Posts Tagged 'Entrepreneurs'

July 10, 2013

The Importance of Providing Startups a Sandbox

With the global economy in its current state, it's more important than ever to help inspired value-creators acquire the tools needed to realize their ideas, effect change in the world, and create impact — now. I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of young, innovative companies through Catalyst and our relationships with startup accelerators, incubators and competitions, and I've noticed that the best way for entrepreneurs to create change is to simply let them play! Stick them in a sandbox with a wide variety of free products and services that they can use however they want so that they may find the best method of transitioning from idea to action.

Any attention that entrepreneurs divert from their core business ideas is wasted attention, so the most successful startup accelerators build a bridge for entrepreneurs to the resources they need — from access to hosting service, investors, mentors, and corporate partners to recommendations about summer interns and patent attorneys. That all sounds good in theory, and while it's extremely difficult to bring to reality, startup-focused organizations like MassChallenge make it look easy.

During a recent trip to Boston, I was chatting with Kara Shurmantine and Jibran Malek about what goes on behind the scenes to truly empower startups and entrepreneurs, and they gave me some insight. Startups' needs are constantly shifting, changing and evolving, so MassChallenge prioritizes providing a sandbox chock-full of the best tools and toys to help make life easier for their participants ... and that's where SoftLayer helps. With Kara and Jibran, I got in touch with a few MassChallenge winners to get some insight into their experience from the startup side.

Tish Scolnik, the CEO of Global Research Innovation & Technology (GRIT), described the MassChallenge experience perfectly: "You walk in and you have all these amazing opportunities in front of you, and then in a pretty low pressure environment you can decide what you need at a specific moment." Tish calls it a "buffet table" — an array of delectable opportunities, some combination of which will be the building blocks of a startup's growth curve. Getting SoftLayer products and services for free (along with a plethora of other valuable resources) has helped GRIT create a cutting-edge wheelchair for disabled people in developing countries.

The team from Neumitra, a Silver Winner of MassChallenge 2012, chose to use SoftLayer as an infrastructure partner, and we asked co-founder Rob Goldberg about his experience. He explained that his team valued the ability to choose tools that fit their ever-changing and evolving needs. Neumitra set out to battle stress — the stress you feel every day — and they've garnered significant attention while doing so. With a wearable watch, Neumitra's app tells you when your stress levels are too high and you need to take a break.

Jordan Fliegal, the founder and CEO of CoachUp, another MassChallenge winner, also benefited from playing around in the sandbox. This environment, he says, is constantly "giving to you and giving to you and giving to you without asking for anything in return other than that you work hard and create a company that makes a difference." The result? CoachUp employs 20 people, has recruited thousands of judges, and has raised millions in funding — and is growing at breakneck speed.

If you give inspired individuals a chance and then give them not only the resources that they need, but also a diverse range of resources that they could need, you are guaranteed to help create global impact.

In short: Provide a sandbox. Change the world.

-@KelleyHilborn

May 27, 2013

Tech Wildcatters Pitch Day (From a Unique Perspective)

In a classic scene from Duck Soup, Groucho Marx (as Rufus T. Firefly) is given a report, and he responds, "Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head or tail out of it." That deadpan line may have come from a movie that was released in 1933, but it alludes to an idea that's relevant to this day: Younger generations have a unique perspective, and their insights can be extremely valuable. James, my nine-year-old son, has a seemingly innate understanding of technology, and after watching TechStars Cloud graduates deliver their demo day pitches last year, he became very interested in startups. I can say this authoritatively because he's been bugging me for month to let him go to another session.

With his school year winding down, I decided I'd make a deal with him: He could join me at the Tech Wildcatters Pitch Day, but he'd have to write a blog about what he learned about each of the companies. When I saw the post he wrote, I realized that having a nine-year-old listen to elevator pitches from startups provides a great barometer for how well a presenter expressed the company's value proposition. I'll turn the floor over to James and let him share what he learned about the eleven companies that presented at #TWPitchDay2013:

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day

Today I went to the Granada Theater in Dallas with my dad to meet start up companies. They were doing presentations to investors to raise money.

My dad did the introduction for HedgeChatter. I really did not understand what the do, but my dad said they did "DID": They turn Data into Information so people can make better Decisions. Not sure what that really means but he seems to like their business.

Here is a quick summary of each of the companies and what they do:

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayVonciergeVoncierge.com@LittleDressBook
Voncierge is a virtual wedding website that lets brides find the time and day for appointments in a short time.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayKlick PushKlickPush.com@KlickPush
Klick Push is redefining online advertising by intersecting it with digital music.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayGroupRaiseGroupRaise.com@GroupRaise
GroupRaise is a platform for charitable organizers to set up fundraisers online at local restaurants.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayScribeSenseScribeSense.com@ScribeSense
ScribeSense is a better way to track and improve student learning. Their online platform grades.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayCrowdFeedCrowdFeed.co@CrowdFeed
CrowdFeed is an app that has a huge market, making music and merchandise available on the spot.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySmokePhoneSmokePhone.com@SmokePhone
Smokephone is a site that lets you save your ten precious digits from strangers, and then you can delete them at any time.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayHedgeChatterHedgeChatter.com@HedgeChatter
HedgeChatter is a social analytics tool for the stock market. It helps investors make more money in less time (from 12 hours to 6).

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySocialGlimpzSocialGlimpz.com@SocialGlimpz
SocialGlimpz is a market insight tool to glean insights from users and build consumer strategy. It is an alternative to slow, expensive tools in the market.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayTalentizeTalentize.com@Talentize
Talentize is a website that lets DJs, actor, singers, artist, and models showcase themselves for jobs.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day501Fund501Fund.com@501Fund
501Fund is a company that helps with fundraising and saving money.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySecure PressIDSecurePressID.com@SecurePressID
SecurepressID is a security company that lets your hand be the username and login to protect from hackers.

 

My favorite of all companies was GroupRaise. I like it because I like helping people, and that is what they do too! Klick Push was great too. They give you prizes like free music for getting to new levels in games. Maybe they can do that for Minecraft.

This is the second time I went to an event like this. Last year I met a lot of cool companies that came to Dallas from San Antonio. My dad said they were part of something called TechStars Cloud. I even presented to them about Steve Jobs. That made me nervous, but it was worth it.

I am already excited about going to my next demo day. And maybe someday I will be on the stage with a new idea.

-James Karidis

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day

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 8, 2013

India: Using Global Technology to Go Hyper-Local

Bill Gates once told a journalist that everyone should care about developments in India because the world's largest democracy (of 1.2 billion people) and tenth-largest economy is quickly catching up with us. I recently had the opportunity to see those developments first-hand, and I wholeheartedly agree with Bill's sentiment. Innovation and technology breakthroughs are not owned by or limited to the United States, and as international markets mature, we're going to see more and more entrepreneurship and startup activity overseas. Now I don't mean to imply that the demise of Silicon Valley is imminent, but its influence will be greatly diminished in the future, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I just returned from a round-the-world trip that included nearly two weeks in India as part of a 500 Startups-sponsored market exploration tour called Geeks on a Plane. The tour stopped through Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi, with meetups for local entrepreneurs, startups, investors and some of the most influential companies in India's technology ecosystem. While in India, I had the chance to meet several SoftLayer customers — including Zoomin, PowerWeave, and Vidya Mantra — and their insight into the growing technology culture in the region was eye-opening.

India

One of the most interesting characteristics shared by many of the entrepreneurs I spoke with was that they were building businesses with a "hyper-local" focus: Unique business models that are specifically geared toward serving local communities while leveraging the latest technologies in mobility and e-commerce. This distinction is particularly noteworthy because they didn't assume that they'd need to succeed in the US market or compete with companies in the US to build their businesses ... And they're absolutely right. The opportunities that exist for hyper-local entrepreneurs in these emerging markets are staggering.

FlipKart is known as "The Amazon of India." It's very similar to the online shopping giant most of us know and use regularly, but with some unique regional twists. For example, because credit card and electronic payments in India are not as prevalent or reliable as they are in much of the world, orders are taken via both an online ordering system and through FlipKart call centers. Once processed, a highly developed network of "scooters" delivers about 50 percent of FlipKart's orders, and the payment is provided at the customer's door — IN CASH. While that might seem simplistic, each courier has a smartphone that allows them to become a geo-located, connected, data sharing entity. Hundreds of millions of dollars in FlipKart orders are delivered each year with very few issues, despite the fact that most of us can't even imagine how the company could operate that way in the US.

Another great example of how innovators are using technology to redefine businesses is redBus, India's largest bus ticketing company. A huge percentage of travel in India is done very inexpensively by bus, and before redBus came on the scene, travelers took their chances by buying tickets through middlemen and ticket brokers, often getting ripped off or becoming victims of double-booking. By centralizing the ticketing process, redBus is able to provide a reliable way to book a seat on any of India's vast system of buses via phone, online or in person. redBus offers the largest selection of bus seats in the country with over 350 bus operators and a flexible network of boarding points, timing and bus types. It's an incredibly simple service that meets a clear need for a hyper-local audience by leveraging the technologies being built and improved around the world.

If my two weeks in India taught me one thing, it was that the startups don't need to conquer international markets ... They can strive to service their local communities and interests, and they'll be just as successful (if not more). Our Catalyst program has just begun its international expansion into India, and the future certainly looks bright. In fact, I'm proud to announce that we've already signed up our first Catalyst program member in India with many more to come!

As we continue working with startup communities around the globe, I learn more and more about how the world is changing, and I get a stronger appreciation for the cultural and economic ties that bind us all together.

Stay tuned!

-@gkdog

February 12, 2013

From the Startup Trenches to the Catalyst War Room

Before joining SoftLayer, I was locked in a dark, cold room for two years. Sustained by a diet of sugar and caffeine and basking in the glow of a 27" iMac, I was tasked with making servers dance to the tune of Ruby. The first few months were the toughest. The hours were long, and we worked through holidays. And I loved it.

If that work environment seems like torture, you probably haven't been on the front lines of a development team. I was a member of a band of brothers at war with poorly documented vendor APIs, trying to emerge victorious from the Battle of Version 1.0. We operated (and suffered) like a startup in its early stages, so I've had firsthand experience with the ups and downs of creating and innovating in technology. Little did I know that those long hours and challenges were actually preparing me to help hundreds of other developers facing similar circumstances ... I was training to be a Catalyst SLayer:

Catalyst Team

You probably know a lot about Catalyst by now, but one of the perks of the program that often gets overshadowed by "free hosting" is the mentorship and feedback the SoftLayer team provides every Catalyst participant. Entrepreneurs bounce ideas off of guys like Paul Ford and George Karidis to benefit from the years of experience and success we've experienced, and the more technical folks can enlist our help in figuring out more efficient ways to tie their platforms to their infrastructure.

When I was forging through the startup waters, I was fortunate to have been supported by financially reinforced walls and the skilled engineers of a well-established hosting company in Tokyo. Unfortunately, that kind of support is relatively uncommon. That's where Catalyst swoops in. SoftLayer's roots were planted in the founders' living rooms and garages, so we're particularly fond of other companies who are bootstrapping, learning from failure and doing whatever it takes to succeed. In my role with Catalyst, I've effectively become a resource for hundreds of startups around the world ... and that feels good.

Five days before my official start date, I receive a call from Josh telling me that we'd be spending my first official week on the job in Seattle with Surf Incubator and Portland with Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). While the trip did not involve carving waves or stuffing our faces with baked goods (bummer), we did get to hear passionate people explain what keeps them up at night. We got to share a little bit about SoftLayer and how we can help them sleep better (or fuel them with more energy when they're up at night ... depending on which they preferred), and as I headed back to Los Angeles, I knew I made the right choice to become a SLayer. I'm surrounded by energy, creativity, passion, innovation and collaboration on a daily basis. It's intoxicating.

TL;DR: I love my job.

-@andy_mui

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 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

October 30, 2012

Startup Series: YouNoodle

In the startup world, the resources you have are almost as important as your vision and your ability to execute. That simple idea fueled the creation of Catalyst, and it's a big component of our incredible success. We're taking the complexity (and cost) out of the hosting decision for the coolest startups we meet, and by doing so, those startups have the freedom to focus on their applications. But that's only the beginning.

In addition to providing infrastructure, my team and I also try to introduce Catalyst participants to investors, incubators, accelerators and other startup founders. By building a strong network of experienced peers, entrepreneurs have a HUGE advantage as they're building their businesses. The difficulty in making those introductions is that it's such a labor-intensive process ... Or I guess I should say that it *was* a labor-intensive process. Then we found YouNoodle.

YouNoodle is an online network for entrepreneurs that was founded in 2010 in San Francisco, California. The 18-person startup is built to connect entrepreneurs with people, startups, competitions and groups based on what's relevant to each entrepreneur's mission. What the Catalyst team has been doing in a labor-intensive fashion, YouNoodle has automated and streamlined! We had to meet these folks.

YouNoodle

We heard that YouNoodle was putting together a start-up crawl during one of their immersion programs — they bring international entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley to learn best practices and make connections in the US market — and we jumped at an opportunity to provide the beer and sandwiches at one of the stops. If you've ever worked at a startup before, you know that the way to an entrepreneur's heart is through his/her stomach, so we hoped it would be "love at first bite."

We chatted with the YouNoodle team, and they showed us the recently released 2.0 version of Podium, the SaaS platform they built to manage the selection process for entrepreneurial competitions and challenges from organizations like Start-Up Chile, The Next Web, Intel, NASA and seven out of the top ten universities around the world. Basically, Podium enables the most talented individuals and innovative startups to rise to the top and get the opportunities they deserve.

YouNoodle was an obvious fit for Catalyst, and Catalyst was an obvious fit for YouNoodle. Other Catalyst participants could join the thriving community of entrepreneurs that YouNoodle has built, and YouNoodle could take advantage of the power of SoftLayer's hosting platform. And by helping support YouNoodle, Catalyst gets to indirectly help even more entrepreneurs and startups ... Very "meta!"

Over the past two years, YouNoodle has managed over 400 competitions which have received entries from more than 28,000 entrepreneurs around the world. They're a key player in the acceleration of global entrepreneurship, and they share our vision of breaking down the geographic barriers to innovation. And with the momentum they've got now, it's clear that they're just getting started.

If you have a second, head over to YouNoodle.com to check out the fresh, easy-to-use interface they launched to help users discover, get inspired by and connect with like-minded individuals on a global scale.

-@PaulFord

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