Founders: Jason Baptiste and Andres Barreto
Year founded: 2010
Location: New York, NY
Two years ago, Jason Baptiste and Andres Barreto were just a couple of bloggers with a nagging complaint: They had a lot of readers, but were irritated by how terrible their content looked on their iPads. Baptiste was writing for OnStartups, and Barreto, who is Columbian, was running PulsoSocial, a Latin-American tech blog similar to TechCrunch. So the two friends, then based in Miami, decided to build a platform “to make our stuff look good,” says Baptiste. “The worst case scenario was that no one would like it, but we’d learn a lot about tablet interface.” Their idea: to build a beautiful and app-like platform that would allow readers to flip through content from publishers of all sizes. “We wanted to make web content feel like a magazine,” says Barreto.
As it turned out, the worst case didn’t play out and today, Onswipe is a red-hot Manhattan-based company that has experienced a 300 percent increase in users since its June 2011 launch. In fact, if you’ve read a WordPress blog on your tablet, you’re one of those users; early on, Onswipe struck a deal with WordPress to power all of its blogs—30 million of them.
Baptiste and Barreto, along with a developer based in Mexico, created the first version of their “insanely easy” platform in the summer of 2010. They signed on 150 or so beta users, and the response was so positive that they immediately knew that their idea had huge potential. But how to monetize it? They had several conversations with venture capitalists and, just minutes before the deadline, applied to TechStars's new Manhattan-based mentorship/funding program.
The stars must have been aligned for Onswipe that summer, because the partners, who were seeking $500,000 in startup funds, got a call from Spark Capital, “and they told us they didn’t want to give us $500,000; they wanted to give us $1 million,” recalls Baptiste. “That’s the moment that changed our lives.” At almost the same time, Onswipe was accepted into TechStars. “By the time the program started, we had seven figures in the bank,” says Baptiste. And by the time it ended, the company would nail down another $5 million in pre-launch funding from Spark and several other investors. Baptiste calls that capital raise Onswipe’s “series awesome.”
The Onswipe platform is now used by millions of bloggers, plus major publishers such as Conde Nast, Ziff Davis, BBC, Slate and Moguldom Media. The company makes money by connecting publishers with advertisers and taking a percentage of the ad revenue. “Brands and agencies want to spend money on tablets but they want to do it easily and beautifully, and they want it to be scalable and measurable,” says Baptiste. “Those four things have been difficult to get altogether.” Baptiste believes that Onswipe solves that problem. Advertisers like Verizon, Hewlett Packard, IBM and American Express are evidence that he’s on the right track. The company now employs 20 people, has maxed out its office space and, says Baptiste, will soon start raising more capital (a “series baller,” he notes). His ultimate goal? “I think we’re going to be the largest technology company in the city,” he says.
Illustration by Cannaday Chapman