Q&A with Martin Smee, Managing Director at Co-opRating

 

Q: Today is a special day for Co-opRating. Your launching your app? What does this mean to you being such a young company?
A: What an exciting day! This has been two and a half years in the design and probably half a decade in the savings account. It’s incredibly fulfilling to finally have something complete in users hands – the feedback all along is that we have something completely new, but we really had to work to pull together the technology, concept and product design to stand tall in a demanding category. We think we’ll change the world, our customers can now tell us if they’d like to help and be part of it.

Q: What is the idea behind Co-opRating and how does it work?
A: Co-opRating is a platform we’ve built on Windows Azure technology enabling people to come together and plug and play into projects, then show the work off in a revolutionary portfolio. We noticed there was a huge gap in the market in that no-one was tracing the use of skills and where they could end up. Throw people’s skills together (and with our site that’s almost literal), get them collaborating, get them trading and then beautify the trail of media that comes out of it. The great thing about this site is it’s like a pre-LinkedIn for artists and freelancers covering a wide scope of professions from graphic design to creative writing and videography – but the story is the movement of your skills and who you’ve used them on, whoever you are.

Q: How did the idea for Co-opRating come about? What prompted you to create the site?
A: The project originated from a frustration with the world being so connected, but in what we thought was a passive way. To counter this the team put its head together to identify what the market needed, and how we could build it. Drawing on the developer experience from some of our team members, our main idea was to build a platform that would generate more real life activity in industries that shouldn’t be isolated from each other, and shouldn’t be stifled because the opportunities for the young are low. If we could eliminate that disparagement of graduation & the grind to use your training, there is so much extra good that can come from that. We think of it as a skills playground that stretches across the world – good design and minimal stuffiness are what’s needed to create that energy.

Q: What type of background does your team have?
A: There’s five of us that work together on Co-opRating and we mostly have multimedia backgrounds. One of the  team graduated with a  psychology degree which turned out to be invaluable in user testing and experience design, , while lead developer Andy Lau’s  20 years’ experience was an invaluable source of information when we were building it. We’re also lucky enough to have two graphic designers to make sure the app is visually appealing, which is crucial given the nature of the market we’re going out to. Rounding out the team is Lawrence, our business development officer. His most recent work has been in large business and politics – he’s been essential to our funding push.
  
Q: How have you gone about developing the Co-opRating app?
A: User feedback and seed funding have been crucial in Co-opRating’s development. We launched a Beta version of the platform and asked the creative incubator we work from and have given the app to around 250 students to test it assigning them different tasks. This has proved to be a really good, cost-effective way of sourcing feedback so that we can make the application more user friendly. As you can see, we’re seeking feedback far and wide so that we’re able to deliver an application delivering the complete user experience.

Q: Take us through the technical skills from a backend perspective?
A: We’re mostly working across the Microsoft platforms, and built the application from it at the start-up camp at the Microsoft Innovation Centre. We’ve used .NET to build the application which is hosted on Windows Azure, as well as Windows Azure mobile services. The app features about 100,000 lines of code plus and we used some Java script and C#.

Q: What is the market opportunity and which sectors you targeting? Why?
A: Education and NGOs, but with the coming feature of business’ and industries being able to set up their own collaboration hubs within Co-opRating our sales team is out getting our service into creative organisations and even amongst personal training& fitness companies. The more visual results of collaboration will get this product first. We’ll personalise the product for them and then continue to grow and target more and more industries – we’ve built a platform around co-operation, and there’s not an industry that can’t profit from optimised software that enables that.

Q: You recently secured your first customer? Can you talk a little how this resulted?
A: We also made contact with the Queensland University of Technology, the alma matter of many of the team, and they are keen to do a pilot with us. We are going department to department and testing the idea at the moment. The feedback we’ve had is that when we are able to create these collaboration hubs and make them searchable entities within the app we’ll be able to attract paying customers as well as social customers.