If there’s one word that best describes the underlying pain point that Juan Porras has sought to solve throughout his career, it would be inefficiency.
From his first job out of college—which he left after frustration from its corporate bureaucracy—to his most recent startup, Rheti, he has worked to streamline processes and increase productivity. His latest effort is Factivate, a startup taking on the inherent inefficiencies that result when data is transferred into spreadsheets to create reports and track progress.
The company is still in stealth mode, but it has already graduated from an accelerator program in Boulder and attracted $300,000 in local investment from David Gardner’s new fund, Cofounder’s Capital. I sat down with Juan a few weeks ago to learn about Factivate and how he plans to revolutionize spreadsheets.
The last time we profiled Porras, he was knee-deep in fine-tuning the technology behind his previous startup, Rheti. Launched in 2012, Rheti was an Android app that made it easy and quick for technology novices to build and customize their own apps. At its most basic level, the app was meant to cut out the duplicative work developers go through each time they build an app. He wanted to free up their time to focus on the creative, more innovative aspects of app development.
By 2014, Porras and his partner Ralph Talvarez had gained enough traction to earn acceptance and investment from the Colorado-based accelerator Boomtown. Once in Boulder, Porras learned about developers who created apps using spreadsheets. He realized that they were increasing inefficiencies for everyone from developers to marketers and everyone in between. He says, “there were some really big problems with spreadsheets that were very obvious that no one was solving.”
And since no one else was solving the problems, he decided he should. So one month into the 12-week accelerator program, Rheti pivoted to Factivate.
Porras came to love Boulder, but he finished the accelerator and brought Factivate back to Durham. He’d established roots in the town and recognized the creative talent available here.
Porras was introduced to Gardner soon after. Since Cofounders Capital focuses mostly on business-to-business software, Factivate fit right into its wheelhouse. And Gardner was impressed by Porras’s dedication and willingness to learn and be coached. They began a three-month due diligence process which Porras describes as “really like having a mentor who was only interested in making my business better.” In the end, Gardner’s first impression was validated by the process and he made his typical seed investment of $300,000 in the company.
Factivate the product is a cloud-based data analytics platform that allows users to connect their spreadsheets to real-time data sources. At first glance, it looks almost identical to an Excel spreadsheet. This is purposeful.
Why? Porras says it’s simple actually—data analytic users are more comfortable with traditional spreadsheets. Porras estimates each employee who performs these functions spends at least 200 hours a year downloading and formatting data into a usable format in spreadsheets. So he mimicked the traditional spreadsheet design so that users would be more comfortable with style, functionality and layout.
"In sharp contrast to the complex and expensive B.I. tools on the market today,” says Gardner, “If you know how to use Excel then you know 95% of what you need to know to use Factivate.”
But while Factivate’s design and most of its functions and capabilities are similar to those found in standard spreadsheets, the platform differs in a few key ways.
First, it can connect to real-time data from sources like Salesforce, Google Analytics, Facebook and Socrata. Both the data itself and any visualization tools the user has created with the data will be updated automatically and in real time. This is important because access to the real-time data enables the user to analyze the data on the spot without having to download and organize the needed data. It also prevents errors that occur in transcription and data transfer. Since many businesses make many decisions based on this data, Porras says the delay and the errors can cost companies a significant amount of money if the data is outdated and incorrect.
The second big difference between Factivate and traditional spreadsheets is that it provides ways to set alerts, reminders, send emails and text messages to users. For example, users can create rules to receive text messages every time a figure reaches a certain threshold so they can immediately take action on the findings from data. Users can set traditional reminders—such as remember to check x data set on x date—too.
The final big difference is that Factivate’s design and SaaS model allow it to provide the functionality of big data analysis software without the associated cost and complex structure. But Porras doesn’t see himself in direct competition with big data analytic software companies or predictive analytics companies. While Factivate can handle big data sets, it’s not designed to create the complex reports using predictive analytics that some software can.
Most users do not need—nor want—to use those functions, Porras says. Factivate can accomplish most of the functions most users require at a much lower cost.
Factivate is still working out the price structure, but so far clients are willing to pay between $50 and $200 per user per month. Whereas competitors like Domo are said to charge around $3,000 per user annually.
Over the past few years, there’s been a rise in companies specializing in moving standard, stand-alone products found on your PC, Mac or software into cloud-based services. Some of these companies have done exceedingly well. Slideshare—a company that allows customers to share documents and create presentations in the cloud—was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012 for $119 million in cash and stock. Evernote—a cloud-based note taking and organization tool similar to Microsoft OneNote—hit $1 billion in its latest valuation.
But his ultimate goal is to make other people’s lives easier. And by eliminating the inefficiencies reporting from traditional spreadsheets causes, he might just accomplish that goal.