Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lisa Williamson – Upspring CEO

I had the opportunity to have coffee with Lisa Williamson, the CEO of Upspring. She comes from Pepsico and is now a serial entrepreneur with two startups behind her now. She’s almost finished with their equity raise of $2M and has a number of new products in the pipeline.

So how is Upspring going these days?
We are a consumer healthcare play targeting toddler care. It’s a heavily fragmented industry. There’s no innovation coming from the large players. We have only one product coming from outside the company. The rest of the IP comes from internally. We have a line of functional and diagnostics products which gives us some choices for how to grow the company. We have “Walking Wings” which is in national distribution and has strong revenue. The money we raised will be to develop new product innovations and grow existing products. We’re expanding our diagnostics product line beyond Milkscreen along with a new product called the Night Knight.

So how is Milkscreen going?
We’re in Central Market, select Whole Foods and independent retailers but with national distribution we’ll get more exposure.

It seems like your expanding into the diagnostics market first?
It’s more margin and a better multiplier and there is so much more growth because consumers are taking healthcare into their own hands and the Over the Counter (OTC) market is growing rapidly.

Where do you get ideas for new products?
The Night Knight is the only product that comes from outside our company, currently. We have so many internal products on our roadmap but we also have a steady flow of product ideas that people are bringing to us. We also have a partnership with a company in Sweden that has a great innovation and industrial design for their products that we may be launching in the U.S.

How do you protect all these ideas?
For the Night Knight we have a utility patent on the intended use of the technology. We are in patent pending with Milkscreen. We’re trying to broaden the patent to get more coverage. For all of these we filed PCT’s.

Your marketing is head and shoulders above others. Is that part of your IP?
Our goal is to be first to market and gain broad distribution quickly. My background is in marketing at Pepsico.

I was impressed with your PR on Milkscreen.
Our strategy is to generate PR throughout the first year, much less expensive than traditional advertising and more effective.

Do you sell on the web?
We sell Milkscreen directly, but not Walking Wings so we don’t compete with our retailers.

What about the price of Milkscreen?
We recently fixed the cost of goods for Milkscreen by reducing it significantly. That helped us set the right price point for it. We sourced a different chemistry which let us manufacture it ourselves at a lower price point.

How about your exit strategy?
We want to build a strong consumer brand and continue to bring true innovations to the market. As mom’s we are very passionate about our products, as business women we understand the need for a liquidity event to provide a great return for our investors.

You just raised $2M. What was the biggest challenge in raising the money?
We knocked on a lot of doors. The challenge was finding the right group. The majority of our company value is in the product roadmap, IP and the distribution. Because we had some revenue, it was a challenge to set the valuation. We offered equity with 1x liquidation.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Monday, December 3, 2007

WiredReach—Easy to Use File Sharing

I had coffee recently with Ash Maurya of WiredReach which makes dead simple file sharing software using a peer to peer technology. Ash has a background in the Telecoms industry in Richardson and found a need in the market for file sharing of large sizes. While most companies offering such services focus on the big three – music, videos, and photos, Ash’s company focuses on the “long-tail” of applications including Photoshop and AutoCAD users. Adobe Photoshop users and Autodesk CAD users are underserved segments which his company focuses on. They offer their software for a fairly low-price per month. They’ve been working on custom application projects for several years and are now moving over to a standard products offering – a key for scalability.

In reviewing deals, CTAN has its three basic criteria:

1. Are they based in Texas?
2. Do they have a complete/near-complete product?
3. Are they seeking $2M or less?

After that CTAN looks at the next three questions:

1. Do they have an experienced management team?
2. Can the product generate revenue yet?
3. Have they validated the market? Will anyone buy it?

It appears Wired Reach meets both sets of requirements. Of course there’s more work to do, but this is a great way to open the conversation with CTAN.

Best regards,
Hall T.