Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Interview with Charles Jolley, SproutIt.com
My interview this morning is with Charles Jolley, co-founder of SproutIt.com. SproutIt is launched its product this Monday at DEMO, and is developing software for handling email for small companies. I spoke to Charles about the company.
BK: What is SproutIt?
CJ: SproutIt.com is a new startup company, started about a year ago. The company is based around the idea of bringing big enterprise tools to small companies, with 10 employees or less. Chris Bauman, Peter Gohman, and myself have all owned small businesses before. We found that you end up dealing with lots of mundane things, instead of doing the parts of the business you really love, such as dealing with lots of email. Big companies have software that frees them from that sort of thing, and we felt that small business should have the same access. Our first product, Mailroom, launches Monday, and is designed to help businesses with their email. It organizes email, sends replies, suggest replies for you, so you don't have to type the same thing over and over. It answers questions you are asked over and over, so Mailroom can really save them lots of time. The software is available on our website for a monthly fee, and is designed for small business.
BK: How did the idea for SproutIt come about?
CJ: This is actually the fourth venture I’ve started doing since going into software ten years ago. We’d actually worked together before, and my co-founders and I went to college together. In my previous business, they had worked with me to make our small company more efficient. We had 8 people there, and a lot of things we worked on. We worked to cut down answering support emails and sales emails. We had only 8 people there, but 2000 emails a day coming in to deal with—and this is for a small business. So, when we started the company, we needed to pick something that solved a big problem for small business. We talked to 30 small business, who had the same problem as my previous company (Nisus, in Solana Beach). Big companies have things called email management systems, which is the response you see from companies such as Bank of America. We felt we could do the same for small business.
BK: So your prior company was Nisus?
CJ: Yes, they develop Word processors for writers on the Mac, they have been around for 20 years. I was a managing director there.
BK: How far along are you with the product – I see you're going to be showing this at DEMO this week?
CJ: The product is ready for launch, and people are starting to use it. We are opening it to the public Monday at DEMO in Phoenix.
BK: I understand you're now in Prague to get the company started. What's the whole idea behind working in Prague for a year?
CJ: Yes, we're in Prague. We moved there in September to startup up the company, and are coming back to California this summer. The reason we did that was that we believed that part of the great thing about a small business is to live your dream. Being an Internet company, we could go anywhere. It's cheaper in Prague, with cost of living 40 percent less. Plus, it gave us a chance to live in Europe. It was an ideal launching ground for us, and saved us lots of money. Now, we're ready to grow.
BK: Any disadvantages to the arrangement?
CJ: We do have to work on U.S. time, meaning we do a lot of work in the afternoon and evenings, which gets a little complicated at times. But, it's a dream come true. We work in the afternoon, but we get to work from a 1700 square foot flat in the heart of the city. Definitely, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
BK: Did you tap any over the programming talent in Prague?
CJ: Just our founding team. We thought about it, but our team is based on the work of people here, Ohio, and Arizona.
BK: A fully virtual company?
CJ: Yes, we have a very virtual company, with 9 people involved. One's in Washington, one in Arizona, another in Ohio, those of us in Prague, and the rest of us in Southern California between Santa Monica and San Diego.
BK: How are you funded?
CJ: We're funding it ourselves. One of the big reasons we moved to Prague.
BK: Are you looking for funding now?
CJ: We've started to talk to some investors now, mostly venture capitalists. that's part of the reason we're going to DEMO. It's been very different for us, because by the time we're talking to them we have product and customers. It's a different world than when you launched an Internet company 5 years ago. That's one of the big reasons we're building this software. We're doing this because you can run software over the Internet. It's been a dream come true running a company like that.
BK: How do users get email to your system?
CJ: There are two ways. You can forward your email to our Mailroom address like you would with Gmail or Hotmail. The other option is with a paid account you can give us your email account information -- the same info you put into outlook--and we'll go check your email for you. If you can set up Outlook you can use Mailroom. It takes 5 minutes to get it, and 5 minutes to set it up. You don't have to spend time configuring anything.
BK: Your interface is all web-based?
CJ: Yes, there's nothing to download, and no viruses. An account for the service is free, and even with the paid version it's free for the first 30 days. The free version is limited to one person and how many emails you can send or receive. The paid version has different amounts dependin gon how many emails you receive, and everyone in your company can use it to answer emails. It's a little more public than Outlook but more helpful.