Startup Spotlight – Userful – September 2012

If you’re a business owner, you well understand that deploying and managing computers can be torture – lengthy start-up and set-up time, security worries, device and data management challenges, and general complexity.

Enter Userful, a cloud managed virtual desktop system, that enables you to customize, control, and monitor thousands of computer stations from a simple administration website for less than $1 per seat per day including hardware, software, and support.

With a mission to put computers in front of people at half the cost, they’ve deployed over 800,000 devices in nearly 100 countries in a short amount of time. For example, the Brazilian Ministry of Education recently saved 60% in up-front costs and 80% in annual power savings by deploying 523,400 computer stations in over 50,000 schools through Userful, which is a world record for the largest ever desktop virtualization deployment.

We recently talked to Founder and CEO, Tim Griffin, to learn more.

How did you come up with the idea for your startup?

I was running a web development company and every time I added a new employee, I would spend a day setting up and configuring which cost over a thousand dollars. I thought it was ridiculous why we couldn’t plug in monitors and keyboards to a single PC. Initially we launched with dual video cards with 7-8 users sharing a PC. Next generation had USB video. Most recent is an Ethernet connection that is most exciting – you can have a server or pc on your network with up to 30 devices on this.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

We always have huge ideas, but dialing those back to something that can be achieved within a bootstrapped company is always a challenge. It’s important to understand the scope of the opportunity and prioritize based on customer need, time and what’s in the bank.

Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?

Peter Kinash, CFO of Replicon has been great help. Our team advisors in general have been great.  We’re also thankful to AVAC for their investment.

Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?

Both, but capital is more challenging. Having sufficient capital helps attract the right talent.

The right talent will typically understand and get excited about your idea – it’s part of the job description.  However, Investors may or may not be particularly passionate about what you’re doing depending on the size of their portfolio.

What has contributed to your success to this point?

Absolute “stick to it” attitude and unwavering confidence in what we’re doing. There have been a bunch of naysayers with criticisms against fixed computing, but if you look at trends, fixed computing will be a much bigger play than mobility.

Persistence is the key ingredient.  Eventually macro trends will catch up to you as long as they exist.

What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur, running one kind of company or another.  In my opinion entrepreneurs are the people who see a problem and want to do something about it rather than complain. There are entrepreneurs in every space – charities, communities etc – it’s not always about business. I think what drives a true entrepreneur is trying to change the way people do things.

What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community? 

It’s gotten so much better over the last 10 years and it is 10 times easier to do a tech startup here today. You’re able to meet more like-minded people and connect with experienced mentors who’ve built successful companies or sold companies.

We need more people with the attitude to help tech startups and have the confidence that people will look after them if they succeed. When companies like us, who’ve been supported by the community, have exits, it will be a natural inclination to support other new local ventures.

What’s your ask right now? What do you and your startup need?

We’re raising money and also looking for technology marketing and Linux savvy development expertise. 

 

Lloyed Lobo covers Calgary’s tech startup community.  He is a Partner at Boast Capital and the VP of Community Evangelism at Startup Calgary.

If you are working on something that could potentially change the world, we’d like to hear about it. Send us a tweet at @startupcalgary or email us at info@startupcalgary.ca

 

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