Someone looked at the ordinary, old circle and saw the first wheel. Barc has taken the humble chat room and envisioned a new web experience. Barc offers a free place to chat anywhere on the Internet. This might not sound revolutionary at first, but the enormous potential becomes clear after listening to co-founder and CEO Grant Farwell speak passionately about his startup.
Painless to install, Barc combines a number of services – community engagement, social networking, content creation, and analytics – into a single intuitive service. Website owners can engage visitors in real-time, turn comments into tweets and posts while keeping the conversation right on the page. Users can initiate “Subchats” to branch out new discussions in orderly fashion and much more.
While Barc uses cutting edge technologies such as Websocket and Node to achieve seamless integration and real-time interaction on websites, Barc maintains the feel of a simple, useful tool. Naturally, Farwell joined KillerStartups for a chat, and had this to say about his innovative company:
What can you tell us about Barc? What is Barc?
It started out as a way to chat on a website. Didn’t matter if it was Amazon or any other website, if they had a chat or didn’t, or if they even knew about it. You could just use Barc to chat on any website. The idea has since evolved from that. What we found was that it was hard to get the ball rolling in terms of a critical mass of users, so we’ve made our technology available to be embedded on websites. It’s like what you see on a website where you chat with a one-on-one customer representative, only a little bit better or different (I think better), because you can chat with everyone. If you’re a website owner or a user, you can chat with everyone who’s on the same site.
How did you start Barc? What’s the background story?
I was in college when I came up with the idea. It was around the time that Facebook introduced their chat. So it was a little while ago. I saw that some other sites were trying to replicate it and I thought, “Well, why not chat anywhere, on any website you want to, instead of each website having their own different chat service.” Have one place where you can login, use Twitter or Facebook, and then be able to chat anywhere.
Before I was also a big gamer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Starcraft, but I was one of the top gamers in North America. So, I’ve always loved gaming, and in games, you connect with users in ways that you don’t on the Internet, or at least not in the website world. I wanted to bring that interactivity that games have to websites or wherever you are on the Internet. I took my senior year off and moved back to San Diego.
Maybe you can describe some ideal experiences using Barc?
Some of the cool things I’ve seen recently include people using it on websites like a pet store in Israel. We just added a feature where we have real-time language translation. So you can chat with someone in another country in real-time while you’re both reading different languages. You can also embed pictures and videos in a chat, so if you’re chatting on Facebook and you want to watch a video, now everyone can just watch it directly inside of a chat.
It’s really cool, too, because it’s so easy to install. Part of the barrier of entry, is that a lot of website owners don’t want to have to deal with putting something on their backend, doing X,Y, and Z. With Barc, you just put a couple lines of code into your website’s HTML and you’re done. That’s all you have to do. The other thing that’s cool is to see the random sites that use Barc. We’re trying to make it a tool that isn’t really focused, for example, on gaming, or sports. It’s just a tool. That’s the direction we’ve taken it. So it’s cool to go in and see all the different types of websites that have it.
Would you say you’re more focused on general users or on approaching businesses to add Barc to their website?
We’re more focused on businesses now. With businesses, we can target them, do what it takes to put Barc on their website. That way we leverage all of their users. If we get a website to use Barc, we may get 10 users or we may get 10,000 users.
What are some of Barc’s other features you’re most excited about?
The Wi-Fi. You can go into Barc and you’re automatically placed into a chat room with other people on the same Wi-Fi. It’s taken a little bit of a backseat, because we’ve been focused on the B2B stuff, but I think there’s so much potential for making Wi-Fi social. As far as I know, we’re the best solution out there because you can just go to Barc.com and boom you’re placed in a chat with people on your Wi-Fi. Whether it’s a dorm room or a Starbucks, why not have a way to chat with people there? Or an airplane? Or office building? Or wherever?
We have a real-time forum where you can create posts and polls or webpages on the fly. Private messaging – kind of like Skype inside of your website. Another feature is a heat map. One of the problems if you go on any website now is that you don’t know where anyone is. If you’re a website owner, you might use Google analytics but 1) it’s not real-time and 2) it’s just for the website owner. With Barc, you can enable a feature called Pages, then you get to see which web pages people are on in real-time. So you can click on the webpage and look at it with them and chat with them.
Do you have a timeline or something like a 2-year plan you can tell us about?
The goal is to get on as many sites as possible in the next three to six months. Then we’re going to switch – depending on how much user growth we get – to trying to market to consumers. Hopefully, we will have reached critical mass. The other piece that’s going to be introduced in a month (that just got finished yesterday) is the ability for Barc to be on phones. If you’re making an iPhone game or Android game, and you need to have a simple chat room, with Barc you can simply drop a couple lines of code into your app and boom. Let’s say your little character in a game goes into a store. You can have a chat room pop up, powered by Barc. So that’s pretty powerful, because right now there isn’t a great alternative.
We want to be the place to chat wherever you are. That’s kind of our slogan. Whether you’re on a website, a wi-fi network, a game or something, you can use Barc to chat.
How did you put your team together?
We’ve had people join the team…one I found on Reddit, another on Craigslist, from all over. We’re right next to the University of California, San Diego, so we’ve had 3 developers and one marketing guy join from UCSD. Another is a really accomplished neighbor.
We have an awesome team. We’re about eight full-time now. We were just at the San Diego incubator, EvoNexus. It’s the only incubator in the United States that’s completely free. You don’t pay rent. And they also don’t take any piece of your company. There’s nothing that you pay, nothing you give away. We just moved back to La Jolla a couple weeks ago.
What’s your sense of the local startup community?
We just had a guy here from Australia a few weeks ago, from Shoestring Media – sort of their version of Mashable. He was doing a documentary about startups all over the United States, and when he was doing San Diego, he stayed at my house. It was fun to take him around, because I was part of EvoNexus and know the scene pretty well. I’m new to the startup scene in general because this is the first time that I’ve done something like this. We love it. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s definitely not easy. Not easy to be successful. It takes work.
How will you define success in the end?
Making money is certainly one of those criteria you have to have. So we want to make a lot of money, but we also want to really be used for…I’m all about free speech. I just think that the Internet is so young and if you look at what it’s been capable of doing, or at least what all these services have been capable of doing – like Twitter that really allowed free speech to topple government… If Barc was used as a tool like that, we’d feel pretty accomplished.
Imagine Goldman Sachs. In the heat of those debates, everyone was going to the website. And you can’t do anything. You’re just looking at the website because that’s their domain, but with Barc you can go to the website and chat with people on their website in real time. For me, that’s the cool thing. Making that reality come to fruition whether or not we’re making a lot of money, I think is success to me. Obviously, we’d like to make a lot of money, and I think we can. I think there’s huge potential in terms of rev sharing and websites paying for features. Being a service that’s used everywhere on all types of mediums has a ton of advertising potential. Advertisers generally rely on a critical mass of users and so that’s what we’re trying to reach.
Any startup advice you would offer to others in your shoes?
It’s so hard. This may be bad advice, but I think you either have to be in it purely for trying to earn money, to make a product that makes money, or you have to be in it because you’re just really passionate about it. The cool thing about the Internet right now is that it’s so easy to get ideas out there. Which is awesome. At the same time, there’s so much noise…it’s really hard to get seen. It’s hard if not harder than ever to get noticed.
You mentioned a couple of times how hard it is. Is getting noticed the greatest difficulty or is there something else?
There are so many things along the way. The interface. That’s one of the hardest things. Organizing an awesome team. That’s monumental to overcome, but I think we’ve tackled that, and we’re continuing to build a great team. Then, once all that is said and done, you have to look at marketing. In some sense, marketing is harder than others, while at the same time, if you don’t have the others, no amount of marketing is going to get you anywhere. So marketing is tricky. We’ve tried Google AdWords and that didn’t really help. One of the things that helped the most so far was creating plugins for all the major, popular content management services like WordPress. We’re not yet in all the marketplaces, but in the plugin stores that we are on, some of the smaller ones, they have kind of blown up. That’s gotten us the most traction.
Now we’re trying to get it down to a science at least in terms of getting websites to use Barc – what it takes to show them Barc, to reach the decision makers, trying to hone in on what process is going to be the most time efficient and success rate efficient. It’s fun. The marketing stuff is fun, too, even though I prefer making a cool product.
Since it is so hard, and you can’t ever step away, how do you cope with the pressures?
For me, even though it’s hard, it’s what I want to be doing. The thing that I’ve noticed too, is that whenever it is most difficult, when you’re pressed with the hard decisions and difficult times, that’s when you’re most likely to innovate and figure out a solution. So, while it’s really hard at the moment and there’s not a guarantee that a solution will come, it’s always nice when you do rally and overcome one of those hurdles.
One of the things that keeps me and my team so motivated is that we really have huge potential here. In the near future, there is going to be a service that you can use anywhere to chat. I just know that. And it’s who does it first correctly. If we’re able to pull it off (and I think we have a great shot at it), we think we’re on to something big.
How does Barc stand out from the competition?
I think the only way that we can stand out from the competition is if the product looks better, functions better, and has more functionality. The question really is showing people, getting their eyes to look at Barc – showing them relevant information such as if you use Barc your e-commerce sales will go up 30%. We want to make it a no-brainer to use Barc. If you’re trying to sell something, if you want community on your website, we want there to be no reason why you wouldn’t use Barc. Unless there’s a product you think is better, which we don’t think there is one out there.