Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Startupalooza last weekend

Startupalooza was last Saturday in Portland, at cubespace, from noon to 7pm. I stayed until 6:15, so sadly only saw a bit of the presentation on Fyreball, and completely missed the presentations on Toonlet and I Want Sandy. I've looked at the latter two before - toonlet looks like it would be a fun way to waste time (which I don't have), and people rave about I Want Sandy, but I just don't see the need, what with my calendars and cell phone constantly popping up meetings and tasks.

After a quick Lebanese lunch and meeting a couple people, the presentations started:

Garagegames, presented by founder Mark Frohnmayer and CTO Josh Williams. Mark talked about how, while working at Dynamics in the '90's, he noticed that projects required a growing number of members (from a couple people to 10's) and a growing amount of time (from months to several years). So the risk of failures grew (with the increased cost), and the fun grew less. He also saw the number of retailers selling games change from lots of mom & pop stores to just the mega-stores like Wal-Mart and CompUSA. He wanted to create software that could be used to develop games quickly and for low cost.

After slowly moving their company toward their goals, they were acquired by IAC, Barry Diller's company. And get this - they represented themselves in the negotiations. And they're happy with the deal. They have maintained control, and they got agreement to recompense their loyal, low-paid employees with equity.

They're now dealing with a totally different problem - how to handle their growth (they now have close to 100 employees).

They recently announced instantaction.com, an interactive, multi-player games site that runs in your browser.

AboutUs, presented by founder Ray King. Ray sounds like the ultimate entrepreneur. As a kid he took over his sister's babysitting job and turned that into a tutoring business; learned how to use a computer and built a business teaching business people how to use VisiCalc (or was it Lotus 1-2-3?) by putting a pc on a table in front of Grand Central Station and giving people a glimpse of what it could do; moved on building Semaphore, developing accounting software; built snapnames to monitor for availability of domain names and grab them based on his desire for raysworld.com and writing a little program to monitor for its availability; left in 2004 and started AboutUs based on the idea that he could create a page for every existing domain name, based on data in whois. His partner is Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki. AboutUs is now getting ~5 million visitors/month. Their challenge now is to beef up the presentation and user engagement.

The gain revenues from Google adsense, ad buys, and by creating articles on the site to promote their customers' services (called PromoteUs).

There are 27 people in the company, with 15 in Lahore, Pakistan. He admits the difficulty of communicating across time zones but still believes it's worth it. Unlike most offshore and outsourced engagements, he provides his employees (remote and local) with the high-altitude view of what he wants done, and allows them to do the more detailed design and coding. He noted that they publicly describe tasks on their wiki, and also use irc and skype to remain connected.

A lot more was presented, but I will have to write about them later.

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