The Challenges of Founding a David v Goliath Startup in a Non-Tech Hub

April 15, 2012

10:00 am

Imagine being a first-time startup founder in a non-tech-hub city going up against a well-established and ubiquitous service.  Quite a challenge – but founder Bret Michaelsen is working away in Salt Lake City, undaunted.  His startup is a drag and drop interface for simple file sharing without the subscription fees, software, or jumping through hoops common to other services (like DropBox, the aforementioned ubiquitous service). In a nutshell, you simply drag a file onto the app, drop it, and a link is created that you can share with others.

Michaelsen is a network engineer with his own IT and networking business; he is also a self-taught web and app developer.  Because his story is very much David v. Goliath – and we all love an underdog –  I recently talked to him about the challenges he is facing – and how he’s handling them. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Tech Cocktail: Where did you get the idea for Pastelink from?

Bret Michaelsen: While working with clients at my IT business, it is often necessary to transfer files of all types and sizes to and from different machines, servers, etc.  Though there are several tools which exist for doing this, none of them were quick…. Any web app I could find charges a fee for sending or storing larger files.  Eventually, I decided that I would program my own solution, and once I had a working version of it, it seemed like a good idea to turn it into a business of its own.

Tech Cocktail: With Dropbox so popular, how are you acquiring customers?

Michaelsen: Dropbox’s popularity is definitely a challenge for my product.  However, there are times when Dropbox is NOT the right solution for file transfers.  Not only does Dropbox require a signup, it requires the installation of software on your machine.  For fast file transfers, this is far too tedious.  It’s also difficult for somebody who doesn’t have computer skills (I run into those people daily in my IT consulting job).

I will mainly be targeting customers who are looking to share or send files online, but don’t have much need to store those files for long periods of time.  Rather than being a cloud-storage service, PasteLink is a cloud-sending service.  The aim of PasteLink is to make getting files between people easier than can currently be done with Dropbox, and our customers will be people looking for exactly that… an easier way.

Tech Cocktail: What kind of support are you getting from the community in SLC? Is there a startup/tech community in the city?

Michaelsen: As far as I know, most of the “communities” for startups in the tech field revolve around the two primary universities in the area – University of Utah and Brigham Young.  A quick browse through Kickstarter, IndiGoGo, or other websites aimed at startups shows that there are definitely plenty of new companies who have their beginnings in Salt Lake City.  Overall, I’d say that makes for a pretty good community for startups.

Tech Cocktail: What are the challenges you are facing starting up in a non-tech hub?

Michalesen: The main challenge I face is spreading word about the project.  While Kickstarter is a great place to start a business, they allow projects from many different fields, and they seemingly have a focus on art, fashion, and design projects.  While there are successful tech startups that launched on Kickstarter, it’s a fairly new way to generate funds.  This makes it difficult to find people who will support the project and make a pledge to push it along.

You can find out more about Pastelink via their Kickstarter Campaign.  

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen

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