The BizSpark startup of the day is 4delite, based in the US. Below you will find an interview with Eugene Walden, CEO and Co-founder of 4delite. 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 the CEO and co-founder. I am a developer and entrepreneur. I have been fortunate enough to be part of two IPOs in my career (Sonic Solutions, 1995; Phone.com, 1999), and I have built a product and sold a company before (NetDoubler to Asante, 1996). My primary area of expertise and interest is user interface.
What did you do before creating your company?
I was the first employee and User Interface Architect at Scalent Systems. Scalent was recently sold to Dell. Scalent’s product, the VO/E, won the InfoWorld Magazine Platform Technology of the Year Award in 2007, with special mention made of the user interface. I was fortunate to have collaborated with a brilliant designer, Bill Ford. We were very proud of that award. Prior to that, I worked at a number of startups, including Scalent Systems, Phone.com, Sonic Solutions and Ready Systems. I have a BS and MS in Computer Science from the University of Michigan; I also worked at the Space Physics Research Laboratory at Michigan.
How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?
We are very honored to be the BizSpark “Startup of the Day”; we are in great company with the other startups. We’re also really excited about the visibility that we get as a result of being a featured company.
What is your company’s mission?
4delite’s mission is to empower marketers with a self-service solution to create large numbers of online, rich media, and mobile ads quickly and cheaply. Targeting technology for display has made huge progress in the past several years, yet the way ad creatives are built hasn’t changed at all.
Imagine doing email marketing without mail merge. It just isn’t possible. That’s where the display ad creation technology is today. 3 concepts, 3 promotions, men/women, 3 age groups, 2 income brackets, and 3 languages. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Except that 3 x 3 x 2 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 324! Then take into consideration ad formats (Flash, HTML5, and GIF), and form factor (300x250, 728x90, 300x50, etc), and all of a sudden, you have thousands of elements to produce. Marketing automation for display, rich media, and mobile is an absolute necessity in order to take advantage of targeting.
How did you get the idea for your company?
My passion is singing; I am an amateur opera singer. I’ve been fortunate to perform with many San Francisco Bay Area regional opera companies such as Pocket Opera and Cinnabar Theater. As I was digging deep into Adobe Flash technology at Scalent, where I was the UI Architect from 2003 - 2007, and singing opera for fun, video suddenly exploded on the web in 2006 – 2007. I built an interactive opera concept project, intended to be the basis for an authoring environment for interactive rich-media.
This might sound a little crazy, but I later found out that Flash has some similar origins. One of the founders of Macromind, later Macromedia, was Marc Canter. Marc has a wonderful baritone voice, and created an interactive CD-ROM in the mid-nineties based on Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”. This served as some of the inspiration for what later became Flash. Incidentally, my online interactive opera project was based on Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. So there’s a Mozart connection in there, too.
In late 2008, it became apparent that there was a great need for a self-service platform for creating rich-media ads—a natural fit with the interactive authoring project I worked on. So, in 2009, I co-founded 4delite with Andy Laursen (Oracle, Phone.com, Scalent) and Mary Ray (Third Age, Sonopia, Sony Pictures Entertainment). We also brought in a brilliant Chief Architect who is a former Microsoft employee, and is a .NET wizard. Andy brought the scalability / database expertise, Mary brought the online marketing / online media expertise, and our Chief Architect brought the .NET expertise.
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
We are currently angel –funded; backed by a small number of Silicon Valley veterans, finance executives, and a Hollywood producer. We are currently raising another round, set to close shortly.
How many employees do you have? How many developers?
We have five employees, three of whom are developers.
Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
We are hiring mainly in sales & marketing. We are also hiring UI developers, as well as an engineering generalist to help with test automation.
Which platform are you building on? Why?
We have built the user interface using Adobe Flex. We have built the backend using .NET. We chose Adobe Flex because it is the RIA framework with the best combination of market penetration and horsepower. We are doing some really sophisticated interface work in the browser that wouldn’t be possible with Ajax. It might be possible with HTML5, once someone develops a framework and toolset around it, but that still isn’t an option. Silverlight would have been an option, but the browser penetration was a concern for us.
We developed the backend in .NET because of the power of the framework, as well as the seamless integration between all of the parts of the framework. Open source forces you to spend much more time integrating various solutions and hunting for answers. We wanted a platform that is supported, and that can scale as we grow.
One of the big reasons startups go open source is because of the cost consideration. BizSpark is a fantastic way to solve this problem. But more on that in a later section.
Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
Obviously, we feel that there is a big gaping hole in terms of technologies to bridge the gap between creative people, data, and end users. Billions of dollars have been spent on the data piece of the puzzle, but relatively little investment has been made in user interface. User interface is critical in order to unleash the potential of the data.
Consider the design of the modern piano, for instance. Bach revolutionized music with the invention of the equally-tempered scale, but the design of the keyboard is made for human hands. If he had simply stopped with the “algorithmic invention”, and laid out a keyboard with only white keys, human hands wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the revolution of the equally-tempered scale.
We need user interfaces that are tailored to the way that marketers and designers think and work in order to empower them to make use of the revolution of data and targeting.
What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
I think BizSpark is a brilliant idea. The bottom line is, as a startup CEO, it lets me hit the ground running, and enables our company to move fast. We don’t waste time integrating scores of open source projects; we have a core framework that just works, is well-documented, well-supported, and that has been proven to scale. I’m amazed with the innovations that continue to come out of Microsoft Research, coming to market in the .NET framework rapidly and regularly.
As I mentioned before, cost is one of the primary motivators for using open source (control being the other main motivator). BizSpark eliminated that concern entirely, so that my decision could be made purely on technical merit. The way BizSpark is structured, our company will only need to pay when we’re making money, and at that point, for our business at least, framework licensing will be a relatively small component of our operating cost.
Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
This will sound cliché, but go for it. It will be harder than you could ever have imagined, but it will be more rewarding than you ever could have imagined. If you try, you have a small chance of success, but if you don’t try, you have a zero chance of success. If you are meant to do this, a zero chance of success will simply be intolerable for you.
Along the way, be sure to focus on the things that are under your control, be polite to those who reject you, and be helpful and respectful to *everyone* you meet along the way. We live in a very impolite world these days, and it’s amazing how people will remember that you showed up on time, listened, and did what you said you would do.
Who’s your role model?
My role model is my dad. My parents are both mathematicians and computer scientists. They met in the Math Club in college! How cool is that? My dad imparted a great deal of wisdom, but probably the best lesson I learned from him was what is jokingly known as “Fudd’s First Law of Opposition,” (originally from Firesign Theater in the 1970s).
What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
Building a startup is one of the greatest opportunities you will ever get. If you get a chance, grab it; it may be your only one.