For this week’s episode of Founder Stories, I sat down with Ilya Sukhar, co-founder and CEO of Parse. The interview was taped days before Parse was acquired by Facebook last month. Parse is a cloud app platform that provides a set of SDKs that enable developers to focus on the execution of their application instead of rebuilding backend functionality for every mobile platform. Sukhar shares his experience of leaving Salesforce and going through Y Combinator.
Sukhar, who entered YC as a solo founder, was connected to co-founder Kevin Lacker through Paul Graham. The duo then joined up with another co-founding team about a month into YC to build Parse.
“It was a big risk,” says Sukhar. “The founding relationship is a really deep one and there’s a lot of ups and downs to go through together.” Having only known his co-founders for a short time before deciding to work together, Ilya explains the risks and reality of starting a company with strangers. “It worked out well for me but I would not recommend it to other folks.”
In the later half of our discussion, Sukhar explains how he uses arguing tactics to learn whether an employee is a good fit and why stepping back from coding to focus on under-staffed areas of the company has given him the opportunity to learn more about each role before hiring someone to fill it.
Editor’s Note: Michael Abbott is a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, previously Twitter’s VP of Engineering, and a founder himself. Mike also writes a blog called uncapitalized. You can follow him on Twitter @mabb0tt.
Another step for Adobe in its bid to become the go-to place in the cloud for those working in design and other creative industries: it is acquiring Thumb Labs, a bootstrapped, New York-based mobile app design agency.
Jared Verdi, one of the co-founders of Thumb Labs along with Rich Kern, tells TechCrunch that financial terms of the Thumb Labs acquisition are not being disclosed.
The news follows on from Adobe’s acquisition of another New York-based design startup, Behance, a platform for designers and others in the creative industries to share their work, which Adobe picked up in December 2012 reportedly for around $150 million. Earlier this month, Adobe put the Behance acquisition into context when it announced a massive push on its Creative Cloud strategy, with social/community features powered by Behance.
Verdi tells TechCrunch that Thumb Labs will see out existing contracts it has with other clients, but as of May 31, it will focus its efforts exclusively on making mobile apps for Behance.
That’s a position it knows well. Thumb Labs, which officially launched as a business in 2011, created the first mobile app for Behance, and as it points out in a note announcing the deal on its site, “We have been working closely with their talented team ever since.” That’s included a new version of the Behance app, and its Creative Portfolio app. There are under 10 people working for Thumb Labs right now, Verdi says, and all of them are joining Adobe, based out of New York.
Thumb Labs’ other clients have included a roster of startups, such as TechStars alum Bondsy (a platform to trade goods with friends); CanDoBaby (an app to make baby books); and ReadyForZero (a debt management app).
The main part of Thumb Labs’ work will now be focused both on maintaining Behance’s existing apps, as well as developing new ones. This will include “definitely some tablet work”, including an iPad app, as well as apps for more platforms beyond Apple’s, and in general making Behance’s main site design responsive so that it’s more mobile-web friendly.
Over time, there will be more focus on other Creative Cloud initiatives, which makes sense considering how linked the rise in cloud services has been with the boom in smartphone and tablet use. “We’ll also be working with other teams at Adobe for integration into the Creative Cloud. Mobile is a big part of that,” Verdi said.
In a way, getting acquired by Adobe is a natural fit for a design house like Thumb Labs, and Verdi says that it’s coming at a key time of change for its new owner. “In the creative profession everyone uses Adobe products, and the new focus on Creative Cloud is the biggest change we’ve seen in a while,” he said. “They’ve announced a number of exciting things, and hopefully we will be a part of them, too.”
Australian startup, Airtasker, is keen to expand out of its home country into Southeast Asia, which it says hasn’t been touched by large competitors yet.
The year-old startup provides job matching for freelancers and employers, similar to what oDesk and Elance do. For its first steps outside of Australia, its first port of call will be Singapore, where it wants to hire two country managers.
Airtasker joins a scene that already has a few huge competitors. oDesk, for example, has been around since 2005. Last year, the company raised $15 million, bringing its total funding $45 million to date. The site processes $300 million in jobs on an annual basis.
Some early oDesk employees also founded Rev.com, which in March announced $4.5 million in Series A funding.
Another big competitor, Elance, raised $16 million in funding early last year as well, as its business has continued to grow in the past two years. 650,000 new job postings were listed on the site in 2011, it said.
But big as these sites are, they don’t seem to have made a huge impact on freelancers in Southeast Asia. A quick search for freelancers in Singapore on oDesk showed 248 listings out of 742,113. Hong Kong showed a dismal 84, Kuala Lumpur 7 and Bangkok 31.
Jonathan Lui and Tim Fung, Airtasker’s founders
While it appears indeed untouched by the large sites, it could just mean that the freelancing scene is a lot less vibrant in Asia, with the majority of workers preferring full-time jobs. It could also be that fewer freelancers rely on online matching sites to get their jobs, as well.
Airtasker’s founder and CEO, Tim Fung, said temp jobs in the region are less organized into verticals. He said some common jobs in Asia include handing out flyers at a train station, or a one-day PA. These can’t really be categorized by industry, and Airtasker has organized its job ads and job seeker profiles in a broader fashion, so that more matches can be made by both sides.
The bulk of Airtasker’s workers, for now, are based in Australia, and its upward trajectory does indicate some sort of pent-up demand on the freelancing scene. Airtasker now processes about $120,000 worth of jobs per month.
Fung hinted that Airtasker will announce a partnership with a global jobs network soon. “I think that’s an indication that the larger ‘mainstream’ job scene is taking part-time job listings more seriously,” he said.
The site will also roll out a new design in about a months’ time, with a “responsive design” adapting to mobile interfaces when accessed through tablets and phones. This is going to make a lot of sense as it expands into Southeast Asia, where mobiles are more popular in emerging markets compared with PCs. About 40 percent of users accessing Airtasker’s site are already coming in on mobile devices, said Fung.
Airtasker has seven people, including co-founders Fung and Jonathan Lui. It’s raised $1.5 million so far.
MavenSay, a social recommendation app, just got a surge of unplanned downloads coming from Indonesia, and its founders are moving quickly to include Southeast Asia in its expansion plans as a result.
The company’s Toronto-based co-founder, Jesse Dallal, said the two-month old app got 100,000 downloads over the past fortnight. It has a total of 130,000 downloads so far, and the sudden surge was tracked back to a power user based in Indonesia. They’re not sure which one it is, but the source of traffic points to the country, he said.
The way the app works is similar to Pinterest, in that users follow other users’ recommendations. These could cover places they’ve eaten or music they’re listening to, for example. For its launch, MavenSay roped in what it called “influencers”—featured brands to follow such as Momofuku and Refinery29.
The Indonesian user that triggered the downloads isn’t a celebrity that MavenSay had canvassed, but was clearly influential enough over his or her social network to move the downloads, said Dallal.
“It’s been an unanticipated consequence of our [social] strategy,” he said, referring to the way things get viral on these recommendation platforms where people reblog items from influencers.
“We’ve reached out to influencers in North America, but we’re also going to reach out to influencers in Asia now. We’re thinking of coming out there and talking to users to understand what the differences in culture and usage might be,” he said.
MavenSay has seven people, including its three co-founders Dallal, Mike Wagman and Bryan Friedman. The small company can’t be expected to have concrete plans for Asia yet, but seeding interest in one of the world’s fastest-growing, mobile-hungry countries may pay off eventually.
According to mobiThinking, Indonesia has 260 million mobile subscribers, although those with data connections make up just 47.6 million, or 18 percent of that.
And Indonesians have been quick to embrace social networking sites, with fierce loyalties once something sticks. Aged social network Friendster started to pivot towards Asia around 2008, when it realised that 90 percent of its user base was coming from the region. While it was, by that time, lagging behind Facebook globally, some markets like Indonesia stayed loyal to Friendster.
MavenSay has raised funding of $890,000 so far.
Microsoft PowerPoint facilitates presentation design with zero constraints. And startups like Prezi provide well-designed templates and other features to help you communicate what matters. Now an Israeli startup called Emaze is trying a different take by offering a much simpler presentation template system that promotes concision.
With $800K raised from TheTime.co.il, the company is actually trying to pioneer a new way of communicating. It’s not trying to migrate PowerPoint and Prezi users to its product. Instead, it wants users who don’t do email for a living, and for whom creating a simple 10-slide deck with PowerPoint or even Prezi is a confusing and frustrating experience.
Built entirely on HTML5 for PC and post-PC device compatibility, Emaze has the potential to become the “PowerPoint of the Everyman.” It’s quite easy to get going with but the young company has more work ahead of it to truly make the product’s usability dead simple.
I do, however, like the approach Emaze takes, unlike Prezi, of limiting users for their own benefit in order to get them quickly from first slide to “wow.”
For example, users can’t choose any color they wish for text, or any transition between slides. This is because these are limited by Emaze to best fit the chosen template. Templates, by the way, are a key feature the founders tout as aimed at delivering a high-quality visual impact. There are currently six templates, including 2D and 3D ones. If you’re set on making me puke, there’s the “Desktop” template, which delivers Prezi’s trademark vertigo effect.
A couple of Emaze presentation examples are here and here.
On the product roadmap are automatic-recommended templates, import from PowerPoint, and dynamic infographics. The current six templates are a nice start, but the product would also benefit greatly from a wider selection of templates.
Emaze’s vision reminds me of the early days of another Israeli company, Wix, which set out to create a website authoring tool that was “As easy as PowerPoint, and as powerful as Flash.” In its last funding round Wix was valued at $250 million, and there are whispers of an IPO around the bend. If Emaze has its way, they’d like to follow these footsteps and become the Wix of presentations.