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Chris Cardell

Interview with Theodore Batzakas (wedjinni)

wedjinni is a wedding planning application to help with wedding related tasks.

I interviewed Theodore Batzakas, wedjinni founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Theodore!

How would you describe wedjinni in under 50 words?

The most complete wedding management application ever built. Our focus, from the beginning of development was to make one tool that would make everyone’s life easier when planning a wedding. Wedding-related businesses included.

What made you decide to start working on wedjinni?

After getting married, I realized first-hand how difficult it is to plan a wedding. Inspiration and ideas are not that hard to find with all the information now on the Internet, but, pure, raw management of all the tasks involved with a wedding, is really hard without a good app. So I gathered up my team and brainstormed for it.

Planning a wedding is a very personal experience, do you feel you can make the experience personal via wedjinni?

Everything in wedjinni is personal! Every account is for two users, so we make the bride and groom work on their wedding together. Guests can be invited by connecting on Facebook or by transferring contacts from a mobile phone and the users can rsvp them by mail and get comments back in the app too. Gift registry can connect to other online services and import gifts in real time on the users’ account. Reception tables are easy to manage without stereotypes about table sizes and arrangements, so you can plan a beach party or a great venue reception with the same tool.

JinniQuest, the platform that helps couples and vendors connect, is as personal as it can get. Couples set a budget and deadline for a task, and vendors come with specialized proposals designed for the requiesting couple. Topping that with an 11-language support, wedjinni speaks in the users minds :)

What was technically the most challenging part of developing wedjinni?

We wanted to build a strong engine, with many features and great scalability, but we also wanted to keep the ui clean, the application simple and fun to use and uncover the great features of wedjinni only when needed to minimize the clutter. We think we succeeded on that.

Do younger couples tend to be your main target market?

Sure. Young couples are our main target, since they are more comfortable in using technology for something that was quite traditional until now. Today, everyone has access to the Internet and most people know how to operate a smartphone or a tablet, so they can put it in good use while planning their wedding.

It is important though, to state that wedjinni is not only being offered to younger couples.

What technologies have you used to build wedjinni?

Wedjinni is based on PHP and MySQL technologies. We used the CodeIgniter framework for our backend and we utilized extensively the beauty of JavaScript, jQuery and recently Backbone.js to make things faster.

Do you have any features in the pipeline to develop wedjinni?

Wedjinni is built to grow. After the initial release of web and mobile apps, we are going to integrate a social plugin in wedjinni which will allow couples to exchange ideas right from within wedjinni. Also, we plan on having special events from selected vendors, proposing new ideas to couples and answering questions to help them make the best choices for their wedding. With these services, we think wedjinni will be truly the most complete application for wedding planning ever built.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now? Where do you see wedjinni in 5 years time?

Never give up on projects that come from a great idea. The idea is yours, and only you can make it work as it should. Wedjinni is our little kid. We like to see it succeeding and standing out from the crowd. We believe in its potential, we know it’s good so we are in a good path.

I see that you’re soon introducing an app available on Apple and Google play what inspired you to do this?

The world is moving, so should our app. Nowadays, when you close your laptop and get out, you stay connected and need to check email, update appointments etc.

When you plan a wedding, lots of events happen while you are on the move. That’s why we wanted to make wedjinni stay with you all the time and help you keep everything in order.

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

Even though we haven’t marketed wedjinni extensively yet, we already have a thousand users, and a few hundred professionals registered to try jinniQuest. Our users have already managed over a million dollars worth in wedding expenses which eventually could end to jinniQuest vendors. And we are still in beta.

Who is your biggest competitor?

Competition of wedjinni is somehow difficult to detect. Not because there are not great applications out there, but because most applications excel in very specific areas. There are great apps for guest lists, great apps for budgeting, great apps for reception management but not many great apps, if any, that can do all of the above and keep the user from searching for a bunch of tools to do his job. Having said that, great competition that is hard to fight comes from big wedding related portals that have the funds and marketing strength to appear more to potential users.

The fee you charge seems relatively cheap, do you manage to effectively cover costs?

We kept wedjinni’s cost to the lowest possible after a careful study of our expenses. We want users to meet wedjinni and see what it can really do. One of our big challenges will be to make wedjinni completely free in the future for the couples and only charge for the users of jinniQuest (the professionals in the wedding industry).

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

Weddings in a global scale are a colorful mosaic. Every country and every area in a country, has traditions, special wedding customs and things that are de facto for the locals and hard for others to comprehend. Wedjinni has to be culture-free. It has to focus on the real management challenges that no matter where the wedding is taking place, it is there. Some countries use rsvps, some not. Some have bridal showers, some not. So, in every step of developing wedjinni, we had to keep in mind to leave tradition and cultural things out of the picture.

Being based in Bulgaria, do you experience difficulties in terms of time differences with other countries?

Sometimes we need more coffee to attend meetings, to watch statistics or to solve problems, but, coffee is nice :)

With customers needing to provide a fair amount of personal information, do you experience any difficulties with the data protection act?

We have taken the privacy of our users very seriously. Our attorneys has conducted a full privacy policy letter from scratch so we are in perfect conformance of national and international law regarding online privacy. We respect our users and we have taken all steps to also protect their data with encryption and other security technologies.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We are close to release v.1 This is really an exciting milestone. We can’t wait to see how people are going to use wedjinni and we feel very happy to see them use wedjinni’s features to plan their special day. This makes us feel full of excitement.

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

If you are planning a wedding, managing everything will soon become a nightmare. Don’t let managing difficulties ruin your special day. Rub the lamp, and call for our jinni.

Finished reading? Check out wedjinni!

Interview with Ankesh Arora (Mobile Universal)

Mobile Universal is a drag and drop platform for creating mobile apps.

I interviewed Ankesh Arora, Mobile Universal co-founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and seventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Ankesh!

How would you describe Mobile Universal in under 50 words?

Mobile Universal is a platform that allows anyone to design and develop an app. No technical or software skills required. If you can drag and drop, you can develop an app. And if you are entrepreneurial, Mobile Universal helps you to start your own mobile app company!

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

Technically, the most challenging part was to create a platform where anyone, with no technical or software skills, could develop an app. We wanted to bring the app development process to the point where all you need to do is drag and drop. That’s it!

Another daunting task was to setup the reseller program, which allows users to start their own mobile app company. Via our reseller program, users can create apps for their clients and resell it. As such, we had to create a system that allowed users to manage each of their multiple client accounts.

What has growth been like since you set up?

As far as the growth is concerned, we were fortunate to see significant growth very early in the startup process. This goes against the norm for most startups. So, we did not really have to bootstrap or seek venture capital as Mobile Universal turned profitable very early. To be honest, the DNA of Mobile Universal has been very different from other startups. Usually, startups look for instant growth and scaling in order to seek venture capital. So, they aim to hit a million or so customers as soon as possible.

At Mobile Universal, in addition to getting customers, our focus has also been on building mobile app companies (resellers) under our system. We follow the pyramid pattern so to speak. Imagine yourself sitting on top of the pyramid where you have hundreds of resellers under you. Now, each of those resellers has hundreds of customers under them. The more resellers you create, the more customers they will create under them to grow their own companies. So, each of your reseller’s growth contributes to your growth as you sit on top of that pyramid. This helps us in keeping the growth rate, the ratio of new customers to existing customers, as high as possible.

Something important to remember here, no matter what approach to growth you follow, is that startups should aim to add revenue at an exponential rate while only adding resources at an incremental rate.

As you’ve stated, Mobile Universal hasn’t required venture capital and funding. Do you see this being necessary in the future?

Haha. I think, for any startup, the best time to seek venture capital is when you don’t need it! That being said, Mobile Universal has been doing well and we personally haven’t really given much consideration into venture capital and funding. There are a lot of strings, both good and bad, attached with venture capital. So, if such a situation arises in the future, we would weigh all options and see what is best for Mobile Universal. After all, any such investment needs to be aligned with the mission of the company.

What would you say sets Mobile Universal apart from competitors?

Two things: App Marketing and Reseller Program.

(1) App Marketing: Our customers are mostly businesses like restaurants, boutiques, hotels, etc. that are trying to gain mobile presence and hoping to reach out to their customers. Many companies and freelance developers can develop apps for businesses. But once the app is developed and published on Apple Store, Google Play, etc. most app development companies consider the job done. The reality is that the marketing of the app is as crucial as its development. There is no point in developing an app if you cannot figure out how the app is going to be discovered by your customers. Once you have got that covered, you need to figure out why your customers would return to use your app on a regular basis.

So, app discovery and customer retention become significantly important. As such, Mobile Universal works with its clients even after the app is published on various platforms. We provide clients app marketing strategies as well as means of creating an ongoing value for their customers so that people keep on returning to use the app. What most people do not realize is that the problem of retention is very much linked to the designing of the app. You need to design your app in such a way that it promotes recurring use. You need to ask yourself what your customers want from your mobile app, why would they download it, how and when they would use it. Once you have a good idea about these things, you incorporate these into your design phase. One thing I have learned is that style and substance are not two separate things. It’s one thing! The more the customer likes the style, the more he or she would be inclined to use it. So, in contrast to most app development companies that think app marketing has no relation to app design and development, Mobile Universal designs apps with an elegant user-interface and essential features that are significantly based on app marketing needs. This is what sets us apart!

(2) Reseller Program: One of the best things you can do as a company is to help others start their own company! And that is exactly what Mobile Universal does. Our Reseller Program provides users the platform to start their own mobile app company. No technical or software skills required. No need to hire developers. If you can drag and drop, you can develop an app. Via our reseller program, users have been developing apps and reselling it to their customers. It has worked wonders for entrepreneurs who always wanted to have their own mobile app company but did not have the technical know-how or thousands of dollars to hire programmers and develop technology. As such, the reseller program has been instrumental in the success of Mobile Universal.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at Mobile Universal?

Mobile Payments. Our focus is on developing a mobile payment tool that allows users to make purchases easily and quickly. Mobile payments would change the way retailers have been conducting business. A large clunky cash register, accepting cash and credit/debit cards, would now be replaced by digital technology in a very mobile-led fashion.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced during the startup process?

One biggest hurdle, something that is faced by other entrepreneurs as well, is that of “letting things go”. Some entrepreneurs tend to have a controlling nature and are involved in each and every aspect of startup operations. But once you hit a critical mass, it becomes extremely difficult to have such control over everything. So, it goes in direct conflict with your natural inclination and drive.

The lesson here is that in order to create true leverage and have a great organizational structure, you need to delegate work and evolve yourself into a managerial role.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We are witnessing a major technological shift where desktop is becoming obsolete and everything is going mobile. So, it is a very exciting time for startups that are in the mobile industry. I believe the really exciting change we will witness soon enough is how we start using these devices to control and manage our lives beyond the handsets themselves. I mean, you would be able to use your mobile device as a wallet to pay for your shopping, as a remote control for your television, as a tracker to manage your fitness, as a key to unlock your front door, etc.

Think of any idea and you will realize that there is already an app for that. With all these apps and the ever so increasing capabilities of smartphones, a whole new world is going to be unlocked. Your mobile phone is going to be the most important gadget you would carry on you.

Finished reading? Check out Mobile Universal!

Interview with Michael Mayernick (Spinnakr)

Spinnakr is platform that allows websites to automatically display relevant messages.

I interviewed Michael Mayernick, Spinnakr co-founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and sixth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Michael!

How would you describe Spinnakr in under 50 words?

Spinnakr is a new kind of web analytics that does all of the work for you – from insight, to recommendation, to action. Forget about messy charts and digging through data for what’s important. Spinnakr lets you focus on building your business and being creative.

What made you decide to start working on Spinnakr?

When working in digital strategy for political campaigns, my co-founder and I were amazed to see the difference in value people got out of their analytics. Truly sophisticated strategists could create enormous value, but even savvy users were completely lost with what to do with their analytics charts.

We were inspired to build a product that could enable anyone to use their data in powerful ways that immediately could make an impact on their business.

How did you come up with the name?

A spinnaker is a giant sail flown at the front of the boat when sailing high speed downwind. This idea – of being powerful, fast, but effortless – is at the core of how we think about problems and technology.

What technologies have you used to build Spinnakr?

At the center of Spinnakr is a complete, predictive analytics engine. Pulling this off involved taking some bleeding-edge database, queueing, caching, and processing technologies in a sophisticated, novel mix, and pairing it with some of our own custom built software. To date, there has never been a web analytics product architected like Spinnakr and that’s very much at the heart of what enables Spinnakr to make sophisticated analytics easier than ever before.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Spinnakr?

To generate insights for our website owners, we need to look at a huge volume of data. In this sense, we’re very much a “big data” product. But in web marketing, it is especially important to respond to events as they happen – press hits, traffic spikes, social media trends. The result was we needed to generate our insights in real time. As data is generated by a website, we run it through our insight engines, enabling us to alert website owners about important events the moment they happen. Working with such large volumes of data in real time has been a fun challenge.

Congratulations on making it into the ‘500 Startups’! What have you got out of the experience so far… the good and the bad?

The best and most significant part of my time at 500 Startups was the great friends I made during the three months in Mountain View – just an incredible group of people and a very special experience.

How long did it take to put together Spinnakr?

Spinnakr has been around for almost two years now.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We’re constantly looking at new ways to generate recommendations and insights for our users. We know there are a lot of pain points in getting value out of analytics data and we have a number of new features designed to address them.

As well as Spinnakr, you also founded Proudly Made in DC, curate the DC Startup Digest, and co-organize the DC Tech Meetup. How much time do you spend on each?

As an entrepreneur, I’ve benefited from a lot of wonderful support and advice. I think it is important to give back to your community and make time to help other entrepreneurs. That being said, Spinnakr is my passion and my most important obligation, and I devote all but a few hours each week to it.

What appeals most about being your own boss?

Starting your own company gives you a chance to change the world. Working as part of a small team, you know your daily efforts have a huge impact on the trajectory of the company, and thus that change. That’s very exciting to me.

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

That as impressive as it is to built something on your own, it is even more rewarding to recruit a team of amazing peers to work with you on it and make it a thousand times better.

Has Spinnakr got the feedback and growth you expected during Beta?

Our early adopters have been immensely important to the development of our product and continue to excite and motivate the team to improve the experience.

Where do you see Spinnakr in 5 years time?

The world is filling up with data, creating an endless stream of opportunities. The game changer is technology that can discover them instantly and react in moments. We see a future where all data analytics systems will work this way, and we believe we’re building the product that will define it.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

There is no shortage of existing web analytics products, many of which offer sophisticated features and capabilities. But I think reducing complexity and instead focusing on automatic insights and recommendations is not just a superior approach, but really the core promise of technology.

How have you promoted Spinnakr?

Our users have always been our best advocates, but we also work to maintain an active blog and social media presence.

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

There’s just so much more we want to add to the product – so much room to change the way people think about data in their lives – it can be hard to stay focused on the immediate tasks!

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The increasing abundance of data will literally change the way all systems in our lives work. Intelligent, real time application of data driven insights offers huge potential, not just for websites.

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

Do you run a website, but don’t feel like you’re getting everything you can out of Google Analytics? Then throw Spinnakr on your site in one easy step and start getting notified about what’s important and what you should do about it.

Finished reading? Check out Spinnakr!

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