The Forrst Story: Raising money, goals, and monetization

I recently had the chance to chat with Kyle Bragger about his startup, Forrst. Kyle is the founder of Forrst and in this interview he talked about raising money, goals for his startup, and a monetization strategy.

What is Forrst in one sentence?
Forrst is a community of passionate developers and designers focused on helping themselves and others get better at their craft, providing thoughtful critiques, and sharing their knowledge to build better applications and websites.

What’s special about Forrst?
Forrst exists to help bring together developers and designers into a private, friendly space where they can share work, give and receive great critique, discuss the industry, and just hang out with other like-minded folks. It started as a simple utility designed to allow me to keep track of interesting development and design resources, but quickly grew into something more. Today, we’re over 21,000 members strong and growing healthily. As we continue to grow, we’re soon going to allow companies and startups to tap into Forrst talent. I think we’re in a great position to solve a real problem that exists right now — hiring excellent developers and designers can be really tricky, and Forrst is going to make that process less painful and more rewarding.

Are you bootstrapped, or funded?
We’re funded by Gary Vaynerchuk and Dave McClure/500 Startups (and our round is still open). I bootstrapped for the first four months as I built out an MVP and got initial traction, but once it was clear there was something more to what I was doing, I raised a little money from Gary so I could pursue Forrst full-time. After more or less running Forrst entirely on my own (along with some design help), I decided to raise an angel round to grow the team and really kick things in to gear — to that end, Dave invested in early January.

What is your monetization strategy?
We’ve got a few revenue sources right now. We sell Acorns (on site credits that are used to promote posts), have a single ad unit running on the site, and are going to soon roll out paid Supporter accounts. We sell ~1,500 Acorns/month right now, and have 750 people pre-registered for Supporter accounts, which go live on March 1st.

What is the backstory to Forrst?
The original Forrst was intended to be a simple tool I could use to keep track of code snippets, interesting design patterns, and so forth. It had a few basic social features (following, profiles), and as it would happen, getting a few of my colleagues using the service ended up being the thing that really sparked the beginnings of the Forrst community.

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

Why was acquired by AOL for millions four days after launch

Why was acquired by AOL for millions four days after launch is an online profile aggregator that attempts to be the go to spot for finding peoples online identities. For about 3 and a half months was in private beta, and you had to have an invitation to sign up. Four days after opened up to the public, they were acquired by AOL. it surprised a lot of people to hear that AOL was going to acquire the four month old company for several million dollars. Reports on the deal varied from $1.3m to $10m.

A lot of tech pundits were caught off guard with the acquisition, but I believe there are three key reasons why was able to succeed so quickly.

1. Demonstrated traction:
In 3 months had a little under half a million people signed up for their invite only beta. Their average rate of signups was over 100,000 users a month. Active users talk, b.s. walks.

2. Provide Value:
Anyone can buy a domain with $5 hosting and throw together their own personal website, but allowed users to be up in running in no time with an artsy page. It didn’t try to do to much, but it nailed it’s (admittedly narrow) focus of being a fun hub to your social graph.

3. They leveraged their connections:
A large part of their successes was being able to get big names on board quickly. Leo Laporte and Kevin Rose were some of their biggest supporters out of the gate for example.

Why do you think? Did I miss any reasons to’s success?

“Tomorrow” is an excuse today

“I’ll do that tomorrow” is the worst phrase an entrepreneur can say.

“Tomorrow” convinces you you’re making progress when you are sitting still. It makes you loose perspective. “Tomorrow” represents the future in the abstract. “Tomorrow” is a defense mechanism for your ego and pride that protects you from failure (but more importantly it keeps you away from potential success).

The person who says that they “want to get in shape” but are “going to start tomorrow” will never change. They will never reach their goals. If you’re serious about getting in shape go run a mile today. Want to learn how to program? Read a tutorial or two then start doing it today.

Do it for 3 weeks consecutively and you will have established a habit. It will be easier to keep doing it then to break it.

The same rules apply to startups. I’ve been asked “how do you start a business” and I always reply “It’s easy. It just takes hard work every day”. Be brave, be bold, go try something today. If you fail (believe me, you will fail eventually) learn from it. Don’t sweep it under the rug and don’t meditate on it day and night. Learn from it and let it go.

When I launched my first startup, I didn’t know anything. I learned by jumping in and doing it. It’s tough but you will learn and you’ll get better. Don’t wait for someone to hold your hand through the process. Do something first, then seek console. Get your hands dirty before you ask for soap. I always try to make time for friends who are serious (and can show it) about building a company, but I don’t waste time on people who refuse to take baby steps on their own.

“Tomorrow” is especially poisonous because it makes you feel better instantly. Don’t fall into this trap.

Go build something awesome then tell us about it. We will do everything we can to help. Read “Four guidelines to get your startup coverage online” then tip us at or on twitter @startupfoundry.

Crate is to sharing files, what Dropbox is to storing them.

Crate is to sharing files, what Dropbox is to storing them.

Crate allows users to upload files to its servers (even big files that would choke your email inbox). When that is complete Crate gives you a URL to share with your friends. The user interface is very intuitive and if you ever used Gmail’s drag and drop attachment tool then you already know how to use Crate.

I’ve been blown away by the attention to detail in this app. Checkout the really short video we shot of Crate in action.

How does it work?
In a word, “beautifully”. The attention to detail is fantastic, and the animations are a nice touch. More importantly it works as advertised. For browsers that don’t support the HTML5 drag and drop, a fallback simple uploader option is available.

I asked the founder of Crate, Sahil Lavingia, why he put so much emphasis on the user experience and it turn out it was a business decision.

At first there was quite a bit of confusion but we’ve alleviated a lot of the issues (and the emails, oh God the emails!) with UI changes and the addition of click-to-upload on browsers that don’t support HTML5.

Crate boasts just under 10,000 users, and is adding hundreds more every week.

Crate is bootstrapped and is already profitable.

Sahil tipped us that a native Mac app and iPhone version are on the way, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Whenever you’re uploading data to a third party site, be sure to read their privacy policy. Crate seems to take privacy seriously, and strikes a fair balance in this department.

Give it a try at

HN: We’re creating a “Startup toolbox”. What apps should go in it?

I’ve had several readers write to me asking what tools I recommend using to build a startup. My answers are typically along the lines of:

Mass Emails: Mailchimp
Hosted Email: Google Apps for Business
Hosting: MediaTemple
Web Analytics: Google Analytics
Mockups: Photoshop (or Pixelmator for really tight budgets)

I’m still discovering great apps every day and I thought I would create a toolbox for startups that are still getting their feet wet up and running in no time. I would love to leverage the community’s input before I publish the “Startup Toolbox” next week and I was curious if you would be willing to share what tools your startup uses with me.

My plan is to contact the companies that make the apps and try to strike a deal with them to get a price break for startups that come from the “Startup Toolbox”. Admittedly this is dependent upon the developers, but I promise I will do my best to convince them. Worst case scenario we have a great index of apps for startups to get up and running with. We’d love to be able to promote great apps (and developers) while making life a little easier for startups too.

If you have other ideas I can also be reached on twitter or via email (

Execution is nothing without Potential

“Execution is everything” a mentor once told me when he learned I was building a startup. I now respectfully disagree. I now understand that potential must precede execution.

Why? Because of LeBron James and Nokia.

As a basketball fan I had one of the greatest revelation of my life last night: I have the same amount of NBA championship rings as LeBron James. James is the most dominant player in all of basketball with back to back MVP awards to prove it. Last year he led the Cavs to a league best 61 regular season wins but they stumbled in the Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. His execution in game 1 was nearly flawless (he put up 49 points) however the Cavs still lost the game. Why? His team lacked championship potential. There wasn’t a supporting cast around him. It didn’t matter how well he executed, the potential for his team to win a title just wasn’t there.

Fast forward to this season when LeBron James moved over to the Miami Heat. He is now on a team stacked with talent and they have the potential to win a championship. All that’s left now is the execution.

For your startup to be successful you must have both potential and execution.

Last night Engadget leaked an internal memo from Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop. It provided an honest look at the company and it appears Elop understands that Nokia has a huge problem. Elop is working against a company culture who’s thinking is flat out wrong.

The former CEO (That Elop replaced) at Nokia believed that Nokia’s platform had potential and they came to the conclusion that the problem was that they weren’t executing their strategy well. If you have ever used a Nokia smart phone you already know how laughable this line of thinking was. Don’t believe me? Pick any Nokia phone available today and compare it to Apple’s first iPhone that was released in 2007. The iPhone blows it away. Execution without potential is nothing. You’re already dead in the water.

It appears Stephen Elop has great perspective on the situation (read the full memo here), and we wish him the best in righting the course for Nokia.

Startups learn from these mistakes and make sure your idea has potential before you try to execute.

Four guidelines to get your startup coverage online

Late last week I was pitched by 60 startups in less then 12 hours. I saw the good, bad, and the ugly. I personally looked at every single email and I jotted down notes on pitches that caught my attention (both good and bad). I distilled my notes and turned it into a guide to help startups hone their “cold call” emails and avoid common pitfalls when looking for coverage.

The Guidelines:

1. Be personable, but don’t waste time.
Nobody wants to cover a robot (“Our world leading brand creates synergy for our customers…”) and nobody wants to read Shakespeare in their inbox. Find the balance. Include a paragraph or two explaining the mission of the startup and where it’s heading (traction, bootstrapped/funded etc…) but don’t waste words.

2. Make it scannable:
If you’re like everybody that I know, you don’t really read your email, you scan it. Think of your email as a cross between a table of contents and an index. You should be able to jump in at any point and at least have a sense of what’s going on. Be able to answer “What does your company do” in one sentence (Put this just under the greeting).

3. Be persistant but not obnoxious:
Admittedly this is more of an art then a science, but you might have to gently remind people who you are if you’re not a big player in your space. If I get 60 startups in less then 12 hours, I’m sure the big boys (Techcrunch, etc.) probably get at least 100x this amount every day. Don’t take this personally. If your site requires a login create one specifically for the people you’re trying to get coverage from and include that information towards the bottom of the email.

4. Give them media they can use:
High resolution screenshots, logos, and images go a long way in helping writers understand a Startup at a glance. Writers have a limited amount of time and you want to “lower the cost of entry” for them as much as possible. Writers don’t always have time to read a 5 page summary of your business, but could easily become interested if you “show” instead of “tell”. Pictures>Words.

If you’re looking for coverage on TheStartupFoundry, follow these tips and email me at or tip us on twitter @startupfoundry.

What tips have you used while trying to get coverage?

Visual Website Optimizer: Bootstrapped, Profitable, and over 4,000 users

When you’re trying to squeeze as many conversions as you can out of a landing page, A/B testing is critical. However, a lot of startups I talked to don’t use A/B testing because it’s a lot of work. Visual Website Optimizer is hoping to take some of the pain out of setup and tracking to become “the world’s easiest A/B testing tool”.

Sample Campaign Analytics

Here’s how they plan to do that:
Visual Website Optimizer is targeted to marketers who may not have technical training. Its goal is to make designing, publishing, and analyzing tests as simple as possible. VWO provides a WYSIWYG editor for creating A/B tests and it eliminates the need for tagging specific sections of the page with code to run your tests. With VWO you have to add a small snippet of code to your website once and then you are free to create an unlimited number of tests from the interface without the need to touch any more code. Their goal is allow a marketer to go from an idea to a live test in less than five minutes.

Visual Website Optimizer is bootstrapped.

Visual Website Optimizer has 4,500 users, and is seeing healthy growth at a rate of 20% every month.

Biggest Competitor:
The 800lb gorilla in the room is Google Website Optimizer. Visual Website Optimizer believes that it’s key advantage is in its user interface. The refined simplicity of their app allows even the “non-techy” person to get up in running in no time.

One of my favorite things about VWO is that they have subscribed to the mantra of “do only one thing, but do it the best”. If you need to do A/B testing, I can’t recommend a better solution then Visual Website Optimizer.

At a glance stats:
Company: Visual Website Optimizer
Founder: Paras Chopra
Founded: 2009
Sentence description: “World’s easiest A/B split testing software”
Twitter: @wingify

AOL buys The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post just announced that AOL has acquired it for $315 million.

The 6 year old startup started with $1 million in funding, and grew into a power house of online news.

Arianna Huffington gives some background to the deal:

There were many more meetings, back-and-forth emails, and phone calls about what our merger would mean for the two companies. Things moved very quickly. A term sheet was produced, due diligence began, and on Super Bowl Sunday the deal was signed. In fact, it was actually was signed at the Super Bowl, where Tim was hosting a group of wounded vets from the Screamin’ Eagles. It was my first Super Bowl – an incredibly exciting backdrop that mirrored my excitement about the merger and the future ahead.

By combining HuffPost with AOL’s network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we’ll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform.

Read their full announcement at Huffington Post.