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Talk to your real customers, not your imaginary ones. The SyncPad story.

SyncPad is an iOS app that helps people collaborate in real-time. You can think of it as a virtual whiteboard that helps people focus.

When Davide Di Cillo (the founder of SyncPad) was building SyncPad, he had envisioned the target market of his app to be creative studios. He foresaw advertising agencies, graphic design shops, and freelancers clamoring to use SyncPad so they could easily collaborate with clients remotely.

After Davide launched his app he hit the streets and began talking with his actual customers. What he discovered surprised him. Instead of taking the art world by storm, Davide discovered that his true customers for SyncPad were in the business market. He found that companies were using SyncPad to help manage meetings (both remote and locally), real time visual communication, and for presentations.

Davide jumped into action and immediately began to retool parts of SyncPad to better fit with how his actual customers were using his app (for example: They quickly integrated multi-page PDF support). Business started to flourish for Davide and SyncPad is now in talks with some major corporations that would like to buy several thousand seats for it.

All of this happened because Davide talked to his real customers, and didn’t get hung up on his imaginary ones.

We are giving away 5 copies of the iPhone and iPad versions. If you would like a chance to win a copy, leave a comment and tweet out a link to this article. An easy way to do this is by hitting the “Like” button in the comments and it will ask you if you want to share the article via Twitter.
SyncPad for iPad is available for $9.99 on the App Store or $4.99 for the iPhone version.

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

Bootstrapped Startup Fitocracy Helps You Level Up in Real Life (Beta Invites Included)

Looking for a way to make your workouts more social and fun?  Fitocracy has you covered.  The two-man startup based out of Brooklyn is intent on ensuring that fitness is fun, motivational, and social.  The basics of the site include signing up for a profile and then logging your workouts, following users and seeing their fitness accomplishments, earning points and leveling up.  There is also a leader board that ranks all users of the site and allows for them to engage in competition amongst one another.  The unique relationship between exercise and many popular game mechanics is the ability to always be able to push harder, longer, or stronger.  Entwine that with a dedicated community of supporters and Fitocracy users can be well on the way to accomplishing their fitness goals.

Before we take a closer look at how Fitocracy works we asked the founders to share 3 pieces of advice for other bootstrapped startups.

1.) Know your topic.  Know your field.  Whatever topic or arena your startup is in, it should be your passion to know everything there is to know about it.  You should be credible and knowledgeable about all the details in your space.  That knowledge should become your identity.

2.) Jump in and do it.  Too often would be entrepreneurs find themselves idling around wasting time.  If you have an idea and you are passionate about it.  Go forth and make it happen.

3.) Communicate effectively.  If you followed the advice from #1 you should be able to live and breath the topic your startup is in.  If you can do that learn how to effectively speak to other about it in an engaging and meaningful way.  Sell your idea by stirring emotions, being a hustler, and imparting your knowledge to your audience.

Delving a little deeper into the startup the user is able to log fitness workouts in the form of repetitions for strength training or minutes for cardio.  These repetitions and minutes translate into points for the user.  There are also levels, which represent the overall fitness level of that user.  In addition to points and levels, users can also perform quests.  Quests are much like they sound, and involve going out and achieving some pre-established goal.  One such quest is being able to bench press twice your body weight or working your way up to lifting as much as this guy.   The quests are also a way to break up the regular routine that many gym rats fall into thus serve as a nudge to users to try a spinning class rather than just running all the time for a cardio session.  This repetitive routine can be broken by also participating in a multitude of workouts, which results in a more rounded fitness package, and thus a higher score in the Fitocracy world.  And of course, like any good game site, they have achievements and badges that can awarded and shown off to other users similar to Xbox Achievements.

Points, levels, and quests are all still a work in progress for Fitocracy.  They launched into beta a few weeks back and one of their continuing goals is to properly map the relationship between points and levels and the amount of work that a person is doing. This challenge has been tricky since the beginning due to the unique nature of exercise.  A standard across the board does not work well because fitness is not a one size fits all.  The mapping out of the points/user system is one of the main goals of the beta run.

So where did the idea come from?  Co-founders Brian and Dick were both your typical kids playing video games on the couch. When they decided to take control of their lives, they realized that fitness and working out tended to mirror the games they had once played.  Becoming obsessed with weightlifting and working out in general, they came to the conclusion that fitness and being healthy is about the journey.  And during the journey there are opportunities to level up and progress throughout the process.  Along the way there are also “mini adventures” (or quests, if you will) that add to the story.  Realizing there was an opportunity at hand they created Fitocracy, which is now helping real people level up and progress their way through the game of fitness.

Users also have the opportunity to share their workouts, stats, and achievements with the socialized aspect of Fitocracy.  They have utilized the Facebook and Twitter APIs making it easy to connect with friends.  As their user base increases the social aspect will obviously grow as well.  Members can follow other members or friends and “Give props” to those that deserve it.  “Give props” is analogous to the Facebook “Like” button in that it allows users to quickly notify others that they are deserving of credit for their workouts.  Or that they “Like” the status of another user.

Fitocracy has some really great things going for them.  For instance, time on site is averaging between 10-13 minutes, they have approximately 2,500 page views per day, and the gamification aspect of the site is actually meaningful.  This is important because normal game mechanics tend be cutesy and somewhat trivial.  Whereas, on Fitocracy they mean the user is able to translate them into real world effects that contribute to their overall health and wellness.  Which leads to another interesting point:  all the workout stats are self-reported.  Meaning I could say I accomplished 1000 crunches and ran 700 minutes if I wanted to accumulate a bunch of points and level up.  BUT, Brain and Dick tell me that their community is very self-regulating and the site offers a way to report abuses and flag unruly users.  This in turn has kept the community mostly honest and brings integrity into the game.

The Fitocracy concept would do well in the mobile world where users could log their workouts right in the gym.  While obesity rates are spiraling out of control in America there is a growing number of people that are taking control of their lives by starting down the road of fitness.  This means Fitocracy will continue to grow once they go mobile and users can get their fitness game on right in the gym.  They will have a mobile optimized site up soon followed by a dedicated app after that.

If you are interested in Fitocracy their main site can be found at:  Or follow them on Twitter @fitocracy.  If you are currently a beta user of Fitocracy make sure to leave them feedback and suggestions in the comments.  If your not part of the beta, use this link to get in and then leave them feedback and suggestions in the comments.  The first 100 readers will get a free beta account!

To keep up with startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

How Tim O’Reilly bootstrapped O’Reilly Media with “happy accidents”

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

Several readers have asked for transcripts of videos and I will start looking into that. In the mean time I’m including a summary.

1. The animal covers were done for free by an employees roommate. The design felt “better” then the ones that they paid a company to produce.

2. O’Reilly Media was bootstrapped with “$500 bucks of used furniture.”

3. O’Reilly Media was originally a consulting company. They had a huge consulting contract cancelled and it inspired them to publish their own stuff. They decided they wanted their own product to sell.

4. They focused on writing books that they thought were needed.

5. At first they were selling directly to consumers. O’Reilly Media was doing $7 Million in revenue before they were discovered by bookstores.

6. Tim O’Reilly said that early bits of ignorance that were helpful in getting them started. For example, the first books they produced didn’t have spines. They discovered people actually liked it because then the books could lay flat. Since they had a unique design that forced them to be displayed in a different way, they had their own shelves in book stores which helped them stand apart from their competitors.

Special thanks to Tim for coming on TSF. You can follow Tim on twitter @timoreilly.

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

10 Things Your Startup Should Know about Email Marketing Companies

App Sumo is a startup that focuses on deals for web apps. They send hundreds of thousands of emails each month, and Noah Kagan (The founder) Skyped in to share what he’s learned from the world of email marketing. In this 15 minute video Noah explains 10 things that you should know about Email Marketing Companies before you give them your business.

1- You have weak control over placement of unsubscribe link. Your email should have an unsubscribe button, but you should be in control of it.
3- If a reader hits “Unsubscribe” you have no control over the unsubscribe page.
2- Setting up new campaigns takes 2 hours.
4- They require double-opt in. This is okay in some circumstances, but this decision should be left up to the company.
5- You don’t realize how many people need email confirmation. Email Marketing companies typically don’t handle this gracefully.
6- Hard to connect to your database for stats.
7- You can be banned from emailing if your unsubscribe rates are too high.
8- A/B testing consists of time, subject line and from, not body text.
9- Security is a big issue. Example: Aweber got hacked.
10- You should use two IPs – one for marketing and another for transactional emails.

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

Startup Marketing 101: 5 Reasons Why You Need to Feed Yourself

Imagine you are sitting down at the dinner table and you have a big juicy steak right in front of you. You have a fork and a knife laying right next to the steak.

Do you:

A) Ask the person next to you to feed you
B) Stare at the steak and wonder why it’s not gravitating towards your mouth
C) Use the Fork & Knife to feed yourself

Simple Question right?  Now let me rephrase this question.

You just launched a web startup.  Do You:

A) Send an e-mail to every relevant blogger in hopes of getting covered
B) Stare at your website and wonder why there isn’t much activity
C) Start a Blog and bring traffic to your startup (e.g, feed yourself)

Stop trying to get other people to feed you, and feed yourself.

Here are some ways a blog can help your startup, feed itself:

1. It gives other people a reason to link to you multiple times

The keyword here is multiple times.  If you don’t have a blog why would they blog about your startup twice?  It’s the same startup it was 3 months ago.  If you have good content, they will link to different blog posts bringing attention to your main site (your startup website) that it otherwise wouldn’t garner

2. It gives you another reason to tweet

You know that saying: “I tweeted to let you know I blogged” ? It couldn’t be any truer.

It’s not “I tweeted to let you know that my website is still up and nothing has changed in the past few days, but in case you missed my tweet the first time here it is again and don’t worry I’ll remind you again in a few days to my websites existence”.

3. It gives you a platform to launch your next startup

What happens when this startup fails?  What happens to your customers that were loyal to you and not your startup?  If you don’t have a blog, they don’t know where to go next & they will have no idea that you even had a next startup.  When you do launch your next startup, use your existing readership to be your beta testers.

4. It gives you something to do when there is nothing else to do

Everyone has those “OK, What Now” moments after launching their website or while waiting for something out of your realm to be implemented.  Write down what’s on your mind and post it.  Get it out there.

5. It’s FREE!

WordPress is your friend. Use it. Stop trying to get other people to feed you, and feed yourself.

What other ways has your startup been able to “feed itself”?

Follow the author on twitter @robbieab.  

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

If iPads are “post-pc devices” why must I sync with iTunes before I can use one?

This past Wednesday Apple had a keynote event announcing the iPad 2. Steve Jobs demonstrated the refined new iPad in a highly polished presentation while simultaneously slipping in a few jabs at Apple’s competitors. Overall it was a pretty standard affair for an Apple event.

As I listened to Steve speak, one phrase kept gnawing at me. Steve said that the iPad was “a post-pc device”. As an iOS developer who makes his living building apps for iPads and iPhones, I disagree. You see iOS has this ball and chain attached to it called “iTunes” that runs on a typical PC. The first time you turn your iPad on you’re greeted with this screen on the right prompting you to plug your iPad into a computer so it can be setup. You can’t even turn your iPad on the first time without being tethered to iTunes.

Do you want to get media on your device (other than from the iTunes store)? Better have a computer handy so you can sync with iTunes. If you’re traveling and must preform a hard reset (where you lose all of your data) what do you do? You won’t have any way to get your data back until you get home and can sync your latest backup from iTunes. As someone who no longer travels with a laptop (just an iPad), this thought terrifies me.

For a device that is “a post-pc device”, it sure feels like a peripheral product to a typical computer.

I love my iPad and my iPhone but to call them post-pc devices is pure ideology at this stage in the game, and not grounded in reality. With Apple’s massive data center rumored to go live anytime, they could alleviate a lot of these problems by letting some of your data reside in the cloud. Until then as an iOS developer, I believe calling the iPad a “post-pc” device is disingenuous.

If you enjoyed this article, please follow us on twitter @startupfoundry. Thanks!

A look back at Arrington’s 2005 “Web 2.0 Companies I couldn’t live without”

In December of 2005, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch put a list together of his favorite web 2.0 companies he couldn’t live without. That was almost 5 years ago, and we decided it would be fun to see how the startups are fairing in in 2011.


I’ve actually never heard of bloglines until I read this post, but apparently it was planned to shut down on October 1st, 2010, but then Merchant Circle acquired it and re-launched it, so the website is still up.

Bloglines was essentially a RSS reader and a news aggregator ,and I can see why Arrington couldn’t live without it back in ’05.  For a news junkie, it had everything you needed.  According to the Mashable article, the founders said that Twitter & Facebook basically killed the service.  Maybe their is some minor validation in “RSS is dead” after all?  I still rely on RSS for my iPhone news consumption, but I agree twitter & facebook is where I get my latest news.

Here are some of the awards they received, according to their Wikipedia page

  • Included in Time Magazine’s Top 50 Web Sites for 2004[6]
  • Voted Best Blog/Feed Search Engine by the Search Engine Watch Awards in 2005[7]
  • BusinessWeek’s Best of the New Web[8

We all know the story of Delicious and Yahoo, so there’s not much explaining that needs to be done regarding this. In 2005 it was strong, and I think it is still going strong until Yahoo officially decides to end it.  There are a lot of competitors out there in the bookmarking business, but I still don’t see the need for it to be honest.  I ended up with thousands of bookmarks, and I never found myself looking back for saved bookmarks. If I needed something, I just google it and blam there it is.

However, maybe i’m not the perfect user of this tool.  Someone inevitably asked what the alternatives to delicious were on Quora. One that came up that was slightly different then the rest was PearlTrees.  I’ve tried it, and I’ve tried to like it and I just can’t.  It just seems like so much work just to organize bookmarks or websites, or whatever in the world it is trying to organize.

But, delicious was very relevant in 2005 and I think still very relevant in 2011.

FeedBurnerAcquired by Google in 2007 for $100MM, I can confidently say that feedburner is still very relevant in 2011. RSS is not dead, and I’m fairly sure every one that uses RSS for their blog has it connected through feedburner.  It provides detailed analytics on your RSS subscribers, and i’m not sure who the competitors are in this space.  So I take back what I said.  Maybe RSS isn’t dead!!??

FlickrAnother Yahoo acquisition that is still loved by everyone, but can probably have been more successful if they grew the site properly.  I personally think it could have pivoted into some sort of Facebook, but Yahoo just didn’t see it that way apparently.  Regardless, it is still safe to say that flickr is still very very relevant and loved by many users.  I don’t use it much, but I know that a lot of my friends and colleagues do.  Facebook has very much so jumped into the photo space, but Flickr still remains to be loved and probably still a web 2.0 app that people can’t live without.

MeasureMap – I had to Google this one and after a few searches I figured out that Google bought them and the site now redirects to Google Analytics.  It was supposed to be analytics for your blog.  This one is hard to say if it is “still relevant” or not, because not many people got to see what it was like.  Google analytics is obviously very relevant.

Memeorandum – This one I also had to Google and soon figured out that it was the early days of TechMeme.  It seems to be that the tech section of memeorandum had evolved into a full site of its own and needed its own memorable URL.  Hence we have This is also a site I don’t use, but I’ve seen a lot of articles regarding and is still very widely used by the tech community.

NetVibes – I used to love netvibes, and since twitter / facebook I’ve fallen out of love with it.  It has an awesome interface and I think it was / is is a leader on how to design a clean interface for a personalized home page.  It is still very relevant now and there has been a lot of coverage of netvibes on techcrunch

OmniDrive – From their wikipedia page: “Omnidrive was an online storage company with a single multi-platform product that aggregates storage into a single place.” Sound Familiar?  Well, it is now defunct and even if they were still around, Dropbox would be some stiff competition.  This actually brings a smile to my face, and should give everyone hope that you can still do something that another company failed at.  This also means that you should give Dropbox a LOT of credit for not only surviving, but being an essential service for almost anyone who uses a computer.

Pandora – I actually prefer grooveshark as my place for music, but it is still way behind Pandora in terms of usage.  It has some stiff competition with and grooveshark, but it was a must have in 2005 and it is definitely a must have in 2011.

Skype – In 2005 it was a must have, and 2011 it is definitely not going anywhere even if Google is part of the competition.  It’s a well known and very used international product, and still is a mission critical app for a lot of people around the world.  I’m sure Arrington wouldn’t disagree with that.

Technorati – I’m kind of torn on this one.  It’s definitely not a “must have”, and I’m almost thinking it falls under the not relevant category.  It’s original intention was for real time blog search, but I’m not sure that’s what technorati is used for.  It has a lot of content from various blogs and has a lot of its own original content.  It’s borderline a content farm.  Google has its own blog search engine and again Twitter & Facebook have taken over where people get their content from.  Do I think arrington still uses technorati?  My guess is no.

WordPress – The platform that currently powers  Is it a must have? Abso-freaking-lutely.   I honestly don’t know what I would do without wordpress.  It’s easy to use, it’s customizable and it’s robust for power users.  It’s up there with Dropbox.  I wasn’t using it in 2005, but I can imagine it has approved greatly in 5 years.  Arrington: Spot on.

Yahoo Maps –   This one actually confuses me as why Arrington chose this one over Google Maps.  I originally thought that the only reason he chose this one was because Google Maps wasn’t “invented” yet.  But, alas I was wrong.  Google Maps was launched in February of 2005, thus giving Arrington almost 10 months to use it.  I distinctly remember when Google maps was originally launched, it killed the competition in terms of user interface with their slick Ajax usage.    In terms of relevance, this one is definitely not relevant.  It’s used by people who don’t know any better and just get directed their because their homepage is .

Follow the author on twitter @robbieab.  For up to the minute startup news – follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

How one startup successfully sold physical products – The Sticker Mule story.

I first heard about Sticker Mule through a comment on our site regarding real world startups.  I was in a desperate lookout for startups that actually make or sell physical products, and Anthony Thomas brought to our attention his startup: Sticker Mule.

Below is an excerpt of the interview:

Who you are, and your role in the company
I’m Anthony Thomas, one of the co-founders of Sticker Mule. I focus on product development & marketing and I do a lot of customer service too.

In two sentences or less, what does sticker mule do?
Sticker Mule makes it easy to buy custom stickers.

Where did the idea come from for sticker mule?
I have a close friend who is a retired operations manager that used to oversee large scale manufacturing operations. He had just bought his first computer at age 70 and was showing it to me. I decided to show him Zazzle and within a few minutes he was joking that we should build our own Internet-based manufacturing company. The next day he called me and put up $50k to get started.

We were actually incorporated before we settled on making stickers. At first we had plans to do multiple sites, but that was an overly ambitious idea. Sticker Mule ended up being the first project we got off the ground and now we’re obsessed with being the best sticker printer you’ll ever meet.

Give us a run through of the first 6 months of sticker mule. How did you market the site, what problems did you run into, etc.
We got lucky with our marketing efforts. Our team digs design, open source, and rails so we thought it’d be fun to make friends in these communities. Immediately after launching, we reached out to bloggers and conferences in these spaces. Word started to spread, sales went up and we got lots of positive feedback so we pushed harder.

I say we got lucky because these communities have really been responsible for our growth and we didn’t realize upfront how this would turn out. g takeaway is that outreach efforts work best when you have a genuine desire to connect with people. We really want to be thought well of by these communities and I think that’s been obvious to all the people that have helped us along.

Our biggest mistake was contracting a firm to help with SEO/marketing. We cut them after a few weeks and never implemented any of their ideas. In retrospect, it’s essential for startup founders to do as much as possible on their own initially. You have no way to evaluate if hired help is performing without making an attempt on your own first.

What initial costs did you have to get it up and running since you are a “real world” startup.
We had $180k in initial investment that was contributed by the founders. To get setup we spent about $150k.

Are you bootstrapped or funded
Technically, we are bootstrapped since all of the investment is from the founders. We have not taken any “outside” funding.

Are you profitable?
Yes, we’ve been profitable for the last three months. All of our cash is being invested back into the company to keep up with growth. We have no plans to get rich quick. We like what we’re doing and want to see it become a big deal.

What’s the hardest part about running a company with physical assets? How do you minimize the risk on costs.
Honestly, our biggest challenge isn’t physical assets. As our demand grows we just buy more machines at prices that provides a reasonably quick payback (1 – 2 years). Our bigger challenge is managing development costs and direction.

We do as much development as possible in house, but contract out more complex ideas. It’s easy to waste development time and money pursuing vaguely worded feature specifications. To keep focused, we design everything upfront before writing code. That gives us an opportunity to think through ideas and, in some cases, throw them out before wasting development effort.

What advice do you have for others who have considered starting a company that produces physical assets or goods. how is it different then a pure software company.
#1 Don’t build an e-commerce store

Build an application that sells your product; not an e-commerce store. Enabling purchases is only one goal of your web site. You should also be developing features that assist with customer service, help your marketing and engage visitors so they want to talk about you.

#2 Don’t outsource the job of building your Internet presence.

As a founder you need to be personally familiar with what it takes to get your name out. Traditional companies that sell physical goods consider Internet marketing a technical skill that they need to contract out. The problem is, if you’ve never personally done it you have no way to tell if you’re getting value from who you hire.

#3 Find an awesome designer and put them on your core team.

Good design makes every other aspect of your business easier. It helps reduce customer service inquiries, makes outreach easier and gets people talking about you. Consider every screen and interaction an opportunity to excite and educate your visitors.

Check them out at Follow the author on twitter @robbieab.

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

How DuckDuckGo is fighting an 800 lb gorilla (Video interview with Founder)

It’s no secret that Google dominates search, but they are certainly not invincible. Google is commonly criticized for privacy concerns. Eric Schmidt (Google’s former CEO) recently said that Google’s goal was “to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. This sort of thinking certainly doesn’t inspire confidence.

Gabriel Weinberg’s company DuckDuckGo is attempting to exploit this chink in Google’s armor and really focus on users that would prefer not to share personal information about themselves with 3rd party advertisers.

In this interview Gabriel Weinberg talks about why users should care about their privacy when dealing with search engines, a way to improve search, and some financial details about DuckDuckGo.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry. The interview is below.

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Hi, I'm Paul Hontz.

I'm a YC alumn and I love startups. I created TSF to highlight companies I find interesting. You can learn more about me here.

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Nov 23, 2011 2:12 pm

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