This is the second in a series of profiles about the women-led companies in the SoarTriangle program. The women were selected from a pool of 25 companies and were chosen based on the merit of the idea behind the company, the strength and coachability of the team, and whether Soar organizers believe they can help the company reach their goals. To be considered, companies had to be planning to raise capital in the next six to twelve months.
TaskTorch married co-founders Niki and Nate Kohari have already achieved success by many entrepreneur’s standards. AgileZen—their first project management software and company by the same name—went from idea to acquisition by Rally Software in nine months.
Shortly after the acquisition, the pair packed up and moved from Akron, Ohio to Raleigh to work from Rally’s Raleigh-based office. After working for Rally for a few years, both left at different times to work at Adzerk, the ad serving infrastructure startup based in Durham.
But after trying to collaborate with teammates at Adzerk using various project management tools—including one they built—they were still dissatisfied with the experience. So they left Adzerk to solve the problem for good with a new product and company named TaskTorch—hoping their tool would make passing work projects to teammates as simple and seamless as passing an Olympic torch.
TaskTorch isn’t yet available for purchase, but the company has already signed on a few early customers to test the product and provide feedback.
It’s also attracted support from SoarTriangle who recently selected TaskTorch as one of their six mentee companies.
Lauren Whitehurst, Soar co-organizer and mentor, says Soar was impressed by TaskTorch because of the co-founders’ strength as a team, their experience, and because they, “created a tool, sold it, and now are creating an even better tool to improve project management among teams.”
In 2009, Niki (pictured below) was working towards a PhD in industrial organization (I/O) psychology and her husband had landed his dream job at the software development company, Telligent Systems. But the dream job turned out to be more frustrating than enjoyable.
And while Niki enjoyed teaching, she wasn’t in love with academia’s rigorous research and publication requirements—she was more interested in applying theory to practice than conducting research for the sake of publication. And she was drawn to entrepreneurship—she kept finding herself applying her academic research to entrepreneurs and their startups.
Nate’s primary pain point was the project management software his organization used. It didn’t allow for seamless collaboration or teamwork. The frustration intrigued Niki who believed she could apply psychological theories to the problem to solve it.
The pair began brainstorming and within six weeks developed a user-friendly solution grounded in psychological theories and lean software development called AgileZen.
Nine months later AgileZen was acquired by Rally Software, a software company based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to an undisclosed amount of money and stock options, the Koharis were given positions with Rally. But rather than move to Boulder, they chose to move Rally’s Raleigh location.
They did so in part at the recommendation from their friend—Adzerk founder, James Avery. They didn’t intend to join his firm, but it was there that a second compelling business idea took shape.
Just like there is an app for anything a person might desire, there is a project management tool for any type of project a person might desire to manage. Want to manage a GitHub project? Try Waffle.io. Need to manage your organization’s communication? The highly-valued Slack could help. Need to manage an office project? You can use Trello, Basecamp, Asana, AgileZen, Microsoft Project or one of the many other tools on the market. And those companies have contributed to a flurry of venture capital activity in a new category of software called “developers tools.”
But TaskTorch differs from AgileZen and all the other solutions on the market in a few key ways.
First, TaskTorch is more than just a project management tool. Niki said, “We want (TaskTorch) to be the central hub of how people communicate and coordinate their work.”
Another key difference is that individuals and teams can “pass the torch” or work between each other seamlessly and without confusion about who is responsible for the next task. Most project management solutions require each project to be its own item, and all tasks are related to that item.
TaskTorch is also built for both teams and individuals—a unique feature not found in most project and task management solutions. They’re typically only designed for one or the other. Unlike AgileZen, TaskTorch allows users to each have their own queue where they can control and organize their individual priority list and tasks associated with team projects.
Finally, TaskTorch allows for individual projects and tasks to be viewed at both the micro (individual) level and at the macro (organizational) level in how they relate to accomplishing the organizations broader goals and objectives. TaskTorch generates this view automatically for customers so they don’t have to.
But even with these differences, the saturated market ensures that TaskTorch has its work cut out for itself in differentiating itself. This is where the Koharis hope SoarTriangle will help.
Perhaps the biggest question for successful entrepreneurs like the Koharis is why they’d want or need to apply to a mentorship program.
As it turns out, for several reasons. Not least of which is the Soar mentors’ ability to help walk them through the fund raising process.
The Koharis hope to raise a seed round in the next six to 12 months. They bootstrapped AgileZen, then sold it so quickly they never had to learn how navigate the venture capital world. They’ve also bootstrapped TaskTorch so far. Thus, they are looking forward to feedback from Soar mentors and advisors on pitch decks, presentations, introductions and other fundraising best practices.
They’re also looking forward to hiring and team building advice from the mentors since they didn’t have to do much of that at AgileZen as the only two employees.
But since TaskTorch is the couple’s first company built in the Triangle, they are most looking forward to broadening their network and getting more plugged into the Triangle’s startup community. In an ideal world, Niki says they would like to raise local funds and “keep the ecosystem going,” and grow the company in the Triangle.
And now, with SoarTriangle’s help, they just might be able to reach those goals.