Startup lessons from founder Marc Gingras

By Alexandra Reid

The Canadian startup community rang in another win recently as RIM, the maker of BlackBerry phones and the new PlayBook tablet, acquired calendar and scheduling application

RIM’s move to incorporate this new tool, as a continuation of its “development by acquisition” strategy, was essential because of the criticism RIM received for releasing its PlayBook prematurely, without native email, calendar and contact applications. While there is no official word that RIM will integrate Tungle into its tablet, industry experts expect it as a necessary move to compete with Apple.

I used the tool for the first time to schedule this interview with its CEO and founder Marc Gingras. Having never met Marc before, and having never used the tool before, my first impression was that it was a rather impersonal move, so I tried him first through Twitter as a (in my view) more personable engagement before also trying him on Tungle.

Tungle was immediately understandable. At a glance, I could see when Marc was available, and, lucky for me, he had time early in the morning. All I had to do was enter my preferred time, my name and email address and wait for him to accept, which he did within 20 minutes. The reliability and simplicity of this tool was astonishing, as I was able to organize an event and receive confirmation faster than I would be able to on any social media site that I’ve come across.

As most startups go, however, Tungle had to move through some pivots to become the successful tool that it is today. This interview with Marc should help other startups as they work through this process.

How did begin?

I used to be with another startup and before that I was an investor for a venture capital firm. Naturally, we were always scheduling meetings but the slow process of working around other people’s schedules was a pain. It became apparent to me that this process could be improved. When my other startup was acquired in 2006, I set to work on a more efficient scheduling application.

How did you determine that there would be a market for a new scheduling application?

It’s quite expensive for a small business to purchase the license for Microsoft Exchange and its competitors. I figured there had to be a cheaper and better solution. The reason why people share calendars is because they want to meet up with each other. I realized that there was an even bigger need for calendar sharing when you’re trying to schedule meetings with others outside of the office. Calendars, it seems, never evolved. They became digital but they rely on the same concept. There is so much valuable information in your calendar, I would argue that it knows you better than any other social network. So, because there was no other company making calendars that were free and that could be easily shared, we knew we had a good idea.

What was the biggest challenge you faced along the way and how did you overcome it?

People are quite set in their ways. If they want to schedule something, they turn to the calendar they know best. It was hard to convince people that they should feel comfortable using a web page to schedule meetings. It’s a change in behaviour that you have to walk people through. We had to advocate the usability and simplicity of our service. The early adoptors thought it was amazing, but in order to get other adopters, we really needed to focus on making it as simple as possible.

What advice would you offer startups going through the development process?

Enjoy the ride. It’s not about the end result, but the process. And keep it simple. When you start building something, it’s easy to over engineer, especially a web service. If people don’t get it right away, you’ve lost their attention.

Also, as you build your business, don’t aim to be acquired. You should aim to be self-sufficient. When offers start coming to the table, you have to determine the best decision for shareholders. If it’s not the best, you have to have the stability to keep the business going. Tungle is a venture-backed company, so by default we had to go public or get acquired. There had to be an exit for our investors. The deal with RIM was the right move at the right time for everyone here.

For more information about why was successful, I suggest checking out this post on StartupCFO by Marc MacLeod, who became involved in early on. In this post, Marc covers the clear problems and pivots experienced and offers more great advice for startups.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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