The BackType Story: From Toronto to Silicon Valley

I caught up with Chris Golda and Mike Montano, founders of BackType, at the Interactive Exchange conference in Toronto recently to hear about their journey as recent grads from Toronto to startup founders in Silicon Valley.

Both Chris and Mike were until recently electrical engineering undergrad students at the University of Toronto. Chris graduated in 2007 and Mike was working as an intern at RIM, when both started working on their first startup – iPartee, in Waterloo. They launched iPartee, a social network for events, in November of ’07 and even got TechCrunch-ed, twice. But iPartee never got any traction and by spring of ’08, the venture had almost shuttered.

But instead of giving up and taking up a regular job somewhere, as most other students aspire for, Chris and Mike started up BackType – a search engine for comments around the web (they did odd-consulting assignments to support themselves meanwhile). In the spring of ’08 they applied to Paul Graham’s incredibly popular and sought after YCombinator startup program, which runs in the summer and winter of every year.

The program involved moving to Boston for the summer of ’08, receiving $15,000 in seed funding in return for about 6% equity in the venture, developing a prototype and pitching to investors, and most valuable of all, getting valuable advice from Paul Graham and other YCombinator-affiliated mentors. They got called for an interview with YCombinator, and quickly hacked a demo in two weeks for it. They got accepted and moved to Boston for the summer. Chris mentioned that YCombinator looks for good ideas and startup founders who have done something in the past to show that they can execute. In the end, they ended up spending only about $5000 of that amount to develop their prototype over the summer. Austin Hill interviewed them for StartupNorth around that time (check it out for some great insights).

After the end of the summer, they launched BackType and moved to Silicon Valley, where YCombinator is predominantly based, and lived and worked from there. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch called BackType the “Twitter for comments”. It essentially enables users to find and track comments around the web. For example, I was pretty surprised to find that a lot of the comments which I’ve made over the past several years on the web are instantly accessible through BackType (eg link). The real customers for this product though are marketers and publishers, according to Chris and Mike. They provide an API for commercial use and are already profitable to some extent through that.

Earlier this year, they raised an additional $300,000 round of funding from True Ventures, which is headed by the CEO of Automattic (the company behind WordPress). BackType has a bunch of new features and Chris and Mike are looking to grow it aggressively to the next level.

Their story is all the more inspiring as they did it inspite of being at the University of Toronto, which doesn’t have any startup culture, as I’ve seen over the past several years as well. They mentioned that they found Waterloo to be more pro-entrepreneurial (on a related note, I would be profiling the story of Polar Mobile next up, which was started couple of years ago by some University of Waterloo students straight out of college and is doing very well). 

Both Chris and Mike indicated that they would be glad to help out other entrepreneurs, especially with any YCombinator-related questions. Feel free to reach out to them on Twitter: @golda and @michaelmontano and follow the BackType story along on @backtype.