Cloud Options: Budget for Planned Usage


Cloud Options, a company currently in Techstars Cloud’s second class, allows you to pre-book future cloud usage, securing lower prices on payment terms that suit you. They remove common enterprise irritations like a requirement to pay in advance or by credit card. Cloud customers can now accurately budget for their planned usage. Cloud Options is a product offering by Strategic Blue. I talked with James Mitchell, CEO and founder.

Q: Your service isn’t new and you already have paying customers. What was it about Techstars Cloud that compelled you to apply to the program?
A: We were looking for an incubator to guide us in sorting out our branding, to help us understand how to build processes and lastly, to have an organized way to seal our funding round. We had high expectations beginning the program and we continue to be blown away by everything we have learned during our time here.

Q: In GigaOM, you’re quoted as saying you foresee a world where you can secure a fixed price for your future cloud usage and not have to choose a provider that same day. How do you articulate your service to an audience unfamiliar with the lay of the land?
A: There’s a fundamental flaw in the economics of cloud computing and Cloud Options is fixing it. As an analogy, when you’re booking a flight, you don’t buy book a seat on every flight for the next  year on a particular route just for yourself, you prebook just what you will need. You also know that buying the ticket at the airport is a bad idea, as the price is higher if you don’t pre-book. The current cloud computing pay structures are a recipe for paying over-the-odds.

Q: What is the experience like for a user without the customization of Cloud Options?
A: Right now, cloud buyers either risk overbuying or they just buy on demand and miss out on the discount for pre-booking. Most cloud computing companies are selling most of their capacity at the “at the airport” price. This doesn’t suit anyone, not even the cloud providers as they can’t plan their capacity very well. We want cloud buyers to be able to book their cloud usage a brick at a time; we then pre-purchase entire walls of usage from the providers. A year is a long time for any business to predict their cloud needs. By offering a fixed price, in advance, for a few months of future usage, in the right currency, we allow the CTO to give a reliable budget to the CFO.









Techstars Ticker: April 17, 2013

@Techstars NYC 2013 Class /via @eyc (read)

After series of pivots, @HaikuDeck scores $3 million to make presentation tools fun /via @GeekWire (read)  

@EveryMove just closed a $3.5M round of funding to keep empowering consumers to be recognized for healthy choices (read)

Lessons Learned From A Mobile App Developer feat. @MSAccel‘s @giftgiv /via @Forbes (read)

Taking you from zero to kitchen hero with @plated, currently in @techstars NYC. /via @nytimes (read)

Energy Department Announces Apps for Vehicles Winners, incl. @dash_labs, currently in @techstars NYC (read)

The 11 Startups Chosen For New York’s @Techstars 2013 /via @Forbes (read)

On Effort, Unity and Strength: @AdYapper to Join @Techstars NYC /via @BuiltinChicago (read)

@Techstars: The All You Can Eat Lobster Buffet /via @HuffPostBiz (read)

How We Got Into @Techstars by @AllysonDowney of @wee_spring /via @women2 (read)

@FashionProjct, The Site Making Online Shopping A Charitable Act, Raises $1.8M /via @TechCrunch (read)

@Plated raises $1.3 million in funding: Slotted to be the @warbyparker of the food industry /via Venture Wire (read) 

@AllysonDowney of @wee_spring On How to Network /via @HuffPostBlog (read)

Investors Stay Hungry for Online Groceries In Relay Foods Deal feat. @plated /via WSJ (read)

[VIDEO] Q&A with @ktrae of @techstars Boston /via Founders Workbench (watch)

@Techstars NYC alum @FrederickCook of @Moveline to Speak at NY Venture Challenge /via @xconomy (read)

[VIDEO] @Scobleizer interviews @immersivelabs (watch)

@PivotDesk cuts the ribbon on its office-sharing marketplace in NYC, San Fran, Denver, and Boulder /via @pandodaily (read)

Space Is a Bitch: @PivotDesk Helps Entrepreneurs Turn Office Scouting From Pain Point to Cakewalk /via WSJ (read)

@InGoodCo: the job-hunting lovechild of @eharmony and @linkedin /via @pandodaily (read)

@Techstars chooses serial Ed Tech entrepreneur for first Kaplan @EdTechAccel in NYC /via @upstartbusiness (read)

@PivotDesk expands to NYC and San Francisco, helping solve startup-specific problems with office space /via @tnw (read)

VF Profiles: Learning Without Borders: @Codeship CEO & Co-Founder, Moritz “Mo” Plassnig /via @VentureFizz (read)

Catching up with @Sketchfab Co-founder Alban Denoyel /via @Make (read)

Team @Jukely Joins @Techstars NYC To Iterate A Mobile App For Live Show Discovery /via @hypebot (read)


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Postmaster: Simple Shipping for E-Commerce Businesses


Currently in Techstars Cloud, Postmaster is a SaaS API for shipping that makes integration with UPS, FedEx, and USPS easy. They make it simple for e-commerce businesses to integrate a robust logistical pipeline that saves time and money on shipping. I called Luke Dodson, founder, to talk about the days leading up to demo day.

Q: How long has Postmaster been live?
A: Jesse Lovelace and I have been working on it for six months together and we just officially launched our public offering two weeks ago.

Q: Who can use Postmaster?
A: 
Our restful API makes creating a shipment, tracking a package, or validating an address a breeze. We use standard HTTP verbs to operate on resources and HTTP authentication to make authorization a snap. We have client libraries for Python, Ruby, PHP, Java and Go.

Q: The product is really technical. Which mentors helped you communicate what you’re selling?
A: Isaac from SendGrid has been a big help. He’s helped with key introductions and general feedback that’s been really instructive. He introduced us to the CTO of Shopify and we had a very valuable conversation. Isaac had suggestions on how to couch the offering to developers specifically since he does so much work in his day-to-day getting developers to adopt. Scott Petrie’s general business savvy and feedback has been really important He’s the kind of person whose life experience offers a lot to a young startup like us. There are so many incredible mentors but Isaac and Scott are the two that stand out for me.

Q: Crafting the pitch, what’s the story you plan to tell the audience on demo day?
A: We say, “Postmaster is a low-level rest API that simplifies integrations with FedEx, UPS and USPS.” We solve the developer painpoint of integration with those companies. You can think about it like Stripe, but for shipping. I come from an e-commerce background and understand the pain and cost associated with the industry. Driving down any kind of shipping cost is great for the bottom line. Jesse is more technical and understands the outdated headwinds better. It will be about communicating our combined expertise.

Q: What happens after demo day?
A: We will go home to Austin to set up our offices at Capital Factory, a co-working space and incubator.









Ziptask and Doing Away with Cheapskates

Outsourcing is broken. It’s risky, painful and most projects fail. Currently finishing Techstars Cloud’s 2013 program, Ziptask is designed from the ground up as a virtual project manager for reliable outsourced work. I spoke with Shawn Livermore, founder and CEO, and Stan Miroshnik, COO.

Q: So you outsource outsourcing. That’s so meta. What’s your pitch?
Stan:  We provide a management layer for customers to outsource work without ever needing to speak with the end freelancers who do the work. We bring together illustrators, designers, developers, content managers, and SEO people to deliver an end-to-end solution. People outsourcing work just want to simplify their lives and it’s too cumbersome and complex. They end up in a place where they are fed up and say, “Fine, I’ll just do it myself,” or they hire a full time employee. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.

Q: You’re creating jobs and improving the economy, all the while guaranteeing the bottom line for companies. The competition is usually international and the customer has to manage their own relationships. How do you differentiate what you’re offering?
Stan: If you’ve ever tried online outsourcing, you know it’s broken. It’s broken because you don’t know the experience of the people you’re considering for the job, you have no barometer of quality and you still face the risks of the contractor disappearing entirely or delivering poor  work. It’s a nightmare. To frame the industry in the space, we’re becoming a layer on top of everything to manage the entire process of an outsourced project; communications, collaborating and payment.
Shawn: We’re a platform where customers come to find project managers who are experienced in a certain vertical or a platform used for a combination of customer and project management. We offer advanced tools that let our customers execute well. Imagine Basecamp, HipChat, PayPal, and QuickBooks in one single place, one single browser, one web app.

Q: Some customers have likely had a bad experience with outsourcing and are hesitant to try a new service. How do you reassure them?
Stan: Our competitors (elance, odesk, etc.) have essentially created a nice international payroll setup, but they stopped there. They’ve never prioritized a customer-friendly experience. The customer still shoulders the brunt of the pain of outsourcing. What’s more, even after years of these platforms being around, outsourcing is still very much subject to fraud and frustration. The platform we built between the customer and the person providing the actual work was designed from the beginning to focus on the customer and give him or her the most ideal outsourcing experience possible.

Q: The Cloud program ends in a couple of weeks. What’s happening now?
Shawn: Yesterday, we quietly rolled out the back office and were fortunate enough to receive coverage in Forbes. We’re planning to raise a seed round to spend mostly on customer acquisition and channel development.









Techstars Ticker: April 3, 2013

[VIDEO] Erika Trautman @FlixMaster on panel with Sheryl Sandberg on HuffPost Live (watch)

@Fancred (live in the app store) Measures a Sports Fan’s Life /via @venturefizz (read)

Got an ecommerce idea? @postmaster_io has a shipping API to help you out /via @venturebeat (read)

Outsourcing the Outsourced: New @Ziptask platform looks to disrupt outsourcing industry /via @forbes (read)

@Realty_Mogul Launches Its Real Estate Crowdfunding Platform, Raises $500K /via @techcrunch (read)

@Techstars Alum @Evertrue Lands $5.25M /via @TechCrunch (read)

@Kinvey Introduces Enterprise Edition of its Backend as a Service Platform (read)

@thetaplab‘s Tiny Tycoons merges the real world with Monopoly in a location-based game (read)

The “MacGyvers” of the Business World /via @troyhenikoff (read)

With 250K users, @Vizify moves out of beta and launches mini self-infographics /via @tnw (read)

A Look at the @Techstars Community on Twitter /via @tellagence (read)

@Marquee: a publishing tool for a more dynamic web /via @pandodaily (read)

@Wander‘s long-awaited mobile product is almost ready. It’s called Days. (read)

Meet the founders of the new @MSAccel powered by @Techstars class (read)

Seattle company’s slideshow app @haikudeck targets business users /via @SeattleTimes (read)

Brightcove vets ramp up sports social network @Fancred at @Techstars Boston /via @BosBizKyle (read)

@GetAmbassador is a Michigan-based Startup That Helps Companies Manage Referrals /via @Forbes (read)


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Techstars NYC 2013 Class

Today, we’re thrilled to announce our Spring 2013 Techstars class for New York City. Our applicant pool of nearly 1,700 companies was an all-time high for NYC. We had applicants from 420 cities, 66 countries, and 6 continents (no applicants from Antarctica—this year). The acceptance rate for our program (0.6% this time) grows ever smaller by the year.

We had applicants from countries as diverse as Nepal and Tanzania. More than ever, our applicant pool reflects the global reach of Techstars and the infusion of technology in the cultural zeitgeist of societies around the world. The movie The Social Network has become the Wall Street of our generation. This is true not just for America but for the world at large. Some of the brightest minds of our era are choosing to become entrepreneurs.

Even more impressive than the geographic diversity of our applicant pool was the outstanding range of business ideas, and this is reflected in the diversity of our class. The unifying theme is the fantastic quality of our founders and the interesting (and large) market opportunities they are tackling. We are not afraid to take chances. For the first time ever, we have a company tackling the religion space, an underserved yet massive market with incredible opportunities for disruption. Two of the things that Americans care most about are what they drive and what they eat, and we have companies revolutionizing both. The areas our founders are tackling are as varied as optimizing ecommerce to the world of pets. Our companies dream big, tackling the exciting new trends in cutting edge 3D to new ways of experiencing live shows to the quantifying of innovation for every company in the world. And the markets are large, with our founders bringing solutions to the millions of new parents in the US every year to providing pioneering solutions for the $40 billion online advertising market as well as the $1.2 trillion local commerce market.

Without further ado, here is our class for 2013:

AdYapper: Transparency and analytics to cut wasted ad spend.

Dash Labs: Connected car platform.

FaithStreet: Social outreach platform for faith communities.

Jukely: 2-tap concert concierge.

 

Klooff: Uniting pet lovers around the world.

Placemeter: Smart in-store sensors capturing customer data.

Plated: Redefining the way we eat.

Sketchfab: Publish, share and embed interactive 3D models.

TriggerMail: Intelligent ecommerce emails.

Validation Board: Quantifying innovation and testing ideas for enterprises.

weeSpring: Community for new parents built around the people they trust most.








Techstars Ticker: March 20, 2013

As @Moveline, the @Techstars-Backed Moving App, Expands To New Cities, We Test Out The Service /via @TechCrunch

Packing Your Bags? @Moveline expanding across the country /via @FastCompany

@eyc talks with @DeirdreBolton /via @BloombergTV

Where Are the Founders Now? @Techstars Cloud 2012

Get Your Hack On At @Techstars by @cookrn /via @gundotio

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: @EveryMove Partners with @MyFitnessPal 

Some photo ops from our mentor dinner in Portland for the Nike+ Accelerator

@HaikuDeck 2.0 Brings Charts, Graphs And Lists To Its Super Simple iPad Presentation Tool /via @TechCrunch

@GoLikeBright Lets You Play Matchmaker With Your Friends Online

[VIDEO] Tech Tuesday Takes a Look at SXSW feat. @pivotdesk @simpleenergy /via 9News and @scodtt

@Forbes post by @dash_bell3 Things You Can Do Now To Grow Your Independent Hotel or Travel Biz

Noodle Acquires @Learn (Lore) 

Introducing @SendGrid Labs & its free application load testing service @loaderio

@NikeDeveloper, powered by @Techstars participants announced /via @fastcompany

Meet the 10 digital fitness startups in the new @NikeDeveloper powered by @Techstars by @kheussner /via @gigaom

A World Map of Flavors – 36 Regions, 36 Herb and Spice Combinations feat. @maptia /via @tferriss

AngelList’s ‘Invest’ service helped @Distil Networks add $200k to its $1.8m round in less than a week /via @tnw

@TempoDB CEO Andy Cronk conversation with Robert Scoble, “More database innovation: this time for streaming services.”


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Where Are the Founders Now? Techstars Cloud 2012

Cloudability strikes a pose.

Appsembler, Boston, MA
Since Demo Day: “We got into the MassChallenge Startup Accelerator shortly after Techstars Demo Day and just recently started participating in the Mozilla WebFwd accelerator as one of eight teams in their third cohort. Our user base continues to grow at a brisk pace and we now have paying customers. We switched PaaS partners and can now deploy any type of web application (not just Django apps), which greatly expands the breadth of apps we can offer.  We also acquired another startup company, Launcher.io, which brought us another 200 users and more apps including Ushahidi and Thinkup.” – Nate Aune
Currently: Finishing up the integration work with the new PaaS provider and adding new apps to the marketplace. Founder Nate Aune will be giving a talk at PyCon in Santa Clara next week about deploying Python apps to PaaS providers, so stop by to say hi if you’re in the area.

Cloudability, Portland, OR
Since Demo Day: Raised a Series A, crossed a third of a billion dollars in spending under management, grew to 19 employees.
Currently:
Working on “secret squirrel detailed cloud usage analytics.”

Cloudsnap, Reno, NV
Since Demo Day:  “We have evolved from a drag ‘n drop integration tool for business users into an integration platform for developers to build mobile/web apps on top of services like Salesforce.com, Evernote, Highrise, Basecamp and Campfire.” – Colin Loretz
Currently: Building the developer platform to support even more business apps like Box, Netsuite, Freshbooks and more. Excited to release libraries for more languages and platforms so developers can get up and running with Cloudsnap even faster.

Conductrics, NYC, NY
Since Demo Day: “We have spent a lot of effort to make our adaptive AB targeting platform easy to integrate into any type of digital application (web, mobile, etc.). Based on our customer feedback, we have also created a suite of insights reporting that is driven by our integrated predictive analytics engine.” – Matt Gershoff
Currently:
Working on Conductrics, of course!

Distil, Arlington, VA
Since Demo Day: 
“We raised our second round of financing, opened an office, doubled the team size, quadrupled customers, continued to grow.” – Rami Essaid
Currently: Scaling.

Emergent One, San Francisco, CA and Richmond, VA
Since Demo Day: 
Raised a 330k seed round in July, Launched our SaaS product in November, paying customers in December 2012.
Currently:
 “We’ve seen much heavier interest from enterprise sized companies in deploying our solution on premises. We’re working on developing an enterprise-grade product based off of our SaaS product for easy data integration and mobilization of legacy systems.” – Kevin Pfab

Epic Playground, Inc. (formerly Callisto.fm), Boulder, CO
Since demo day: “We’ve learned more than we thought possible about real-time data and big data. The summer was spent researching and re-architecting the service. The company expanded and contracted people and positions, and suffered the premature scaling conundrum. Today we have a bad ass media analytics platform that works across more than a dozen popular players! ” – Michael Sitarzewski
Currently: In December 2012, we added a new feature to the real-time analytics product that gives site owners the ability to send engaging push style messages to people viewing video, or listening to audio. It’s live today.

Flomio, Inc., Miami, FL
Since Demo Day:

  • Pivoted away from developer platform strategy.
  • Focused on consumers and educating NFC market.
  • Raised $425k in series AA round.
  • Hosted a successful Kickstarter campaign.
  • Drew press attention and own search term “nfc on ios”.
  • Sold $6000 in first month of opening web store

Currently: This article says it all.

Keen IO, San Francisco, CA
Since Demo Day:  “Raised a round of funding. Added four amazing people to our team. Made a product that we are very proud of. Launched it public.  Iterated a ton. Got paying customers. Created a great company culture. Figured out our marketing strategy. Had the time of our lives.” – Ryan Spraetz
Currently: 
Preparing to raise another round of funding, figuring out how to sell to enterprise customers and reworking our underlying technology for massive scale.

TempoDB, Chicago, IL
Since Demo Day: “We launched our paid time series database service, rapidly added new time series storage and analysis features, acquired paying customers across a range of industries including Smart Grid, Internet of Things, and Oil and Gas, and built our company from three to six by adding three awesome engineering team members.” – Justin DeLay
Currently: In the middle of Series A fundraising and will use the new capital to continue to grow the team and expand sales and marketing efforts. The engineering team continues to work to automate and scale our infrastructure in response to massive increases in customer traffic while building more advanced ways for customers to analyze and monitor their time series data and tools to better manage their database infrastructure.

Team TempoDB

VidMaker, Madison, WI
Since Demo Day: Raised an angel round of $500K, opened an office, hired developers, and gone into serious product development mode. 
Currently: Preparing to show a technical demo of the product at SxSW Interactive in Austin.








Techstars Ticker: March 6, 2013

Going international! Announcing @Techstars in London

On the @Techstars blog: Become a HackStar and You Won’t Regret It by @cookrn

@Kinvey was nominated to @bostinno’s 50onFire list, with @promoboxx and @grabcad

Test Prep Giant Kaplan Launches A New @EdTechAccel In NYC /via @TechCrunch

@Techstars Boston Spring 2013 Companies Announced /via @ktrae

@Romotive‘s @KellerRinaudo speaking at @TEDNews: “Progress Enigma” w/ Rodney Brooks, inventor of Roomba, and Bono.

These 8 @Techstars Boston grads have raised $50M in all /via @BosBizKyle

@ConditionOne in AdAge’s 21 Startups and 4 Trends You Need to Know Now 

My First Startup’s First Year – What I Learned by @DKador of @Keen_IO

What to Expect in a @Techstars Final Interview by @moiseyuretsky of @digitalocean

From Homeless to CEO, Is It All a Con? by @Techstars alum @kylekesterson

@Techstars Boston Spring 2013 Companies Announced /via @ktrae

@TrueAbility announces LinuxShowdown @SXSW

@Codeship Joins @Techstars, Moves to Boston Months After Moving to Berlin /via @NetocraticWeb

[VIDEO] It’s your CD’s 30th birthday! Perfect gift? Send ‘em on a trip to @MurfieMusic!

MapQuest Touts Its @Everlater Acquisition, Launches free Travel Blogs /via @tnw

A Look Inside DC’s Startup Scene with @CoFoundersLab (creators of @Techstars FounderMatch)

@DealAngel’s new Trends feature helps you book a hotel at the right time to get a good price /via @tnw

On the @Techstars blog: Microsoft acquires @MetricsHub 

After @DocTrackr, @LeCamping‘s @qunb accepted into @Techstars Boston /via @RudeBaguette

A Talk with @Techstars’ @DavidCohen about the Nike+ Accelerator /via @oenorg

Put entrepreneurs together, their rate of success and progress increases. /via @sai

@Techstars Goes International with Springboard, Submissions Open Now in London /via @twilio


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Techstars for a Day: qunb

Today is Techstars for a Day in Boulder as we lead up to our 2013 program this summer. In that spirit, Cyrille Vincey, CEO and co-founder of qunb (now in session with the newest class at Techstars in Boston), describes his experience attending Techstars for a Day in New York City as an applicant in January.

Atmosphere:

I really felt that Techstars for a Day gave a preview of the Techstars’ atmosphere. Techstars look like a true fellowship, composed by entrepreneurs and Techstars staff who have gone together through tough experiences. All of the entrepreneurs I met with were focused, brilliant, friendly people who were passionate about their product. These are the kind of people with whom you want to share your problems and typically the kind you want to share a beer with after a hard problem-solving session.

Mentorship:

Within a few hours, I went through the most valuable mentorship sessions ever. The mentors were incredible. Ari Newman pointed out our most painful problems via his precise questions. Ben Siscovick‘s mind-blowing knowledge about qunb’s field (its competition landscape and the problems of every startup that tried to become a data marketplace) was incredible.

Energy:

I’m pretty amazed by the energy the Techstars’ team manages to spread around. Nicole, while preparing Techstars for a Day, took the time to invite me to the Techstars office, to set me up with Ari Newman, and to spend time with me and Ari before rushing to the TS4AD location itself. Techstars does whatever is required to engage with startups and I wonder when they find the time to sleep.