The BizSpark startup of the day is WeLove, based in South Africa. Below you will find an interview with Paul Cartmel, Managing Director of WeLove. All the best to them and congratulations for being the startup of the day!
Tell us who you are and your role in the company:
I am Managing Director, but I have a strong software architecture and development background, so I control the vision with respect to products that we build and the features and roadmap that are adopted.
What did you do before creating your company?
I was a technical director and co-owner of another startup called Silverminute.com. At this company I also acted as Senior Software Architect. We sold this company to the Altron Group in 2006.
How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?
It is a great honor. I have been developing using Microsoft technologies since the early days of VB3, Visual C++ and SQL Server 6.5 so it is nice to get recognition for turning ideas into software reality. It also helps me feel like my persistence and determination is paying off. Starting a new business is hard work and knowing that Microsoft is watching you and patting you on the back brings attention and inspiration, which is something all startups need.
What is your company’s mission?
To link likeminded people in online communities that have a tailored set of functionality for each niche interest group. Some special interest groups are linked by places, others by routes (running, cycling) and in other instances by what the people create – electronics, Lego, art. That is the base goal, but along the way I think WeLove will help the cream rise to the top by holding businesses accountable to good service and a good experience. The best establishments will be found and the knowledgeable people will promote themselves and be rewarded too.
In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:
A location-based service platform, uniting people around a common passion and allowing them to illustrate their knowledge and reputation.
How did you get the idea for your company?
I felt Facebook groups weren’t providing the functionality required for special interest groups. They were glorified (or not so glorified) photo albums. We believe each niche interest group needs a unique set of features and everyone in the community is your “friend”, no need for friending or following – the mere fact that you joined the group allows you to see their community feed much like your friend feed in Facebook. We will soon provide the means to filter your WeLove news feed based on reputation.
As for a niche group’s feature set, the object model for each niche has to be very different. A coffee group might want to rate not only the coffee’s aroma and taste but also the places ambiance, view and wi-fi, whereas in a surfing layer, for example, surfers would want to know what tide the spot breaks on, what wind, what type of wave it is (reef, point break, beach break etc.) and so on. You can see these are very different domains each with their own unique features, not just photos and comments.
We also act as an information hub for a particular place by integrating Gowalla, Foursquare, RSS feeds (from the location’s blog) and the location’s twitter feed. Loyalty and vouchering is the next target for WeLove.
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
We are completely self-funded through the services division (known as New Media Labs). Right now, we aren’t looking for funding but when we decide to take the application global we will start looking for funding. We believe in bootstrapping for as long as possible.
How many employees do you have? How many developers?
12 employees, 9 software developers. 1 sales person, 1 operations manager and a social media conversationalist.
Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
Yes, there is such a shortage of skills in South Africa we are almost always looking and if we find someone that we believe is absolutely brilliant, we will hire them. The number of requests for mobile application development is increasing almost daily. We also need to add features to the WeLove iPhone application and complete our WP7, BlackBerry and Android WeLove applications.
Which platform are you building on? Why?
Asp.Net MVC 2, .NET 4 because it allows us to rapidly develop sites without having to re-invent the wheel each time (routing, authentication handling, etc). It also makes creation of user-readable URLs relatively easy. SQL 2008 – because we’re looking for stability and robustness as well as ease of integration (Linq2SQL connectivity) We have been amazingly impressed with how StackExchange has scaled using this technology stack. From what I’ve read they are doing more traffic than DIGG and where DIGG is using over 100 servers they are only using 5 servers.
Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
Geolocation (Location Based Services) and mobile vouchering and group payments are massive markets. Mobile development in general is a huge business – we get more than one mobile app development request a day.
What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
I speak from an African perspective, the BizSpark program is fundamental to the formation of tech jobs in South Africa. It is also fundamental to the sustainability of Microsoft in South Africa. We have seen a number of software developers move to open source technologies because the cost of the Microsoft products and tools was prohibitive. BizSpark allows you to get your business going at a fraction of the cost and then still take advantage of the productivity gains the robust and refined server and tools offerings from Microsoft.
In this way the program establishes a perfectly symbiotic relationship between Microsoft and the startup business.
Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
I have so much advice I would need a separate interview. I will offer a single piece of advice in the form of an analogy - fitness comes at 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, that is, building a successful business is a long distance race, make sure you can go the distance. This applies to your cash flow as well as the stamina required to succeed. For me, part of the long distance race is the fact that we run a services division as well as a startup business within the business, the fact that we are cash flow positive even when building our platforms gives us the longevity to allow the business model to be flexible.
Who’s your role model?
Honestly, Bill Gates, a brilliant engineer, businessman and philanthropist. Not everyone’s favorite person but I believe he totally out-strategized the big tech companies throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
Build a business not just a startup – offer a service, solve a business need and the products and IP will follow. Remember there is a shortage of skills not products. Make sure you have the skills, stay marketable and you have the foundation for a business.