Creately.com is a project management tool that helps teams manage and deliver their projects. Positioned as an easy-to-use collaborative diagramming application, it has built-in features for built-in reviewing, easy collaboration, comprehensive diagramming functions and shapes for just about any type of diagram.
Creately was founded two years ago by Charanjit Singh, Chandika Jayasundara and Nick Foster and started as a vision for a new visual way to work with complex data. They submitted their idea to the Melbourne University Entrepreneurship Challenge and, lo-and-behold, won. Soon the team put together some money and sent Chandika off to Sri Lanka to form a development team. On their end, Charanjit and Nick got down to planning the nitty-gritty that needs to be done for a startup to be successful.
A Visual Collaborative Project Management Tool
The web-based application works with a browser and allows project team members to share, review and update project designs easily. Creately‘s central repository with an extensive library of object sets, templates allows for ease-of-use. Essentially, users can work on visual artefacts that are part of any project that someone else in the team undertakes.
“Most of today’s team collaboration software is purely text-based. Creately is the missing link in the plethora of text-based collaboration platforms that have seen a dramatic uptake in the last few years,” posits Charanjit. “We also felt customers would benefit from having rich diagrams that contained data and behaviours, that could be manipulated visually giving them a very rich and interactive interface to overcome the problems of information overload.”
“We believe there is latent demand for visual interfaces that make working with data and disparate systems easier and more interactive.”
At a most basic level – Creately aims to make communication clearer. “Providing a collaborative diagramming platform which is easy to use and integrates into your existing ways of working helps our customers get their message across to team members and customers – saving them time and money.” Charanjit says the real value of Creately comes to the fore when it is integrated into a service like Google Docs or even SocialWok.
But the team at Creately has a larger vision for the company. They’ve built its underlying technology – even patenting parts of it – that deploys smart shapes (which Creately calls Knowledge Objects or KObjects) that reflect the status and changes in data, properties or behaviors. For example, you could define a KObject to represent network connectivity – when network connectivity experiences a change, the smart shape will change correspondingly to give users a visual form of feedback. “This allows us to quickly build domain specific shapes with built-in intelligence that will be useful across many industries,” explains Charanjit.
Understanding Your Customer
The last two years have been exciting for the team. They introduced Creately at DemoFall ’08 and TechCrunch50 in 2008, and finally launched to the public late last year, earning favorable reviews from the technical press.
One of the key challenges the team at Creately faced was trying to understand their target customer – who they are, what they want and how better to serve their needs. For this purpose, they make extensive use of surveys, customer idea forums, as well as online tracking tools such as Kissmetrics, Google Analytics and CrazyEgg. They’ve even experimented on their pricing. In fact, Creately started by targeting regular consumers, but along the way found that corporate and business users were more willing (and able) to pay for such collaborative project tools. Since then they’ve made a strategic decision to focus on business customers and fine-tuned their go-to-market strategy accordingly.
Today, every new customer Creately wins is an achievement and should to be celebrated, says Charanjit. “Every customer touch point is monitored, measured and improved because we want our customer to not just get a software application but experience the Creately difference that we’re very proud of.”
Charanjit says the fast changing technology landscape is both a challenge as well as an opportunity for agile startups. “Everyday we are faced with new opportunities in our space, and it can sometimes be challenging to stay focused on our game plan when everything around you is changing so quickly.” They have recently launched an API and are now working with some large collaboration platforms to build direct integration into Creately.
Creately is funded with money from friends and family, and the team is working hard to keep costs low. Charanjit admits, however, that in order to fully achieve their vision they would need external funding. “This year we plan to raise money from angels and VCs to take the product to the next level. We want to build a self-sustaining company but also understand that when a market opportunity presents itself – you need to do what it takes to capitalise on it.”
Peer Support Group
Charanjit is currently signed up in the first cohort of Founder Institute Singapore. He says that the Founder Institute program is one of the better things thats happened for the local Internet entrepreneurship scene. “I’ve always felt the biggest challenge in Singapore is not the lack of support from the government or the lack of capability in our people,” Charanjit explains. “It’s the lack of mentors and like-minded peers that an entrepreneur needs to surround himself for success.” He says he doesn’t know anyone in his peer group who’s also ventured down the entrepreneurial route, which can be a stumbling block.
“A lot of what I’ve learnt at Founder Institute I have personally experienced over the last 2 years and having mentors and peers to discuss our challenges has been a real boon. We have also found it to be a great place to network and meet some great guys.”
Views on Entrepreneurship
“I love Singapore as my home. But I… would never have started an Internet start-up living here.”
Starting a business takes passion, courage, the right peer group and sheer hard work, says Charanjit. “The ability to chart my own destiny through my own willpower and create something new that can contribute to the advancement of society are the key attractions for me.”
“I love Singapore as my home. But I will be the first to admit that I would never have started an Internet start-up living here,” he says.
Charanjit believes that the world would be a lesser place without entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurs are the grease that oil the wheels of commerce and enterprise,” he says. “Entrepreneurship lets me exploit my passion for technology to build something that can fill an under-served need – and do it better than the next guy.”
“Being an entrepreneur means building something that is at least an order of magnitude or two greater than the self – creating value for my business, employees, community and myself in the process.”
He’s acutely aware of the risk of failure – starting on the entrepreneurial journey in his mid-30s, with a new family to boot. “The support of my spouse has been instrumental in me taking the plunge – and for all the blood, sweat and tears – I could now never not be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life.”
“The daily challenges, constant learning and striving to make the ‘impossible’ happen are worth far more than the risks.”