A Missoula software startup that has developed an easy-to-use online platform to curate digital content continues to catch notice across the country.
Submittable, founded in Missoula by Michael Fitzgerald, John Brownell and Bruce Tribbensee, was named one of the Financial Post’s “Hot Startups of the Week” last week. The Submittable crew learned of the honor from their summer “home” in Silicon Valley, where they’re participating in a prestigious program to help advance digital startup companies.
“It’s been amazing,” Fitzgerald said from California. “(Y Combinator) partners or ‘faculty’ have all created and sold multimillion-dollar companies, they know how to take a three-person company and turn it into a million-dollar company. Very few people know how to do that.”
Y Combinator was started in 2005 after it’s founders “developed a new model of startup funding.” The program focuses on digital entrepreneurs, moving them to Silicon Valley for three months, “during which we work intensively with them to get the company into the best possible shape and refine their pitch to investors,” its website says.
The Y Combinator program’s alumni include the founders of Pinterest and Dropbox. Submittable is the first Montana-based company to be chosen to participate in Y Combinator.
“I’ve watched companies be invited to other innovation jump-starter programs and Y Combinator is the top of the line,” said Clyde Neu, the Montana representative for Flywheel Ventures, which has invested in Submittable. “When a company goes through a program like that they increase their chances of being able to acquire funding, as well as reach a network of people that can help grow their business. It elevates the credibility and capability of the company.”
Jakki Mohr, regents professor of marketing at the University of Montana, did a double take when Fitzgerald told her of Submittable’s selection for Y Combinator. Mohr, who is an expert in high-tech marketing, first met with Fitzgerald several years ago when he was just formulating the idea for Submittable and said she’s witnessed its amazing growth since.
“The opportunity for a Missoula company to participate in this is phenomenal,” Mohr said.
The Submittable team will be in Silicon Valley until late August. They put in long hours writing code and working on its platform, Fitzgerald said.
They meet once a week for dinner with other Y Combinator participants and listen to presentations from successful digital entrepreneurs. There also are “office hours” when entrepreneurs can ask other entrepreneurs and business owners specific questions about how best to move their businesses ahead.
The immediate access to information keeps progress moving quickly.
“You say what problems you’re having technically or business- wise and just talk to someone who’s done it before,” Fitzgerald said.
The Submittable founders developed an online application that offers publishers a way to manage submissions in a personalized, central database that integrates into their website. Playboy has used Submittable to collect and screen guest essay submissions.
The company also has a resume management arm that allows job seekers to upload digital resumes and gives employers an efficient way to manage them.
Submittable already generates “significant revenue” and in March had more than 3,000 publishers subscribing to the service, Fitzgerald said. The work they’ve done at Y Combinator has already helped push those numbers higher.
“This month alone, we’ve probably tripled our general signup rate,” Fitzgerald said.
They’ve also advanced the Submittable platform so users can now edit work directly in the Google Docs application, among other things.
The company submitted a two-minute application video, then did a 10-minute in-person pitch to get into the Y Combinator program.
“I think the thing they liked was we weren’t MBAs, we were all artists, we sort of understood how to create something out of nothing,” Fitzgerald said.
Now, Y Combinator mentors can help Submittable learn the business skills they need to keep advancing their company.
Y Combinator also invested $200,000 in Submittable. The program also comes with thousands of dollars of free services, such as several years of web hosting. The final Y Combinator event allows participants to pitch their companies to a large group of investors. However, Fitzgerald isn’t sure they’ll pitch Submittable for more outside investment.
The most important thing they can gain from the program, Fitzgerald said, are the connections being made each day.
“We wanted that exposure. It’s very, very hard to get serious investors in Missoula and it’s hard to get expertise,” he said.
When the Y Combinator program ends in late August, Fitzgerald and crew will head back to Missoula, hauling all the extra knowledge and resources with them. They hope the new success will help them expand and hire more people at Submittable.
“I want a great company to exist outside Silicon Valley,” Fitzgerald said.