Category: Startups


Skillbridge logo

A startup called Skillbridge is trying to create a new kind of marketplace for freelance work – not for the programming and writing jobs that you’d find on a site like Elance, but for strategy, finance, marketing and other professional services.

The company is announcing today that it has been backed by First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, the firm’s student-run investment arm that offers mentorship and $20,000 in funding to each company. (Skillbridge is also part of Highland Capital’s summer incubator and the MassChallenge accelerator..)

Co-founders Brett Lewis and Raj Jeyakumar have worked as consultants themselves – Lewis, for example, spent nearly three years at Bain & Company. They’re both recent graduates of Wharton Business School, and they said that when they were students, they wanted to use their experience for freelance work. However, they discovered that it was incredibly difficult to actually find interested companies, so they created Skillbridge to match qualified workers with businesses looking for professional services.

Lewis outlined the vision in a post for the Wharton Entrepreneurship Blog, where he said that the United States’ freelancers have grown from 6 percent of the total workforce in 1990 to 20 to 30 percent now: “Elance, an early talent marketplace, has focused on low-end providers of technology and creative talent. Yet the biggest growth trends are in areas of financial planning and analysis, accounting and legal strategy, where only behemoth white-shoe firms have dominated until now.”

Lewis and Jeyakumar said their core talent base consists of stay-at-home parents and graduate students who have either an MBA or at least three years of experience at a finance or consulting firm. These are people who either aren’t in a position to work full-time or aren’t interested, but they are willing to take on smaller projects or part-time work with flexible hours. And by hiring these workers, companies don’t have to pay for the overhead of a traditional consulting firm.

Not that Skillbridge is trying to replace the big firms. Jeyakumar compared them to Ferraris: “There will always be a need for Ferraris, but there are people for whom a BMW is just fine.” If the BMW doesn’t seem like much of a compromise, that’s Jeyakumar’s point. With Skillbridge, companies that probably couldn’t afford to hire a traditional consulting firm can still pay for high-quality work. He added that there’s already been interest in companies ranging from “pre-revenue startups that need help with market sizing for their pitch decks” to large e-commerce organizations.

The company supposedly delivers a “highly curated” experience, where it provides customers with templates for work requests, identifies two or three of the best matches that they can choose from, and helps to create milestones for the project to ensure that things stay on track. It’s currently in beta testing, with plans for a full launch later this year.

timehop

While present-focused social networks like Facebook and Instagram make plenty of room for the narcissists in us, there’s not really a dedicated and focused place to reflect on the past.

Timehop, which started out as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, has evolved into a mobile-first startup that surfaces old memories from your social networks. The app will pull up status updates from a year or more ago, reminding you of friends you’ve lost contact with or thoughts you had a year ago on this day.

The New York-based startup says it just rounded up another $3 million in funding led by existing investor Spark Capital. O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures, which had also previously backed the company, participated as well. Andrew Parker, a principal at Spark, joins Timehop’s board.

Timehop’s CEO Jonathan Wegener says that the company will use the round to build out the team beyond seven people and focus on mobile apps. Timehop just shut down its e-mail service last week.

“The big, long-term vision is to be a place to reminisce online,” Wegener said. “Basically in this world, all social networks are real-time. They’re about what’s happening right now, but there’s no place online to discuss the past.”

While the Series A crunch has made fundraising tough for all kinds of consumer-facing mobile and web products, Wegener said it was Timehop’s stickiness that made a compelling case. He said one-third of Timehop’s user base opens the product on any given day, which is a very respectable retention figure.

“Users who try to the product fall in love with it. This helped us make the argument that people are working Timehop into their everday lives,” Wegener said. “At first, people don’t understand why they would want this. But they get really addicted to it. They see it as a mirror of their own life, and a reflection of their past self.”

He said he’s used the app to remember which friends he’s lost touch with over the years. The app will pull up old group photos, reminding Wegener to reach out and reconnect.

Timehop’s earlier investors also included angels like Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Naveen Selvadurai and Alex Rainert, Groupme’s Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht, Rick Webb and Kevin Slavin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-27 at 8.22.30 AM

Although blogging is nearly as old as the Internet, it still feels like something is amiss.

From Dustin Curtis’ Svbtle to Ev Williams’ Medium, there is a feeling afoot that existing platforms for blogs and long-form content still need a lot of improvement. Five years ago, early platforms like Blogger gave way to micro-blogging and networks like Tumblr.

Now we’re seeing the pendulum swing back with platforms for longer-form stories and media.

SETT is a blogging platform that’s looking to emphasize community, so that new users can find a right audience immediately and long-time bloggers can interact with higher-quality commenters and contributors.

Aside from features that are now standard these days like a news feed of content and WYSIWYG editing, SETT has a top bar where it’s easy for bloggers to track comments or even private messages from others in the SETT community.

From the start, when new users sign up for an account, SETT refers readers to your site. It has a word-matching system internally that compares posts to one another. If a reader happens to like a post about one topic, the platform will recommend other similar ones to them.

The site is the brainchild of a long-time blogger named Tynan (who declines to use his last name online ever) and Todd Iceton, a developer who worked for Nutshell Mail, the company that was acquired by e-mail marketing giant Constant Contact.

Tynan has been actively blogging for six years but found that it was a bit of a slog for any new user.

“For people who are just starting out, their biggest hurdle is just getting that community first,” he said.

There are other features meant to enhance a reader’s relationship with a blogger like a simple, one-click e-mail subscription system. Subscribers get notified of new posts and new comments on posts they’ve decided to individually follow.

Readers can also start their own independent discussions about posts in a community section, where they can see who is online and which posts are being actively read by a lot of users.

The site has had about 100 or so active blogs in beta form, but they’ve opened it up since. Some of the more popular voices on the platform are entrepreneurs like Dick Talens, who co-founded 500 Startups-backed Fitocracy and blogs about how to stay in shape.

The bootstrapped startup earns revenue through premium or subscription accounts that range from $12 to $99 per month in cost. At the higher-end of the range, users get more image-hosting space, subscribers and customer support.

As for the competition, Tynan and his co-founder Todd say that, while they have respect for the other platforms, Svbtle doesn’t encourage commenting. In any case, they agree that something needs to be done to update outdated blogging formats – even if starting a web-first blogging platform in 2013 seems a bit anachronistic.

“Both are expressing frustration with the standard format. The WordPress model hasn’t changed in 10 to 12 years,” Tynan said. “Their model is kind of broken.”


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