Tweety Got (Come)Back

Tweety Got Back LogoTurning a hobby into a business is hard work. Just ask Rachel Ryle, co-founder of Tweety Got Back. I did exactly that a couple of weeks ago and learned that she and co-founder Heather Capri aren’t afraid of hard work, as long as they can make some time for fun (and plenty of puns) along the way.

Calling Tweety Got Back a hobby may be a bit of sandbagging on Rachel’s part. After all, she and Heather had some success creating its predecessor My Space or Yours to offer free layouts and themes for MySpace users a few years ago.  They rode a whirlwind of referral marketing and started generating real ad revenue before MySpace faded away.

With the idea of what could have been fresh in their minds and Sir Mix-a-Lot on the brain, they launched Tweety Got Back to offer a similar product for Twitter users.  It’s dead simple to use: 1) sign in with your Twitter credentials, 2) choose a theme, and 3) click “apply”.

Tweety Got Back Red Sox Theme

I fly the Red Sox colors with a Tweety Got Back theme.

In some ways, trying to turn Tweety Got Back into a full time business for Rachel and Heather is like trying to get lightning to strike twice, but they’re okay with that.  Rather than stand around with their fingers crossed, the two are using what they’ve learned from My Space or Yours to get to high ground, prop up their lightning rods, and get their rain dance on.  It seems to be working.

Tweety Got Back has gotten love from TechCrunch, PCWorld, Sir Mix-a-Lot himself (@therealmix), and a recent blog post from the Twitter mothership.  Not too shabby, but there’s still work to be done to get to the level they had with My Space or Yours.

Sitting with Rachel in Atlas Purveyors, I asked what replicating their past success would look like in the context of Tweety Got Back.  I got a tongue-in-cheek but telling answer: “I’d be buying Atlas and turning it into a dance club.”  A promising future awaits if they can build up their user base a bit.

Other examples of Tweety Got Back’s tongue-in-cheek awesomeness:

  • Tweety Gives Back: every now and again Rachel and Heather will bake a few snacks and drop them off at other local startups.
  • Tweety Got Backup Dancers: Rachel and Heather helped raise a bunch of money for local charities during Cause To Rock by joining the bands as backup dancers for extra donations.  Rachel: “I dance for money.”

Yes, they love a pun (Rachel has no shortage of these things), but are serious about giving back to the Boulder community, where they both grew up in the same neighborhood.  “So many people in the community influence what we do and why we do it,” Rachel says.

It only seems fair that we give back too, so lets help Rachel and Heather build up their user base.  If you’re not a Tweety Got Back user already, go find a theme you like and apply it now: rep your favorite sports team, check out backgrounds from their 12 Featured Artists (6 of whom are Boulder’s own), or pick from 900+ other themes.  You might even have some fun while you’re doing it.

As far as hobbies go, Tweety Got Back is a pretty good one.  I, for one, would like to see it grow blossom into a full time business.  Maybe someday I’ll even hear “I like big butts and I cannot lie…” echoing late at night on Pearl after Rachel’s had a chance to open her dance club..

David Cohen on This Week in Venture Capital

Last week TechStars co-founder David Cohen made an appearance on This Week in Venture Capital.  In doing so, he showed tons of love for the Boulder entrepreneurial community by talking about TechStars generally and slipping a slew of Boulder startups into the conversation.

Here’s my BlipSnips breakdown of the episode for your viewing pleasure:


Vacation Rental Partner Getting It Done

Vacation Rental Partner Screen Shot

What happens to TechStars companies when Demo Day is over, the investors have left town, and the program has gone into hibernation for the winter?  A few weeks ago I got together with Michael Joseph, founder of Vacation Rental Partner, a TechStars Boulder ’10 company to find out what they’ve been up to.

Michael established Vacation Rental Partner as a “scratch your own itch” company to help make vacation rental management easier.  He was already managing several Lake Tahoe rentals, including his own, through a property management company he had started.  Some time later, he moved to San Francisco, expanded the team to three, and built out 95% of a web application, which was impressive enough to get Vacation Rental Partner into TechStars.

Soon after the team had relocated to Boulder and the program got underway, Michael knew that the 95% the team had already built was off the mark.  “For a first time tech entrepreneur,” he notes, “TechStars helped me think about getting something out there and getting feedback.”  Michael credits TechStars for instilling a truly entrepreneurial mindset in him.

While the original app was focused on managing logistics, users let the team know that increasing bookings should be the top priority.  The team moved quickly and ended up starting over twice to be sure that the product would be simpler and more effective in marketing users’ properties, including two key features:

  • Rental property listings get pushed to 20 partner organizations
  • Online bookings which allow renters to book properties just as they would a hotel room

How rental property owners have been living without an online booking system is beyond me.  Couple that with the fact that listing properties is free and you can see why Vacation Rental Partner provides tremendous value to property owners.

Michael strikes me as a soft spoken, matter-of-fact type of person.  When we started talking about what keeps him up at night now that TechStars is over, I got a very straightforward response: Vacation Rental Partner is at a point when it’s time to find out whether this early stage product can mature into a scalable business.  No spin, no bullshit, just recognition that there is still plenty of hard work to do.  I love that in a founder.

What can you do to help Vacation Rental Partners out?  If you or anybody you know could use more bookings, get the vacation rental property listed right away.  If you’re a traveller looking for a vacation rental, sign up for great deals on last minute rentals.

Life is a lot less glamourous for Michael now that the TechStars buzz is behind him, but somehow I think that it suits him just fine.  I checked in with him a couple of days ago, and he’s focused on building the inventory of vacation rental listings.  With that said, it’s time for me to go; I’ll be helping my friend list her Boulder vacation rental into the Vacation Rental Partner system..

Card Gnome Takes Greeting Cards Personally

Card Gnome greeting cardsNot too long ago I had a chance to sit down with Chad McGimpsey and Joel Wishkovsky to talk about their move to Boulder, co-founding Card Gnome, and what’s keeping them up at night these days.

We kicked back on their apartment patio, just off  CU’s campus, to enjoy a bit of sunshine and to talk startups.  Not a bad way for us all to take an afternoon work break.

I first connected with Joel a little over a year ago when he and Chad had just moved to the area. Chad summed up the thought process with “Every time I got on a flight, I’d think ‘If this plane goes down, would I be happy with my life?'”  They had both left GE and the corporate world behind them, and Boulder had won out over Silicon Valley, Austin, New York, and Boston.

At the time, they were working on a marketplace to let consumers commission talent to create unique gifts – if you wanted a song written to impress a girl, for instance, Nudgems would have been the place.  In the time since, they’ve shifted focus to personalized greeting cards, changed the name to Card Gnome, expanded the team, and started generating revenue.  The Gnome has been busy.

Card Gnome is a great example of a startup taking a new approach to an old standard.  Like their established competitors in the $11 billion industry, Card Gnome prints cards.  You know, on paper.  The difference is, they make the hardest parts of sending and creating a card a lot easier for everybody involved.

Card Gnome personalized cardAs a customer, there’s the usual convenience of being able to shop online in your underwear or at work (in my home office, it’s occasionally “and”, not “or”) plus the added bonus of writing your own message inside.  Never again will you need to suffer through scanning the front of hundreds of cards in the supermarket to find the one or two that might work for you, only to reveal the cheesiest of poems lying in ambush.  With Card Gnome, you can add a note to the original message or start with a clean slate.  Here are a couple of other cool features:

  • You won’t have to root around in your junk drawer looking for a stamp, since they’ll mail it for you at no extra charge.
  • My favorite: the ability to schedule your cards in advance.

Card Gnome is so easy that even a forgetful guy like me can manage to look thoughtful.

Maybe more importantly, though, is that Card Gnome makes life better for artists.  In an industry with two companies that dominate 85% of the market, artists have almost no control over the use of their work.  Joel and Chad are artist friendly, and cite the artists as the happiest stakeholders in the bunch.  Artist Shops showcase their work, and royalties that are considerably higher than industry standards don’t hurt either.  The fact that Card Gnome’s selection has been doubling in size every month since November is a reflection of the company’s strong relationship with artists, with 2,000 cards to choose from.

Distribution is their next major challenge.  We didn’t get into details, but Joel told me that they know the site converts traffic into customers at a predictable rate.  They’re looking for volume, and are working on creating partnerships to help get it done.  “We came from the GE world, were you push it out and automatically have a million users.” Joel said.  These days the team is hustling to get users in the Card Gnome world.

Chad and Joel have applied for TechStars Boulder, and should know whether they’ve gotten in soon.  When I mentioned that I thought there’s a void in resources for promising companies that don’t make the TechStars cut, Joel called bullshit.  They were denied last year, but they didn’t miss a beat.  They took a look at the list of mentors and started sending e-mails.  “We got access to 9 out of 10 of them,” Joel recalls.  An example of why I love this team.

Card Gnome Easter CardsSo what can you do to help these guys out?  Buy some cards, of course.  If you need an excuse, Card Gnome has cards for Passover, Easter, and Mother’s Day, which are all on the horizon.  If you’re still not convinced, use the coupon code “WeLoveBoulderMe” to save 20% on any order before December 31st.  On the flip side, artists interested in earning a royalty on every card sold without giving up their copyright should apply for a shop.

Go on, start shopping.  What are you waiting for?.

Orbotix is Rolling Right Along with Sphero

by Jennifer Roberts in Featured Articles, Uncategorized Comments: 2

You know you have an interesting product, when 7 year old son wants to come to work with you. I was talking with Jim Booth, VP of Business Development & Operations, of Orbotix as he described the excitement around their new product Sphero, a robotic ball you control with your Smartphone. Sphero will come with several free gaming apps and the company plans to open up its API for developers who want to write their own apps.

How did you come up with the idea? What is a Sphero?
Orbotix stated out as a Techstars company that was founded by Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, our co-founders.  Ian Bernstein, our CTO and founder, is a non-traditionally trained robotist and he came up with the idea for Sphero one day while talking with Adam in the Tech Stars bunker.  Ian in particular realized that we’ve got these incredibly powerful Smartphones we carry around everyday and said wouldn’t be cool if we harnessed their power to  control everyday physical devices around us.

So Ian and Adam started by using different smartphones to control everyday devices such as garage doors, locks and motorcycles.  But then they both hit upon the idea of creating a robotic ball, that could be used for different gaming apps that you control using your Smartphone. Think of it as a Segway inside of a spherical shell.  Designing a robotic ball is actually something really difficult to achieve as the sensors needed to control the ball from the phone have only recently become available.
But one of the great things about Boulder and TechStars is not only did we emerge with an idea but also great mentors. Mark Tilden of WoWee continues to mentor Ian and Paul Berberian, our CEO, helped clarify our business direction.

How is a Sphero different than a remote control car?
The way Sphero behaves isn’t determined by the physical device, but by the software that is controlling it. So, unlike a remote control car that has basic controls, front and back, left and right a Sphero can roll right, left, and tilt. It has an infinite number of uses beyond gaming but that’s where a lot of the interest currently is.

There seems to be a lot of excitement and interest around this product? What’s been the biggest surprise since starting out?
The biggest revelation is how much people connect with and love this product. Prioro launching at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we had not done a lot of marketing or PR, but we were fortunate in that we had a perfect storm of events – engineering progress, press interest and consumer interest – all of interest that really helped bring a lot of attention to Sphero.
At the CES event we were just amazed at the reaction from consumers, developers and buyers. It was just a great experience. The team had been working really hard and it all seemed to come together. We were thrilled with the level of interest.

Because of the excitement at CES, we are completely focused on getting Sphero retail-ready by late 2011. We’re fine-tuning the software, hardware, packaging – we want to create a great customer experience. We want people to be elated when they get their package from us. You know how when you receive a package, begin opening it up and are just thrilled by the experience –  that’s what we want to create for our customers.

Any advice for new startups or someone working on a new idea?
There’s tons of advice and resources out there in the Boulder Community – Techstars, VCs and experienced mentors.  These resources have provided an amazing support network for a number of local successful startups.  So I encourage other startups to tap into the experience and resources that Boulder community has to offer.  Beyond that, I tell other startups to focus all their efforts on the core aspects of their business and weed out all of noise. Then start executing.  Quickly develop a prototype, bring people in and show them what you have so you get an idea of the level of interest and reaction..

SendGrid: Email Optimization – Coming to an Inbox Near You

by Jennifer Roberts in Blog, Featured Articles Comments: 0

I had the great fortune of both having wonderfully tasting chai at The Cup Boulder and meeting up with Tim Falls of SendGrid. We were meeting to talk about his work at SendGrid and the importance of the Boulder start-up community.

Tell me a little about SendGrid and how you are different than other email delivery companies.

SendGrid is an email delivery service that allows companies to use our email infrastructure to support their outbound email delivery efforts. Many companies start off with an home-made email system hosted in the cloud, but once that company begins to expand its customer base, then logically their email patterns increase and become more complicated to maintain. If you have a company with 10,000 users, consider the number of emails and other social communications they generate, the resulting email volume can quickly cause problems with delivery.

We also manage and monitor how ISPs, like Gmail, handle an email – like if they are accepting it or not. There are a number of ISP requirements email distributors must adhere to:  certain number of emails sent within a specific time frame, validation of sender information, confirmation that the recipient actually wants to receive the email, and confirmation that you, the sender, are who you say you are. We take all of those additional requirements out of a company’s hands, so a business can concentrate on their core competency and doesn’t need an entire team dedicated to email management.

ReturnPath, a local company in the email deliverability space and a company with whom we often work, did a study that revealed 20% of all legitimate email does not get delivered.  So, any company that relies on transactional emails, like shipping receipts and password reset notifications, or bulk email, like customer newsletters, can use our infrastructure to send out and manage their outbound email. We also extend our service to include metrics, so companies know if an email was opened, if links within the email were clicked, or if someone unsubscribed.

How long has SendGrid been around?

We launched in August 2009 at the end of TechStars, so it’s been about 18 months.  We currently have 20,000 customers, who have sent over 7 billion emails. We are averaging around 1billion emails sent per month. We are growing very quickly.

What’s been the biggest surprise during the initial startup phase of Send Grid?

I don’t know if this was so much a surprise as the timing was, but in January 2011 Amazon introduced a competing product. It was big news, especially from our startup perspective, to have Amazon come into this space and offer a competing product. Theirs is less expensive but lacks a lot of the metrics features our product offers.

So, we are basically maintaining our position as a premium service, serving the same customer segment and offering a much fuller service. We have advanced analytics that can provide insights into customer behavior once they receive an email, which can then be used to inform content changes. Amazon can confirm only that the email has been delivered, bounced, blocked or reported as spam.

We are really focused on the customer experience, which is why we offer dedicated IP addresses. Providing this type of service is more expensive, but it also ensures that we are able to more fully support our customer’s sending reputation. If you use a shared IP address and another company using that same IP address is not following best practices, such as maintaining list hygiene and sending quality content, then that also hurts your sending reputation, and thus, your delivery rates.

So, our focus is on helping our customers maintain a high sending reputation, improving their email deliverability and providing analytics on what’s working and what isn’t working in their email campaigns

How has the Boulder Community helped SendGrid? How important is the Boulder Community to the success of SendGrid?

Boulder was important enough for our original CEO and co-founder to relocate his whole family here. Our experience at TechStars was key to helping the team figure out the best way to attack the problem we wanted to fix. From that experience, we gained some amazing mentors, advisors and customers. Companies in the startup community, who wanted to help out, became customers and provided great feedback on the product plus spread the word about us.  Within the first 8 months, we had 6,000 customers from word-of-mouth marketing; we hadn’t yet done any formal marketing.

What does the future hold for SendGrid?

We have new leadership to take us to the next level of company maturity. We’ll be digging into channel partnerships to speed up growth to establish ourselves as an industry leader in email delivery. We are also focused on having an international presence.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone contemplating a startup idea?

Come up with an idea that solves a problem for enough people to make it a viable option. You want to have a solution to a serious business problem that people are willing to pay for. Of course, the hurdle to get over is identifying that idea that solves a particular problem. Make sure you have firm data and that you are talking to the right people about your solution..

I Love I Love Boulder

I love Boulder.  Now I love I Love Boulder too.  I Love BoulderWhat better way to embody the spirit of the Boulder community than to have local organizations and businesses create a structure for individuals to tweet, blog, video, and photograph their love of Boulder together?

Boulder is regularly recognized as a great place to live, work, and eat by its inclusion in a variety of Top 10 lists each year.  It’s great PR for the city, due in no small part to the fine folks at the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau and other organizations with the budget and structure to elevate Boulder’s profile for our collective benefit.

Cold Snap at Chautauqua Park

Adding my photo to Flickr was a piece of cake.

With the recent launch of I Love Boulder, individuals like you and me now have a variety of tools to add our personal perspective.  Tweeting about something inspirational you heard at Startup Women?  Add the hashtag #iloveboulder.  Snap a cool photo of kids frolicking in the jet fountains on Pearl Street?  Add it to the Flickr pool.  Many of you already pimp the Boulder brand; making it part of the I Love Boulder effort is a natural extension.

Hats off to my friends at Quick Left and Cypher13 for building out the website and creating the branding.  The fact that they’ve donated their services is a reflection of what makes the Boulder community so great.

Quick Left’s role in this project is no surprise if you’ve read Jennifer Roberts’ post about them.  Steve Hubert had this to say on behalf of the Quick Left team:

Giving money wasn’t an option for our small startup but we could give something we had plenty of, engineering talent.  Being in Boulder has been amazing for Quick Left on both a professional level and on a lifestyle level.  So, when the opportunity came to support this community, we were excited to jump in.

When I got in touch with Todd Berger and Lucian Föhr about getting Cypher13 involved:

Cypher13 Design studio considers itself part of the fabric of Boulder and…has been provided with exceptional opportunities from within the Boulder community… When Cypher13 sees an opportunity to give back to Boulder and make a difference, it’s very happy to do so.

I can tell you from first hand experience that both Quick Left and Cypher13 are companies that have loads of talent and take a huge amount of pride in what they do.  The fact that they are willing to share their talents with the Boulder community as a whole is a wonderful thing.

I Love Boulder Screenshot

As a beneficiary of what the Boulder community offers, I feel it is my giri, my duty, to do my part in spreading the Boulder love.  I’ve uploaded a few photos to Flickr and written this post to get started.  I can hardly wait to see what our collective creativity will come up with.  What do you have in mind to help out?.

Quick Left – A Web Engineering Company Creating Community

by Jennifer Roberts in Blog, Featured Articles Comments: 1

Quick Left is a web engineering company that turns good ideas into great applications. I met with Ryan Cook, one of their software engineers, to talk about Quick Left and its place in the Boulder creative community.

There are a number of Web Design/Application Development companies in Boulder. What is different about Quick Left?

Ryan mentioned that the people at Quick Left loved to get involved in the early stages of a project, product or company and help people get to the next phase in their development. It’s the iterative process to development that appeals to this team of engineers, social media strategists, and web developers. Ryan emphasized that this process is an “agile style of development, meaning that they want as much feedback as possible to drive and inform their development. Our development methodology builds in rapid iterations based on feedback – it’s the way we are organized.”

How important is the Boulder Community?

For Quick Left the Boulder community means to be surrounded by individuals enthusiastically working on projects, plans and goals. This type of environment really  “helps you focus on what you should be doing.”  It’s the community aspect that has really influenced the growth of Quick Left; in fact, most of their new business comes from word-of-mouth recommendations. They are also helping to nurture new talent by taking on interns and teaching them the ropes of Ruby and project management. By mentoring CU students and offering agile development training, Quick Left hopes to better educate other companies and clients about the importance of feedback-driven development.

Quick Left believes it’s important to give back to the local and global community of developers. They’ve started hosting a monthly HackFest in which they open their shop doors, buy pizza and beer and let devs congregate around a shared love of hacking. This event allows developers to work on pet projects and learn from peers working in similar areas. Additionally, QL has contributed open-source code to the global Ruby on Rails community in an effort to share the knowledge they’ve gained and to highlight their expertise.

How did the company get started and how did the name Quick Left originate?

I asked Ryan about the name – Quick Left – and what it means and how it was chosen.  Ryan said one of the founders, Collin Schaafsma, was out riding his bike and took a “quick left” onto Left Hand Canyon.

Having worked in both the start-up realm and interactive agencies, Collin wanted to create a firm that focused on the craftsmanship of innovative software through Agile development practices. “We want to raise our industry to a higher standard,” says Collin. With a little money saved up, a home office and a few small clients, Collin started Quick Left as a bootstrapped venture. He soon partnered up with two other developers, Ingrid Alongi and Sam Breed, as co-founders and Quick Left was off to a running start..

BioVantage Resources – A Golden Startup Dedicated to Clean Water

by Jennifer Roberts in apply, Featured Articles Comments: 0

I had the great opportunity to talk with Sue Kunz, CEO of BioVantage Resources, a Golden-based company that delivers algae production solutions for bioremediation of municipal, industrial and agricultural wastewater. Water is becoming an increasingly important topic both here in the arid Southwest and globally with the increasing severity of droughts and political instability undermining access to clean water. BioVantage Resources aims to solve one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems with a “green” solution, which quickly removes contaminants, excess nutrients, and other unwanted substances from water sources.

BioVantage is one of many of Cleantech companies emerging in the Front Range area, which Sue attributes to this area’s “green gene”.  She said where else would neighbors get excited to hear that you are composting. Colorado has all the ingredients to emerge as a place for thought leadership around Cleantech, especially on the topic of water. Sue says, “Colorado has a talented population, research institutes like the University of Colorado at Boulder Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), the labs: NREL, NOAA and NIST, the climate, and the entrepreneurial community” to extend Colorado’s leadership role in the future.

She does concede that some of the regulatory hurdles can slow the development and growth of startups and early stage businesses, especially those relying on outside funding.  Small businesses, especially in Cleantech, need a longer runway to take off than internet startups as the problems they are tackling are not simple, one-sided isolated issues. CleanTech solutions extend far beyond the initial problem, such as clean water, to encompass energy, storage , distribution, and facility management.

If you would like to learn more about BioVantage Resources, check out how their “green” solutions are being used in different industries

Fortunately, there are enough local people and companies tackling different elements of the problem. And this is why Sue believes Colorado is ideally positioned as a leader in Cleantech.  Colorado’s environment has enabled a critical mass of innovation, a spirit of collaboration between individuals and companies, and the talent to address these global issues.


Boulder Beta is Here!

The area’s newest event for startups and everyone who loves entrepreneurship.

What is it?
An opportunity for community members to get together in a casual, social atmosphere. Attendees can catch up with familiar friends and colleagues, meet new people with like interests, and learn about emerging companies and products in the Boulder & Denver area. Starting this month, Beta will be held at a local venue on a regular basis (ie, monthly or every other month) and will feature about 8-10 companies at every event. Each company will have its own table so you can visit them on your own time, meet the founders and see a demo of the products/services their companies are developing.

Boulder Beta 1.0.0 will be held Tuesday, February 15 from 6-9pm.

To learn more, visit

To register now, visit:

Why Boulder Beta?

Boulder has a lot of stuff going on in the tech/startup scene. So why add another event to the mix? Because this event represents a missing link. Think about all the popular events, like BDNT, BOCC, (both extremely awesome!). Often times the most enjoyable part of these events is the pre- and post-event networking segments, which are typically limited in time. Boulder Beta offers a chance to extend that social interaction, while integrating more informal and personal engagement with the “presenting” entrepreneurs.

Boulder Beta also has a greater mission: to increase the quantity and improve the quality of interaction between our surrounding universities and the vibrant community of entrepreneurs, investors, and other community members. Unfortunately, a large number of students miss out on the amazing collection of entrepreneurial resources around them, due to a number of factors. I hope to leverage my relationships with the community & campus groups to bridge the gap between students/faculty and the companies that need and want their talent and expertise. In the end, any level of success in this effort will surely benefit the community as a whole.

My name is Tim Falls, and I am the primary organizer of Boulder Beta. I’m doing this for all the people who make our area such a great place to live, so I want to know how my efforts can best serve everyone. I welcome any and all feedback you have- feel free to leave a comment below, email me, or hit me up on twitter.

Finally, I could use a volunteer or two to help with the registration table at the event. If you’re interested in lending a hand, please let me know!.