Product development guys tend to sink into the background in the traditional workplace. They do the work but are too often just another cog in the Big Wheel. That's how it felt to Jonathan Marcus, at least, and he set his mind to breaking out and running free.
Marcus, newly minted CEO and founder of HiiDef, remembers his time doing time for others, and not too fondly, I wanted to create my own company forever, says Marcus. I spent the first 10 years of my career working in 'Corporate America,' and I suppose I've wanted nothing more than to feel like I'm creating something. That something turned out to be products that allow people with no programming expertise to build a website intuitively, without sacrificing on design or dynamism.
While Marcus, in the description of his reticent entrepreneurial urge, downplays the first 10 years of his career, the truth is that he's been creating as a businessperson for quite some time. First, it was working in the technology mergers-and-acquisitions group at Banc of America Securities. Soon after that, he was helping the popular video website Vimeo become one of the most recognizable brands online.
Flavors.me, released in Feb. 2010, was the first HiiDef product launched. In essence, it's a platform that allows people build a website in an intuitive fashion. Goodsie launched about a year later. It lets users build an e-commerce website in an intuitive way. Both Flavors.me and Goodsie do not require a person to dabble in HTML or CSS or XML or PHP--or any other web programming acronym that commonly frustrates those needing to build a website. No programming is required.
In general, what really differentiates [HiiDef] is the underlying design system--or website-building system--that we've crafted for both Flavors.me and Goodsie, says Marcus. Anyone can point-and-click his way to a really high-quality web presence.
While emphasis is placed on design in both HiiDef platforms, their differences are significant. Flavors.me serves as a hub for people's social media accounts. Rather than linking to dozens of different websites, which is typically how people organize their online presence, Flavors.me, instead, pulls all that information into one place. That means real-time updates from Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the information from 31 other popular services can be viewed via the Flavors.me site. You can map this Flavors.me site to a custom domain of your choosing, making a complicated, feature-rich site in a snap.
Marcus came up with the idea soon after he'd left Vimeo. There's this world of open APIs that anyone can tap into without any sort of pre-existing business relationship. [Vimeo] integrated with Tumblr before there was any sort of formal contact with their team, says Marcus, after being asked about the early relationship that formed between Tumblr and Vimeo around 2007, while each company was still very young. Almost every site these days now offer an API.
API, short for application programming interface, allows different web-based platforms to communicate with each other. We built two or three years' worth of really specific technical expertise--and even more so, design expertise--to what it means to integrate with 35 different services, he says, emphasizing the complexity of creating a platform that integrates so many different web sites.
Next came Goodsie--a retail-shopping site-builder--was born of the lessons learned from Flavors.me. The group carried over many of the things they'd learned while building Flavors.me, design and ease-of-use being foremost concerns. They integrated with four different online payment processing systems, including Google Checkout, PayPal and systems that allow credit cards to be charged without having to create an account on a third-party website. Just as with Flavors.me, emphasis was placed on seamless integrations and giving the user options to do what they were most comfortable with. Put simply, Goodsie helps people build online retail websites.
It's the idea that simple systems can produce complex patterns, says Marcus, describing the endless ways in which people can customize their websites and shops without ever writing a single word of code.
And people have taken notice of the intuitive design. Goodsie has garnered lots of attention in the first year of its existence. Driving some of that interest is the Grammy-nominated dubstep artist, Skrillex, who has created his official merchandise shop using the platform.
As the year continues to unfold, HiiDef faces several steep challenges as they roll out an ambitious plan for the company. While furthering the API and design capabilities of Flavors.me, they'll also be boosting the social aspects of Goodsie, allowing people to share and follow stores more easily. Marcus, in many ways, thinks this will change the way Goodsie is viewed.
We're just a team that has worked together for a while at this point, and we can move pretty quickly, says Marcus. When you stay in small teams, you don't have any sort of political-aim fighting.
As for the obstacles in the upcoming year, Marcus just takes it one problem at a time: We haven't taken in any institutional money yet. We're mostly financed by angels, he says. He says the team at HiiDef hopes to become profitable soon. As is often the case in the quest toward long-term viability in Silicon Alley, turning a profit is just the beginning.