Every week we publish an interview with a start-up. We ask five questions, hoping the answers will give you inspiration and new views.
This time we’re interviewing Stefan Fountain from Dutch start-up Soocial. You might remember the David Hasselhof incident at The Next Web Conference. He was the guy behind it. They’re infamous for their own style, and if you’re not familiar with it yet, you’ll be after reading this article. So what does Soocial actually do? Simple, it’s syncing your contacts between web services, your computer, and your mobile phone.
The guys from Soocial, Stefan is in the one with his arms in the air.
How did you come up with the idea of Soocial?
“SEX! Well not really but we figured you’d read on if I start my answers with sex. I’ll throw random words in my answers to see if we can retain readers attention. HORSES! FIRE! FOES! So how _did_ Soocial start? It was actually when we needed a bunch of new computers and migrating the address book was such a hassle. Then we thought, wait a minute, in order to really solve this problem we need to solve it for our phones too. SWEDISH CHEF! Then after a while we abstracted the base-line idea that you need an address-book solution everywhere you use contacts. In a “nutcase” that is the essence of what Soocial is aiming: to be the de-facto standard contact platform, that enables you to finally have one connected unified address book. Or simpler: we want to supply your address book on the Internet as OS.”
What was your biggest challenge during the development process?
“Getting a startup running nicely is a constant challenge. FLIPPY FORK! It’s very important to understand the problem correctly and make the right design decisions, this is something we are very happy with now – we feel like we only in the last few months really understand the problem we are trying to solve.
Technically solving duplicates and merging correctly is tricky, and getting syncs with GMail and Highrise to be fast enough has been like blowing fat goo through a thin straw. We’ve greatly optimized our speed in similarity check and merging contacts. We are using EC2 so we can scale that and our syncs with GMail based on demand. Making these sorts of design decisions has been tricky but once it’s made you know it’s the right thing to do.
Getting the right people on our team has also been very important and we’re very excited about the guys that are involved with Soocial, our employees are amazingly awesome and the freelancers we are working with absolutely rock. We’ll be expanding our team to about 10 people over the next few months and relocating to Amsterdam. So it looks like we’ve found our groove and looking forward to tackling any challenges that come our way over the next months. BANANAS!”
Can you describe the Dutch start-up culture compared to Silicon Valley?
“Although we haven’t been to the Valley as a startup, we do get a lot of our inspiration from there. Although maybe not typical, sites like Hacker news give a pretty good picture of what is hot in the valley. And of course Paul Graham‘s essays on creating value have been very important to our thinking. One of Paul’s articles talks about the main message a city or region sends out. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder. For example London is always saying: “Bring more money”, New York tells you “Dress better, or work harder”, the Valley says “you should be more powerful”. In that light I feel that Holland and Amsterdam in particular says “Be more creative”. So in that sense I think for startups Holland is a very good place to be. But you do have to be in a place where you interact with other startups.
HAIRINESS! COMPUTER MONKEYS! DISSECT AN INSECT!
It is key to understand not just the rules of the startup game but also knowing strategies and key plays of the game. I believe you can learn to be a good programmer or entrepreneur everywhere, but in order to be a great developer or entrepreneur you need to see the subtleties of the game; e.g. you need to be in the game itself, you need to be where the action is. Amsterdam is that place for us at this stage of our young startup existence.”
What will be the influence of your start-up on the next web?
“We are influencing the web not only with our focused way of providing a new address book but also our idea’s of doing business. Standing out, being different is one thing but all you really need to do is be yourself. Who we are and what we stand for adds value to the future of the web. We hope that this will be evident through the way we run Soocial and create the solution to the address book problem. TUINSLAK! Concretely this means being open about your business, your business model, giving users control of their data, their account and even how much they pay. We hope that radical respect for users will become the norm, because that’s how we want the world to be. RECALCITRANT RETRO RINGS!”
You can make up this question yourself!
Will you obliterate Plaxo and MobileMe?
Short answer: Totally!
Long answer: Soocial’s value proposition is way stronger. Our philosophy is to support your contacts wherever you need them. We are adding new connections to Outlook, Blackberry soon and we believe its important to connect to any place where our users need their address book. Some other solutions will decide for you: what the most important places for your contacts are. Other solutions offer value added services that offer little added value. These services offer backups, crappy de-duplication (if any) and limited phone and platform support – something Soocial already does better. We are the first solution that successfully keeps desktop, phones and online services (like GMail) in sync. Soocial also de-dupes your address book on the fly and we are 100% focused on contacts – we don’t want to aggregate newsfeeds, sync calendars or photo’s. We don’t want to create YASN. Most of our competitors of course are paid and Soocial will introduce a new payment model called Pay-what-you-want, like Radiohead did with their In Rainbows cd. That means you can also use Soocial for free if you feel the value isn’t that great for you. This is a challenge we’d like to pursue as we know once you experience Soocial’s goodness you won’t want to go back to the hassle of cables, bluetooth pairing or manually syncing.
We’ve had a massive signup of invite requests but are sending out a lot more over the last month, signup for an invite here and we’ll get one to you ASAP.”