Q: What is your role and background? Who are the other execs and what are their backgrounds?
A: I’m the founder and president of Piria. Rombla is the company’s first product.
Prior to starting Piria I was the president of Avanquest Software and ran the the US business from inception to more than $50 million in annual sales. Our customers included Dell, Motorola, and EarthLink.
Marc Ross is also a founder and our COO. He has a lot of experience building and deploying software for businesses and consumers in some very high-growth markets. He previously worked at JetMultimedia, CGI, Bell Mobility, Avanquest, and MediaPlaza America, among others.
Mark Zachmann is our CTO and a member of the board. Marc has more than 30 years of experience in the software industry. He’s taught at the Georgia Institute of Technology, written for PC Magazine, and founded ZSoft, which was a leading graphics software company that had Microsoft, HP, Dell, IBM, and others as customers. Most recently he was a Group Manager at Agilent Technologies.
Q: How big is the company? How many employees? Are you planning on continuing to grow the company?
A: Five employees and several contractors. We are in the process of raising a second round of funding to support our commercial release and expand marketing and operations in 1Q2009.
Q: How is the company funded? Are you planning on raising venture money?
A: Piria is currently funded by the founders, with additional seed funding from an industry partner. Prior to today’s announcement, we’ve been generating income from licensing, which has been plowed back into the development of Rombla.
We are currently raising a small round, which we expect to close in 1Q2009. These funds will be used to expand marketing and support operations when we launch the software commercially.
Q: Where did the names come from?
A: Pira comes from a beautiful coastal town in Uruguay South America called Piriapolis. This is one on my favorite places to visit. Rombla is a “gringo” spelling of Rambla, which is the famous lively promenade in Barcelona and is also the bustling commercial boulevard along the coast in Uruguay. I happened to be on the Rambla in Uruguay when I was contemplating a new company and found my inspiration there.
Q: What other products are you planning to offer in addition to Rombla?
A: There are a few products under development. The one I expect you’ll see next will be a social networking platform that can be deployed by small businesses.
Right now, our primary focus is on the launch of Rombla. We’ll incorporate many social networking capabilities into Rombla during Q1 2009 before you see them as a standalone product.
The web builder market and competition
Q: How did you pick this space? After all, there are a lot of tools out there already.
A: Quite simply, there was a need not being filled, and our team saw the opportunity to take a fundamentally different approach to filling that need.
The small business website building market is well established but there are few tools that can bridge the gap between the web designer and the content contributors.
Q: Hasn’t the use of templates essentially addressed this same thing, with designers or businesses buying and using templates just like you’re talking about?
A: The traditional template market, such as TemplateMonster and others, represents both the problem and the opportunity. Templates can help the business owner visualize their site and speed up the development process, but they are simply the graphics, not a site.
The designer or integrator must cut them up and write lots of code to turn them into a website. This typically costs $1,000 - $3,000 for a small business site. In the end, the business owner has a nice site, but it can only be edited and maintained by someone with coding skills. Romba offers all the advantages of templates, but in the form of fully-editable websites that don’t require you to write code.
Q: Aren’t designers already doing basically what you’re describing with Flash sites that they’re selling online through TemplateMonster and other sites?
A: Flash templates from TemplateMonster are written in Adobe actionscript programming language and require an experienced programmer with a development environment to edit them.
Q: What tools are you competing against, both in terms of traditional software as well as other online approaches?
A: For the small business owner, there are several template-based site builders, some of which are offered by hosting companies, and some by other types of companies that offer hosting as an option.
These don’t offer the level of design control or the extended forms and commerce features of Rombla. In addition, most others don’t provide a way to collaborate with designers to get professional results.
Rombla is designed to bridge both the technical skills gap and the design skills gap between web designer and small business owners.
Q: How are you planning on marketing Rombla? Do you have a reseller or referral program?
A: Rombla will be marketed to the web design community as well as the small business market. The Rombla marketplace is a place where they can meet, and it offers value for each of them. For the small business owner, he can easily find quality site designs that are immediately editable at a reasonable price. For the designer, Rombla offers a place to showcase their design skills and find new customers. They also have a tool to quickly apply and sell their design talent and collaborate with their clients. Once the initial site design is complete, the business owner can then maintain their site and easily experiment with content to optimize their site’s performance.
Q: Who can I talk with who has used Romba?
A: Chris Fortier of Chris Fortier Graphics has been using Rombla for a few days. You can reach him at (403) 809-6096. And ask him to give you the URLs of some of the sites he’s built with it.
Q: Once a site is built with Rombla, can the site owner stop paying the monthly fee until he wants to edit it again?
A: Rombla is free during Beta. We will be announcing pricing before commercial release. We will be gathering input from the community during beta that will help set our pricing strategy.
Q: Couldn’t a business owner use this himself, without ever hiring a designer?
A: Yes, and I’m sure we’ll see some people go that route, but the sweet spot for Rombla is enabling collaboration between designer and business owner in a way that is cheaper, faster, and more effective than in the past.
I expect that you’ll see most business owners either hire a designer or buy an existing Rombla site. They know the difference that a good designer makes. And once the site is created, the business owner can easily keep it up to date.
Q: Doesn’t it make it easier for him to cut the designer out of the process, or at least marginalize him?
A: No, not really, it just helps both parties focus on the areas where they add the most value. Most business owners will pay a designer for design skills, but don’t want to pay a designer to do routine updates. For that matter, most designers don’t want the burden of handling updates, which is one of the reasons we expect that designers will embrace Rombla.
The other reason is that designers will be able to sell their designs through the Rombla marketplace, which provides additional revenue directly, as well as from follow-on work to modify a Rombla site.
Q: There are many Flash website builders already on the market. What makes Rombla different?
A: Rombla has a distinct advantage over current online Flash builders thanks to our innovative and unique use of the Adobe Flex 3 framework. Rombla does not simply load compiled flash objects onto a canvas and move them around as many other products do. Rombla is a native Flex MXML and CSS interpreter that loads and manages Flex source code in memory. This allows us to provide the designer with a graphical interface to the same powerful style capabilities normally only available to a developer using Adobe Flex builder. While Rombla already provides advanced style control, this architecture will allow us to dramatically expand these capabilities in the future.
Q: What is this “Gap” between designers and their clients you speak of?
A: It is a skills gap and actually there are two of them; technical and creative. All visual online builders attempt to bridge the technical skills gap but Rombla is focused on bridging both. A key ingredient in creating an effective website is artistic talent. Some people have and the rest of us don’t. Rombla seeks to improve rather than replace the relationship between businesses and designers. It provides tools for designers to quickly apply their artistic talent and collaborate with their clients of layout and content. Then clients can easily edit their sites online to keep it up to date and optimize content to improve effectiveness.