Category Archives: stuff

Gathering: Beautifully Simple Saving

Please review and share with friends who may find useful.


Charles Jo650.906.2600


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Hi everyone,

My team recently launched a new site for Gathering: a web app that makes saving money easier. In a world designed to consume your money, we help you save it. We do it by putting saving first, automating the process, and giving you the confidence that you’re making the right decisions with your money.

We are working on building pre-launch traction and would love your help. If you’re so inclined, please head to our site and sign up for early access:

Those who sign up early will have the opportunity to directly impact the product and to help all those who are struggling to save money.

Thank you all and please let me know if you have any questions or feedback. (I love chatting about money stuff so if I can be of any help there, I’d love to talk.)



Mizel Djukic | Gathering

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SSG: Founder Interview: Zachary Cohn and Amazing Airfare

Exciting stuff from Zac. Please review and share.

Charles Jo650.906.2600

On Apr 22, 2015, at 3:00 PM, Zachary Cohn <zaccohn> wrote:

Feel free to post this on the website, too.

Name: Zac Cohn
Company: Amazing Airfare

Founder interview:

  1. What is your elevator pitch of startup (super quick summary)?
    1. Never miss the trip of a lifetime. Get emails and texts for crazy flight deals – 50% off or more international fares.
  2. Why should anyone use our product?
    1. There’s a huge community of blogs, twitter accounts, and forums that talk about flight deals. There’s a lot of so-so deals that are 10% or 20% off, but there are a few INCREDIBLE ones (like NYC to Milan to Prague to Paris to Bangkok… $177 all in. Or LAX to Jakarta, Indonesia for $348 round trip). But the incredible ones disappear FAST, and if you’re not checking all these sites constantly, you’re definitely going to miss them. Amazing Airfare first curates the deals – so you’re only getting the best of the best (right now it’s just international flights, and the minimum bar is 50% off or more), and then we email (and optionally, text) you so you never miss a good one. No need to check 10 sites a few times a day anymore, just check your phone when it buzzes.
  3. What’s your personal story and startup story?
    1. Last March I booked a flight that was NYC-Milan, a week to get to Prague, a 24 hour layover in Paris on the way to Bangkok… for $177. And on Christmas Day, I found and booked a flight ($270 NYC-Johannesburg round trip). I posted both on Facebook, and when I’d wake up in the morning, there’d be a bunch of “It doesn’t work anymore – you gotta tell me next time you find one of these!” posts.

      That’s when I realized people really wanted to find out when these deals happen, and passively finding out on Facebook wasn’t fast or reliable enough. So I messaged five of the people who commented and said “I will text and email you when I find these deals, if you Paypal me $8 right now.”

      Within minutes, I had $40 in my paypal account.

      So, being the entrepreneur I am… I built a quick prototype. I used to build a super fast landing page, connected it to Formcrafts to take payments via Stripe. I set up a Mailchimp to send emails, and I was collecting phone numbers to text in an Excel spreadsheet. I spent about 2 hours, all in, and had built an entire workable front and back-end system. As more people signed up, I upgraded parts of the site. My friend Kyle Kesterson designed a nice looking Mailchimp email template for me. I wrote a simple Twilio script to automate text messages (I was sending them out by hand before!). I rebuilt the website using a $45 WordPress theme (Floyd, from

      It got posted to ProductHunt, and climbed up to #5 with 150 votes! Geekwire, a local Seattle tech news site, made a great post about it ( It’s just starting to make the rounds on different travel blogs, as I send out deals like 69% off Toronto to Rio de Janeiro ($385 round trip), or 59% off Seattle to Panama City ($340 round trip).

  4. How can SSG community and others help you and your startup?
    1. I’ve had a bit of good luck with press (#5 on ProductHunt, a few good articles on local tech news sites) which has driven most of my signups, but I definitely could use some help with more organic marketing.
  5. What are your top priorities?
    1. Subscriber growth
      1. I have a few hundred paying subscribers now, would like to get to 1000 by June 1.
    2. Automation
      1. I’ve built out a ton of automation as I go (which has been a lot of fun). When it’s all in place and active, I’ll be able to send out a new alert from any phone or computer in the world in less than 60 seconds.
    3. Getting more press.
      1. That drove a lot of signups before, I’d love to land a few more articles on some larger sites.
    4. Referral campaigns.
      1. I launched one (1 month free for each friend you get to sign up), and while I had fantastic open rates on the email, and I think it generated maybe 4 signups. Disappointing. Finding a better way to do this will help me grow more organically.
  6. What kind of timeline are you working with now (projects for next month, 3-6 months, year?
    1. I am launched and have several hundred paying customers. I’m hoping to finish up my v1 of automation by the end of April, and I’m hoping to hit my goal of 1000 subs by June 1.
  7. Do you see competitors in this space now? Who are your top competitors and why?
    1. There’s the major blogs (theflightdeal, secret flying, thepointsguy), most of whom have newsletters. But they don’t curate, and they don’t do text notifications. There’s nothing stopping them from doing it, except likely the technical knowledge of how to link everything together/configure twilio/write the necessary notification scripts (which is not exactly a huge barrier! :p). There’s also another site that does pretty much exactly what I do, which charges $10/m instead of $8/m. It sounds like they may be funded, as well. I think that may ultimately be a disadvantage though – it will force them to expand and upsell and bother people more… which I explicitly don’t want to do.
  8. Why are you and your founding team the ones to deliver this product to the world?
    1. I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve traveled using deals like this a lot. I also have just enough technical chops to mash WordPress, Stripe, Mailchimp, Twilio, and Zapier together with a bit of php to polish it off and make this work. I’m also entrepreneurial – I love starting new stuff and working FAST. I’m a huge fan of MVPs, which means I get stuff out the door quickly and start learning and improving right away, instead of getting bogged down in making something perfect.
  9. If outside Silicon Valley, what is the startup climate (is the govt business friendly, providing support, etc?)
    1. I don’t like to rank cities in terms of “How Silicon Valley Is This City,” but Seattle is up there. If SV is the top, and NYC is the second, Seattle is tied for third with a few other cities. Lots of resources, meetups, and people here. The biggest weakness in the Seattle community is the fundraising climate, but that doesn’t worry me since I’m bootstrapping.
  10. How many users have you talked to?
    1. About 100 of them, in some way or another. I purposely have not built any self-serve systems (other than signup!), so whenever someone has a support question – they email me. Cancel? They email me (so I can find out why!). Whenever I send them an alert, I ask them to respond back and tell me what they thought of that alert. When they sign up, I ask them to respond back and tell me why they travel. Many opportunities to talk to my customers.
  11. What have you learned from talking to users? (asked by @yangterrence)
    1. I’ve improved my FAQ significantly. My service is for a very specific type of traveler – people who just want to go somewhere cool for cheap. If they want to leave from ATL and go to MXP on June 14th and return on June 29th… they are not a good fit. By turning away users who aren’t a good fit, I’ve anecdotally reduced my churn (I made the changes so fast I didn’t have time to properly measure churn before/after… but I know it worked because I don’t get those emails anymore).
  12. Do you have any co-founders? How well do you know them?
    1. Nope! I’m flying solo for this one. Don’t really need anyone else for this one.

ssg: founder interview John Lillywhite, Project Pen

Please reach out to founder directly at Skype = projectpen or contact info below.



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Hi everyone,

Hope you don’t mind us sending this through :)

Founder contact info:
John Lillywhite


pen LLC


Questions in bold (by contact info)
Answers in regular font
Founder interview:
1. What is your elevator pitch of startup (super quick summary)?

Storytelling for the internet. Project pen is a platform for imagination, where the best creative stories get up-voted, featured in daily ‘Cloud Stories’ and turned into eBooks & print books. Our revenue streams are digital advertising & ebook advertising, for sale print books, and licensing content to animation, TV and Game Studios where possible.

2. Why should anyone use our product?

In the Middle East, publishers charge up to $1000 USD to print and design a book, which they might put in a couple of bookshops if a writer is lucky. If the book is controversial, it won’t get printed. We publish for free, distribute for free on a regional scale and because project pen is a US publisher, our digital publications are censorship free. No one else is doing that (especially not in Arabic).

We’re also work with some of the best writers in that part of the world.

Here in the US, we’re working to identify talented writers creating niche content for the internet that you won’t find anywhere else.

3. What’s your personal story and startup story?

We created an outlet for imaginations in a part of the world where imagination has been under siege for legal and religious reasons. It blew up, receiving hundreds of submissions a month in English and Arabic. Partnerships with media and NGO government followed, as well as a seed investment from MENA’s largest tech incubator, Oasis500.

As for me, i’m an Oxford History Grad who grew up with the arts, and has a degree in IP Law. I went out to the Middle East after the crash, and never looked back.

4. How can SSG community and others help you and your startup?

Right now we’re trying to identify market fit and market need in a larger US market. Some have said this is too much of a challenge; compared to the challenge of the Middle East, we disagree. The idea that all voices & reader preferences are served by the big four publishers and amazon simply isn’t true – just as it hasn’t been true in the music, game or film space, leading to innovation in all these markets online.

In the US market, we’re searching for a content niche and looking at delivery platforms. Right now we’re A-B testing that theory and talking to everyone we can for advice. SSG is a big part of that.

5. What are your top priorities?

Being able to create, package and distribute great content in a way that’s scalable and doesn’t require large editorial teams.
6. What kind of timeline are you working with now (projects for next month, 3-6 months, year?

2 months.

7. Do you see competitors in this space now? Who are your top competitors and why?

Plenty of competition, from MakerStudios, Atavist, Wattpad, traditional book publishers; all these creators have concepts that involve large audiences and differing styles of creative content. Our concept is different in two ways:
Crowd-publishing i.e. everyone gets to create.
We combine this with print and have a physical presence in bookshops.

8. Why are you and your finding team the ones to deliver this product to the world?

Our team have a professional background in digital publishing and news and entertainment content. By working with very strong creative teams in film, design, development and events, we’ve managed to compete on a much larger scale than our 30,000 USD seed investment would allow anywhere else.

10.If outside Silicon Valley, what is the startup climate (is the govt business friendly, providing support, etc?)

LA is the place for us; we need somewhere tech and entertainment meet. LA has a niche in this small but growing space.

11.How many users have you talked to?

In MENA 100s, here in the US we’re talking with artists and writers every single day offline.

12.What have you learned from talking to users? (asked by @yangterrence)

Better Content-Management-System for creators and integration of user-accounts on home-page so people can browse profile’s.
Clearer editorial guidelines, simpler publishing contracts and improved online content marketing.

13.Do you have any co-founders? How well do you know them?

Yes, we know each other very well!

14.On average, how many hours a day do you and your team spend total on project pen?

8-10 hours a day.

15. Describe your working culture.

Our work culture is a combination of creative, business & technical; project pen team have built some of the largest content platforms in the Middle East in the past, and worked as digital consultants during the Arab Spring; a period in which digital participation was playing a revolutionary role in every aspect of life. Our work on project pen tapped into that, even though we are apolitical. So our working culture is interesting, both from a talent basis, and a contextual basis.

Google Drive Link:

More about us:

Project Pen | Cloud Stories
Twitter @ProjectPen | Skype projectpen

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John Lillywhite | Founder
Tel: [001] 424 206 0667
Twitter @Orpheus1
LinkedIN | Skype projectpen

ssg: founder interview – Joshua Scott

founder interview – Joshua Scott


Founder contact info:,


Skype: joshua.j.scott


Founder interview:


  • What is your elevator pitch of startup (super quick summary)?
  • Coffee subscriptions tend to give too much or too little coffee. They don’t take consumption variation. Our smart coffee bean jar ensures you always get coffee delivered just when you need it with reminders, confirmation requests, and notifications.
  • Why should anyone use our product?
  • To ensure they don’t have a day where they run out of coffee or they let their coffee go stale. Running out is an especially difficult challenge for SMBs where there is no office manager as worker productivity decreases. For consumers, the convenience and peace of mind from the product drives the value proposition.
  • What’s your personal story and startup story?


      1. I’ve always been interested in the IoT. I was researching coffee subscriptions such as Tonx and Mistobox (which also came out of Tucson), but had friends who had abandoned their subscriptions and didn’t recommend. I thought there must be a way to ensure you don’t get your subscription delivery until you need it. I came up with the solution and suggested it to many folks, who really liked the idea. I began developing the concept and finally left my job to pursue for a time with the goal of launching a crowd-funding campaign.


  • How can SSG community and others help you and your startup?


      1. I could definitely use the insight and wisdom of the community. I also will be seeking investment for the concept if any investors in the community happen to be interested.


  • What are your top priorities?


      1. Fundraising
        1. I’m seeking seed funding, but have numerous challenges to secure it
      2. Continued / amplified marketing to build a user list
        1. I have a number of marketing firms I have quotes from, but the challenge is funding them
      3. Building and testing additional prototypes
        1. I have one prototype that is relatively low fidelity, but I’m working on more
      4. Launching a crowd-funding campaign (after checking the marketing boxes)
        1. I need a few thousand people at a minimum to launch a campaign


  • What kind of timeline are you working with now (projects for next month, 3-6 months, year?


      1. Everything is dependent upon the fundraising, then marketing to get a large enough lead list, and finally launching the crowd-funding is the final lynchpin.
      2. I expect the campaign to launch in 3-6 months


  • Do you see competitors in this space now? Who are your top competitors and why?


      1. Blue Bottle, Starbucks, and many other coffee companies are offering subscriptions, which is the primary competition


  • Why are you and your founding team the ones to deliver this product to the world?


      1. I have passionate, talented, and driven. I have a broad skill set from my product management background and technical training. I am skilled at building fantastic customer experiences.
      2. I am currently seeking cofounders to complement my skill set and amplify. I would like to bring a full stack development resource onboard as well as a marketing resource. Operations and logistics management would also be interesting at a future date.


  • If outside Silicon Valley, what is the startup climate (is the govt business friendly, providing support, etc?)


      1. Tucson has a small, but active startup community. There are resources here, such as the Tucson Desert Angels, though not enough to really have a great base. I’ve reached out to folks everywhere to get additional assistance. I am open to moving once at the right point, potentially to Phoenix, SF, or Denver, depending upon the circumstances, to get access to a wider talent pool.


  • How many users have you talked to?


      1. About 20 interviews so far. I have an engaged base of users with a 3-5% conversion rate on my landing page (just for sign ups).


  • What have you learned from talking to users? (asked by @yangterrence)


      1. They generally love the idea primarily for the convenience and /or flexibility. They are under 40 and have a strong affinity for coffee. Their tastes vary from from craft to off-the-shelf, but they are not into Folgers or Maxwell House. They really like the design of the container and want it to be something displayed on their counter. Overall, they’re


  • Do you have any co-founders? How well do you know them?


    1. I don’t at this time. Tucson is a very small market, so difficult to find a team. I’m on Founder Dating and working with a few potential candidates.



Crowdsourcing best startup blogs to feed via @kurtybot’s

As you come across great startup blogs to follow, please take a minute to add the suggestion at:

Blogs can be from investors, founders, designers, developers, and anyone regularly blogging about the startup ecosystem.

We want to leverage as many members’ startups when we do things.

Thanks for being a part of this great group.


Charles Jo
Creator, SSG

On Apr 15, 2015, at 8:00 PM, Charles Jo wrote:

Kurt Braget (Twitter @kurtybot) is a member of SSG and using his site, we can now request features for SSG at .

Features requests for SSG is only limited by our imagination.

Go for it!

Charles Jo
Creators, SSG

Request features for SSG via @kurtybot’s

Kurt Braget (Twitter @kurtybot) is a member of SSG and using his site, we can now request features for SSG at .

Features requests for SSG is only limited by our imagination.

Go for it!

Charles Jo
Creators, SSG

Craig McLeod is a founder of a web startup in Africa

Craig – please feel free to add comments.

SSG members – Someone outside the SSG kindly shared his opinion that Craig McLeod may be the entrepreneur who can increase access for Africa. So… we all need to rally around his efforts. I love what NGOs and religious organizations do globally and in Africa but I — even as a progressive liberal – believe we can make the biggest impact leveraging market economics and encouraging sustainable businesses. Whatever it takes to help, let’s do it. Please reach out to Craig directly by email or on SSG Slack.

Craig is a startups guru. In the past, he has worked for several notable successes including Thawte, which sold for $580 million, and others that all ended in profitable exits. Craig also sits on the emeritus boards of a number of startups, VC funds and incubators. When not working, he can be found speaking about startups, Agile, UX design, InfoSec and others at events sponsored by the likes for Microsoft, Pearson, Amex, Adobe and others. Craig’s best time is spent volunteering at khayelitsha hospital in the peadiatric ward.

Contact info: / skype: build2tradedotcom (always reply to all emails)

Thank you in advance. Let’s continue to help each other level up faster.

Charles Jo

The Great Experiment

Although transparency is the leading edge of corporate culture, especially at new software startups, most companies adhere to top down central command organizations.  It’s structure is based on decaying analogies of factories which have to start and stop at specific times — clock in/clock out — some Oz in the background pulling all the switches to make things work like clockwork.  It’s about control and limiting errors and more often, limiting behaviors — behaviors that could lead to innovation.

One of the most exciting things about the Startup Study Group community is the opposite of control.  I should qualify this with quality control on the decency and respectful communication in the community and between members who decide to communicate with another member.  But the overarching goal is to unleash the creative human potential which I imagine it to be infinitely more productive and healthy than the outdated factory metaphor for human interaction.
Most of the SSG members are starting new companies and are first time entrepreneurs.  We have investors at angel and VC level in the community too but overwhelmingly, the members are founders today or they plan to be someday.  What makes our members different is that they want to help each other.  I’m not naively going to suggest this is altruistic. But even for selfish reasons, this is a great way of doing business.  Members in competing spaces are chatting, congratulating each other on fundraises and discussing challenges they face.  We are learning together.
I really believe this will help each SSG members succeed faster.  We will optimize fast tracking founders and their startups.
For the SSG brand, I want our members to explore every unturned stone.  We have much to do and there’s not even the perfect to do list app in the world yet.
I’m @charlesjo on Twitter. @startupstudyg is the brand account.
Request an invite at @getfinkip

Student entrepreneurs wanted

Student entrepreneurs wanted

We started a discussion about scholarships for student entrepreneurs who may lack basic tools to start a startup. In my quest to create a community, I had forgotten that the original quest was for public access to great startup knowledge. I am again reaching out to the students — I imagine most at college level — who are dreaming of creating their own companies but do not know where to start.

We are here for you. 400+ founders and investors and we want to share our experiences so you don’t have to make the same mistakes but succeed faster.

Request an invite at

I’m @charlesjo on Twitter.

Charles Jo