OnSwipe’s Platform for Beautifying iPad Web Pages Attracts Investors

5/4/11Follow @arleneweintraub

On April 14, OnSwipe co-founder Jason Baptiste marched onto the stage at TechStars’ first New York Demo Day and told the audience of venture capitalists, “We’re not raising a Series A, we’re raising a Series Awesome.” In fact, his company was on the verge of locking up a funding round—one he felt so secure about he didn’t really bother to schmooze with the VCs at lunch during Demo Day, he says.

Baptiste says he’ll “have something to announce soon” about that Series A. In the meantime, he and his startup team of seven engineers, backed by a seed round of $1 million, are working around the clock to perfect OnSwipe, which is a platform that allows publishers to instantly transform any website into something that looks like it was made specifically for a touch-enabled tablet computer such as an iPad.

Two weeks after Demo Day, Baptiste was swigging Red Bull in his workstation at TechStars’ Greenwich Village incubator and reflecting on the company’s quick evolution. Baptiste graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in computer systems in 2006, and ventured almost immediately into entrepreneurship, co-founding two tech companies prior to launching OnSwipe in 2010. He thought about moving OnSwipe to California, but then decided to apply for TechStars’ inaugural New York program, which started in January 2011.

OnSwipe was accepted, but turned out to be an odd duck at TechStars. “In one 24-hour period, we received a term sheet for our seed funding round and we were accepted into TechStars,” he recalls. TechStars is really designed for companies in the pre-funding stage. Startups in the program receive up to $18,000 in seed funding and are put through three months of mentorship, culminating in Demo Day. Baptiste says that even though he didn’t need the seed funding, the program was a blast. “It was theater entrepreneurship,” he says. “We went into it to have fun.”

But now that he’s preparing to move out of TechStars to make room for the incoming class, Baptiste is all business. Even when he’s talking to a journalist, he’s a master salesman, seemingly determined to convince anyone that they shouldn’t allow a website that was designed to be viewed on a full-sized computer to appear that way on an iPad. “When you open those pages on a tablet browser, they just don’t look good,” he says.

Transforming standard Web pages into OnSwipe-enabled sites is a simple, three-minute process, Baptiste says. Publishers can simply sign up on OnSwipe’s site, pick among thousands of designs, and the platform will do everything else for them. The result is a neatly laid-out set of touch-friendly Web pages that tablet users can navigate with a few swipes of a finger (hence the company’s name). If they want to go back to the home page, they can just pull two fingers together while touching the screen, and voila, the home page pops up.

The ads in OnSwipe sites are almost as attractive as the regular content. In his office, Baptiste pulls up an OnSwipe-enabled Cadillac ad that features not only video of a brand new Cadillac on the road, but a button viewers can push to find the nearest dealership offering test drives.

Baptiste may be young, but he seems to have been embraced by the business community as a natural-born entrepreneur. He contributes to a website for software entrepreneurs called OnStartups. And he nabbed a deal to write a book on entrepreneurship for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin. He owes the publisher 60,000 words by August 15, and he’s about a third of the way there, he says. (Baptiste has also signed on as an Xconomist for our New York site.)

Baptiste is well aware of OnSwipe’s competition, and he’s not bashful when it comes to expressing his opinions about them. As Baptiste stepped on the stage at TechStars’ Demo Day, a huge slide behind him read, “Apps are Bullshit.” OnSwipe’s biggest competitors are app developers, including many ad agencies, which are churning out iPad applications that serve as surrogate websites for brands, magazines, and the like. But Baptiste contends that apps cost thousands of dollars to develop, and they’re difficult to build on any scale. So he conceived OnSwipe as a platform for transforming websites into app-like experiences. “What we’re trying to do is make this self-serve for Web publishers,” he says.

OnSwipe’s seed round came from Spark Capital, Betaworks, ENIAC Ventures, and several angels. On March 23, Baptiste announced a deal with Automattic for OnSwipe to power the iPad versions of 18.6 million WordPress sites. The company intends to announce more customers in June, when the product will launch officially.

By then, OnSwipe will have moved to a new office, which Baptiste says will likely be in striking distance of TechStars. “Our goal is to stick around the East Village,” he says, mostly to feed off of energy that’s coming from New York City’s revived tech scene. He doesn’t regret leaving Miami, he says, and he no longer believes tech startups need to be in California. “There are a lot of startups here,” Baptiste says. “It’s like being on an urban campus.”

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