It’s 2009, and the incoming freshmen at University of Pennsylvania are busy unpacking 18 years of their lives into their new dorm rooms. Twin beds are made, posters are hung, and the stage is set for new friendships to be formed.
Among this eager group of students are Vincent Sanchez-Gomez of Arizona, Fred Wang of China by way of New Orleans, and Atulya Pandey of Kathmandu, Nepal. Like most students their age, these three young men came to college hoping to bond with new friends over shared interests such as favorite sports teams, musicians, and choice of major.
However, this trio quickly united around a shared passion for entrepreneurship. So a la Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman (freshman roommates at University of Virginia and co-founders of online news forum Reddit), these young men formed an ongoing business partnership that would ultimately lead them to develop their best product yet.
Vincent, Fred, and Atulya spent their first three years of college building “fun apps that kids we knew would use but that wouldn’t necessarily take over world,” as Vincent says. However, by junior year, they had formed their own web design agency, using both WordPress and original templates. Basing their platform off the problems they found on similar sites, the three gathered the feedback necessary to build their minimum viable product for Pagevamp at a hackathon their senior year.
Since that time, these entrepreneurs have grown Pagevamp into a full scale website builder for small businesses. With a heavy focus on user experience and customer support, they built the site to allow businesses to manage websites using only their Facebook page – no complex web interfaces required.
For $60 a year (after a 14-day free trial), Pagevamp users receive a custom domain, web hosting, and access to all of the sites features, such as custom page creation, Google Analytics tracking, and dedicated customer support. Users can simply plug in their Facebook URL and within minutes, they’ve created their own websites.
“When users come on board, I’ll occasionally hop on a Skype call with them to help better explain user behavior and walk them through our product,” says Atulya, Pagevamp’s chief operating officer. “We have to give them tips and pointers for how Facebook translates.”
Vincent, CEO, explains that this process is incredibly straightforward: “When one of our clients make a news post or creates an event, we automatically push that data to their website. Businesses are entrusting us to manage their digital image to the outside world.”
Atulya, who takes care of the people-side of the platform from customer service to marketing to sales, says that the team now has users from more than 80 countries including Japan, Ecuador, Nepal, and Indonesia.
Vincent explains that the site had an international focus from the start. “We initially ran some Facebook ad campaigns to test out different markets, as we knew that developed countries already had pretty dominant web builders like Squarespace and WordPress,” he says. “Developing countries are really just getting started with their online marketing, and Facebook is one of the most familiar tools in these countries. It just makes sense to use it to bring their businesses online.”
To best support their international client base, the team collectively speaks Nepali, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. They also have two interns, one from Haiti and the other from Iran.
“Pretty much everyone on the team brings a new language to the table,” Vincent says.
And as the CEO and front end product manager, he is the one responsible for working with their employee base in Nepal. The two-man Nepali squad was initially brought on as contractors, but are now full-time members of the seven-person Pagevamp team.
Fred, their chief technology officer, is responsible for handling everything from hiring engineers to project management and even doing some of the site’s coding. He says of managing their growing team, “We have employees relying on us to provide a good experience and keep the company alive. They could work anywhere else, but they are choosing to be at Pagevamp.”
In addition to growing their own business, the team is energized by their unique opportunity to help others do the same. With clients that range from photographers in Barcelona to business owners in Texas, the three founders have become truly invested in each of their customers’ lives.
Vincent elaborates: “When a photographer tells us how good they feel about their beautiful web presence, we also get to hear about his family, kids, the whole thing.”
“Interacting with our users, learning from them, and building a product that helps them grow is really rewarding,” Atulya says. “But it’s also scary. Coming out of college, we don’t know everything. We mess up a lot. Fortunately, we have mentors who guide us, and personally, we’re always evolving.”
Now working in WeWork Labs in Fulton Center and living together in an apartment in downtown Manhattan, the Pagevamp founders remain excited and a little bit surprised by their company’s continued growth. They point out that only six months ago the three of them were sharing a one bedroom apartment.
Atulya also recalls a not-so-distant time when the team would take a shot for every new paying customer, explaining that one new customer per month was once considered a huge success. And although the risks associated with working in software are great, the team is nonetheless ready to take their company to the next level.
“The marker of success is always changing,” Vincent says. “But I think every day is successful because I’m here doing what I want to be doing.”
Fred jumps in, saying that while the “finance guy in me wants us to be cash flow positive,” the team’s constant improvement demonstrates success in and of itself.
“You never know what you don’t know until something happens,” Vincent says. “You always look one month past and see a young naive version of yourself and ask, ‘How many months can this go on?’”
Atulya is quick to respond to his friend and business partner’s inquiry saying, “Hopefully, for the rest of our lives.”
Photographs by Lauren Kallen.