PageCloud founder’s goal is to ‘render products like WordPress obsolete’

“I want to fix the Internet,” Craig Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Ottawa-based PageCloud, said in a recent interview. “I know that’s a grandiose claim… but I choose those words very carefully.”

PageCloud recently launched its website design software, putting it in competition with a list of better-known players, including Weebly, Wix, WordPress, and Squarespace.

Despite the crowd of established competitors, Fitzpatrick argues his company’s technology will appeal to frustrated web users who are looking for an intuitive and easy-to-use product for designing websites, while noting many business owners are frustrated by the price and time required to built websites that aren’t particularly creative.

“There have been a lot of people who have tried to do this over the past 20 years but it’s a tough problem and they’ve fallen really short,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is about publishing on the web in a complete free-form way, where you have complete freedom over your page.”

Fitzpatrick said his company has ditched website templates and is supplying users the tools to add creativity to the web-design process, including the ability to drag-and-drop photos, video, and text.

Mentioning his competitors, he noted: “How fast can you move an image one inch to the right? In most of those platforms you actually can’t, unless you go writing code. So that’s the difference… Essentially we are re-imagining what it’s like to put content on the web.”

Priced at $24 a month, PageCloud is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses with websites of less than 30 pages of content — in other words, businesses that can’t justify the cost of hiring a web development agency.

PageCloud launched its web-design product in late November, but started pre-selling licences six months earlier. Fitzpatrick said the company pre-sold nearly 10,000 licences, securing more than $1 million. “The response that people have when they see it is: ‘Holy cow, take my money.’”

Fitzpatrick wanted to avoid the misstep he contends many startups make: focusing all resources on developing a product, while putting little thought into how it will actually be sold. He said the first two positions he filled at PageCloud — in September 2014 — were in sales and business development.

“What you want to do is start at least six months before a launch and get those marketing and sales engines working,” he said. “I wanted to turn a switch and have an instant business with revenue coming in and profit being made.”

Fitzpatrick has said the goal is to “render products like WordPress obsolete”. How challenging will it be to beat the incumbents?

“Not very, actually,” he insisted. “You look at this market and there are several billion-dollar players—you’ve got WordPress, you’ve got Squarespace, and Wix. But what we’ve seen over the past six months is a visceral reaction when people see this product.”

“I was pretty blown away,” said Avanish Sahai, a PageCloud investor and former senior vice-president at Salesforce. “And that does not happen to me very easily.”

Sahai, who has worked in Silicon Valley for 25 years, said web and app design software is often too complicated for casual users, or is so unsophisticated that the results are poor. “I’d never seen something like this,” he said. “I truly feel (PageCloud) can disrupt the market significantly.”

Though bullish, Sahai notes two challenges. First, the product must back up the company’s simple-to-use promise. Second, is how to stand out. “That’s the marketing challenge: being distinctive.”

The market is vast… So if you only get a tiny fraction of one per cent of a billion, that’s still a big number

Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester Research, said the website-creation market is “ripe” for expansion and innovation. PageCloud appears to be “leap frogging” some of its competitors in terms of the design tools it offers, he noted.

“Are people going to flock to this and… switch from Wix and Weebly in great numbers? That’s to be determined,” he said from Cambridge, Mass. “They would if it was much, much better.” If not, PageCloud will simply achieve also-ran status.

Given the size of the market, however, a second- or third-place finish might also be lucrative. Schadler said there are hundreds of vendors in PageCloud’s sector. Yet there are, globally, one billion registered domains and 175 million active websites.

“The market is vast, it’s immense. So if you only get a tiny fraction of one per cent of a billion, that’s still a big number,” he said. “You can easily make a lot of money with a very small percentage of the market.”

Fitzpatrick said he expects to secure 50,000 to 100,000 paid users in 2016. He will also pursue a large funding round. PageCloud has raised $6.2 million through three rounds. By the spring, Fitzpatrick said he expects he’ll need “another large cash injection” to grow the company. The 15-person company will likely pursue a Series A funding round north of $10 million.

“Let’s pour gas on to the fire and turn this into the next monster player,” Fitzpatrick said. “They say it’s a 10-year journey to build a billion-dollar company. But I’m hoping to do it in five.”

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