Over the coming weeks and months I will be featuring exclusive interviews with the entrepreneurs that lead the various early stage technology start-ups that I mentor and support with investment capital through my start-up angel fund KBJ Capital.
To kick things off I am happy to provide an exclusive interview with Josh Mullineaux, the co-founder and CEO of KBJ Capital Portfolio company Highlighter.com. This interview is particularly timely since just today Highlighter announced the release of Highlighter.com 2.0!!!
KRIS: Congrats on the release of Highlighter.com 2.0! Please tell us more about the new and improved Highlighter.
JOSH: Thanks Kris!
Well, when we released the original WordPress plugin at the end of TechStars, we learned a ton. We spoke to a bunch of customers and potential customers, mentors, educators, authors, you name it, we talked to them about Highlighter. We learned who will get the absolute highest amount of value from using our tool and took all the feedback we received to completely revamp the product. Two groups of people that are targets of Highlighter are authors and educators (professors especially).
Authors publish long form documents online that beg for the use of Highlighter to make it more engaging and more social. They can use it for editing and a host of other things. Professors publish a ton of classroom material online but have a really tough time will how to create discussions around that content. Highlighter works perfectly for that. Also, with Highlighter students can save important snippets of text to their highlighter account to make it easier to remember and help them study. With the newest version, Highlighter can work on any website (not just WordPress)! We have also developed some powerful analytics to help publishers understand how readers are interacting with their content. Enabling them to create more engaging content and reach their readers more effectively. You can see our awesome new video produced by Mike Folden below…
KRIS: Amazon.com continues to make strides in e-reading through the Kindle digital reading device. How is Highligher different than the Highlighting feature offered as part of the Kindle?
JOSH: Amazon has been doing some amazing things but has also been creating a ton of enemies in the process, especially in the self publishing world. Highlighter will work on any website and it lives on the internet. This means that you don’t have to have a Kindle to use the highlighting features. Any device that is connected to the internet can make use of Highlighter.
KRIS: Please describe the core or prototypical Highlighter user? Do they read books? Magazines? Web Blogs? News Web sites such as Techcrunch and the New York Times? Buy Online?
JOSH: We have two main types of users, publishers and readers. With the first piece of software that we released today, publishers install 1-line of code into the footer of their site or digital book or online publication and they get all of the Highlighter functionality.
Our ideal publisher is one that creates long form content or academic based content, I.E. authors and professors. Our next supporting piece of software will have readers as the main customer. Essentially enabling readers to have Highlighter functionality for any piece of content that is online period! Be on the lookout for that in a few months.
KRIS: What do you believe are the two or three features of Highlighter that really separates it from the competition?
JOSH: Our sharing feature and our analytics have actually been receiving the most praise from our publishers. We’ll see as we grow if those continue to be the favorite features of our customers. Here’s a screen shot of our social sharing tools, which allows readers to interact and share highlighted content they like from across the Web:
KRIS: Do you have any additional features in mind (in the development pipeline) for Highlighter?
JOSH: Oh yes!
The very next feature we will roll out in the next month or so is our ‘Groups’ feature. Allowing users to form groups and even sub-groups around pieces of online content. This came as a request from a professor at the University of Colorado who is helping us refine the feature. The feature is aimed strait at the needs of professors and educators who want to get students more engaged with online class material. Also, this will allow book clubs to use Highlighter.
KRIS: Highlighter.com is a 2010 graduate of the inaugural TechStars Seattle class. Please summarize your experience as a TechStars company a.) while part of the incubation and b.) post incubation. What were the highlights before and after?
JOSH: Like every other entrepreneur who has been a part of TechStars will tell you, the experience is literally life altering. The program will teach the CEO’s to pitch effectively and get everyone used to hearing ‘No.’
The developer community while in the program is 2nd to none as well. All the teams are able to lean on each other for help.
Arguably the most valuable part of the experience is the networking with investors, successful entrepreneurs, and other mentors. You get unprecedented access to them and they will sink their teeth into the product, strategy, and pitch.
Post incubation, TechStars gives us an advantage when speaking to potential investors or partners. Everyone knows TechStars and how competitive it is to get in. So when you meet with someone and they know that you have been through the program, they know that you have been taught well, are capable, and have already been evaluated by some of the most successful investors and entrepreneurs in the business.