and over, instead of referring them to another firm, we realized there was enough demand for online marketing services that we decided to start a separate search marketing firm in April 2008.

While at Streamline, I spent a lot of time trying to increase the number of leads generated through our clients’ websites by digging through analytics data to identify the best performing sources of traffic and uncover things that could be improved. After pouring through analytics and conversion tracking data, we could see which keywords were generating conversions but there was no way to keep track of which keywords generated conversions that resulted in sales.

What gap in the market did you discover that inspired you to launch Convertable in 2012?

Because traditional conversion tracking and web analytics tools (like Google Analytics) only offer aggregated, anonymous metrics, tracking leads hits a dead end once the form is submitted. And since most forms do not pass along web analytics data within the lead email (or to a CRM), it is impossible to tie the original source to each individual lead to the end of the sales funnel to determine how much revenue was generated by each lead or marketing campaign.

While there are several tools that offer similar features, there are currently no other services in existence that do exactly what Convertable does. The concept came to us when one of our search marketing clients asked us for a way to track their web leads through the end of the sales process. We were unable to find any 3rd-party solutions that did this, so we decided to build it ourselves.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of Convertable?

The initial concept came about in 2010 when I was working on monthly SEO reporting for one of my clients. This particular client is very results-oriented and was excited about the results Streamline has achieved for them, as far as increasing the number of leads through their website. Every so often, they would get a very promising lead and they immediately wanted to know exactly how this prospect found their site. I came up with a process to identify the source by tagging each conversion with a unique identifier, looking it up in Google Analytics, and sending that information back to the client. Oftentimes, the best leads were generated from the SEO or PPC campaigns which made the client appreciate our efforts that much more!

While it was great to be able to have solid evidence our efforts were generating high quality leads, we typically did not ever find out if the lead resulted in a closed sale or how much revenue was generated since we were not tracking the leads throughout the entire sales process. Not to mention the fact the manual process of looking up the UIDs in Google Analytics was quite tedious and thus we realized we should develop a system to do all of this automatically. Initially, we simply wanted the tool built to use only for our own clients and thus we hired a freelance programmer to develop the first barebones version in late 2010. As we received more and more positive feedback from our clients, we realized others may be interested in using Convertable. As a result, we decided to overhaul Convertable and launch it as its own product in late-2012.

Convertable is currently free. What’s your revenue model?

We had literally been working on the concept of Convertable for several years when we decided to open it up to beta users. The beta launch was really just to see what kind of marketing viability there was. Since we launched it, we have had over 700 users create accounts with minimal marketing effort on our part. Even though these are non-paid accounts, we felt there was enough interest in Convertable to continue to develop the product.

Our immediate plan is to continue to work on improving the core functionality and build the user base. In the near future, we will announce paid plans for users who want more features.

What do you feel makes Convertable stand out from competitors such as Wufoo, Google Analytics and Saleforce?

WuFoo – WuFoo is the industry leader in building contact forms. Their plans are affordable to most small businesses as well. However, WuFoo specializes in the building of web forms and thus does not focus on the tracking and updating of leads throughout the sales funnel whereas Convertable offers form building, lead tracking and lead management.

Google Analytics – 82% of websites use Google Analytics for tracking user activity. It is very easy to use while being robust and not to mention free, so it is easy to see why so many websites use it. However, Google Analytics is simply an analytics tool to track activity on websites. So once a lead is submitted through a contact form, the tracking hits a dead end since the Google Analytics data is not passed along with the lead and updated through the end of the sales process, which could take weeks, months or even longer to be finalized. Without the lead management and individual lead tracking components, using only Google Analytics for measuring the performance of online marketing campaigns is not sufficient.

Salesforce – Salesforce is likely the most popular CRM platform in use today. However, we have heard numerous complaints from business owners over the years that Salesforce is unnecessarily complicated to use and too expensive for them to justify using it. Salesforce is also removing the ability to track the sources of web leads, especially for Google AdWords campaigns.

We are not trying to make Convertable into a full blown CRM, marketing automation platform or web analytics software suite. Our goal with Convertable is to keep it simple, easy to use and affordable for our users. That being said, we are working on an API to integrate with other third party services.

Has Convertable got the feedback and growth you expected since launching?

Yes, we have received a lot of very useful and positive feedback. It is great to hear that other people are finding it as useful as we did. We have also gotten great input on improvements and additional features from our users

You recently launched custom thank you pages, any other new features coming up?

We have several ideas for new features we plan on adding sometime down the line, but two features I am especially excited about and are currently being developed are the API and a WordPress plugin. Several of our beta users have requested these features. We expect that these additions will greatly add to the growth we have experienced thus far.

In December you worked with a National sporting goods manufacturer to improve sales and a small 10-minute change resulted in a 30% conversion increase overnight. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Chris actually wrote a detailed blog post, but the basic idea is that we changed the “Add to Cart” button from blue to red so it was more likely to catch the eye of the user. One simple change can obviously make quite a significant impact.

You have a growing team, are you on the look out for developers at the moment?

We are still building Convertable while we are running our businesses full-time. We would love to add more developers to the fold but we will first need to start generating revenue and/or acquire fundraising to do so.

Where do you see Convertable in 5 years time?

Within the next 6 months, we expect to get the paid plans in place so Convertable will start to generate revenue.

Within 12-18 months, we hope Convertable is producing enough revenue that it’s fully sustainable on its own as a standalone business with a team of full-time developers.

In five year’s time, we would like to be known as an industry leader in the online marketing analytics space.

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

Anyone can track the sources of conversions in Google Analytics. However, if you want to take the next step and identify the sources of the leads which convert into actual sales so you can determine how much revenue is generated by each marketing channel, then check out Convertable!

Finished reading? Check out Convertable!

Interview with Lee Washington (Viral Seeding)

Viral Seeding is a viral marketing and PR agency.

I interviewed Lee Washington, Viral Seeding founder to find out more. This is the two hundredth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Lee!

How would you describe Viral Seeding in under 100 words?

Viral Seeding is a viral marketing agency that specialises in seeding and online PR. With over six years experience, we’ve seeded over one hundred viral campaigns. We combine editorial outreach with paid for placement to ensure that the campaigns we seed not only receive views but also buzz, comments, interaction and ultimately sharing through social media.

Why did you decide to launch Viral Seeding in 2009?

I was working freelance within a digital agency, things were getting rocky with the financial crisis and the amount of work I was getting was becoming less reliable. I began working with a number of agencies and from there it evolved into the business.

How have you funded Viral Seeding?

The business was self funded, as a service business there was little requirement for large investment, just a laptop and an internet connection. The business grew from there with profits being reinvested in advertising to raise its profile.

You’ve worked on campaigns for Jaguar, Chrysler, figleaves, Samsung, Mazda and the list goes on for quite a while. Who was your first client and how did you get them on board?

The range of brands that we have worked with is a result of working with agencies rather than the brands directly. The first clients were the agencies that I was working with when employed and freelance. From there it grew with people I had previously worked with moving on to other companies or starting their own.

How are new clients finding out about you?

I was very fortunate to secure the domain name which means that we rank well for search terms. Further to that, new business comes through word of mouth and recommendations alongside the keyword advertising.

We also create and seed our own campaigns, last year we created the Gangnam Countdown to countdown to Gangnam Style passing one billion views. It received a great deal of coverage on popular blogs with Viral Seeding mentioned alongside.

Where do you see the future of social networking?

Smartphones have obviously revolutionised the way that people access social networks on the go and will continue to do so with Facebook Home being an example of this – the social network becomes the hub of the smartphone experience. In the future, google glasses will take this to another level although I doubt the mass appeal right now.

You currently employ four people. How did you find the right people for the job?

I find the right people through recommendations from previous colleagues and those who take the initiative to get in touch and sell their skills and what they can offer to me.

How do you differentiate from your competitors?

We’re about securing editorial coverage for a campaign. It’s genuine endorsement from the blogger that is them saying ‘this cool, check it out’. Many of our competitors have moved to more of an advertising model with bloggers being paid for view to embed a video, often in a sidebar. We think that having the blog post talk about and share the campaign has a far greater impact on the amount of social sharing and comments content receives.

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

I think that growing the business further is always a challenge, we have reached a size that I am happy with with consistent campaigns each month but it would be good to continue to work with new agencies.

Have you had any failures and what did you learn from them?

We once made an error on a campaign outreaching to bloggers with incorrect information. We quickly rectified this by recontacting those that we had been in touch with to ensure that no blog posts were made that the public would see.

We worked with the client and the outcome was that they were pleased with our handling of the campaign and we continue to work with them. I learned that mistakes do sometimes happen, it’s how you deal with them that’s important. A cliche but very true.

What advice would you offer to someone starting up a marketing agency?

Ensure that there’s a couple of clients that you can start to work with so you can hit the ground running. Be creative – the internet is an amazing thing that’s constantly hungry for new and interesting entertainment. Those that create it quickly see their content go viral.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I think the idea that brands are finally understanding the need to create content is very exciting. It’s no longer enough to have a social media profile, it needs to be propagated with content that’s rich and interesting to an audience.

Finished reading? Check out Viral Seeding!

Interview with Brandy Alexander-Wimberly (Buyvite)

Buyvite is a service which organises the collection of money for group purchases.

I interviewed Brandy Alexander-Wimberly, Buyvite founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety ninth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Brandy!

How would you describe Buyvite in under 50 words?

Buyvite is a social payment platform that allows friends and family to split the cost of any group transaction like vacation rentals, team fees, concert tickets and group gifts. This is a crowded space so we’ve differentiated ourselves with our new social payment badges and private label API.

Why did you decide to launch Buyvite early 2011?

The main focus of the platform is to allow a group organizer to send invites to friends and family to contribute to a transaction so no single person has to foot the bill for an entire group. The idea came from constantly buying concert tickets for friends and not getting paid back right away, or getting paid back with cocktails etc.

How did you find your advisors?

We are not based in a very active tech startup community so we branched out and through a mix of networking at national level events, and organic outreach were able to have a group of very talented and experienced people join our board of advisors.

You run Cheetah Interactive alongside Buyvite. How do you divide your time between the two projects or are they run side-by-side?

My experience launching a consumer facing technology company has really helped me take Cheetah Interactive to the next level. We call ourselves a digital marketing think tank serving progressive brands because we’re much more than just a services company.

Cheetah Interactive offers the following services: Digital Marketing, Web Design & Development, Content Creation & Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, Email Marketing, iOS & Android App Development, Software Product MVP Creation & Consulting. So we function like a traditional agency but also offer a unique skill set for startups looking for knowledgeable consultants and a one stop shop that can take a concept from idea, to MVP to market, to promotion.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of Buyvite?

It took about a year in production to build. When creating a new product there is the danger of thinking about every single use case and creating an appropriate response. We were one of the first social payment company’s to create a crowd-funding style platform but geared towards friends and family. Over the course of that year in production we developed a rock solid system that we felt confident could address most of the use cases we thought through in discovery.

How have you funded Buyvite?

Buyvite is funded by a mix of private equity investors and Rocket Ventures of Ohio.

What technologies have you used to develop Buyvite and which were the most technically challenging development problems?

When creating a new product there are always a unique set of challenges. Late last year we created a private label version of our software that is a rails API. We had a tight timeline on delivery but worked collaboratively to actualize the API so our client could use our social payment platform but customized to their look and feel. We also do all of the transaction processing so its literally a plug and play API for developers seeking an easy way to implement group payments on their site or app.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Our vertical is really Payment in general, but we have obvious use cases that are the primary reason people use our platform. These include organizing group payments for vacation rentals, concert tickets, team and league fees, and group gifts. That is why we created our social payment badges. These allow any retailer to offer group payment on their site via a social media style button.

Security is a major concern for internet transactions. What security do you have in place on your site, and how would you reassure your users that their information is safe?

Being a transaction based company means you have to take every precaution to make sure your environment is PCI compliant. Which we have done through our partner e2e Payments of Illinois.

What’s your pricing structure?

We believe in a simple fee structure that’s easy to understand. Here is our fee structure:


Up to $100: $1.50 fee
$101-$250: $2.50 fee
$250-$500: $5.00 fee
Above $500: 1.5% fee

Has Buyvite got the feedback and growth you expected since launching in March 2011?

We have been on a slow and steady climb, especially recently. With the explosion of crowd-funding consumers are looking for new ways to pay. Buyvite offers a crowd-funding model but geared towards friends and family, so more locally focused. We say we take the “crowd” out of funding.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

Our social payment platform is unique because of the suite of products that we offer. A lot of companies that get a lot of buzz are simply apps with no revenue model. We offer real innovative solutions to our customers and business partners and also have a solid revenue stream attached since we are in the payment space.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

We are really focused on on-boarding as many retail partners as possible and growing out our API business for developers. We offer payment solutions that include: group payments, “pay me back” from the cart and private label group payment API for developers. Essentially if you want to group pay for something as a consumer or offer the functionality as a merchant, we’re your one-stop-shop.

Where do you see Buyvite in 5 years time?

Our concentration right now is to build out our brand which includes our customer base and retail partners. In 5 years our goal is to become the first place people look for while shopping online to be able to split payments with friends and family whether that be our consumer facing social payment badges or via our private label API.

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

Like any startup we face challenges of ramping up for additional funding and getting the word out about our products.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

The biggest challenge that startup founders face is lack of experience. People come to me all the time with ideas, but they don’t know how to put a website together, let alone build usable software. This space is not easy and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s almost the only professional space that novice’s seem to think they’re experts at, or at least try to instantly become successful.

I worked in digital marketing 7 years before launching this company. I would say, “you’re not the next Mark Zuckerberg.” In fact I think he wasn’t so much a genius as someone in the right place at the right time. Get some solid experience working for another company before launching your own. Your success rate will be much higher just knowing some basic things first.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m most excited about enterprise productivity. The companies that actually make businesses work better are sustainable and more immune to fickle consumers, most also have a built in revenue stream.

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

If someone owes you money for a group transaction, you didn’t use Buyvite. Also- if you’re selling group style products and are looking for any easy way to offer cost-splitting payments, we’re your company. Buyvite is essentially crowd-funding for retailers.

Finished reading? Check out Buyvite!

Interview with Dorian Selz (Squirro)

Squirro is a context intelligence app that acts as a personal digital assistant.

I interviewed Dorian Selz, Squirro founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Dorian!

How would you describe Squirro in under 50 words?

Squirro is the leading context intelligence technology, that delivers the full story behind structured and numerical data.

How did you meet co-founders Toni Birrer, Patrice Neff and Felix Hürlimann?

We have all been working together for 8 years since the we created, the largest web-site in Switzerland. Following our exit from, we created Nektoon AG, where we first developed memonic an online note-taking and where we now focus on Squirro.

Why did you decide to launch Squirro early 2012?

Squirro is the natural evolution of the experience we gathered while developing and memonic.

With we created an extremely powerful local search engine. The memonic technology allowed users to clip and share the content they found and liked.

In early 2012 we identified a great opportunity in the B2B intelligence field. Today companies have access to more data than ever before, but without context this data can often be meaningless. We therefore decided to develop Squirro, the technology that delivers context to you data.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of Squirro?

Squirro was not born out of the blue! Thanks to memonic we already had a solid architecture to build upon, none-the-less it did take us 6 months to have a minimum viable product. We have gone through some substantial changes since this first product and we can now provide our technology for most business intelligence suites or CRM platforms such as QlikView or Salesforce.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Our core target audience are businesses for which it is paramount to have access to timely relevant information. In the business intelligence space we have developed a solution that delivers unstructured information such as news and reports from any source (internal or external) to provide the context needed behind numerical data.

Has Squirro got the feedback and growth you expected since launching January 2012?

The feedback we have received from the start has been very encouraging. We had identified a clear opportunity from the get go and with rapid iterations we are now in a position where we expect our growth to accelerate. The opportunity to implement Squirro within business intelligence suites like QlikView is a big accelerator for us.

Do you have any features in the pipeline?

Our patent pending Digital Fingerprint Technology, the engine that powers Squirro will keep on evolving. To date the communication channel between the hosting application (QlikView, Salesforce, SAP byD,…) and Squirro is one directional. This means that Squirro analyses the signals it gets from the platform it is embedded in and feeds it back intelligence based on those signals.

The next evolution for us is to make the communication between the two platforms bi-directional. Imagine for example that Squirro analyses in real-time the amount of news generated on a particular topic for a particular company. Squirro could notify the user of any significant variations and correlate this information with the already existing data of the hosting application, therefore bringing another layer of context to the information displayed in dashboards.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

There are a variety of player in the sales and business intelligence with very strong propositions. Our key differentiator is our ability to constantly deliver relevant real-time intelligence that complements both business and sales intelligence.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We have recently adapted Squirro to be seamlessly integrated in QlikView. Users now get real-time, accurate, context intelligence to any point of insight they uncover while doing business discovery in QlikView.

It is really exciting to see how enthusiastically both users and partners have reacted. Imagine you are looking within QlikView at a financial stock analysis application and particularly at a graph of stock price evolution. From that graph you see whether the stock is on a positive or negative trend and you can compare it’s current pricing to any pricing in the past, but you do not get the information as to why the price has evolved in one or the other direction.

That’s where Squirro come in! By simply selecting any data point on the graph, Squirro will deliver, directly within the application, the most relevant information about it. You now get the full story behind your data.

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

Squirro delivers unstructured data to users in context of their personal interests and priorities, learning and refining it as user interactions increase.

Combining the structured and the unstructured worlds together, Squirro provides the ‘why’ behind the data. This reduces search time by 75% and allows for more effective decision-making.

Finished reading? Check out Squirro!

Interview with Isaac Saldana (SendGrid)

SendGrid is a cloud based transactional email service provider.

I interviewed Isaac Saldana, SendGrid founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety seventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Isaac!

How would you describe SendGrid in under 50 words?

SendGrid is built for developers, by developers. We aim to master email deliverability, so businesses can focus on their core product, not email.

How did you meet co-founders Tim Jenkins and Jose Lopez?

Tim, Jose, and I met at UC Riverside. While at school, I spent a lot of time at the computer science lab working on various projects. Tim worked there and was eager to have someone help him, so he offered me a job. While we worked there, we became fast friends with Jose, who was also a developer and a regular there. Actually, Jose ended up taking a job at the lab after Tim left.

So that lab at UC Riverside was the starting point of an almost decade-long friendship that has seen us collaborate on a bunch of different business ideas and startups.

How did the idea for SendGrid come about?

SendGrid started from me trying to solve a problem I was facing while working on some apps after college. The apps I was building all had email components and I became really frustrated that the emails I was generating from the apps weren’t being delivered. I talked to a bunch of my developer friends and realized that all of their projects needed email too. But, none of them were good at developing the email part, or they weren’t interested in doing it well.

So I decided that I would master email deliverability. At the time, I didn’t have any idea of how big the market was for this. I was really just trying to fix my own problem. I really encourage everyone to solve their own problems initially, because if you’re thinking about doing a startup, the worst-case scenario is if that startup doesn’t work, you can still end up using that product or service that you created while trying to fix your problem. In my case, it was one of those things where I started solving the problems that I had and it eventually ended up turning into the company that SendGrid is at this time.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of SendGrid?

Tim, Jose, and I originally developed the idea in March 2009. At the time, we named the company Not very catchy, but it got the point across. Things moved pretty quickly after that because in May, we were accepted into the TechStars accelerator program in Boulder. I had applied to TechStars before with a different idea, so it was very encouraging to be admitted for, which we quickly renamed SendGrid.

TechStars was an incredible experience for us, especially because of the mentorship it provided. The mentorship we received there shaped a lot of the important decisions that we made when we first started, and still impacts our decision making today. TechStars also helped give us a better reputation—we got the passive benefits of being associated with such a reputable program.

You recently received over $21M in series B funding. What was this process like and how long did it compare to the seed and series A rounds?

We’ve looked at securing funding as an opportunity to both grow our network and to learn from our investors. We knew from the start that raising funding would be a valuable learning experience for us—one that we needed to better understand our product and the market.

We closed our seed round in November 2009. Series A followed in April 2010, and Series B in early 2012. We feel very fortunate to have received the funding that we have, and to be able to benefit from our investors’ mentorship and experience—our investors are an important part of our team. But, I want fellow entrepreneurs to know that it’s not an easy process. We definitely heard a lot of “nos” along the way. You always will. But, it’s important to not be afraid of failure—kind of like an athlete. You’re going to fall down, or miss a shot, but you have to keep trying.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

SendGrid was built for developers, by developers. We strive to make developers’ lives easier, so we want to be everywhere that developers are—hackathons, summits, conferences, universities, etc. Our Developer Evangelist Team travels the globe to find out how people are using email and how we can help. We have a community forum on our site strictly for developers and we actively engage on Twitter. We always want to be a part of the conversation.

You send thousands of emails a second, have you had any difficulties in finding talented developers who can handle these scaling challenges?

Finding talented technical developers can definitely be a challenge, but we hope that by creating the right work culture, we can help combat these hiring challenges. If you create a strong culture, good talent will come.

When we started SendGrid, we kept asking ourselves, why did we want to start a company? Why did we want to change the world? And the answer was that we wanted to be happy. So, we’ve built SendGrid on some key principles that make us happy and make us love coming to work. We focus on professional development, encourage everyone to be open about making mistakes, so we can all learn from them, and believe that everyone should be the CEO of their own position. We also hire based on what we like to call the 4H’s: honesty, humility, happiness, and hunger. We feel that by setting these expectations, we’ll attract good people regardless of how challenging the market is.

As your customers grow your revenue increases, very helpful when you have clients such as Pinterest. Was this something you thought about early on?

Because we started with other like-minded startups in the TechStars program, we were an easy fit for organizations that were getting started just like us. There is always the “new cool application” and we have been lucky to call many of those, like foursquare, Pinterest and Spotify, customers.

You primarily focus on transactional emails, but have also built a newsletter offering, how did this come about?

Email is always changing. Transactional email has been the bulk of our business, but marketing email is also important. Marketers are using email now more than ever to attract and retain customers, so it’s important for us to have an offering that caters to them as well. We don’t want to just be good at one type of email; we want to master it all.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

We’re always concentrating on a lot of different initiatives. We recently introduced a new internal effort, SendGrid Labs that is spinning out tools that have helped us scale, for other developers to use. Labs just launched, a free load testing app that allows developers to stress their apps with up to 50,000 concurrent connections.

We also just released a service that helps developers debug webhooks in real time. We never want to stop innovating, so you’ll see a lot more initiatives from us being rolled out in the near future.

What made you decide to bring in an outside CEO?

Initially, I was both a developer and the CEO and when the company got to over ten people, it was obvious that I needed to focus on one single thing. In my case, I really wanted to focus on coding. I relied on my mentors to help me make the decision—luckily, a lot of the mentors that I had were also a part of SendGrid’s board. One of the best decisions as CEO that I ever made was to bring in another CEO.

A lot of people ask me if it was hard to turn over the reins. It actually wasn’t difficult at all. I like to use an analogy to explain it—when you have a kid, by the time they turn five and they have to go to school, you have two options. You have the option to teach them yourself and home school them, or you send them to school if you don’t feel confident you’re going to be able to teach them the best. In my case, it was similar where I knew bringing in a new CEO was one of the best decisions I’d made. Initially, I was worried like you worry the first time you send your kid to school but at the end of the day you know that’s one of the best decisions.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

We really focus on providing top-notch customer support. We value companies who provide incredible service, like Zappos and Rackspace, and aim to provide the same great service that they do. Our developer-minded focus also differentiates us. We go through the same issues that developers do, so we speak their language. And again, culture is really important, by creating an environment where people love to work, it shows through in everything that we do.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Go for it. And when you do, look for mentorship. Your mentors will provide you with invaluable guidance. And don’t be afraid of failure. Expect it. It humbles you. Starting your own company isn’t easy, but the rewards you receive from the challenges you face while building it are priceless.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Right now, I’m really excited about the Research and Development projects we have underway, especially at SendGrid Labs with As a company that is built for developers, by developers, it’s really satisfying to be able to eliminate pain points for them where we can.

Finished reading? Check out SendGrid!

Interview with Ryan Fyfe (ShiftPlanning)

ShiftPlanning is an online employee scheduling application.

I interviewed Ryan Fyfe, ShiftPlanning founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety sixth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Ryan!

How would you describe ShiftPlanning in under 50 words?

The web’s most easy to use employee scheduling and workforce management software for small businesses.

What made you start working on ShiftPlanning early 2009?

The initial idea for ShiftPlanning came from a mutual acquaintance that was working at a restaurant in my home-city, a restaurant where I had also worked. When I heard that they were still scheduling with paper and pen we agreed there was a better way, ShiftPlanning was born shortly after.

What technologies have you used to develop ShiftPlanning and which were the most technically challenging development problems?

ShiftPlanning is built on Opensource technologies – We use a standard LAMP stack which has really helped us to recruit and ramp up our development team. The most challenging thing that we’ve had to deal with on the technology side is scalability. Our initial product was built to prove the concept not to scale to thousands of customers. Over the past year we’ve had to pay down on a lot of technical debt which has been challenging both to our customers and to our team.

Has ShiftPlanning got the feedback and growth you expected since early 2010?

ShiftPlanning went online very early. I would say it was an MVP, not Beta (a cliche). The idea was let’s get it out into the hands of potential first users as fast as possible. We won’t charge them for it, and we’ll start getting active feedback to help shape our road-map. This was a very successful model, most of these clients are still with us today. I get asked a lot – “Who does Product at ShiftPlanning?” – Our customers.

The flexibility of your software has allowed you to target different markets, which are you focusing on?

We are truly vertical agnostic. We don’t focus on any one industry more than another and while there are a few industries that are naturally larger than others based on product/market fit, and numbers of establishments/employees our actual market distribution is still very evenly distributed. This again has really helped us with product as we have our eyes open to the needs of small businesses in all industries and all parts of the world vs. food and beverage only for example which is one of our most competitive verticals.

You offer free account set up and free training, do you see this as a long term customer retention strategy?

Our support is equally as important as our product. This keeps our churn rates down and gives us good visibility into our customers needs. We’ve made a lot of investments into process here; some of which are already shared with our clients, for example our Learning Management System was built for our team and we later opened it up for our clients to use as a part of the platform.

You’ve received over $1M in venture capital, how long did it take to secure the funding?

Fortunately, it was very fast. The funding came from existing investors.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors like eSchedule, Scheduly and ScheduleOnce?

ShiftPlanning is different from our competitors primarily for our vertical agnostic approach as well as having a full workforce management platform vs. just a scheduling product. Many of our competitors are also sales-driven organizations, vs. product/engineering led which creates a huge gap in our actual product in terms of end-user experience and types of scenario’s that we can handle. With scheduling in particular, every business has unique needs. ShiftPlanning is built with that in mind.

You employee around 30 people, have you had any difficulties in finding talented developers and managers?

I’ve been very fortunate to have connected early on with many very talented individuals that share the same passion for new technology and entrepreneurship. Our team has largely been built organically around them.

Finding key people is always hard especially as our needs have become more and more specialized as we grown. Remaining open to a distributed model has helped us mitigate a lot of these challenges as well as kept our efficiency at very optimal levels.

You’re continually adapting to further workforce management automation and flexibility, do you have any features in the pipeline?

Our platform has grown quickly from Scheduling first into workforce management. We’ll continue to invest in the full platform; It’s very exciting to see now that we have clients that don’t even use our scheduling product at all but are using another component of the platform; many exciting technology partners on these sides as well.

With the knowledge you have today, would you do anything different if you were to start-up ShiftPlanning again?

Make less assumptions and collect more data.

Where do you see ShiftPlanning in 5 years time?

The market leader in our space and with a much larger presence in the SaaS eco-system.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Be patient and persistent; There is too much focus on the overnight success stories and viral consumer products – these are the exceptions and not the rule. It can take a significant amount of time to gain product/market fit and traction.

Bootstrap as far as you possibly can. There is far too much attention/excitement around fundraising vs. around companies that are building sustainable/profitable businesses. It’s not to say that fundraising is bad, but you need to be sure you’re in a position where you can invest the money you’re bringing in at a rate that offsets the dilution and loss of control it comes with.

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

For less than the price of coffee each day you can eliminate overtime, improve employee job satisfaction and win back the valuable time you’re spending running your business – to focus on growing it.

Finished reading? Check out ShiftPlanning!

Interview with Greg Laughlin (Statwing)

Statwing is a web based data visualisation application.

I interviewed Greg Laughlin, Statwing founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Greg!

How would you describe Statwing in under 50 words?

Statwing is a really easy to use data analysis tool. We take the power of high-end statistical analyses and put them in a package that’s more intuitive than analyzing data in Excel.

How did you meet co-founder John Le?

We worked together at CrowdFlower, a San Francisco microtask crowdsourcing startup. We built a product together there.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Statwing mid 2012?

My background before CrowdFlower was statistical analysis of survey data, using a statistical tool called SPSS. John’s background was artificial intelligence and machine learning, and he largely used a similar, open source tool called R. And we both fell back to Excel for simpler analysis.

We both found that these statistical products made it really hard to do the basic analysis and visualization that almost anyone wants to do when analyzing a dataset (e.g., relating one variable to one other variable, for example). And Excel was fairly clunky and not that powerful. We figured if we had such different data analysis backgrounds and had such similar pain points, there must be a lot of other folks out there just like us.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of Statwing?

It took about 9 months to get an MVP out there. There’s the old saying that if you weren’t embarrassed with what you launched, you launched too late. Well. We didn’t launch too late :)

You’re currently hiring new employees. In what direction are you looking to expand?

We need more hands! Statwing is a very technical product, and we’re very excited about our roadmap. But it’s a lot of work, both front end and back, so we’re looking for the smartest folks we can find to get on board. Sure, some specific skills would be nice (e.g., front end javascript framework experience), but we’re much more concerned with finding someone who’s demonstrated they can intelligently build complicated products.

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

The single biggest chunk of work in the last 6 months was overhauling the user interface.

We picked up a UI advisor (he designed the TiVo user interface), and we now spend a couple hours a week going over the UI in painstaking detail, complete reengineering the interface. We’re pretty proud of where we’ve gotten it to. Some of our users find Excel very confusing, but Statwing very intuitive. Conversely, some of our users are pros in advanced statistical software but prefer to use Statwing when we have the appropriate functionality. That’s not an easy balance to strike.

How easy is Statwing to use for someone with zero knowledge of statistics in the first place?

Very easy. We started out thinking we’d try to replace the advanced statistical tools, like SPSS. But as we did usability tests with our Excel-using friends they said things like “Y’know, this is what I typically do in Excel, except it’s much faster and easier.”

Statwing runs statistical analyses behind the scenes, but presents the results to users in very plain English (with optional Advanced output if folks really want to dive deep into the stats). A lot of our users don’t even think of Statwing as a statistical tool, it’s just a tool that makes it really easy to explore data.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

Our competitors, like SPSS, SAS, and Stata, were all built decades ago by statisticians, with statisticians in mind. Statwing is the first statistical tool that’s easy and useful even if you don’t have advanced statistical training.

Insomuch as we’re also competitive with Excel, we’re different in that (1) we’re much more intuitive to use, and (2) we subtly integrate statistical functions into our analyses, so you’re getting a lot more power than you do with Excel.

Do you have a background in analytics and statistics or is your interest more on the software development side?

Personally my background is more in the world of data analysis. I’ve taught myself enough rudimentary programming skills to be slightly useful/dangerous, but my cofounder John does almost all the technical work. He studied math and computer science in college, so he’s pretty evenly split in terms of being a software engineer and a data analyst.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

From the obvious department: If the user interface of your product is important (e.g., it’s an analysis tool, not a social coupon site), get expert UI help in as soon as possible. Ideally you’d have a cofounder that knows some of that stuff.

UI design sort of seems like it would be simple, so it’s easy to just try to just do it without any expert assistance. But then your product sort of sucks, but it’s hard to pin down why.

Failing that, you need to be even more religious about usability testing than you already should be.

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

If you’ve ever tried to analyze a bunch of data in a spreadsheet, you’ll move five times as fast and learn a lot more about your data in Statwing than you would in Excel.

If you’re using SPSS or R and you only need the basic functionality, you’ll move ten times as fast in Statwing, and you won’t tear your hair out.

Finished reading? Check out Statwing!

Interview with Oliver West (Servango)

Servango is a community of task posters and doers.

I interviewed Oliver West, Servango founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety fourth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Oliver!

How would you describe Servango in under 50 words?

Servango is your local, mobile marketplace and the place to come to get things done. You can outsource those tasks, errands and jobs you can’t or don’t want to do, supplement your income using your skill-set or simply find new customers for your business.

How did you meet co-founder James McAloon?

James and I have been friends for along time. He joined the school I was attending at 11 years old and we became friends pretty much straight away, the friendship was further strengthened when he joined the golf club I grew up playing at. So we ended up learning together, golfing together, socializing together and eventually doing business together. I think our friendship means we can be a lot more candid about our business opinions which ultimately leads to more fruitful discussions and decisions.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Servango?

It was borne more of personal circumstance to be honest, rather than the identification of this space as a hot topic in the tech start-up industry. I met James for a coffee one lunch time and he basically said that he had too much on his plate and would love it if there was some way of outsourcing certain tasks on his to-do list, some way of paying others to help lighten the load. After all there are only so many hours in a week. We got to talking about it in more serious terms and only after we’d started out on the path to making our idea a reality did we think, “hey, there are a few other people taking this on too”.

How long did it take to put together Servango?

The concept phase lasted a little while, the constant brainstorming, exploratory research, the summing up of our options for example, but once we’d decided on a course of action the time from the first day of the build to launch was around 3 months a good part of which was fine tuning everything to make the experience of using the application as good as possible with the resources at our disposal.

How many users do you currently have?

We’re currently at about 2500, which has exceeded our expectations thus far. We’re pretty grounded in understanding the development life cycle and that we can’t all expect to be Instagram, Angry Birds or Draw Something. The most important things for us are realistic goals and ensuring that we learn from every result we get.

Do you have any features in the pipeline?

Absolutely, but if I were to tell you I’d have to kill you! On a serious note, we are very excited about the features and functionality we’ve got lined up and we’re looking forward to getting it all out there. Some are fairly basic changes, such as allowing the use of photos in messaging and on listings, others are fairly detailed.

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

We’ve made a couple of adaptations to our model that allow a user to create two different types of listing, one that is either Needed, or Offered. We found through analyzing our initial usage that there was a distinct demand for both of these types of interaction. It helps create a far more synergistic user base.

You launched in 2012, a boom for mobile applications yet a time surrounded by economic difficulties. Have you seen the growth and feedback you expected since launch?

Yes, we’re pretty happy with the way things are going. We knew that 2012/13 was going to be touch economically but our application is actually a good fit for these economic times. There’s a dearth of under and unemployed and those who are in full time employment are having to work twice as hard. This is fairly complementary to our model. Our feedback has been very good also, we worked hard to ensure that the user experience wasn’t compromised, even in our 1.0 version. You see too many apps go for grandiose entrances to the market, trying to do too much too soon, its not an efficient way to do things and the user experience suffers as a result.

With the knowledge you have today, would you do anything different if you were to start-up Servango again?

Good question. The short answer is yes. Haha. But seriously I’d say the one thing we didn’t properly account for was adaptability. Not in terms of the initial product’s ability to be worked upon and improved, but from a business perspective. The business was set up to initially do “x” we didn’t properly account for “x” + “unexpected”. Of course the main reason this happened was because budgets are pinched right now, globally and that can’t be avoided, but one piece of advice I’d give to anyone starting out on their own start-up would be to expect the unexpected and budget for it. These cliches exist for a reason!

Where do you see Servango in 5 years time?

We’ve always seen Servango as the place to come to get things done and we are doing everything we can to make this as ubiquitous as possible. In 5 years time, if you need anything, from your local community, be it a task completed, new business for your business, to find local businesses, find someone for some advice or a game of tennis on a summer’s day we are endeavoring to make Servango your go-to for that need.

Facebook and Twitter have the space nailed for social type networks with the people you know. Servango is aiming to be the go to network for all the local people that you don’t know, but at some point inevitably need.

Which site or app do you check first when you wake up?

Servango of course! Beyond that it’s a pretty regular morning routine, I use Reddit, so have a pretty well customized front page, devoid of memes and jokes but packed with relevant news (alienblue is great for this by the way), I also check BBC News, CNN and of course Facebook.

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

Funding. I’ve seen a good chunk of the economic pinch on both sides of the Atlantic first hand and it’s not pretty. Yes there’s still a lot of money available but not like there was 5-8 years ago, back then all you had to do was pitch a half baked idea to a room full of seeders and you’d probably walk away with enough to see you through MVP and 12 – 24 months of trading. These days you need to prove so much more before you can realistically expect any significant investment.

That said though I do think it has made the products and companies that make it through a lot stronger than they might have been.

Based on your own experiences what advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

As mentioned, definitely expect the unexpected. It’s a cliche for a reason, beyond that I’d say you need to focus on a few key things: get a good team together – this is so important, understand your limitations – even if you have a grand vision for a product it doesn’t mean you are the best person for every job, task or role, be lean with your spending – consider how to get the most out of every dollar or pound you spend, set goals and have realistic expectations – it’s very important how you measure success, and lastly have fun.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The future. I think we are in a really interesting time right now. Within the next 5 – 10 years, we are going to see the emergence of an entirely new ‘worker’ and as a result start to see an even bigger and faster shift in the way we do business. You know, we first become aware of the ‘real world’ at about 14 – 16 years old – the workplace and its relevance to our life. When you consider that the mobile web movement has really only been going for about 6 years, it was in its infancy when those who are now entering the workforce became aware of the workplace as a whole.

Fast forward 5 – 10 years and you’ll have a whole new wave of people entering the workplace who are in the 14-16 year old bracket now who are growing up with with mobile technology at the forefront of their lives. I think there is a big difference between adapting to a technology and growing up with it, when you grow up with it, it’s more natural and intrinsic and as a result you will naturally know more and want to do more with it.

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

Do you have enough time? Do you have enough money? If you answered no to either then download Servango and either find some nifty new earning opportunities or find someone else to do what you can’t or don’t want to.

Finished reading? Check out Servango!

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