Great things come out if we pay attention to the nature of things done iteratively by people over and over. Surfmark built and is continuously fine-tuning to become world’s go-to save all the effort you put in seeking knowledge from the Web, and turn it into something that you can keep forever. When you combine these efforts with those of millions of other people, the impact can be so profound that it may just change the way we look at the Web. We know that sounds insanely ambitious, but anything can be achieved when you break a problem down into its smallest components, and rebuild it into a ground-breaking solution.
Vivek Agarwal, the founder & CEO of SurfMark has received his graduation from IIT Delhi and MBA in Business from University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School. He has extensive experience in Investment banking and Supply Chain startups.
Kumar Kapil and Simil Dutta both graduated from IIT Kanpur. Kumar Kapil is the co-founder of University Hiring (a college-placement startup) and founding member of Yahoo Ad-network team in Bangalore, while Simil is a key member in a startup in embedded telephony domain. Their fourth member Dano Alexander is from Turkey,specializes in UI design at web-startups and is a professional snowboarder.
We catch up with Kumar Kapil, Chief Technologist at SurfMark to understand more about the vision & plans ahead.
Tell us the idea & motivation behind creation of SurfMark?
I do a lot of web-based research out of curiosity. My co-founder Vivek had been doing a lot of web-based research in a more professional setting (when he was an investment-banker) and we both realized a common problem. There are no tools for anyone who does a deep web based research to easily save and share the effort that goes in doing that research. For example, if I have to go out on a vacation to Leh/Ladakh with my friends, I would want to research on how to reach there, whether to go via a tour-operator or on my own, where to say, what activities to do, where to rent the bikes from etc. This process is very iterative and sometimes even collaborative (i.e. I might be doing the research along with my friends); and most of the information is researched over the web. Now, the idea was that if I am spending some time doing this kind of research – at the end of the process I have gained some knowledge on the topic; and there should be a tool by which I can save that knowledge and share with others or come back to it later. We built Surfmark to let people save the effort they put in deep-web-based research and collaborate on top of it.
How does the Product work?
Surfmark is available as an iPad app, a Firefox add-on and a Chrome extension. We also have a bookmarklet that works on all browsers that support a bookmarks bar. The product sits as a toolbar on the browser and allows you to add your notes/comments on the page as you are viewing it, and saves it under topics of your choice. The product is available under a freemium model – so you can create some surfmarks for free, but after certain limit you need to purchase a pro-account.
When was the startup launched and what kind of traction has it seen so far?
We started Surfmark as a semantic-search company back in 2010, but eventually pivoted to the area of education – technology (around a year back). We now have 6 schools in the US who are our paying customers and we are piloting the product with some 15 other organizations (high-schools, colleges, online-colleges, media organizations and other consultancies). We have more than 100,000 pages saved by our users.
Future plans on funding and growth?
We are looking for seed-funding to scale up our operations. We are also looking to hire a developer at Bangalore. We are focusing only on US schools/colleges for now (apart from other organizations we are already piloting with).
What industries is SurfMark targeting? And what features are in the pipeline for the product?
We are targeting scholar community in the short-term, and knowledge workers in the long-term. So, right now, we are selling our products to schools/colleges/online-course-providers/universities etc. We see a very good focused group of users in them. Eventually we plan to expand the horizons to media orgs, consultancies, travel orgs etc (where a lot of research is done and collaborated on).
In the long-term, we plan to make a Yammer like model for organizations to come on our platform and do collaborative research within teams. We are making the product infrastructure more robust to scale, and also building more collaborative features on the product.
What would you describe as your biggest learnings in startup journey so far?
Our biggest learning has been that
It is very crucial for any product to identify the focused group of users to target initially
It took us sometime to realize that. With a small team, spread across the globe but whose epicenter lies in beautiful San Francisco, we are doing just that.
Being a geographically diverse team, what kind of technology do you use for effective collaboration?
We rely on Vonage/magic-jack to talk over phone. We use google products (drive, hangouts, and email) a lot. We use svn for our code collaboration. Apart from these, we also use a lot of Surfmark in our day-to-day work. One example is when we work with Dano on the front-end design, we use our tools to write our comments in-pace on the initial wireframe designs and share it as a surfmark within our team. It reduces a lot of communication gaps.
You have recently demoed at Startup Saturday Bangalore. Tell us about the experience.
SS Bangalore is an excellent initiative. Its always a pleasure talking to like-minded people and fellow-entrepreneurs and exchange notes in the process.I have got a lot of good, critical and important feedback by being part of this platform. I would like to thank the guys @SSBLR – as entrepreneurs they give us enough fodder (in terms of appreciation and feedback) that keeps us going towards our goal!
TTP’s take on SurfMark
On the surface, the tiny bookmarklet looks easy and simple to the user – keep making notes while you browse and save it for future reference. It is these little things that add up to save someone’s amount of time and effort significantly. SurfMark would be definitely useful to anyone casually browsing the internet for some information or a serious researcher browsing across hundreds of webpages. The only suggestion we have is to give the user ability to upload all kinds of multimedia along with his online research so that it would make for more complete package.
We wish SurfMark team all the best and strongly urge everyone to try this out.