Tag: Otherinbox

The Tao of “Austinpreneur” Joshua Baer

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Joshua Baer has a set of those millionaire-on-a-skateboard dotcom Gold Rush stories that give the Austin startup scene its own sexy tech history.
Baer graduated Carnegie Mellon with a less-than-stellar academic record, and a couple hundred grand in revenues from being an early dabbler in web hosting and email services. He secured two houses: one for his business and one for his home and skateboarded to work every morning. He was one of the dozens of entrepreneurs spun out during of the Golden Years of Trilogy. And, as a young man, he sold his first company and made enough money that he could afford to sit back and contemplate what he’d like to do with the rest of his life, now that he could do whatever he wanted.
He decided what he wanted was to help other entrepreneurs take their own version of the wild ride that brought him there. So Baer founded Capital Factory, which provides work space and mentoring to entrepreneurs. He’s also the founder and CEO of OtherInbox—which he sold in January to Return Path. He’s also a specialist at the University of Texas and an investor and advisor at more than 25 other companies.
The man who once-upon-a-time was scared to have his own company is equipping all the entrepreneurs he can with the knowledge and contacts to create theirs.
Baer grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire, a third-generation descendant of Eastern European immigrants. His father was portrait photographer and most of his ancestors were entrepreneurs.
“So when I first started a company, I thought of it as something achievable,” he said. “It wasn’t as intimidating to me as it is to some people.”
As a computer science major at Carnegie Mellon, he was an early internet adopter. At the time, if you wanted a web site you had to run your own web server. He couldn’t afford a web server and he didn’t get chosen for the StarNine WebSTAR beta program. So instead, he applied for the beta program for ListSTAR, an email server that fewer people were applying for. Being a student with time on his hands, he could afford to play with the email software and read the manual, which led him to start answering questions on the ListSTAR forum. He became the resident expert and eventually drew the attention of the StarNine CEO, who decided to make him an intern, an official spokesman of sorts, to answer questions on behalf of the company.
Soon people were hiring him to consult about issues on their servers, paying him a pizza or $10-$15 bucks an hour. He started farming out work he didn’t have time for to fraternity buddies who were computer science majors. Then one day, one of his customers proposed that, instead of fixing problems as they arose, he would pay Baer $50 a month just to keep his server up and running to avoid chronic breakdowns and angry customers. It looked like money for nothing and Baer launched into the server industry. That was the real beginning of his first company in 1996, SKYLIST. And as it grew, rapidly, Baer got nervous.
“I was afraid to have my own business,” he said. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” The CEO of StarNine had sold that company and started another. He offered to help Baer out by making Baer’s company a division of his own.
“By the time I graduated in 1999 I had a couple hundred thousand dollars in revenue,” he said. “I employed a couple people doing tech support and people doing programming. I was the king of my world. I could buy more beer than anybody I knew.”
He got inundated with job offers. But then Jonathan Berkowitz, a friend who graduated six months before him, got hired by Trilogy Inc. and told him about it.
“I met with the CEO and he said ‘Keep your company. Come down here, work for me, learn a ton on my dime and when you’re done you can go back up there.” How could he refuse?
He brought his CMU gang who were working for him down to Austin. They housed servers in his house until they ran out of room, then rented a place up the street. His next company, UnsubCentral, spun out of SKYLIST. Compliance rules were emerging around email and he created a leading compliance solution for email list operators. Part of that company required him to meet with the Federal Trade Commission to provide industry comment on CAN-SPAM. He was 24.
“I don’t really enjoy wearing a suit,” he recalls. “But if I had to do it again now I am so much more confident and better prepared, I would totally show up in jeans and a t-shirt. Back then I was a 24-year-old trying to be an adult.”
When he was 30, he sold both SKYLIST and UnsubCentral to Datran Media (now PulsePoint) for an undisclosed amount estimated at $10 million in 2006. And that changed his life.
“Selling my first company was an inflection point,” he said. “Right as I turned 30 I sold my first company. It was a life changing event. I wasn’t doing poorly before I sold the company but I never had any financial security. ..your perspective on life changes when you have financial security.”
He pondered what he wanted to do. Go sit on a beach? A career as an EMT seemed exciting. “I romanticized the idea….” he said. “It must be incredible to walk home every day and say I saved two people’s lives today. But I pass out when they take blood from me.”
“Then I realized: I get a ton of personal satisfaction from helping people become entrepreneurs. … If I help somebody actually get their company started I feel successful. I get a ton of positive energy back from them…. The best way I can help the world is to help one person achieve financial independence. They’re going to make their own lives better and it’s going to have a trickle-down effect. If they start a company, that makes Austin better. That makes the world better. That’s I thing I can do and I’m good at it.”
So that’s what he does. He has always been a good networker, by his own admission. And he teaches what he’s learned along the way.
“He was one of the instructors for our class, we got to get advice from him on a weekly basis,” said Dwayne Smurdon, CEO of Predictable Data, a company that was created in one of Baer’s classes. “He’s very pragmatic. He gets down to issues you really need to worry about rather than the big scale issues like human resources. He focuses on what is the minimum you have to do to be viable, to get your company started up. “
That might include teaching students how to deal with mentors: Make sure you’re prepared to ask them very specific, targeted questions. Don’t waste your time or their time. Make sure you’re asking until they’ve said no; you never know how much a mentor is going to give.
It includes pitching advice: Start with a story people can relate to. Start with a small picture and build towards the big picture.
“He helps you network, get involved in the entrepreneurial community,” said Smurdon. “He’ll introduce you and what you do with that is up to you. It’s such a big advantage that other people who didn’t’ get to know someone like Josh don’t have.”
Both Smurdon and Baer say he emphasizes focus. There are so many potential issues to tackle, entrepreneurs don’t know where to look first. During pitch competitions, he said, entrepreneurs need to be able to drill down to the point.
“My goal is that I should be able to help everyone in some way: Introduce them to somebody, help them figure out a key tactic–something to do differently,” Baer said. And he’s carved a unique spot for himself in the world of Austin startups
“Josh is such a great catalyst for the city of Austin,” said Bryan Jones, 2012 chair of the Greater Austin Technology Partnership through the Austin Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Collider Media. “There aren’t many people that are both a successful entrepreneur, prolific investor and community activist. His ability to evangelize the city, while still making the community feel smaller by making constant introductions, is amazing.”
Baer is a fierce advocate for Austin as a tech growth center and weighs in often on the Silicon Valley vs. Silicon Hills controversy. While California benefits from a greater supply of early stage capital, for example, he points out that fewer companies need that much capital. He, for example, bootstrapped his first two companies.
“We want to learn what we can from the Silicon Valley, take their investors and their money and never become them. They’re at the pinnacle, they are the Mecca of consumer internet technology but they’re kind of like an established old boy club. It’s not impossible to break into that, but it’s hard. It’s hard to carve out a niche. Austin is a big pond that’s growing. That’s the exciting place to be for me, not in the busiest, most crowded room, but a growing one that creates opportunity…. You can affect what it’s becoming. You can change it. You’re not going to change Silicon Valley….I was a nobody in Austin but I’ve been able to get involved, get to be part of the community, stepping up and filling the void. There are places to jump in and play your part in what is going to be.”
So that’s what he’s bringing to Austin. The message and the knowledge to invite entrepreneurs: There’s opportunity here…come and play.

Austin Startup OtherInbox zeroing in on 2 million users

Joshua Bear, CEO of Other Inbox

Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News

While boasting the free solution to endless and unwanted emails, Austin startup OtherInbox, has had nearly 2 million users since the service began in 2008.
Founded by Austin entrepreneur Joshua Baer, the company offers two ways to instantly organize and prioritize email. The Organizer product looks for lower priority messages, such as newsletters, e-receipts, social media notifications or coupons, into one folder. An email summary is sent to the Organizer user each day, summarizing important and unimportant emails.
The second free product, Unsubscriber, is named quite literally for the product’s duty of automatically removing your personal email from a mailing list. The service works with Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and other email providers.
OtherInbox didn’t start with organizing emails, said Hoon Park, client services manager. At first, the company helped protect emails by using other emails to sign up for sites online while protecting the main address.
Park said some email unsubscribe lists create a lot of hoops to get your email removed, and some even require a login. But OtherInbox users place the unwanted emails into an unsubscribe folder and the rest is history. “You will never receive an email from them again,” Park said.
Since 2009, the company has generated revenue by selling market data two different ways: to email marketing companies, and by advertisers who pay to target OtherInbox users that receive specific coupon deals. Park said all user identification is kept private.
OtherInBox has also raised $4 million in funding during two rounds of venture financing, according to its Crunchbase profile.
“It was just a very powerful way to protect emails, but as a startup company that creates products for clients,” Park said. “We think we can be very useful for clients who are getting a ton of unimportant or unwanted emails everyday.”
After the company reached a landmark earlier this year of 1 million users, the numbers continued to quickly rise. Park says they expect to have 2 million users by the first quarter of 2012. Customers of OtherInbox primarily use it personally rather than for business or large corporations.
The company grew from six people when it started in 2008 to 10 employees by 2010, and Park says there are plans to add at least two more to their team. The diverse group of workers have ranging backgrounds from linguistics to human biology to political science majors. There are no plans to move the team from their office space in downtown Austin.
Their operation not only runs concise, but inexpensive — everything is done in The Cloud, Park said. Having servers purely online can also be the source of unavoidable technical issues.
“Sometimes we’ll have a hiccup in our service and we just have to figure out a way around it,” Park said.
With three people for customer support, including Park, he says it is important for them to communicate about the customer’s issues. “That is where we find out something is wrong and through day-to-day collaboration we have to fix the problems,” he said.
One of Park’s favorite perks of working at OtherInbox is the company’s compassion for other startups. He said found Baer reaches out to newbie startups to help them, and often ends up being somewhat of a mentor by offering advice on public relations, branding, marketing, and how to network.
“For about three years we’ve done this thing where we team up with startups, sometimes even letting them work out of our space, and incubate them until they can stand on their own feet. I just enjoy being able to help out the community of my peers,” Hoon said.
As for future email products that may further de-clutter your inbox? Stay tuned. While Park said there is nothing to “officially announce,” he assured us that OtherInbox programmers are always experimenting.

Made In Austin career fair matches technology start-ups with students

Local tech start-ups want to keep as much homegrown talent in town as possible.
So they created Made In Austin, a job fair that matches area students with start-ups looking for technology talent.
The first event, featuring 100 tech companies and more than 500 registered students, took place Tuesday night at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center downtown.
The 3-hour job fair, which started at 6 p.m., drew a big crowd of students, some guys dressed in suits and ties, others wearing hoodies, jeans and polo shirts and some women in sweater dresses and knee-high boots.
The event organizers banned swag like free T-shirts, stickers and other giveaways. The crowd munched on pizza bagels and brownies and drank ice tea.
Jacqueline Hughes, founder of Austin Start-up Week, organized the event along with Joshua Baer, head of the Capital Factory and OtherInbox. Other organizers included Campus2Careers and other start-up companies. Large companies like American Express, Dell and Rackspace sponsored the tech meet-up.
At the OtherInBox table, Baer, CEO, had already collected several resumes and talked with lots of people. Baer has hired from local universities to fill openings at his start-up in the past. In fact, OtherInBox’s lead product developer started out as an intern when he was a student at St. Edward’s University.
“It’s worked really well for us,” Baer said. “ I love hiring really great experienced people. I also like hiring inexperienced passionate people who I can teach.”
Luke Carriere, who just founded Approachab.ly a few weeks ago at 3 Day Start-up Weekend San Antonio, had a place at a table recruiting Android and iPhone developers, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication specialists. He was also looking for marketers and sales staff.
“I’m looking for business majors who might be able to help me with market research,” Carriere said.
Events like Made In Austin help Carriere network and make connections that eventually help to further his business, he said. At a mobile conference a few weeks ago, he met a guy who has joined him to become technical co-founder of his start-up.
“What’s been amazing is meeting people who want to help you by opening up their rolodexes,” he said.
The event provided an opportunity to recruit young talent, said Ramin Jahedi, CEO and founder of CaniSolutions, restaurant consultants. He runs the start-up FindWaiters.com.
“Our market is just exploding,” Jahedi said. Early on during the evening, he had already collected a few resumes and talked with several people.
Patrick Mizer at SpareFoot also talked to a lot of students and planned to follow up with a few of them following the fair.
“We are looking to hire some young engineering talent,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of success hiring engineers in their last year of college.”
Kevin Chu, a junior majoring in management information systems at the University of Texas, attended the fair to find a Spring internship.
“Start-ups give you the opportunity to learn more,” he said. “They’re small so you can do a variety of jobs.”
Linda Ye, a junior majoring in management information systems, was also looking for a Spring internship with a start-up. She already has a summer internship set up with a large company.
“Austin is a start-up city,” Ye said. “Start-ups tend to be more flexible with hours. They are also able to teach you a lot. Start-ups fit me the best right now.”

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