Episend, Almost A Year Old, Enables Interactive File Sharing In The Cloud

While managing the websites for the retail giant TJX, Richard DiBona encountered the pain of missing important files because they were too big to be sent through e-mail.

“With email and attachments, there’s no way of knowing that it failed most of the time,” he says. “It goes into oblivion and you hope for the best.”

So he set out to fix this problem, through his Watertown, MA-based startup, Episend. Originally he sought to create an e-mail program that could handle larger files, but he quickly reconsidered. “It would be kind of hard to kick off a company and say you’re competing with Gmail right off the bat,” he says.

DiBona instead focused on developing a platform where users could share large files with others via the cloud, by pointing recipients to specific URLs. “It’s kind of like file-sharing with some personality,” he says. On Episend, users can upload any file, including Word documents, pictures, MP3s, and even files from more sophisticated programs like AutoCAD or Adobe InDesign. The system allows the sender to present multiple files together in an annotated message, where users can insert instructions on which files to read first. If the message sender uploads multiple photos, they can appear in a stack to allow the recipient to scroll through them, in the order the sender specifies.

Uploading files to Episend is easy—users can simply drag and drop files directly into the Episend screen. They can also store certain files for reuse in what’s called a digital asset library, and customize the look of their messages with dozens of different background templates. When they’re done crafting their message, Episend generates a URL that the sender can forward via e-mail, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Delicious. For an example of what an Episend message would look like to the recipient, check out my very rudimentary message here.

DiBona says he’s seen colleges use the site as a platform for sending their alumni magazines to the commercial printer, with specific instructions on where to put which text and photos. Other companies have used Episend messages, which can be set up to include multiple pages, as user guides, directly targeted at customers.

Episend isn’t just for the business user trying to send large design files as part of a major project, though. The platform has features that better enable the sharing of photos than existing sites like Facebook do, DiBona claims. On the social networking site, for instance, end users can’t directly download high-resolution photos. But Episend allows recipients to download files such as photos in both the size that appears on the computer screen, and the original size of the file as it appears on the sender’s computer.

DiBona has avoided a lot of development grunt work by setting up Episend so that users login through their existing accounts on Google, Facebook, or Yahoo. All the files and data that users share through Episend are stored on the Amazon Cloud, so the information is “not going across the wire to somebody else’s servers,” minimizing the chance of security issues, DiBona says. And Episend uses Amazon payments and PayPal to charge users, so it doesn’t have to worry about storing payment information either.

Speaking of payment, Episend operates on the “freemium” model, where users get to test out the product at no cost, with 50MB of storage, and the ability to store up to 10 files in the digital asset library. Beyond that, it charges the $15 a year for personal use of the system, and $85 a year per business user, DiBona says. He’s also working on a monthly subscription plan, for those users who aren’t looking for a long-term commitment.

Episend has about 500 users at this point, though DiBona says he hasn’t done a big marketing push for the product yet. He started developing the interface in 2007, incorporated the company in October of last year, and launched the site in February of 2010. In between TJX and starting the Episend, whose team totals three people, DiBona worked at Hopkinton, MA-based Flimp Media, a provider of rich media marketing platforms. The Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange also named the startup a winner of its PricewaterhouseCoopers Promise award this year.

The company has been bootstrapped to date, and DiBona says he isn’t exactly eyeing outside money at this point. Many entrepreneurs look to venture capital in order to get the resources necessary to dedicate toward development, he says. “I’m an engineer and I have the product out there; I’m not trying to develop a product and push it out.”

Episend’s big push at this point will be marketing to customers, and the company has some (free) help on that end, too. It’s been selected to for some social media marketing strategy help from Emerson College’s Social Media class (hash tag #ESM on Twitter), DiBona says.

“It’s time to start getting it out there.” he says.

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