BizSpark Startup of the Day - buuteeq

The BizSpark startup of the day is buuteeq, based in the US. Below you will find an interview with Forest Key, CEO & Founder of buuteeq. All the best to them and congratulations for being the startup of the day!


Tell us who you are and your role in the company:

CEO & Founder.

What did you do before creating your company?

I worked for 6 years at Microsoft in .NET Platform Marketing including Silverlight & Expression, and before that at Macromedia as the Product Manager for Flash (I was part of the small team that conceived of all of the video features and workflow). Earlier in life and of much greater sex appeal, I was a CGI artist and worked at George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic where yes, I worked on Star Wars!

How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?

We are big fans of BizSpark as it has been a great program to enable us to use great products that have helped productivity and collaboration within our fast growing team, while keeping our software license fees low so we can focus our investments on our product and customer acquisition.

What is your company’s mission?

We make both sides of the hospitality industry very happy: we improve the profitability of hotel owners and at the same time delighting the end user (guest) who is shopping for unique places to stay on both vacation and business trips.

In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:

Our cloud/SaaS solution allows hotels to manage all of their online marketing and reservations via the web, mobile phones, & Facebook.

How did you get the idea for your company?

I’m a travel junkie and was infuriated by the horrible quality of hotel websites and the nuisance of online travel agency (OTA) sites that got between me and my research regarding specific hotels I wanted to learn more about. Hotels shouldn’t hire a small web agency to build a platform from scratch—it just doesn’t scale. The idea with buuteeq is that we’ll invest several $million USD per year in creating the best darn marketing platform a hotel could wish for, and give those benefits to lots of hotels at a very value oriented subscription price.

Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?

Between the founders and some close friends we put together the first $350k USD which we used to build the core architecture and first hand-rolled marketing sites for a small group of hotels that we loved staying at and approached as partners to help us understand the market and design the product. About 6 months later we raised $1.2m from angels in the Seattle community, and more recently (about 18 months from our start) raised a Series A of $3.5m, again, largely from Angels here in lovely Seattle. We also have an institutional VC investor from Chile, in South America, where we have a 10 person team doing regional sales to Spanish and Portuguese speaking hotels (Latin America is a very big and very underserved hotel market).

How many employees do you have? How many developers?

We have about 30 today, development team is 8 including a CXO (chief experience officer aka lead designer), most of the team is made up of sales and customer champions (e.g.: support).

Are you hiring?If yes, what are you hiring for and where?

Yes, we are always looking for great front-end UI developers (the world needs more and so do we) particularly with JQuery and ASP.NET skills (in either Seattle or Palo Alto where we have dev team), and our sales team continues to grow here in Seattle (anyone with SaaS sales experience in B2B give us a shout).

Which platform are you building on?Why?

We are a hybrid environment: our core product (the content management system that hotel staff use to manage their marketing collateral and pricing/business logic) is all ASP.NET + SQL stack, but some other systems we’ve chosen to build with LAMP—this hybrid approach is a legacy of architecture decisions that we made at different phases of our product’s evolution, and we continue to innovate across both platforms and see no need to have a religious “we only use X platform” stance. This has given us lots of flexibility on hiring top developers (regardless of their particular platform background) and keeps our toes in multiple camps with access to benefits of each ecosystem.

Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?

I’m a huge believer in SaaS as an eventual disruptor to a whole bunch of service areas that have traditionally been handled in a consultative/agency labor intensive way. We’ve taken hotel marketing and built something that is just better and much cheaper than what any individual agency/consultant could possibly deliver to a hotel. Similarly, I think broad swaths of traditionally service oriented industries (legal, accounting, advertising) will be transformed by SaaS solutions.

What do you think about the BizSpark Program?

BizSpark has really been invaluable to us particularly on the developer, server, and productivity tools / MSDN subscription that we otherwise would have unquestionably not adopted—being able to self-provision licenses for all of Microsoft’s products, without having to pause and think about the license costs, has led to more experimentation and ultimately adoption of Microsoft technology. As we graduate down the road into a profitable business, the proportional cost to pay the license fee for these servers/tools will be tiny and of no dramatic concern… but in our early cash-strapped life, these fees would have been non-starters. Kudos to Microsoft for creating such a great enablement program that is both great for early stage startups like buuteeq, but also a shrewd way to stay relevant in the era of so many open source/free solutions… BizSpark is definitely the highest value partner program of any kind that we’ve been involved with.

Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?

There are 2 kinds of entrepreneurs in software, those that can write code, and those that can’t. If you can write code, by all means WRITE THE CODE (you will never find someone as good as you at coding the early versions of your product, and you can probably find a better CEO or marketing lead than yourself!)—I’m amazed at how many talented developers there are that waste time early in their company cycle working on something other than product… to me, it’s all about product and founders should work on that in the first 1-2 years.

Who’s your role model?

I’ve spent most of my waking hours working professionally building products or marketing them—but the role model that I try to emulate most in my approach to life is not an entrepreneur or marketer, rather, it is the idealized character of Henri Charriere from his fictional autobiographical account Papillon (popular novel and later film starring Steven McQueen & Dustin Hoffman). I read Henri’s account of his time in French Guiana prison and was deeply moved by his psychological fortitude in the face of dehumanizing conditions and solitary confinement, and his repeated and ultimately successful attempts to escape (floating for days on the ocean atop a bag of coconuts). The takeaway for me was to face failure and adversity, no matter how harrowing, with a positive attitude and a renewed focus on my goals—I think this outlook has served me as inspiration as an entrepreneur and in long distance running (I love to run!).

What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?

I’d love for buuteeq’s story to inspire others that stumble upon something that they are very passionate about but think could be done better—in my case I just knew that I could build a better mousetrap for hotel marketing. I think mobile devices/tablets are transforming the way consumers and brands connect, and the SaaS business model offers all kinds of disruptive business opportunities for new companies. Get out there and built it!