Posts Tagged 'Startup Series 2'

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 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

August 9, 2012

Startup Series: Dudepins

The Catalyst startup incubator has been running at full-throttle for a while now, and I've been blown away by the killer startups that have joined the program. The best part of my job is meeting entrepreneurs who see a need in the marketplace and have a vision for how to meet that need in a targeted way, and the story behind Dudepins — one of the startups in Catalyst — is a perfect example of that kind of thinking. Their goal: Macho visual bookmarking.

Dudepins: Dudes like sharing stuff. Man up. Sign up. Pin up.

Pinterest has been getting a lot of attention since 2011, but it still hasn't really been able to penetrate the male demographic; maybe because it's been so effective at cultivating content around fashion, recipes, DIY home ideas and cute puppies (Watch College Humor's "The Fall of Pinterest," and you'll see what I mean). The Dudepins team noticed an unmet demand for a male-oriented visual bookmarking site, and they seized the opportunity to build that platform.

Their Formula: 2 dudes + 2 computers + 1 idea + infinite scotch – non-infinite income = Dudepins!

Dudepins: Dudes like sharing stuff. Man up. Sign up. Pin up.

I fired off a few questions to the Dudes at Dudepins to get a little insight into how they built their business and what they'd recommend to other entrepreneurs in the same position ... They did not disappoint:

Q: How do you describe what Dudepins does?

Dudepins is a collection of montages — or personal boards — of pictures and videos, sorted into various categories. Dudepins is a place where you can easily save, share and collect everything that you find on the Internet, and you're able to organize that content into different montages (i.e. cars, style, watches, cigars, planes, food, travel, etc.). When you want to see the stuff thousands of other Dudes just like you have uploaded, we make that easy as well.

More simply: Dudes, Gentlemen, Guys, Sirs and whatever else a Man might call himself can use Dudepins to collect, save, view and browse everything associated with being a Dude.

Q: How did you find out about SoftLayer?

A: We were initially contacted by two seriously awesome Dudes: Josh Krammes and Kelley Hilborn. Both Josh and Kelley were in Vancouver on business, and fortunately, we were able to get together with them for some dinner. Sparks flew, and Dudepins was invited to join Catalyst.

Q: What has your experience been since you signed up?

A: We knew we'd get solid hosting when we signed on with SoftLayer, but we were most surprised by how far the support and benefits of Catalyst go beyond the infrastructure actually running Dudepins. The SoftLayer team has been a great resource for technical questions, and they've helped us meet several industry experts who, in turn, have provided a lot of amazing feedback about what can help us take Dudepins to the next level.

You guys (Josh, Kelley, Paul and John) are rockstars, and we highly recommend Catalyst to any startup looking for a bulletproof hosting infrastructure and network of brilliant advisers.

Q: What advice would you give to other startups?

A: It's extremely important to stay focused, motivated, goal-oriented and (most importantly) driven. Don't get married to your ideas, and don't let passions overrule logic ... especially when the sky gets cloudy.

Check out Dudepins at dudepins.com, and make sure you visit their "about us" page ... Trust me, it's awesome.

I hate to cut the Q&A short, but TechStars Boulder Demo Day is starting, and I have to go meet the next class of future SoftLayer customers!

If you've got a brilliant, creative, innovative or otherwise awesome startup, and you think Catalyst could be a good fit for you, make sure you hit us up from the "Apply" page on the SoftLayer Catalyst site.

-@PaulFord

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