Startup Series Posts

April 26, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: The Startups Speak

SoftLayer listens to customers. There's no marketing spin or fluff on that statement ... I'm a former client, so I can attest to that from a customer perspective and from an internal perspective. When I joined the company as part of the community development team to work with startups in Catalyst, I knew my role was going to be more relationship-based than project-oriented, and that was one of the most exciting aspects of the job for me.

In my last blog about mentorship and meaningfulness, you heard from George Karidis and Paul Ford about the vision to make Catalyst a part of the startup ecosystem, committing to helping participating teams with more than just their hosting needs. While we attended SXSW Interactive, I ran into a few of our phenomenal customers and had the opportunity to sit down with them and talk about their businesses, their connection to SoftLayer and what the future holds:

Over the next few weeks, we'll add video interviews to that YouTube playlist to show off all of the startups that stopped by the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW 2013. When a new video is published, it'll be added to the embedded playlist above, and we'll send some social media shout-outs via Twitter and Facebook.

With SoftLayer's 7th birthday coming up on May 5, we still feel like a startup, and a lot of that has to do with how closely we work with our customers ... Their energy is contagious, and it only encourages us to keep innovating and building our platform for the future. That's why entrepreneurs like the ones you meet in these videos choose SoftLayer. The fact that we have better technology and provide a more powerful cloud infrastructure winds up being a fringe benefit.

A big "Thanks!" goes out to the folks from Epic Playground, Flowmio, Medved, Urbane, YouNoodle, KeenIO, Cloudability and Preferred Return for taking time out of their busy SXSW schedules to chat with me. We love you guys!

-@JoshuaKrammes

April 12, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: Mentorship and Meaningfulness

In the Community Development group, our mission is simple: Create the industry's most substantially helpful startup program that assists participants in a MEANINGFUL way. Meaningfulness is a subjective goal, but when it comes to fueling new businesses, numbers and statistics can't tell the whole story. Sure, we could run Catalyst like some of the other startup programs in the infrastructure world and gauge our success off of the number of partners using the hosting credits we provide, but if we only focused on hosting credits, we'd be leaving a significant opportunity on the table.

SoftLayer is able to offer the entrepreneurial community so much more than cloud computing instances and powerful servers. As a startup ourselves not so long ago, our team knows all about the difficulties of being an entrepreneur, and now that we're able to give back to the startup community, we want to share battle stories and lessons learned. Mentorship is one of the most valuable commodities for entrepreneurs and business founders, and SoftLayer's mentors are in a unique position to provide feedback about everything from infrastructure planning to hiring your first employees to engaging with your board of advisors to negotiating better terms on a round of funding.

The Catalyst team engages in these kinds discussions with our clients every day, and we've had some pretty remarkable success. When we better understand a client's business, we can provide better feedback and insight into the infrastructure that will help that business succeed. In other words, we build meaningful relationships with our Catalyst clients, and as a result, those clients are able to more efficiently leverage the hosting credits we provide them.

The distinction between Catalyst and other startup programs in the hosting industry has never been so apparent than after South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin this year. I had the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts who have been thirsting for a program like Catalyst for years, and when they hear about what we're doing, they know they've found their oasis. I had a chance to sit down with Paul Ford in the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW to talk about the program and some of the insights and feedback we'd gotten at the show:

Paul was quick to point out that being a leader in the startup community has more impact when you provide the best technology and pair that with a team that can deliver for startups what they need: meaningful support.

Later, I had an impromptu coffee with one of the world's largest, most prestigious Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms — probably THE most respected venture capital firm in the world, actually. As we chatted about the firm's seed-funding practices, the investment partner told me, "There is no better insurance policy for an infrastructure company than what SoftLayer is doing to ensure success for its startup clients." And I thought that was a pretty telling insight.

That simple sentence drove home the point that success in a program like Catalyst is not guaranteed by a particular technology, no matter how innovative or industry-leading that technology may be. Success comes from creating value BEYOND that technology, and when I sat down with George Karidis, he shared a few insights how the Catalyst vision came to be along with how the program has evolved to what it is today:

Catalyst is special. The relationships we build with entrepreneurs are meaningful. We've made commitments to have the talented brainpower within our own walls to be accessible to the community already. After SXSW, I knew I didn't have to compare what we were doing from what other programs are doing because that would be like comparing apples and some other fruit that doesn't do nearly as much for you as apples do.

I was told once on the campaign trail for President Clinton in '96 that so long as you have a rock-solid strategy, you cannot be beaten if you continue to execute on that strategy. Execute, Execute, Execute. If you waiver and react to the competition, you're dead in the water. With that in mind, we're going to keep executing on our strategy of being available to our Catalyst clients and actively helping them solve their problems. The only question that remains is this:

How can we help you?

-@JoshuaKrammes

March 26, 2013

Should My Startup Join an Accelerator/Incubator Program?

As part of my role at SoftLayer, I have the opportunity and privilege to mentor numerous entrepreneurs and startup teams when they partner with us through our Catalyst program. One question I hear often is, "Should I join an accelerator?" My answer: "That all depends." Let's look at the five lessons entrepreneurs should learn before they decide to join a startup accelerator or incubator program.

Lesson 1: The founders must be committed to the success of their venture.
Joining an accelerator or incubator comes with some strings attached — startups give up between 6 to 10 percent of their equity in exchange for some cash and structured program that usually lasts around three months. Obviously, this kind of commitment should not be taken lightly.

Too often, startups join accelerator programs before they are ready or mature enough as a team. Sometimes, a company's idea isn't fully baked, so they end up spending as much time "creating" their business as they do "accelerating" it. As a result, that company isn't able to leverage an accelerator's resources efficiently throughout the entire program ... The founders need to establish a vision for the business, begin laying the groundwork for the company's products and services, and be 100% committed to the accelerator program before joining. If you can't say with confidence that your startup meets all three of those requirements, don't do it. Take care of those three points and proceed to the next lesson.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to leverage what you are given.
Many startups join accelerator and incubator programs with unrealistic expectations. Participation in these programs — even the most exclusive and well-known ones — by no means guarantees that you'll raise additional money or have a successful exit. These programs provide startups with office space, free cloud services, and access to mentors, investors, recruiters and media ... Those outstanding services provide participating startups with a distinct competitive advantage, but they don't serve up success on a silver platter. If you aren't ready work tirelessly to leverage the benefits of a startup program, don't bother.

Lesson 3: Take advice and criticism well; mentors are trying to help.
"Mentorship" is very tough to qualify, and criticism is difficult to take ... Especially if you're 100% committed to your business and you don't want to be told that you've done something wrong. Mentors in these startup programs have "been there and done that," and they wouldn't be in a mentorship position if they weren't looking out for your best interest and the ultimate success of your company.

Look programs that take mentorship seriously and can provide a broad range of expertise from strategy to marketing and business development to software architecture to building and scaling IT infrastructure. Then be intentional about listening to the people around you.

Lesson 4: Do your research and make an informed decision.
With the proliferation of startups globally, we're also seeing an evolution in the accelerator ecosystem. There are a number accelerators being positioned to help support founders with ideas on a global, regional and local basis, but it's important to evaluate a program's vision with its execution of that vision. Not all startup programs are created equal, and some might not offer the right set of resources and opportunities for your team. When you're giving up equity in your company, you should have complete confidence that the accelerator or incubator you join will deliver on its side of the deal.

Lesson 5: Leverage the network and community you will meet.
When you've done your homework, applied and been accepted to the perfect startup program, meet everyone you can and learn from them. One of the most tangible benefits of joining an accelerator is the way you can fast track a business idea while boosting network contacts. Much in the way someone chooses a prestigious college or joins a fraternity, some of the most valuable resources you'll come across in these programs are the people you meet. In this way, accelerators and incubators are becoming a proxy for undergrad and graduate school ... The appeal for promising entrepreneurs is simple: Why wait to make a dent in the universe? Today, more people are going to college and fewer are landing well-paying jobs after graduation, so some of the world's best and brightest are turning to these communities and foregoing the more structured "higher education" process.

Even if your startup is plugging along smoothly, a startup accelerator or incubator program might be worth a look. Venture capitalists often trust programs like TechStars and 500 Startups to filter or vet early stage companies. If your business has the stamp of approval from one of these organizations, it's decidedly less risky than a business idea pitched by a random entrepreneur.

If you understand each of these lessons and you take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided by startup accelerators and incubators, the sky is the limit for your business. Now get to work.

Class dismissed.

-@gkdog

March 5, 2013

Startup Series: Kickback Tickets

The very first client I recruited to Catalyst when I joined the CommDev team about a year ago happens to be one of Catalyst's most interesting customer success stories ... and I'm not just saying that because it was the first partner I signed on. Kickback Tickets — an online ticketing platform that utilized crowdfunding — has simplified the process of creating and funding amazing events, and as a result, they've made life a lot easier for the startup, developer and networking organizations that fuel Catalsyt.

Anyone who's organized events knows that it often involves a financial risk because it's hard to know whether the event will be well-enough attended to cover the costs of putting on the event. With Kickback Tickets, an event is listed an funded ahead of time, and when it reaches its "Tipping Point" goal of tickets ordered, it's completely funded, the early supporters are charged, and the ticket sales continue.

The process is simple:

Kickback Tickets

Event updates, guest registrations and QR-coded tickets are provided to attendees to make check-in seamless, so the hosts of each event don't have hassle with those details. Kickback's revenue comes from a small fee on each ticket for each successfully funded event, and they've got a ton of momentum. After signing on with Catalyst in March 2012, Kickback went live with an open beta in November 2012, and they launched their out-of-beta site in February 2013. They've successfully funded more than 20 events, and new events are added daily.

Kickback Tickets

When I met the Kickback founders Jonathan Perkins and Julian Balderas, I was attending SF Beta (my first official event as a SLayer). At the time, Jonathan and Julian were a couple of bankers with an innovative idea to help organizations alleviate the financial risk of planning and putting on events by enlisting community support. I told them about my experience as the COO of a small non-profit startup up called Slavery Footprint (also a Catalyst partner), and I guess they could relate to the challenges SoftLayer helped us overcome because they were excited to join.

In their own words, Jonathan and Julian explain that their partnership with Softlayer and the Catalyst program has been extremely valuable:

SoftLayer provides a rock-solid technical foundation and allows us to focus more resources on business development. On the technical side, what Softlayer offers is impressive — super fast speeds and an intricate level of control over the hardware. On the personal side, the mentorship and networking benefits of the program have been very helpful. We've always found the Catalyst team to be available to chat about any questions we had, ranging from development to biz dev to fundraising.

As they continue to expand their platform, it's going to be exciting to watch Kickback become a true force in the events space. Organize your next event with Kickback and make sure it's a success.

Oh, and if you want to speak to Jonathan and Julian, just reach out to me and I'll happily make the introduction.

-@JoshuaKrammes

February 11, 2013

Startup Series: Planwise

Every startup dreams about entering an unowned, wide-open market ... and subsequently dominating it. About a year ago, I met a couple of Aussies — Vincent and Niall — who saw a gaping hole in the world of personal finance and seized the opportunity to meet the unspoken needs of a huge demographic: People who want to be in control of their money but hate the complexity of planning and budgeting. They built Planwise — a forward-looking financial decision-making tool that shows you your future financial goals in the context of each other and your daily financial commitments.

Planwise

If you look at the way people engage with their finances on a daily basis, you might think that we don't really care about our money. Unless we're about to run out of it, we want to do something with it, or it constrains us from doing something we want to do, we don't spend much time managing our finances. Most of the online tools that dominate the finance space are enterprise-centric solutions that require sign-ups and API calls to categorize your historical spend. Those tools confirm that you spend too much each month on coffee and beer (in case you didn't already know), but Planwise takes a different approach — one that focuses on the future.

Planwise is a tool that answers potentially complex financial questions quickly and clearly. "If I make one additional principal payment on my mortgage every year, what will my outstanding balance be in five years?" "How would would my long-term savings be affected if I moved to a nicer (and more expensive) apartment?" "How much money should I set aside every month if I want to travel to Europe next summer?" You shouldn't have to dig up your old accounting textbooks or call a CPA to get a grasp on your financial future:

One of the most significant differentiators for Planwise is that you can use the tool without signing up and without any identifiable information. You just launch Planwise, add relevant numbers, and immediately see the financial impact of scenarios like paying off debt, losing your job, or changing your expenses significantly. If you find Planwise useful and you want to keep your information in the system (so you don't have to enter it again), you can create an account to save your data by just providing your email address.

Planwise has been a SoftLayer customer since around August of last year, and I've gotten to work with them quite a bit via the Catalyst program. They built a remarkable hybrid infrastructure on SoftLayer's platform where they leverage dedicated hardware, cloud instances and cutting-edge DB deployments to scale their environment up and down as their usage demands. I'd also be remiss if I didn't give them a shout-out for evangelizing Catalyst to bring some other outstanding startups onboard. You've met one of those referred companies already (Bright Funds), and you'll probably hear about a few more soon.

Go make some plans with Planwise.

-@JoshuaKrammes

January 28, 2013

Catalyst: In the Startup Sauna and Slush

Slush.fi was a victim of its own success. In November 2012, the website home of Startup Sauna's early-stage startup conference was crippled by an unexpected flood of site traffic, and they had to take immediate action. Should they get a private MySQL instance from their current host to try and accommodate the traffic or should they move their site to the SoftLayer cloud? Spoiler (highlight for clue): You're reading this post on the SoftLayer Blog.

Let me back up for a second and tell you a little about Startup Sauna and Slush. Startup Sauna hosts (among other things) a Helsinki-based seed accelerator program for early-stage startup companies from Northern Europe and Russia. They run two five-week programs every year, with more than one hundred graduated companies to date. In addition to the accelerator program, Startup Sauna also puts on annually the biggest startup conference in Northern europe called Slush. Slush was founded in 2008 with the intent to bring the local startup scene together at least once every year. Now — five years later — Slush brings more international investors and media to the region than any other event out there. This year alone, 3,500 entrepreneurs, investors and partners who converged on Slush to make connections and see the region's most creative and innovative businesses, products and services.

Slush Conference

In October of last year, we met the founders of Startup Sauna, and it was clear that they would be a perfect fit to join Catalyst. We offer their portfolio companies free credits for cloud and dedicated hosting, and we really try get to know the teams and alumni. Because Startup Sauna signed on just before Slush 2012 in November, they didn't want to rock the boat by moving their site to SoftLayer before the conference. Little did we know that they'd end up needing to make the transition during the conference.

When the event started, the Slush website was inundated with traffic. Attendees were checking the agenda and learning about some of the featured startups, and the live stream of the presentation brought record numbers of unique visitors and views. That's all great news ... Until those "record numbers" pushed the site's infrastructure to its limit. Startup Sauna CTO Lari Haataja described what happened:

The number of participants had definitely most impact on our operations. The Slush website was hosted on a standard webhotel (not by SoftLayer), and due to the tremendous traffic we faced some major problems. Everyone was busy during the first morning, and it took until noon before we had time to respond to the messages about our website not responding. Our Google Analytics were on fire, especially when Jolla took the stage to announce their big launch. We were streaming the whole program live, and anyone who wasn't able to attend the conference wanted to be the first to know about what was happening.

The Slush website was hosted on a shared MySQL instance with a limited number of open connections, so when those connections were maxed out (quickly) by site visitors from 134 different countries, database errors abounded. The Startup Sauna team knew that a drastic change was needed to get the site back online and accessible, so they provisioned a SoftLayer cloud server and moved their site to its new home. In less than two hours (much of the time being spent waiting for files to be downloaded and for DNS changes to be recognized), the site was back online and able to accommodate the record volume of traffic.

You've seen a few of these cautionary tales before on the SoftLayer Blog, and that's because these kinds of experiences are all too common. You dream about getting hundreds of thousands of visitors, but when those visitors come, you have to be ready for them. If you have an awesome startup and you want to learn more about the Startup Sauna, swing by Helsinki this week. SoftLayer Chief Strategy Officer George Karidis will be in town, and we plan on taking the Sauna family (and anyone else interested) out for drinks on January 31! Drop me a line in a comment here or over on Twitter, and I'll make sure you get details.

-@EmilyBlitz

Categories: 
January 24, 2013

Startup Series: SPEEDILICIOUS

Research from the Aberdeen Group shows the average website is losing 9% of its business because
 the speed of the site frustrates visitors into leaving. 9% of your traffic might be leaving your site because they feel like it's too slow. That thought is staggering, and any site owner would be foolish not to fix the problem. SPEEDILICIOUS — one of our new Catalyst partners — has an innovative solution that optimizes website performance and helps businesses deliver content to their end users faster.

SPEEDILICIOUS

I recently had the chance to chat with SPEEDILICIOUS founders Seymour Segnit and Chip Krauskopf, and Seymour rephrased that "9%" statistic in a pretty alarming way: "Losing 9% of your business is the equivalent of simply allowing your website to go offline, down, dark, dead, 404 for over a MONTH each year!" There is ample data to back this up from high-profile sites like Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart.com, but intuitively, you know it already ... A slow site (even a slightly slow site) is annoying.

The challenge many website owners have when it comes to their loading speeds is that problems might not be noticeable from their own workstations. Thanks to caching and the Internet connections most of us have, when we visit our own sites, we don't have any trouble accessing our content quickly. Unfortunately, many of our customers don't share that experience when they visit our sites on mobile, hotel, airports and (worst of all) conference connections. The most common approach to speeding up load times is to throw bigger servers or a CDN (content delivery network) at the problem, but while those improvements make a difference, they only address part of the problem ... Even with the most powerful servers in SoftLayer's fleet, your page can load at a crawl if your code can't be rendered quickly by a browser.

That makes life as a website developer difficult. The process of optimizing code and tweaking settings to speed up load times can be time-consuming and frustrating. Or as Chip explained to me, "Speeding up your site is essential, it shouldn’t be be slow and complicated. We fix that problem." Take a look:

The idea that your site performance can be sped up significantly overnight seems a little crazy, but if it works (which it clearly does), wouldn't it be crazier not to try it? SPEEDILICIOUS offers a $1 trial for you to see the results on your own site, and they regularly host a free webinar called "How to Grow Your Business 5-15% Overnight" which covers the critical techniques for speeding up any website.

As technology continues to improve and behavioral patterns of purchasing migrate away from the mall and onto our computers and smart phones, SPEEDILICIOUS has a tremendous opportunity to capture a ripe market. So they're clearly a great fit for Catalyst. If you're interested in learning more or would like to speak to Seymour, Chip or anyone on their team, please let me know and I'll make the direct introduction any time.

-@JoshuaKrammes

January 15, 2013

Startup Series: Moqups

Every member on the Catalyst team is given one simple goal: Find the most innovative and creative startups on the planet and get them on the SoftLayer network. We meet entrepreneurs at conferences and events around the world, we team up with the most influential startup accelerators and incubators, and we hunt for businesses who are making waves online. With the momentum Catalyst built in 2012, our message has started spreading exponentially faster than what the community development team could be doing on our own, and now it seems like we've earned a few evangelists in the startup community. We have those evangelists to thank for bringing Moqups to our door.

In a Hacker News thread, a user posted about needing hosting for a server/startup, and a recommendation for the Catalyst program was one of the top-rated results. The founders of Moqups saw that recommendation, researched SoftLayer's hosting platform and submitted an application to become a Catalyst partner. As soon as we saw the unbelievable HTML5 app the Moqups team created to streamline and simplify the process of creating wireframes and mockups for website and application design, we knew they were a perfect fit to join the program.

If you've ever had to create a site prototype or UI mockup, you know how unwieldy the process can be. You want to sketch a layout and present it clearly and cleanly, but there aren't many viable resources between "marker on a whiteboard" and "rendering in Photoshop" to accomplish that goal. That's the problem the Moqups team set out to solve ... Can a web app provide the functionality and flexibility you'd need to fill that gap?

We put their answer to that question to the test. I told Kevin about Moqups and asked him to spend a few minutes wireframing the SoftLayer Blog ... About ten minutes later, he sent me this (Click for the full Moqups version):

SoftLayer Blog Moqup

Obviously, wireframing an existing design is easier than creating a new design from scratch, but Kevin said he was floored by how intuitive the Moqups platform made the process. In fact, the "instructions" for how to use Moqups are actually provided in an example "Quick Introduction to Moqups" project on the home page. That example project allows you to tweak, add and adjust content to understand how the platform works, and because it's all done in HTML5, the user experience is seamless.

Moqups

Put it to the test for yourself: How long will it take you to create a wireframe of your existing website (similar to what Kevin did with the SoftLayer Blog)? You have down-to-the-pixel precision, you can group objects together, Moqups helps you line up or center all of the different pieces of your site. Their extensive library of stencils supplements any custom images you upload, so you can go through the whole process of creating a site mockup without "drawing" anything by hand!

I'm actually surprised that the Moqups team heard about SoftLayer before our community development team heard about them ... In November, I was in Bucharest, Romania, for HowtoWeb, so I was right in their back yard! Central and Eastern European startups are blowing up right now, and Moqups is a perfect example of what we're seeing from that region in EMEA.

Oh, and if you know of a crazy cool startup like Moqups that could use a little hosting help from SoftLayer, tell them about Catalyst!

-@EmilyBlitz

January 8, 2013

Startup Series: Bright Funds

Did you ever see The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio? You know ... The one with a community of world-shunners that live in a paradisaical community on a beautiful white-sand beach. The people in that community were purists — altruistic types who believed in the possibilities of living a simple life based on community support of the individual and the individual's reciprocal support and dedication to the community. Recently, I walked into Hattery — a co-working space in SF — and found a similarly tight-knit community that immediately reminded me of that movie. Hattery is "off the radar" to a certain extent, and that's largely because the collaborative environment and culture are what drive the incredible group of entrepreneurs who work there. To be allowed in the co-working space, it seems like the prerequisites are endless passion and an ambitious vision, so I shouldn't be surprised that Bright Funds calls it home.

Bright Funds is a business that was created to provide users the ability to easily invest in complete solutions for the causes they care about. After signing on as a Catalyst partner, Bright Fund co-founders Ty Walrod and Rutul Davé invited me to lunch at the Hattery office, and I immediately accepted so I could learn more about what they are up to. Having been involved in the tech startup world for a while now, I knew that I'd be meeting two very special entrepreneurs with big hearts and even BIGGER tech startup street cred.

Rutul and Ty were not content with their user experience (UX) when it came to giving to charities and helping solve some of the world's biggest problems. They noticed that little effort had been invested in providing donors with tools to make the act of giving both enjoyable and highly effective, so they took action. Bright Funds was created to redefine and refocus the experience of "giving to charity" ... Giving shouldn't just involve going through the motions of transferring funds from our bank accounts. They built a new giving platform to be more intuitive, rewarding and enlightening, and they did an unbelievable job.

Think of the last time you had a great user experience: An interaction that was as enjoyable as it was effective. Aesthetics play a big role, and when those aesthetics make doing what you want to do easier and more satisfying, you've got an awesome UX. The best user experiences involve empowering users to make informed and intelligent choices by providing them what they need and getting out of the way. Often, UX is used for site design or application metrics, but Bright Funds took the concept and used it to create an elegant and simple business model:

Bright Funds was designed to create a giving experience with an intuitive flow in mind. Instead of just writing checks or handing over cash to a charity, the experience of giving through Bright Funds is interactive and didactic. You manage your giving like you would a mutual fund portfolio — you decide what percentage of your giving should go to which types of vetted and validated causes, and you get regular performance updates from charity. I want to help save the environment. I want to give clean water to all. I want to empower the underserved. I want to educate the world. You choose which causes you want to prioritize, and Bright Funds channels your giving to the most effective organizations serving the greatest needs in the world today.

Bright Funds

Instead of focusing on individual nonprofits, you support causes and issues that matter most to you. In that sense, Bright Funds is a very unique approach to charitable giving, and it's a powerful force in making a difference. Visit Bright Funds for more information, and get started by building your own 'Impact Portfolio.' If you're curious about what mine looks like, check it out:

Bright Funds Impact Portfolio

What does yours look like?

-@JoshuaKrammes

This is a startup series post about Bright Funds, a SoftLayer Catalyst Program participant.
About Bright Funds:
Bright Funds is a better way to give. Individuals and employees at companies with gift matching programs create personalized giving portfolios and contribute to thoroughly researched funds of highly effective nonprofits, all working to address the greatest challenges of our time. In one platform, Bright Funds brings together the power of research, the reliability of a trusted financial service, and the convenience of a secure, cloud-based platform with centralized contributions, integrated matching, and simple tax reporting.
December 10, 2012

Startup Series: GiveToBenefit

People often ask me why I enjoy working at SoftLayer, and that's a tough question to answer fully. I ALWAYS say that great people and great products (in that order) are some of the biggest reasons, and I explain how refreshing it is to work for a company that operates prioritizes "solving problems" over "selling." I share the SoftLayer "Innovate or Die" motto and talk about how radically the world of hosting is changing, and I get to brag about meeting some of the world's most interesting up-and-coming entrepreneurs and how I have the unique opportunity to help amazing startups grow into Internet powerhouses.

I'm the West Coast community development manager for Catalyst, so I get to tell the SoftLayer story to hundreds of entrepreneurs and startups every month at various meetups, demo days, incubator office hours and conferences. In turn, I get to hear the way those entrepreneurs and startups are changing the world. It's a pretty amazing gig. When I was chatting with a few of my colleagues recently, I realized that I'm in a pretty unique position ... Not everyone gets to hear these stories. I've decided that I owe it to my coworkers, our Catalyst participants and anyone else who will listen to write a semi-regular blog series about some of the cool businesses SoftLayer is helping.

Picking one Catalyst participant to feature for this first blog was a pretty challenging task. With the holidays upon us, one company I'm working closely with jumped out as the perfect candidate to feature in this "season of giving": GiveToBenefit.

GiveToBenefit

GiveToBeneift (or G2B) is a social enterprise based in Philadelphia dedicated to helping non-profits receive high-quality goods from select suppliers through crowd-funding. G2B is unique among the startups in the Catalyst program in that it is a "double bottom line" company: It is designed to generate profit for its business while at the same time creating positive social impact.

Crowd-funding — raising money from the public via online donations — is a relatively new activity, but it has already become a HUGE market. In 2010, more than 38 million people gave $4.5 billion to causes online ... $4.5 BILLION dollars were donated online to fuel ideas and businesses. Chances are, you've heard of companies like Kickstarter and DonorsChoose, so instead of taking time to talk about the crowd-funding process, I can share how GiveToBenefit differs from those other platforms:

Serves Non-Profits Exclusively - GiveToBenefit works exclusively with non-profit companies. They look for non-profits who don't have the financial or human resources to do their own fundraising and who can benefit from the high-quality goods their suppliers provide.

Marketing and Strategy Assistance - GiveToBenefit actively helps the organization market the campaign. The G2B team is ready, willing and able to offer suggestions, answer questions and provide feedback throughout the process, and given the fact that many non-profits lack technology resources, they usually get very involved with each cause.

No Additional Donor Fees - An extremely important note to point out is that GiveToBenefit does not charge donors a fee for their contribution beyond the mandatory fee charged by the credit card processor. More of every the donated dollar goes to its intended cause. Your entire donation goes to the non-profit for a very specific reason. There's no question about whether your donation will go to what you hope for.

Building Connections with High-Quality Suppliers - GiveToBenefit found a way to elevate the role of the supplier of the goods that non-profits receive and use. Brands whose products promise to perform better and last longer than the items the charities have access to are featured. GiveToBenefit derives revenue from its relationships with these suppliers, and G2B uses part of the fee it charges the supplier to fund the marketing of the non-profit's online campaign.

The idea is to go beyond "doing good," to "doing better." I could go on and on about the innovate ways they're "discovering better ways to do good," but the best way to show off their platform would be to send you to the three campaigns they recently launched:

GiveToBenefit Campaigns

Whether you want to contribute to purchasing a Watermark water purification system for the Margaret E. Moul Home for people with neuromuscular disabilities or you want to fill the People's Light & Theatre and Plays & Players Theater with the beautiful sounds of Hailun Pianos, you can contribute and know that your donation is making a difference for some very worthy non-profits.

If you'd like to learn more about GiveToBenefit or if you think one of your favorite non-profits could benefit from a G2B campaign, let me know (jkrammes@softlayer.com), and I'll introduce you to G2B founder and visionary Dan Sossaman.

-@JoshuaKrammes

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