Posts Tagged 'Startup'

January 27, 2016

Sales Primer for Non-Sales Startup Founders

The founder of one of the startups in our Global Entrepreneur Program reached out to me this week. He is ready to start selling his company’s product, but he's never done sales before.

Often, startups consist of a hacker and a hustler—where the tech person is the hacker and the non-tech person is the hustler. In the aforementioned company, there are three hackers. Despite the founder being deeply technical, he is the closest thing they have to a hustler. I'm sure he'll do fine getting in front of customers, but the fact remains that he's never done sales.

So where do you begin as a startup founder if you've never sold before?

Free vs. Paid
His business is B2B, focusing on car dealers. He's worried about facing a few problems, including working with business owners who don’t normally work with startups. He wants to give the product away for free to a few customers to get some momentum, but is worried that after giving it away, he won’t be able to convert them to paying customers.

Getting that first customer is incredibly important, but there needs to be a value exchange. Giving products away for free presents two challenges:

  1. By giving something away, you devalue your product in the eyes of the customer.
  2. The customer has no skin in the game—no incentive to use it or try to make it work.

Occasionally, founders have a very close relationship with a potential customer (e.g., a former manager or a trusted ex-colleague) where they can be assured the product will get used. In those cases, it might be appropriate to give it away, but only for a defined time.

The goal is sales. Paying customers reduce burn and show traction.

Price your product, go to market, and start conversations. Be willing to negotiate to get that first sale. If you do feel strongly about giving it away for free, put milestones and limitations in place for how and when that customer will convert to paid. For example, agree to a three-month free trial that becomes a paid fee in the fourth month. Or tie specific milestones to the payment, such as delivering new product features or achieving objectives for the client.

Build Credibility
When putting a new product in the market, especially one in an industry not enamored with startups and where phrases like “beta access” will net you funny looks, it helps to build credibility. This can be done incrementally. If you don't have customers, start with the conversations you’re having: “We’re currently in conversations with over a dozen companies.”

If you get asked about customers, don’t lie. Don’t even fudge it. I recommend being honest, and framing it by saying, “We’re deciding who we want to work with first. We want to find the right customer who is willing to work closely with us at the early stage. It’s the opportunity to have a deep impact on the future of the product. We're building this for you, after all.”

When you have interest and are in negotiations, you can then mention to other prospective customers that you’re in negotiations with several companies. Be respectful of the companies you’re in negotiations with; I wouldn't recommend mentioning names unless you have explicit permission to do so.

As you gain customers, get their permission to put them on your website. Get quotes from them about the product, and put those on your site and marketing materials. You can even put these in your sales contracts.

Following this method, you can build credibility in the market, show outside interest in your product, and maintain an ethical standing.

Get to No
A common phrase when I was first learning to sell was, “get to the ‘no’.” It has a double meaning: expect that someone is going to say “no” so be ready for it, and keep asking until you get a “no.” For example, if “Are you interested in my product?" gets you a “yes,” then ask, “Would you like to sign up today?”

When you get to no, the next step is to uncover why they said no. At this point, you’re not selling; you’re just trying to understand why the person you’re talking to is saying no. It could be they don't have the decision-making authority, they don't have the budget, they need to see more, or the product is missing something important. The point is, you don’t know, and your goal here is to get to the next step in their process. And you don’t know what that is unless you ask.

Interested in learning more? Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of Hubspot and creator of the community OnStartups, authored a post with 10 Ideas For Those Critical Early Startup Sales that is well worth reading.

As a founder, you’re the most passionate person about your business and therefore the most qualified to get out and sell. You don't have to be “salesy” to sell; you just need to get out and start conversations.

-Rich

January 15, 2016

Vuukle: Helping Publishers Manage Comments and Match Readers with Content

I recently had a conversation with Ravi Mittal, the founder of a company called Vuukle. Vuukle is based in New Delhi and has just graduated from our Catalyst startup program.

Vuukle actually started out in Silicon Valley—Ravi launched his first product iteration with the goal of trying to source public opinion on the Web. Key to his initial offering was a proprietary algorithm he developed to sort comments in order of credibility—a highly valuable aspect of the product, but something he quickly learnt wasn’t enough value to encompass a product.

Through experiments with Vuukle’s early customers (including the Santa Clara Weekly), a major problem emerged which appeared to pervade the online publishing industry: reader engagement wasn’t sticky enough to compel them to post (and reply to) comments. In order to solve this meta-problem, Vuukle pivoted into a new type of comment publishing system, which helps publishers see engagement through custom analytics.

The major problem Vuukle faces is not unique to just the publishers they service. It’s a pretty large scale global problem, extending beyond news publishers and into all content-based publishing online—so you can imagine how much competition is out there around the globe in this space. When I asked Ravi how he differentiates Vuukle from recently dominant players like Livefyre and Disqus, he offered, "Most customers aren’t using those other services; they have their own commenting systems. If anything, we were pitted against Facebook commenting. In the few cases where Disqus is being used, we’ve seen problems with load times, throttling limits and so on."

In order to set Vuukle in a class of its own, Ravi and his team—which is globally dispersed, with people in Egypt, the Ukraine, U.S.A., and India—have architected an infrastructure for super-fast load times that work at amazing scale, employing SoftLayer servers in our Singapore and India data centers, as well as working with a third party, ScaleDB, to handle database queries and traffic. Of course, that alone doesn’t give them a unique value proposition; Vuukle truly sets itself apart by dropping publisher costs upfront to a minimal platform access fee and offering a 50/50 revenue share model. Vuukle not only is set up to handle high traffic websites with commenting, but it also promotes user engagement with comments by integrating with actual publishing systems. Vuukle passes traffic between posts and offers editors insights into how readers are commenting, in addition to creating a new revenue stream through comments—from which it sources the majority of its own income.

Interestingly, Ravi’s move from the Valley to India came because of family reasons and ended up being a blessing to the business. Early after his move, he realized that there was a ton of opportunity for Vuukle with the major Indian newspapers that had cobbled together their own infrastructure to power websites. Just a couple years in, Vuukle is powering comments on The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, and Indian Express, three of the most highly trafficked news websites in the country. To help global adoption amongst all sorts of publishers, Vuukle also offers a free WordPress plugin.

Vuukle seems to have gained traction through Ravi’s hard work chasing customers at home, and he’s proud to be finding success despite being bootstrapped. When questioned about the local startup scene, Ravi said, “Nothing much is unique in the Indian startup ecosystem. [It's] kind of like a gold rush in India, where founders are hunting for investment before they have a clear market path and products that are market-ready. A lot of copycat businesses [are] launching that are focused on Indian markets (taking models from the States and elsewhere.) Not many patents are being filed in India—not much actual innovation, indicative of a proliferation of large seed round raises (around $1 million) and a lot of startups spend funding on staff they don’t need.”

The future seems bright for Vuukle. Its growth beyond India’s borders will happen soon and will be financed through revenue rather than venture capital rounds, of which Ravi seems quite wary. Now that Vuukle has graduated from Catalyst, I was keen to hear whether the company would still keep the majority of their infrastructure with IBM—it turns out prospective Vuukle customers love hearing that their infrastructure is hosted on our cloud and that a core aspect of Vuukle’s value proposition is the scale and reliability we offer their solution.

I really think this company is an exciting one to watch. I look forward to seeing greater success for Vuukle as they grow with our ever-expanding footprint of data centers in the Asian region and globally.

-Qasim

Based in Toronto, Qasim Virjee manages the Catalyst Startup Program in Canada and can be reached on twitter (@qasim) or via his personal website.

October 26, 2015

The SLayer Standard Vol. 1, No. 18

The week in review. All the IBM Cloud and SoftLayer headlines in one place.

Keeping Aucklanders Safe
Cloud M moved its public safety alert system to IBM Cloud. The company came to IBM for assistance through the Global Entrepreneur Program, where it learned about and choose SoftLayer for IaaS. This initial shift has made the company’s Alerter app faster for users. “Today, Alerter gets alerts and safety information to subscribers’ smartphones, newsfeeds and social media sites with unprecedented speed and efficiency.”

The Auckland Civil Defense & Emergency Management (CDEM) authority “has used Alerter to help protect 1.4 million residents during many storms, earthquakes and two major tsunami warnings,” Richard Gill, founder and CEO of Cloud M wrote. Gill said, “Through our work and our partnership with IBM, we’re convinced more than ever that public emergency information sharing is best done through mobile and the cloud.”

For more on Cloud M’s story, check out this post on THINK.

We’re the picture-perfect solution.
Guten Tag! pixx.io is a startup that created digital asset management software for support small and midsize companies. The goal is to help companies “collect, share, and manage photos, graphics, videos and other digital media with customers, business partners and remote workers.” To start, they hosted the solution on their own servers and quickly realized that it would be extremely difficult to scale at the speed and ease they needed.

The company turned to SoftLayer for many reasons, but keeping their data nearby was paramount. Andreas Gölkel, pixx.io cofounder, elaborated “German customers are a little afraid to give out their data on servers that are not in Germany or in the EU.”

Well, our Frankfurt data center was the solution. He also noted, “With SoftLayer, we can scale up easily and fast. And due to the really good support, we saved a lot of time. As a startup, every hour that you can use for doing other stuff is worth a lot of money.”

Read more of their story here.

Watson, what’s in the oven?
Chef Watson put out a delicious dinner with the help of Chef James Briscione. He is the director of culinary development of the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC, plus an IBM collaborator. Briscione acted as sous-chef, actually creating the delectable dishes.

So how did they develop the menu? Thanks to four years of work and an analysis of 10,000 recipes from Bon Appétit magazine, Watson “deduced which ingredients routinely went together, and suggested pairings with other ingredients with overlapping flavor or aromatic compounds (along with recipes).”

Briscione says that Watson isn’t going to take the place of chefs, but is simply a tool providing data for chefs to use when thinking up enticing eats. He added, “While Watson is helping us select ingredients and find really wonderful new combinations of food, it doesn’t really tell us what to do with them,” he said. “It just says, ‘These things are going to taste good together, you guys figure out the rest.’”

Find more on this data driven dinner here.

-Rachel

Categories: 
August 25, 2015

Free Resources for Your Startup

Building and running a startup is both difficult and expensive. From salary to servers to services, the demands on your budget are constant and come from all directions. On the Catalyst team we know this firsthand—our program was created as a way for startups to access SoftLayer's robust platform before they have revenue or funding.

After moving to Boulder, Colorado in 2012, the first startup I joined was a member of the Catalyst program. Without Catalyst, our organization would have been paying out of pocket for the bare metal servers we needed. Instead, that money was freed up for other essentials (like food to keep us alive).

Infrastructure isn't the only area in which startups can leverage free offerings. Since joining the Catalyst team one year ago, I've tracked and collected other free resources for startups. I compiled my research into a presentation that I've given at a few events. The presentation is available on SlideBean (a free online presentation platform, what else?) and is constantly being updated. Some highlights are below:

Big Company Programs
The Catalyst program is a model on how big companies can meaningfully engage with startups, and we're not the only ones doing it.

  • SVB: Silicon Valley Bank offers a program called Accelerator. Perks including free checking and financial mentorship. While saving on business checking won't make a big dent in your cash flow, the financial mentorship is top notch. The SVB team consists of experts in banking who can offer advice on fundraising, financial instruments, and cash management.
  • SendGrid: Email deliverability is crucial for your company, so start with the best in the business. The free plan includes 10,000 emails per month, up from 200 emails per day when I first started giving this talk. Go to the pricing page and scroll down to the bottom for the free plan. (Full disclosure: SendGrid is a former partner.)
  • NASDAQ Exact Equity: I was recently at a VC conference, where I had two separate conversations about investors’ frustrations with disorganized or downright undocumented cap tables. The NASDAQ Exact Equity freemium tool will not only help you wrangle your cap table, but it will also signal success to the investor by showing that you’re thorough and organized.

Startup Freebies
I'm not going to cover the basics, such as Evernote, Trello, Asana, Pivotal Tracker, Launch Rock, Bootstrap, Google Drive, etc. You probably already know about these programs. Instead, I’ll share a few great ones you may not know about.

  • Docracy: If you need any sort of legal document, Docracy should be your first stop. The legal documents were prepared by lawyers and are available for free. The choices range from SaaS Terms & Conditions to founder agreements.
  • HTML5 UP: Need a quick, easy, and responsive template for your site? When WordPress is too much of a hassle for a splash page, head over to HTML5 UP for dozens of choices of free templates.
  • UI Kit: As you're moving from the free HTML5 UP template toward being able to build out your site with the free Bootstrap toolkit, save yourself coding time and get the UI Kit for free design elements such as lightbox, slider, accordions, and more.
  • SlideBean: I love SlideBean. While searching for "free PowerPoint templates," I discovered that all the templates were hideous. Then I stumbled across SlideBean and fell in love with it. It makes putting together a presentation quick and easy, and keeps it from looking like you traveled to 1999 to get your template.

Collections
Below are my favorite collections of resources for any freebies that I haven’t already covered.

  • Product Hunt List: The founder of CrazyEgg and KISSmetics has an exhaustive list of free and freemium products for your startup.
  • Freebie.supply: Over 400 resources are grouped by category. I especially love the design resources.
  • Startup Stash: Not all of the free deals, mostly in the form of percentage discounts. But if you're going to pay for something, check F6S first for a discount.

And finally, the best piece of advice when trying to save money can be found in my last post: A Grandmother’s Advice for Startups: You never know ‘til you ask.

Have a free resource that you absolutely love that’s missing from my list? Email me at rmaloy@softlayer.com or tweet me @stoneybaby and let me know!

-Rich

February 17, 2015

Asia Startup Series: Putting a Twist in the Job Industry—Power to the Job Seeker

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines.

*This is Part 3 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Before we dive into the Asia startup of the month, let’s discuss how the 2014 Asia Series A saw some of the largest investments to date—startups in China alone racked in US$130 million, and if we go by the frequently released trends, 2015 is set to break all records. The sheer number of investable startups coming out of the region will only open doors for more entrepreneurs. Here’s a look at some of the big winners:

  • Renrendai, a Beijing-based financial services startup received a whopping US$130 million last year
  • aCommerce walked away with US$10.7 million
  • Appier, an artificial intelligence, big-data ad-tech company won a US$6 million series A investment

Check out some interesting infographics on my Startup Trends in Asia Pinterest page, including this infographics shared by TechinAsia and the 2014 high-value investments. Ping me if you have some more we should pin (LinkedIn or Twitter).

Temploy

With so many job search websites, portals, apps, and agencies dedicated to getting the employer the right employee, I found Temploy to be quite uniquely positioned and hence, the focus of this month's startup story.

Temploy, founded by Mark Koh, is a marketplace that automates the anonymous matching of temporary workers to employers while aligning expectations. This translates to a platform that essentially targets not only semi-skilled, low-skilled, blue-collar, and transferrable job positions, but a portal where students searching for summer jobs, individuals searching for part-time placements, or those looking for double income avenues can design the work they want based on parameters of locality, remunerations, schedule, and skills.


Mark Koh, Temploy founder

Basically, the portal connects the job seeker with the right employer.

Having worked two jobs while studying in Australia, Mark went through the grind of finding jobs to fit his schedule. He also saw firsthand the often unfair treatment of temp-workers as well as the flickering loyalty of the temps towards their interim-employers.

"I realized there was a huge mismatch in what the candidate was expecting and the actual job requirements. There was a core demand in most cases of having the flexibility to maintain work-life balance so that the candidate could meet their other commitments. So, we decided to put the power in the hands of job seekers, and the idea of Temploy was born," Mark shared when we caught-up last week.

Understanding the Market

Temploy looked at targeting the ASEAN market due to the sheer demand of skilled workforce in the region. Mark found that Thailand and Philippines had a high number of day semi-skilled and blue-collared jobs. Because these paid daily, there was a great demand from candidates to find multiple jobs to fit in their unpredictable schedule.

On the other hand, in Indonesia, especially in the Bunder, Surabhaya, and Jakarta districts, the average users were teenagers and college students looking for comparatively higher salaries for temp jobs.

"It is surprising to note that employers actively encourage such candidates to pick up a second job to meet these expectations," Mark noted.

Singapore faced a big labor crunch, and the main reason behind this was an image perception that certain jobs were considered un-cool by part-time prospective candidates looking to fill their summer holidays. These candidates also demanded higher pay than what employers could afford. Here flexibility and work-life balance are more important than the actual compensation. Mark also noted there is a stigma associated with working two jobs.

In Vietnam, where the workforce population is the youngest, localization still remains a major challenge but there is still a huge potential. Cambodia, on the other hand, does not have the necessary penetration of smartphone and Internet connectivity needed for the platform to succeed currently.

The Platform and All That It Entails

After developing their customized optimized man workforce system (OMWS), Mark launched the company in mid-2014. Since then, there have been tweaks and updates based on their ongoing understanding of the region and to improve the employee-employer match algorithms.

The platform empowers job-seekers by allowing them to design their own jobs, including how many and what hours they would like to work, salary expectations, and the type of jobs they are looking for. This then undergoes a sophisticated linear optimization algorithm that matches jobs anonymously, mapping the job-seeker's criteria with current openings posted by employers. Contact details are only exchanged once both parties accept that the match is to their satisfaction.

When I asked Mark what was different about Temploy, he said, "The unique proposition lies in the database being non-extractable, hence discrimination based on last name, race etc. is avoided. Plus our competitors cannot poach our client or our candidate listing."

Mark and his team selected SoftLayer as a foundation for building their platform. "It helps that the data center is located in Singapore, which reduces the latency for our audiences. Getting data replicated is easy as well. I have no worries whether my data is safe since we can auto-replicate it across other DCs, including geographically disparate locations. In addition, features like auto-scaling are helping us tremendously in dealing with traffic spikes emerging due to our recent marketing tactics. Moreover, the benefits of the Catalyst program and the support from SoftLayer's support team are second to none," he shared.

The video gives a quick explanation of how the portal works.

What's Next

Within seven months of its launch, Temploy has seen over 1,600 registered users. The team has been progressively looking for ways to improve the platform, which will soon include a SMS-based signup for low-Internet penetration regions. Temploy recently participated in numerous startup competitions. The latest includes a spot in Channel News Asia Start-up Season 2. Mark has decided to launch a non-profit event, Skillup 2015, for youth and the young-at-heart to explore what he calls, Epic Career Options outside the ordinary—part time work, freelance work, entrepreneurship.

Temploy is in the spotlight, and for all the right reasons.

Cheers,
–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

March 5, 2014

Making an Impact: Catalyst and BEHUM

Running a startup is hard. We all know that. The right help at the right time makes all the difference, and for many, finding that help is a challenge. Not knowing who to ask for help or where to meet the right people to help move the needle in the right direction, many entrepreneurs and startup teams don't even know where to start.

That's one of the biggest reasons we created Catalyst. When entrepreneurs are passionate enough about an idea to ditch "safe" careers to build their own companies, we want to help them succeed by getting them access to the right resources.

That vision may seem simple on paper, but when I reconnected with a Catalyst program graduate last night, I was humbled to hear how Catalyst helped his company succeed. That entrepreneur was Neal Bram, founder of BEHUM – Be Heard You Matter. BEHUM is a political engagement platform that empowers voters to take simple but meaningful actions to support the candidates and political issues they believe in. Or to put it more simply, BEHUM helps individuals make their political views a reality.

When I spoke with Neal about his Catalyst experience, he explained, "For this to work we need reliability and SoftLayer has always been up to the task. When a leading political official sends a BEHUM link to 2 million individuals at the same time as a statewide advocacy group’s petition is going viral, we have to stay up.” Those numbers might not seem huge for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but for early stage startups that can’t afford to pay for more capacity than they need, it's a mountainous task. The Catalyst program provides free cloud hosting resources for early stage startups like BEHUM, allowing them to be confident and aggressive about seizing opportunities to accelerate growth without fear of breaking the bank.

Hearing that the scalability of our platform could accommodate BEHUM's demands felt good, but what Neal said next was what really stuck with me: “Catalyst is far more than the technology and economics. It’s a network of entrepreneurs helping each other led by Catalyst mentors who provide invaluable insights and connections.”

It's easy for the tangible benefits of the program to get the lion's share of a startup's attention, so when I hear about qualitative and relational impact the Catalyst team is making, I know we're doing something right. When I asked Neal if he had any specific examples of that type of involvement, he answered, “Whether it’s commenting on pitches, input on business models, or making an important introduction, the Catalyst program provided BEHUM the right help at the right time.”

That's the best feedback any Catalyst customer could ever give about the program.

If you want your views on candidates and political issues to be heard, head over to BEHUM. And if you're interested in connecting with Neal and his team, let me know, and I'll make that happen.

-@JoshuaKrammes

November 1, 2013

Paving the Way for the DevOps Revolution

The traditional approach to software development has been very linear: Your development team codes a release and sends it over to a team of quality engineers to be tested. When everything looks good, the code gets passed over to IT operations to be released into production. Each of these teams operates within its own silo and makes changes independent of the other groups, and at any point in the process, it's possible a release can get kicked back to the starting line. With the meteoric rise of agile development — a development philosophy geared toward iterative and incremental code releases — that old waterfall-type development approach is being abandoned in favor of a DevOps approach.

DevOps — a fully integrated development and operations approach — streamlines the software development process in an agile development environment by consolidating development, testing and release responsibilities into one cohesive team. This way, ideas, features and other developments can be released very quickly and iteratively to respond to changing and growing market needs, avoiding the delays of long, drawn-out and timed dev releases.

To help you visualize the difference between the traditional approach and the DevOps approach, take a look at these two pictures:

Traditional Waterfall Development
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

DevOps
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle to adopt the DevOps approach because they simply update their org chart by merging their traditional teams, but their development philosophy doesn't change at the same time. As a result, I've encountered a lot of companies who have been jaded by previous attempts to move to a DevOps model, and I'm not alone. There is a significant need in the marketplace for some good old fashioned DevOps expertise.

A couple months ago, my friend Raj Bhargava pinged me with a phenomenal idea to put on a DevOps "un-conference" in Boulder, Colorado, to address the obvious need he's observed for DevOps education and best practices. Raj is a serial, multiple-exit entrepreneur from Boulder, and he is the co-founder and CEO of a DevOps-focused startup there called JumpCloud. When he asked if I would like to co-chair the event and have SoftLayer as a headline sponsor alongside JumpCloud, the answer was a quick and easy "Yes!"

Sure, there have been other DevOps-related conferences around the world, but ours was designed to be different from the outset. As strange as it may sound, half of the conference intentionally occurred outside of the conference: One of our highest priorities was to strike up conversations between the participants before, during and after the event. If we're putting on a conference to encourage a collaborative development approach, it would be counterproductive for us to use a top-down, linear approach to engaging the attendees, right?

I'm happy to report that this inaugural attempt of our untested concept was an amazing success. We kept the event private for our first run at the concept, but the event was bursting at the seams with brilliant developers and tech influencers. Brad Feld and our friends from the Foundry Group invited all of their portfolio CEO's and CTO's. David Cohen, co-founder of Techstars and head honcho at Bullet Time Ventures did the same. JumpCloud and SoftLayer helped round out the attendee list with a few of our most innovative partners as well as a few of technologists from within our own organizations. It was an incredible mix of super-smart tech pros, business leaders and VC's from all over the world.

With such a diverse group of attendees, the conversations at the event were engaging, energizing and profound. We discussed everything from how startups should incorporate automation into their business plans at the outset to how the practice of DevOps evolves as companies scale quickly. At the end of the day, we brought all of those theoretical discussions back down to the ground by sharing case studies of real companies that have had unbelievable success in incorporating DevOps into their businesses. I had the honor of wrapping up the event as moderator of a panel with Jon Prall from Sendgrid, Scott Engstrom from Gnip and Richard Miller of Mocavo, and I couldn't have been happier with the response.

I'd like to send a big thanks to everyone who participated, especially our cosponsors — JumpCloud, VictorOps, Authentic8, DH Capital, SendGrid, Cooley, Pivot Desk, SVP and Pantheon.

I'm looking forward to opening this up to the world next year!

-@PaulFord

May 2, 2013

Startup Series: wind2share

I'm amazed by the people who work at the startups that work with Catalyst. If you could somehow bottle the enthusiasm, creativity and passion that entrepreneurs and startup teams have on a daily basis, you'd have an energy drink worth billions of dollars. It's impossible to describe in a blog, but because I'm surrounded by people with those characteristics, I'd be doing the blog audience a disservice if I didn't try to express what I've experienced first-hand. Instead of trying to generalize, a better approach would be to give you an example of what I'm talking about, and for that, I just need to turn the spotlight on wind2share.

I first met the wind2share team at TechCrunch SF in the fall of 2012, and I was immediately taken aback by their energy and the genuine kindness they exuded as people. At the time, the team had been slowly making the transition of having employees work in three different cities on two different continents, but it was clear that they shared a unified willingness to work hard and create a meaningful solution for their clients. As my boy Iggy Pop said, they had a "lust for life" that is as magnetic as it is uncommon. And if that weren't enough, their vision for wind2share is innovative and intriguing:

wind2share is a social business network specially designed for people to make referrals to leading institutions and companies and receive cash rewards based on successful referrals. Businesses seeking to enter new markets can lean on hundreds of ambassadors worldwide to offer their services to new audiences, and expand their client base in new markets.

Since I met them, they've made incremental improvements in their user experience, incorporating Facebook and Google+ accounts to streamline signups and launching a new site design to clearly and succinctly convey the business model and the platform's features.

After a successful pilot run in 2012 which generated more than $1.7 million in revenue, wind2share is strategically ramping up their marketing efforts to continue the viral growth of their disruptive referral model. Given how easy they make the process of connecting and interacting with businesses and top-level professionals around thew world, it's not a surprise that the startup has been so successful, and I have no doubt that their success will continue.

The beauty of the network wind2share created is the diversity of its functionality. Your social network trusts you, and your referrals are valuable, so wind2share provides a medium for businesses to reward you when you recommend them. Beyond that use-case, if you're an entrepreneur or you have an idea, you can connect with investors who share your interest and may be of some help. The way I think of it is that it's a social community with a business purpose. Members are provided with all the information, tools and resources they need to "Make a Wealth of Referrals."

Companies like wind2share are a glowing successes in our Catalyst. Our team has solved numerous infrastructure challenges for them, and we've had the opportunity to make strategic introductions to investors, business leads and potential business partners as the company has grown and matured. Seeing the work pay off in such a positive way with wind2share is proof positive of the value Catalyst provides startups.

To learn more about wind2share or to sign up, head over to wind2share.com. If you'd like to meet the fantastic team of brilliant folks behind the platform, reach out to me directly and I'll happily start the conversation for you.

-@JoshuaKrammes

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

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

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