Categories for Bootstrapped

Rails for Zombies has evolved into Code School [50 invites available]

Learning how to code can be a daunting challenge. There are a ton of free resources available online, but there are very few cohesive courses that pull it all together in one package and this pain point was Gregg Pollack’s inspiration for Rails for Zombies. Gregg believe if he could integrate screen-casts with interactive elements (run sample code right in the browser) and gamification he could create a very unique learning experience. In the first several months over 5,000 people have already completed the “Rails for Zombies” course.

Inspired by Rails for Zombies success, Gregg decided to apply the lessons he learned from it and build a marketplace that could host similar content. Thus Code School was born. Code School is an interactive online marketplace where you can learn to code directly in the browser. It’s built off the same framework that Rails for Zombies uses.

Code School is currently in private beta, but they have graciously given us 50 invites to share with our readers. With an invite you can access “Rails Best Practices” for free (typically $30). All you need to do is leave a comment on this article with a way for us to get in touch with you and we will shoot you an invite.

For more startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

Viinyl is for music

The music industry has changed rapidly over the last 15 years. The evolution from vinyl, to tape, to cds, to MP3s has forced artists to adapt the way they brand and market their music. For instance, instead of the 12 inches of artwork on a Vinyl jacket artists previously had, today we’re limited to an MP3 file and accompanying JPG.

Along with the format change our purchasing preferences have shifted. Most people no longer buy whole albums, but instead prefer to pluck a few singles from iTunes. The single is undeniably king. Unfortunately this comes at the cost of lost art.

Armine Saidi’s company Viinyl believes it has the answer. Viinyl launched yesterday at Superconf in Miami, and their aim is to give singles the art they deserve. Their motto is “1 Song. 1 Site. 1 URL.”. In a sense Viinyl is hoping to be the of music. A place where artists maintain their own creative vision.

Preliminary case studies show favorable results for artists using Viinyl. 24% of visitors who saw the artist’s Viinyl went on to visit the artist’s social media page, and 5% of listeners decided to purchase the track.

You can check out a demo Viinyl here. For more startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

(Special thanks to Auston Bunsen for inviting me to be on the judging panel at Superconf).

Get Clicky with it – Real Time Analytics for your Startup

Clicky was an easy choice for us to ask to interview.  I am a big fan of the service, and I love to see the little guy go up against the big guy (Google Analytics) and actually see some significant traction. I had an amazing opportunity to interview Sean Hammons from Clicky and he goes into detail of how they started, their biggest challenges and why they keep turning “hundreds of investors” down to invest in their company.

It’s an interesting read, and an insightful look into a great startup.  If you are a member of Clicky, or just needed the extra motivation to sign up – they have a built-in affiliate program that is worth looking into as discussed in the interview.

The transcript of the interview is below.

Who you are, position in the company, and how long you have been with Clicky.

Sean Hammons, co-founder and lead developer. I started working on Clicky started in October 2006 so it’s been a little over 4 years.

In two sentences or less, explain what your service does & what its’ competitive advantage is of other big players in the market

Clicky gives you simple yet detailed reports on your web site’s traffic in real time. The ease of use, real time data, great customer support, and affordable pricing has helped us stand out in this fairly crowded vertical.

What is the biggest challenge you have to making clicky real time.  Was it always real time?

Clicky has always been real time. In 2006 there weren’t many real time analytics tools (and none that were affordable), so we decided to make one ourselves. These days pretty much all services are real time (Google Analytics being a notable exception) so it’s not as much of a standout feature anymore. We had a lot of demand immediately, so I think we definitely got a bit lucky with our timing.

It has been a huge challenge dealing with the bandwidth and the amount of data we have to process every day. But challenge is fun and exciting. I absolutely love what I do. I’ve never worked on any project even one thousandth the size of Clicky, so I didn’t have experience with scaling or optimization or things like that, nor was I much experienced with using Linux as a server. Now I run 50 Linux servers that we built ourselves and during peak times we’re tracking over 4,000 page views per second across our network of 300,000 sites. If someone had told me in 2006 that I would be running a service of this size and scale in 4 years, I probably would have laughed.

How many users does clicky have?

We’ve got about 150,000 users (15,000 paying) tracking 300,000 sites.

Take us through the first 6 months at get clicky.  How did you get traction, press, etc.  Were the founders also developers?

My partner Noah was my boss at my last job, and Clicky was created as an internal tool for our own usage there. We saw the potential immediately, so we decided to become partners and pursue Clicky full time. Noah had a bit of cash saved up and I was a developer, so we didn’t need any funding. We lived off his savings for the first 4 months until we started making money directly.

Getting people to initially try the service was challenging and frustrating. We didn’t have any good connections at the time so it was hard to anyone to even look at our site. I was posting in forums, going to hundreds of blogs and using the contact forms to try to get the owner to try Clicky out, things like that. Not a single person signed up from those efforts. But finally, we got a break, and as soon as we got that one post, it just took off. We didn’t do any marketing or advertising, it was just that one single post on a largish web site. A few months later, we started making money, and that was a great feeling. We were growing much faster than we expected to, so the first few months was pretty challenging, as I had to really buckle down and learn about how to scale this kind of service. It was a lot of fun though. I’ve never learned so much in such a short period of time.

Tell us how you really feel about Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an extremely powerful service but it has a very steep learning curve. We designed Clicky’s interface to be easy to understand up front so people don’t get scared. We have some powerful features (goals, split testing, etc) but they’re not up front intimidating you. They’re there to discover when you want them, but otherwise it’s all about simplicity. A lot of people use Clicky and GA together on the same site – Clicky for most day to day needs, but GA when they need some of the power we don’t provide. For example, Google’s has really good segmentation and historical trends with that data. We have segmentation too but it’s calculated “on demand” so it’s not as fast as Google, especially when viewing over a large date range.

What are some marketing techniques that you can share with others who have just launched their product.

Well like I said above, we didn’t do any marketing or advertising. But one thing that really helped our growth is that we’ve had a very simple affiliate program from day one. Every user is an affiliate by default so there’s no forms to fill out or junk like that. The program is simple – every new user you refer to Clicky who signs up for a paid account, you get 20% of every payment they ever make to us. This really encourages people to talk about us more than they might otherwise, and we have some people making several hundred dollars every month because they have referred so many users our way. If your service is is freemium or paid only, either way I would whole heartedly recommend implementing a similar affiliate program. Whatever other services I create in the future, I can guarantee they will all have affiliate programs. It really does help your growth and your bottom line.

I noticed you don’t have a Facebook fan page.  I had a post earlier that mentioned Facebook fan pages are worthless for startups.  Would you agree?Why does clicky not have a facebook fan page?

I think Twitter is a much better place for handling B2C relationships because of its public nature. I’ve never been a huge Facebook fan anyways. I do use it, but only for keeping in contact with “real life” friends.

Are you funded or bootstrapped?  If you did get funding, at what stage did you get the funding.  Pre-prototype or post-prototype?

We’re bootstrapped. We’ve been contacted by hundreds of investors at this point though. Originally we were interested in taking on some money to help us grow faster, but that is no longer the case. If you can afford to bootstrap, do it. Owning 100% of your company and not having to answer to shareholders is ridiculously satisfying. The only time I think it makes sense to take on funding is if you need a fairly large team up front to build your service. Otherwise, don’t do it because you’ll probably regret it. must bother you.  Any changes clicky will purchase

We contacted the owner of a long time ago but he was not interested in selling it at the time. It’s a bit frustrating because the domain is not being used for anything anymore. But, most people know us as “get clicky” anyways (because of our domain name), so it’s not really the biggest deal in the world.

Check Clicky out at, and follow them on twitter @getclicky

Follow the author on twitter @robbieab, and for up to the minute startup news – follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

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

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

Standing In The Unemployment Line? Startup Might Have Work For You. 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. (pun intended) created the Internet version of these ads.

In a very simple, elegant way 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, provides access to just under 2800 different work categories!  The key is that listings posted on are often “work” rather than jobs.  In other words, is the vehicle that links up those with temporary to semi-permanent employment to those that are seeking part time work. 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

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 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. 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. took part in an accelerator called The First Growth Venture Network in New York. 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, 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 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 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 and they will hook you up!

If you are interested in their main site can be found at the sweet domain hack:  Or follow them on Twitter @hourly.  If you have used 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

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 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:, and the main site here: You can also follow Christophe on twitter here: @christophe971

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:

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.

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.

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

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