Marketcircle: Part I, The Start-up Story

NOTE: This is Part 1 of 2 of Techvibes’ in-depth look at Marketcircle. Part 1 is about the start-up and its founder’s story; Part 2 will be about their award-winning products and strategy.

Earlier this year I came across a Toronto-based start-up called Marketcircle which had won the “Best of Show” award at the MacWorld Expo for its Daylite Touch iPhone application. Now that doesn’t happen too often – a local start-up winning big on the international stage, so I just had to visit them in their office located on the outskirts of Toronto in Markham, Ontario and find out what was going on there.

I caught up with Marketcircle’s Founder and CEO, Alykhan Jetha (AJ), who shared his remarkable start-up journey and where Marketcircle got to be over the years – and its a story of incredible resourcefulness, sheer grit and sticking to your ideals, which I think other local entrepreneurs can take a lot of inspiration from.

AJ’s software journey started back in the early ’90s, when he was developing on the NeXT and by ’97, was into consulting. He had figured out that what he really wanted to do was “to start his own business”, and by the summer of ’99, he started realizing on that dream. Marketcircle was born, and the initial idea which AJ and his team were working on was of a “negotiation engine” for e-commerce. They tried to raise funding, and through sheer resourcefulness went from one lead to the other…from Toronto to Los Angeles, and finally ended up pitching one of the most prestigious venture capital firms out there, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), in Silicon Valley. The timing was a little off though, since by the time they got to DFJ, the dot com bust was already on the horizon and venture funding didn’t materialize for them. This is when most folks would hang up their boots – having given up on the software venture dreams. Well, AJ wasn’t one of them.

He went back to the drawing board and focused on a niche for Marketcircle – on helping small businesses grow through innovative software products. And not only that, he decided to focus on developing products only on the Mac – since, well, he loved the Mac and wanted to support it as he believed that just one dominant operating system couldn’t be all that good for humanity in general. Marketcircle had also raised some $$ from family / friends and was running in the red in the early days – but AJ was keen on returning that cash back to the investors. Notice the key values and aspirations here for AJ – from his belief in the Mac, to maintaining integrity and “doing the right thing” with early investors, to developing software products which a certain set of customers would find value in.

And that’s what sets Marketcircle apart. They launched their flagship product for small business productivity called Daylite in 2002 and by 2004 it was already being sold in about 49 countries. Note the word “sold”…they actually charged for their software and have been able to make a real, sustainable business out of it instead of just giving away the product for free unlike many other typical web/software start-ups. Over the years, they’ve been able to grow from an idea to a real office with over a couple of dozen people working together to develop applications which are used, appreciated, and more importantly, bought, worldwide.

There is a lot to learn from AJ and Marketcircle’s story here for other budding, especially local, entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, he recommends the book “Rules for Revolutionaries” (by Guy Kawasaki) and had the following piece of advice for those looking to start their own venture:

You can’t wait too long to prove your idea is good enough – you have to get the product out there and see if the market is accepting and take it from there..

In Part 2 of this in-depth look at Marketcircle, I’ll go over their key products (Daylite and Billings) and try and analyze how does this Toronto-based software start-up compete on a global scale. Stay tuned..