BizSpark Startup of the Day—Lavablast Software

Today’s featured Startup of the Day is Lavablast Software, a Canadian company founded by two computer science graduates.

The company provides innovative software solutions for the franchise industry, allowing both franchisors and franchisees to collaborate, change store pricing, update websites, view sales reports, manage frequent buyer programs, and track franchise leads.

The company been totally bootstrapped by the two founders and is now hiring to expand in North America.

You’ll find below an interview of Jason Kealey, co-founder of Lavablast Software.

Congrats to Lavablast Software for being the featured Startup of the Day!

Interview with Jason Kealey, co-founder of Lavablast Software

Who are you?

LavaBlast Software Inc. is a Canadian startup that builds software for the franchise industry. We’ve developed a few easy-to-use products that are deployed in retail franchise locations and have integrated these with FranchiseBlast, our centralized management solution. Our fully integrated line-of-business application saves franchisors time and money by eliminating inefficiencies but also because it is tailored for each franchise.

How do you feel being the most promising “Company of the Day” per Microsoft?

It is quite an honor to have been selected as the most promising company of the day. We are extremely happy and it motivates us to work even harder!

What did you do before creating your company?

Both Etienne Tremblay and I graduated from the software engineering program at the University of Ottawa. During my university studies, I ran a small web development company based on Microsoft technologies that helped me pay for my tuition. After completing our bachelor’s degree, we went our separate ways: I completed a Master’s in Computer Science with focus on requirements engineering whereas Etienne landed a job as a developer for a firm specializing in software for the power industry. We both gained expertise in our respective areas before founding LavaBlast Software in early 2007.

How did you get the idea?

As a student, one of my clients was a franchisor in the stuff-your-own teddy bear space. We developed their website, various web applications, an interactive kiosk and even point of sale software for this franchisor. Noticing how this small franchisor had difficulty managing their store fleet and how the problem would worsen every time they signed a new franchisee, we did a bit of market research and discovered that there was a nice opportunity to launch a company in this space.

What do you sell? What is your company's mission?

Our mission is to help small franchisors grow thanks to quality software tools. Our main product is FranchiseBlast which is a centralized management solution that allows both franchisors and franchisees to collaborate, change store pricing, update their websites, view sales reports, manage the frequent buyer program, and track franchise leads.

We also offer secondary products such as easy-to-use point of sale systems, interactive kiosks, and e-commerce websites.

What is your market?

We focus on small to medium sized franchises (under 50 locations) and our software solution is flexible enough to serve a wide range of franchise systems. We cater to both brick and mortar franchises and the growing niche of home-based franchises.

Any clients, references, partners you want to quote ?

We currently have half a dozen franchise systems / store chains on board. Our first client, Teddy Mountain, has locations all over the world running on our software. One of our most recent clients, The Code Factory is a collaborative work (co-working) space targeted at software startups. We manage the member system using self-serve interactive kiosks and our point of sale software. You can see Ian Graham’s testimonial here.

Funding history? VCs? BA?

We’re bootstrapped.

Growth? Internalization?

We’ve already localized our applications in French, Spanish, and Danish. We’ve been developing our application for a solid 18 months and 2009 should be a year of great growth for us.

How many employees do you have? How many developers?

We are four founders (two developers), one graphic artist and a few subcontractors.

Are you hiring? If yes, what? Where?

We’re currently looking for a software salesperson that has connections in the franchise/retail industries. We have a preference for people based in either Ottawa or Montreal, Canada.

In the engineering department, we are always interested in hearing from competent software engineers looking to become an intrinsic part of a software startup.

Which platform are you building on? Why?

We run distributed SQL Server 2005 databases for which the C# data access layer is auto-generated by the SubSonic open source project. All of our applications are web-based, built using ASP.NET and jQuery. This also includes our point of sale software (POS) which runs on a web server deployed in each brick-and-mortar store (for reliability), or can be offered on a remote web server (as SaaS).

At a high level, we went with a Microsoft platform because our team had experience with the technologies and because we knew it would scale to level we needed it to. We also felt Microsoft was moving in the right direction and opening up to the open source and startup communities.

We developed our POS using web-based technologies for three reasons:

1 – Easier to build and maintain (very active developer community)

2 – Easier to re-use modules from the website and FranchiseBlast

3 – Allows deployment of the POS in a SaaS model which is appropriate for some low-cost home-based franchise systems.

Do you have any IP? Is there something that you’re the only one to do on the market?

All of our software, including FranchiseBlast, is a part of our intellectual property. We’re not the only ones offering integrated management solutions for retail chains, but we do have a unique take on the market.

Who’s your role model?

Etienne: My father. He started his career as an employee and ended up acquiring the company from its owner’s years later. His hard work and dedication inspires me.

Jason: Any entrepreneur, who started from scratch, didn’t have it easy and ended up turning the situation around. Open Jessica Livingston’s “Founders at Work” at any page, and you’ll find such an inspiring story.

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

There are opportunities everywhere to launch your own software startup, even as a new graduate. Today, most people focus on social companies and stride to become the next big thing, but one can create a line of business application that fits the needs of a particular niche and iteratively build on their achievements to bring the company to the next level. Talk to any small business owner with this vision in the back of your mind, and there is a lot you can achieve, regardless of your geographical location. Software startups are becoming cheaper to operate by the day and you don’t necessarily need to be in a startup hub such as Silicon Valley or Boston to do it.

Looking for funding? If yes, how much?

Only if we find an angel investor with experience and interest in our target market.

What about the BizSpark Program? What do you think? Are you going to join? Why?

We joined the BizSpark program yesterday. It is definitely a good move on Microsoft’s behalf to make it easier to launch a startup on the Microsoft technology stack. Furthermore, the prerequisite to be connected with an angel investor or venture capitalist is valid as it forces founders to think seriously about their business and connect with the people they should be connecting with.

Any advice to young software entrepreneurs?

I cannot overstress how important it is to build your network. Furthermore, you cannot expect to do everything on your own and hope for the best.

We actually posted a three part series on this subject on our blog:

Software Startup Lessons (Part 1): The Basics
Software Startup Lessons (Part 2): Communication and Collaboration
Software Startup Lessons (Part 3) - Marketing, Sales & Growth

Anything else you’d like to say?

Young entrepreneurs should definitely get involved with their local startup community and be on the lookout for co-working locations as a way to meet new people on a daily basis.