Jason Baptiste and Andres Barreto, Founders of Onswipe
Jason Baptiste is nothing if not confident. "We're sitting between two huge shifts," he told the audience at TechStars's Demo Day on April 11. "The shift in the media industry from print to digital, and the shift in the entire computing industry from point-and-click to touch-enabled devices. We get a chance to change everything. We get a chance to rewrite all the rules. And in order to do this we are not raising a Series A, we're raising a Series Awesome. Because I can tell you that Onswipe will own this market."
Baptiste and his co-founder, Andres Barreto, who is a founder of Grooveshark, had just completed TechStars's first three-month mentoring program in New York City. At Demo Day, they were seeking additional funding for their company, Onswipe, which allows publishers of all sizes to make their content look "beautiful and app-like" on tablet devices such as iPad. On June 3, less than two months after Demo Day, the two did indeed raise their "Series Awesome." Spark Capital, which had already invested $1 million in the company, led a $5 million round and was joined by Lightbank and a handful of other investors. All this before Baptiste and Barreto had even launched their platform.
The partners started their company last summer in Miami. Barreto, a serial entrepreneur originally from Columbia, was running PulsoSocial, the "TechCrunch of Latin America," says Baptiste, who had just singed a deal with Portfolio to write a book on entrepreneurship and was contributing to the blog OnStartups. "We thought a lot of people were reading our stuff," says Baptiste. "So we said 'let's see if we can make it look really good.'"
They started by creating a simple WordPress plug-in for the iPad called Pad Press. "We had a developer in Mexico who didn't even have an iPad, so we'd do a Skype video chat and hold our iPad up for him and say 'this is how it's working or not working,'" recalls Baptiste. "We thought, let's do the thing that people say we can't do, which is to do a flip board within the browser."
In the fall, at the eleventh hour, Baptiste and Barreto decided to apply to TechStars's first New York City-based program. They were accepted and, shortly thereafter, landed their first million in investment from Spark.
From there, it's been a whirlwind. Baptiste and Barreto recently signed on 18-year-old wiz-kid Mark Bao as CTO and co-founder. Bao, who just finished his freshman year at Bentley College, created his first app in the fifth grade. The partners cut a deal with WordPress to power 18.6 million blogs on iPad. And on June 20, Onswipe officially launched with its first major media partners: Hearst's Marie Claire and The Washington Post Company's Slate, among others. All content looks and feels app-like ad and is interactive and customizable.
Use of the publishing platform is free; Onswipe makes money by sharing ad revenue with publishers. The company also brings advertisers to the table; partnerships with American Express and Sprint are already in place.
"Things are moving way faster than I would have ever thought," says Baptiste. "I think revenue is going to be way more than I could ever imagine."
DONNA FENN | Inc.com Contributing Editor
Donna Fenn is the author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.