Weekly Reader Question: What’s the difference between a “startup” and a “company”?


I’ve been blown away by the quality of comments on The Startup Foundry, so I’ve decided to start a weekly question that allows us to harness this great community’s insight. If it’s well received, we will make this a weekly occurrence.

What’s the difference between a “startup” and “company”? More specifically, when do you think a startup should start calling itself a company? Should it be profitable? Perhaps it’s more of an art then a science, more qualitative then quantitative?

What do you think? Please sound off in the comments.

Hiring people isn’t easy. Recruiterbox is trying to take away the pain.

Hiring people isn’t an easy process. It’s even harder for startups.

Hiring people takes a lot of time. When you’re focused on building your business, time is your most precious resource. This is particularly painful when other employees must take time out of their normal responsibilities to assist in the inefficient hiring efforts. Opening each emailed application, downloading the attached resume, and screening it can be tedious for a group of people to collaborate on. Often we end up with clogged inboxes, messy spreadsheets, and information lost beneath a pile of email.

Recruiterbox is trying to alleviate some of that pain by helping you manage your hiring processes. Other employees are still involved, but it’s much more efficient. It helps you gather, review, and discuss all job applications in one place. All hiring related email, attachments, and evaluations are handled in the same place. It’s a pretty simple design that is really focused on helping you get the job done, so you can get back to your work.

I had a chance to chat with Girish Redekar of Recruiterbox and he said:

“Recruiterbox has been in existence for only a few months, and already has a small but happy customer base. The startup was incubated in the i-Accelerator program at IIM Ahmedabad (India)”

Check it out at Recruiterbox.com.

For up to the minute startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

Startup Toolbox, a resource for startups.

I’ve had several readers ask me what services and software they should use to build their startups. I asked the HN community for input and then I created this list. This list will help you get your startup up in running in no time. If you have any more suggestions for apps, please list them in the comments.

Analytics:
Measure everything you can.
Get Clicky – provides valuable real time information and analytics. @getclicky
Mixpanel: for specific analytics and metrics. @mixpanel
Visual Website Optimizer Really easy and powerful A/B testing @wingify
Google Analytics Free enterprise grade web analytics.

Blog:
Stay connected with your customers and clients by keeping a company blog.
WordPress Host your own blog or go to wordpress.com to get a hosted one @wordpress
Tumblr Another great blogging platform, but you can’t self host.@tumblr
Posterous If you can email, you can blog. @posterous

Billing / Invoicing:
Billing and Invoicing can suck up a lot of time. It could be more efficient to let a trusted 3rd party do it for you.
Recurly Managing recurring payments @recurly
Chargify Helping over 3,600 merchants manage recurring billing @chargify
Freshbooks Track time, organize expenses and invoice clients @freshbooks

Email handling:
Email is critical to your startup. These are some of our favorite companies that handle email.
Mailchimp Really easy to use service for email newsletters etc.@mailchimp
Sendgrid Email Delivery. Simplified. Increased deliverability, APIs, & analytics. @sendgrid
Google Apps for your domain Powerful communication tools – all hosted by Google

Prototyping and Mockups:
Design before you build. Use your blueprint.
Balsamiq Rapid Wireframing Tool @balsamiq
mocksup Quick and easy mockups @mocksup
jMockups High fidelity mockups in a fraction of the time compared to Photoshop @jMockups
Mockingbird create, link together, preview, and share mockups of your app @gomockingbird

Hosting and Database:
When you hit the front page of Reddit, you can’t afford to have your app buckle under the pressure.
Mediatemple We use these guys for hosting. They’re fantastic. @mediatemple
Linode For hosting or Amazon EC2 @linode
Amazon AWS Scalable services in the cloud
Heroku If you’re using RoR, use this @heroku
Expandrive – Ridiculously simple online storage – SFTP/FTP as a network drive@expandrive

Remote Office:
Your team isn’t always in the same location. Use these apps to stay in sync.
Flowdock Google Wave done right. @flowdock
Pivotal Tracker Agile project management: @pivotaltracker
Go Plan Project management: @Goplan
Github For source control and wikis @github
Yammer To communicate with your teammates @yammer
Basecamp One of the best online project collaboration tools @basecampnews

Customer Support:
Keep your customers happy
Get Satisfaction Measuring value from social media shouldn’t be hard @getsatisfaction
Tender For support / help desk @tenderapp
Pingdom Uptime and latency monitoring for your servers. @pingdom
Geckoboard Real-time status board serving up the indicators that matter to you. @geckoboard

Thanks to our community for helping to build this great list. If you have any more suggestions for apps, please list them in the comments.

From 1 visitor a day to raising $4m for charity, Give Forward’s feel good story


I had the great opportunity to speak with Ethan Austin, co-founder of GiveForward (http://www.giveforward.org).  Give Forward is a Chicago based startup that helps people raise money for their medical expenses.  Ethan speaks about how they once had only 1 visitor on new years day, to being able to get funding a year later.  The excerpt of the interview is below:

In one or two sentences, explain what GiveForward does.
GiveForward is a crowdfunding platform for medical expenses.  In a nutshell, we make it incredibly easy for friends and family raise money for things like chemotherepy treatments or organ transplants when their loved one gets sick.

How long has Give Forward been around?
We launched in 2008.

Was Give Forward bootstrapped or funded?
We bootstrapped for the first two-and-a-half years but recently got funding.

Explain what the first 0-6 months were like for Give Forward.  How did you get it off the ground?
Wow! To say the first six months were rough would be a massive understatment.  We launched the site in August of 2008 and on January 1st, 2009 we had one visitor on GiveForward that day — literally ONE visitor!  For the most part, our attempts at gaining traction involved coercing our friends and family to start fundraising pages.  I enlisted about 25 of my college buddies and their girlfriends to run 5 miles through Central Park for the cause of their choice in in an event we dubbed “run for a reason” .   I think we helped raise about $13,000 from the event, which probably accounted for like half of the donations on the site the first six months.  It was kind of ridiculous back then.

We really didn’t start to see any traction on the site until about nine months in when two Chicago sisters from Depaul used GiveForward to raise $30,000 for a kidney transplant.  After that, we received some media coverage and things started to pick up a bit.

[Editors note:] Give Forward has already raised $3,527,462 for medical expenses and other important causes. Talk about a startup making an impact on the world![/Editors note:]

How did you acquire funding.  Was a prototype built before funding?
Last summer, we got accepted into a Chicago startup accelerator called Excelerate Labs, which turned out to be a game changer for us. Through Excelerate, we were able to demo at the House of Blues in front of 500 investors from around the county.  My partner, Desiree, gave a pretty awesome presentation which  really opened the doors for us.  From there, Tim Krauskopf, one of the mentors at Excelerate helped us round up some investors.  We also used Angel List, which I highly recommend, to secure the final part of our round.

How big is the team?
We have a team of seven right now plus a few really awesome interns.

Being a Chicago startup, do you find it harder to succeed then if you were in silicon valley as an example
Not at all.  I know it’s a cliche, but the Chicago startup community is really coming into its own right now. Groupon has obviously helped to bring a ton of attention to Chicago, but things like Excelerate Labs, MidVentures Tech Week, and Social Dev Camp are changing the landscape in Chicago and helping to build a strong community here.  Granted, funding is always going to be an issue and there is no Sand Hill Road in Chicago, but with tools like Angel List democratizing the VC industry, the need to be in Silicon Valley isn’t nearly as great as it used to be.

What is your biggest challenge now?
Educating people and getting the word out.  That’s always been the hardest part.  When a loved one is going through a serious health issue like cancer, their friends and family usually feel pretty helpless and don’t know what they can do to help.  Our goal is make sure they are aware of our service.  Once people find out about GiveForward, they always love it.  We just need to let more people know about it.

Thanks to Ethan for the interview. All the best to GiveForward. For more startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

You can also follow the author on twitter @robbieab.

Standing In The Unemployment Line? Startup Hour.ly Might Have Work For You.


Hour.ly is web startup designed to find the user work an hour at a time.  It has seen tremendous growth since its launch (ironically on Labor Day 2010) and has been helping put America back to work ever since.

Ever seen those advertisements hanging in grocery stores bulletin boards or university community announcement areas?  You know the ones I mean.  They have a usually have gigantic permanent marker writing asking for a babysitter or someone to mow their grass or shovel snow off their driveway.  Somewhere along the way someone has sliced the bottom of the page to make those tear away phone numbers.  If you don’t know what I am talking about take a look at this one.  Hour.ly sophisticated.ly (pun intended) created the Internet version of these ads.

In a very simple, elegant way hour.ly is filling the niche of finding employment for people interested in walking dogs, waiting tables, acting, as well as working retail or even manufacturing positions. In fact, hour.ly provides access to just under 2800 different work categories!  The key is that listings posted on hour.ly are often “work” rather than jobs.  In other words, hour.ly is the vehicle that links up those with temporary to semi-permanent employment to those that are seeking part time work.

Hour.ly co-founders Brooke & Lynn Dixon (who both were part of the [first] dot com boom) conceived the start-up concept after looking for temporary work, and finding nutty advertisements on Craigslist like this.  Looking for to find a better resource and a better more meaningful way to advertise and find temporary jobs they created hour.ly.

The company is truly bootstrapped in sense that is has zero outside funding and is currently not making any money off of its users or though advertising.  When asked, co-founder Lynn said the current focus is to grow the base of the company and ensure that what they have is viable and useable.  Later this spring/summer they plan on adding in a pay for premium membership but still retain the free forever model.

One of the main problems with job/career websites is the sheer amount of spam.  Take a look at CareerBuilder or Indeed and it won’t be long before you encounter spam.  Craigslist is riddled with it.  But spam prevention is a top priority at hour.ly and they have been able to successfully navigate the spam problem.  Even their craziest job listing ever:  Watch T.V. For $10 An Hour (which screams spam from the title) turned out to be some research job and was actually legitimate.

Hour.ly is super simple to use and navigate.  I did a test run and had a profile set up in less than 10 minutes start to finish.  That includes filling out the “about me” and “experience” section of my profile.  Once that was done I was able to see potential employers that could use my “vast” amount of skill sets, potentially leading to part time work.  Overall, it was a sleek and well-organized experience, a result of serious amounts of thought from the founders (read:  they found a problem and actually solved it, like any successful startup should do).

So what advice does this startup have for other startups?  A couple of things:

    1.) With the growth of accelerators/incubators around the country, startups can benefit from immersing themselves with minded people, and the massive amounts of advice and mentoring that they provide.  Hour.ly took part in an accelerator called The First Growth Venture Network in New York.  Hour.ly found the mentorship they provided was worth its weight in gold. It was also beneficial to be able to ask those with experience and know how questions that would otherwise leave the startup befuddled.
    2.) A period of bootstrapping is more advantageous than one might think.  It will leave the founders hungry for more and allows them to fly under the radar in order to make mistakes while not having the pressure of investors or angels breathing down their neck.
    3.) Co-Founders are key.  This one seems obvious, but there are many startups that think they can make it as a one-man show.  The notion isn’t impossible, it’s just risky and is statistically unlikely to lead to success.  In the case of hour.ly, the husband and wife co-founder combo is unique, and an equation that is working for them.  If your significant other is up to it, it may be a worthwhile endeavor.  If you would like to explore more on the husband/wife relationship in startups, there is a great discussion of it on Quora as posted by hour.ly co-founder Lynn.
    4.) This one follows the logic of #2.  Don’t look for big money right away.  Stick with your roots and make sure that you don’t give up.  Contrary to popular belief investors and angels are not just handing out money willy-nilly.  If, and more likely when, you are turned down by those with capital, make sure you stand by the belief that spurred you into your startup idea.  Your convictions matter; so don’t throw them to the wind if you get shot down once or twice.

And the final piece of advice from hour.ly for other startups:

    5.) If you are strapped for cash and need a temporary job to get you through until an Angel saves the day or Yahoo buys you, head over to hour.ly and they will hook you up!

If you are interested in hour.ly their main site can be found at the sweet domain hack:  http://hour.ly.  Or follow them on Twitter @hourly.  If you have used hour.ly or are just discovering it, make sure you leave them feedback and/or suggestions in the comments! To keep up with startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

What we count is what truly counts

Brilliant TED Talk by Chip Conley that reminds entrepreneurs to count what actually counts. During an economic downturn, Chris decided he was going to try and turn things around for his hotel chain by attempting to measure qualitative things.

Specifically he focused on two main questions:

  • 1. He asked employees if “they understand what the company is all about”?
  • 2. And secondly he asked his customers if they “feel an emotional connection to us”?
  • In this video Chris also mentions one on my favorite quotes by Albert Einstein:
    “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”

    What Chris discovered is a great reminder for all founders. As the leader of your startup, how do you measure the intangible things?

    The ZookShop story. A behind the scenes look at bootstrapping a SaaS web app.

    When I first saw the request from Christophe to cover his online retail startup ZookShop, my first reaction was “that’s all we need is another shopping solution”.  However, this one is different – I promise. Off the bat, it has a few things working for it:

    • It’s simple to setup
    • It’s simple to add products
    • It’s simple to buy products

    And oh yeah it’s fairly cheap considering there are no transaction fees.  You still have to pay the merchant fees such as Paypal or Google checkout, but there is really no other way around it.  The pricing ranges from $29/month to $49/month, based on how many products you have. In my opinion the service is great for smaller to midsize companies who just need a simple solution without a ton of configuration needed for each product.

    I had a chance to interview Christophe from ZookShop and here is an excerpt from our interview:

    How long did it take you to develop ZookShop?
    It took me 5 months to develop it on the side.

    How is the startup market in London, and do you think you are at a disadvantage by not being in Silicon Valley?
    There are very few startups here, you will mostly encounter people with side projects from already established small businesses, which is our case. Being in London is okay if you want to let your company grow slowly, but it’s hardly a startup then.

    How are you going about marketing this product. What have you learned?
    At the moment, I don’t really know. Until now, I focused on improving the product and responding to the feedback of the first customers.

    What I learned building the website and having it in production for the first weeks:

    • Half of your developing time will be spent on features less than 10% of your customers will be using. But it’s worth the pain, because these features are deal breakers for them, and they may become your most vocal supporters
    • People really do love when you to respond their requests instantly, or fix bugs they encountered without telling you in minutes. My advice for other founder would be this: Watch the logs and be reactive

    Where did you get the name from & where did you get the idea from.
    “Zouk” is a popular music genre from our island of origin, and while searching for a domain name, we found out that zookshop.com/.co.uk/.fr were free, it was short, looked and sounded nice, so we just went for it.

    I got the idea while working to improve the conversions on a shop hosted on an eCommerce platform, platform which had thousand upon thousand of users. It was so ugly, slow and painful to use, I figured that we might have a shot creating a better alternative. I believe we just achieved that, even if it’s still a really young product.

    —-

    You can check out the sample shop that I created here: http://tsf.zookshop.com, and the main site here: http://www.zookshop.com. You can also follow Christophe on twitter here: @christophe971

    Facebook pages are worthless for your startup. Go where the early adopters are.


    Facebook is an amazing tool, and is also great for businesses.  However, It’s a sinkhole for startups. Facebook pages will do nothing for you in the first 0-6 months of your startup post-launch.

    We all know (or should know) that your friends are usually not your target customers, and in fact they are probably the worst people to consult on your business.  They usually won’t tell you that it sucks and they will always support your venture.  So when you create a Facebook page, what is the first think you do?  You post it on your Facebook wall, and send an email to your friends.  Now you have a Facebook fan page with a partial list of your friends (read: “people who are not your target customers”). This gives you a false indication of how people actually feel about your product  / service.

    I would argue that the first 6 months of any startups should be used to get feedback on the product, build relationships with your customers, and target new customers with your marketing voodoo magic. Here lies the problem that almost every startup has (and why the response to The Startup Foundry has been so great): Marketing a startup is hard because the founders don’t have an extensive database of people that might be interested in their product, and don’t know how to reach them in an effective way.  The fact is, the first 6 months, any customer who joins your service, are usually early adopters.  Think of them as music hippies, but for startups.  Once Groupon got noticed, you just didn’t like them as much. Right?  If you agreed with that statement, then my friend I hate to break this to you but you are an early adopter.

    You will not find many early adopters via Facebook Pages. Early adopters are all ON Facebook, but they will not find you via Facebook.  They will find you via twitter. More importantly, you will find them via twitter.  Facebook Pages are good for “pulling in customers”, but not good for “reaching out to people who MIGHT be your customers, or tell you what you need to do in order to convert them”.  The latter being the most important.

    I hear this response all the time (and trust me, I’m guilty of it too): “Man, my product is amazing – but nobody knows about it.  How do I tell the masses about it without spending money on a Superbowl ad”.  Do you see where i’m going with this?  If I want to target my customers, I need to find them and build personal relationships with them via twitter, blogs, & in person.  Every customer matters.

    We all know the importance of blogging and building personal relationships.  Twitter allows for building actual relationships and Facebook is good for building brand relationships. The first 6 months is about building personal relationships with people who might be your customer, or help you get to other customers via their network.  So why do you have a Facebook page again?

    Authors Note: I took it a step further and deactivated my Facebook all together to focus on building this blog & my startup.  Because I focused all my efforts on other sites such as twitter and hacker news, I was able to make the right connections early on.

    When you say “passionate”, I think “show me”.


    I’ve noticed a trend cluttering my inbox. I receive nearly the exact same email about 5 to 10 times a day from startups looking for coverage. They believe they should get coverage because “[I’m] really passionate about my startup”.

    Oh really? Then show me what you’ve got.

    Every single person I’ve talked to that was serious about their startup was “passionate”. Passion is an important ingredient, but it’s not a fully baked cake.

    Furthermore I see people use their passion to create meaningless things. A startup isn’t a business plan or a slick Keynote presentation. Startups aren’t built on hubris or bravado. These are all fine tools to have but at the end of the day startups are built on customers.

    If you claim to have an “amazing idea”, I expect you to already have 20 (paying) customers lined up.

    Money talks more then a flashy PowerPoint filled with your guesses about the future.

    Founder, developer, and everything else- Ben Edwards talks about Swappa


    Swappa is an online market place that specializes in used Android devices.  If you are looking to buy or sell an android device, Swappa is the place to be.

    I had a chance to speak with Ben Edwards who is the founder & developer of this one man bootstrapped venture.

    An online marketplace to buy & sell phone’s is not a new thing.  What makes swappa any different from ebay or craigslist as an example?
    Usability is a big factor. One thing that makes Swappa a lot easier to use, compared to eBay for instance, is you start out by choosing the device to buy and sell. It makes it real easy to see all the listings together and compare apples to apples. If you search eBay for ‘Motorola Droid’ you get listings for a half dozen different types of devices and their accessories, all in the same list. It’s a pain, and it’s ugly. Swappa is simple.

    Do you have any plans to sell non android phones?
    No plans to list non-Android devices at this time. I believe the focus on Android gives Swappa a lot of advantages in terms of simplicity and marketing.

    What about cost.  What is the cost to participate?
    As of right now, I reduced the cost to $10 for the person buying the phone.  The seller does not pay any listing fees at the moment, however they will incur standard paypal transaction charges when purchasing.  You can find more about that here: http://swappa.com/faq

    Is swappa profitable?
    Yes, minimally profitable. The only main expenses at this point are server costs. Some early costs included buying an “inventory” of Android devices to have for sale on the site and some advertising (pay per click). The devices I bought and sold through the site paid for themselves, the advertising did not.

    Marketing a startup is always a big hurdle.  What have you done so far to get traction on swappa?
    Right now I’m doing the hustle to market Swappa. I’ve been contacting nearly every relevant Android site and blog I can (often more than once), giving an introduction to Swappa and asking for feedback.  I tried some paid advertising (Facebook) the first month the site was live, but that didn’t do much. Getting mentions on Android related sites has been what’s got Swappa traction.

    Thanks to Ben Edwards for the interview. All the best to Swappa. For more startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.