Uncaffeinated Desktop Discussions 1: Buxfer

I had had a personal interest in understanding the dynamics of social money in some personal posts of mine. Recently on Rajat’s blog I had the chance to meet up with Amit, one of the cofounders of Buxfer. The meetup coincided with our plan to get entrepreneurs to talk about their products… from a more critiquing PoV.So here’s the first edition of Uncaffeinated Desktop Discussions with Buxfer. I have used it and personally felt the UI feel polished compared to BillMonk.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your team? More specifically, each of your roles
and responsibilities and what all each of you are accountable for?

The Buxfer team consists of Ashwin Bharambe, Amit Manjhi, and Shashank Pandit. All three of us are Ph.D. students in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University. Â Shashank does research in the areas of information retrieval and data mining, Ashwin in large-scale distributed systems (high-performance multiplayer games), and Amit in scaling data-intensive Web applications. We have included the URLs to our research pages at the end of this answer.

Currently, we do not have a clear division of responsibilities. Since we can only work on Buxfer in our spare time, anyone who is free has to take care of any issue that arises. So pretty much everyone has to take care of everything.

Research page URLs:
Ashwin Bharambe http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~ashu
Amit Manjhi http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~manjhi
Shashank Pandit http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~shashank

Q. My ideal app is always a very simple, intuitive app very much unlike GNUCash. Buxfer takes care of that for me at least helping me track all my expenditure… But I’m still not comfortable sharing my finances on the network. Whats your reply to this kind of profile of user?

Buxfer makes use of HTTPS to encrypt all the information that is sent to and fro over the network, so that it can’t be intercepted by a third person. Furthermore, you do not need to put your credit card number or bank account number into Buxfer. In fact, we don’t even ask for things like name, age, gender, zip, etc. Passwords are stored in an encoded format, so that no one (not even us!) can recover them as plain text. Â Users who do not want to reveal their email to Buxfer can use their Facebook or Yahoo! account to login. In short, users with the profile you mention can use Buxfer while disclosing very little of their personal information.

Q. Buxfer is a stranger name like my pet dog. Was this intentional, to have this zing feel to it?

Buxfer is an abbreviation of “bucks transfer.” We wanted to come up with a short and catchy name, and Buxfer fitted the “bill” perfectly!

Q. How would you profile your company ideally as?

Buxfer is a service meant to simplify tracking of shared expenses. Â By shared expenses, we mean expenses of an entire group of people which are paid for by just one or two members of the group. Examples include house rent for a group of roommates, dinner or movie outings with a bunch of friends, vacations or business trips with work colleagues, etc. Buxfer provides a centralized mechanism for such groups of people to report their shared expenses and be able to track how much money they owe each other. Currently, the service is web based, but it could be integrated with a variety of devices (in particular, cellphones).

Q. Tell us about the buxfer growth story? The first people to fall in love with it, the evangelists and other adopters?

We opened Buxfer to public in late September. Since then over 5000 users have joined Buxfer. The growth rate has been phenomenal, given that we invested very little time in marketing or publicizing Buxfer. Its just that our users have been very happy with us, and spreading the word around for us. Many of them write us fan-mail saying “Buxfer rocks!” or “We have always wanted such a service!”

Buxfer has also gotten media attention. It was covered by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and
Associate Press.

Recently, the AP also put an article on the international wire, which was circulated as far as India and Australia. This article also appeared in Business Week and NY Times. So we have been getting very good coverage via the press too.

Q. Now about the idea. There is Billmonk and then there is Quicken, two plays concerning the individual but their target user profiles are much different. Buxfer is probably a mix of both – social money combined with individual expense tracking. However your target user profile (non-professional, non-serious but money tracking individual) Â looks very niche, ideally suited for students who have lots of small expenditures and it becomes difficult to
track them…

We believe that our student market is big enough to make money. We estimate the size of this market to be in the millions. Moreover, this is the market that many advertisers want to target, making it possible for us to generate revenues via advertising.

Q. What about its vision? Do you intend to make it mainstream as in for the general mainstream audience or make it the niche play?

Currently, we intend to focus only on the money tracking student market.

Q. How many users have you had till now? How is the viral growth compared to the general organic growth (the numbers or %)?

So far, our growth has been exponential, doubling every month or so. We currently have over 5k users with an increasing number of users joining every week. So far, the viral growth and organic growth are more or less equal.

* Q. Any interesting trends that you observed till now; say some spurt of growth during a season? *

The number of users signing up on Monday is almost twice the number of users signing up on either Saturday or Sunday. However, the maximum number of transactions are posted on Sundays. Maybe people are partying hard over the weekend, and on Sunday night they sit down to enter all their shared bills 🙂

Q. Considering that your name includes transfer of [funds…], do you intend to combine Buxfer with a payment gateway say PayPal? If yes, are you in discussions with anyone?

We are investigating the possibility of integrating Buxfer with a payment gateway in the near future, but so far, we are not in discussions with anyone.

Q. Any possible funding by VC ideas?

We have been contacted by a few angel investors, but haven’t yet finalized any deals.

Q. Is Buxfer earning you any bux?

Not so far. So far we have only earned the praise of many of our users.

Q. You guys seem to have put quite a thought on the UI front; mostly concentrating on the functionality. Like the signup form appearing in place of the login form – simple and elegant. Or say the groups functionality; which integrates very well with the real world functionality.

Thanks. Indeed UI is, and will remain, one of our main areas of focus. We believe that a simple and intuitive UI is extremely important for a website to be popular. We also like to thank our early users for helping us hone our UI.

Q. How about the inspiration for UI. My first impression was the GMail – global links at the top, dashboard in the center, contacts & groups & invites on the left, vertical tabs…

It does bear some resemblance to Gmail, but it would be incorrect to say we were inspired by Gmail. We tried out a couple of different design ideas, and this one was the most appealing (as per the feedback of our initial users), so we went with it.

Q. Billmonk does plan to go into individual accounting. Are you concerned about

It is not a matter of concern because we think (and we are sure Billmonk will agree) that our main competitors are bits of paper and spreadsheets, which a vast majority of people still continue to use to track their money.

Q. Your thoughts on making a successful webplay?

First, you need to address a real need that people are facing, and second, you need good execution to make the site very simple and intuitive to use.

Q. Any parting thoughts to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Well, we are not exactly experienced entrepreneurs, but we can say one thing for sure: being an entrepreneur is FUN! Yes, its a lot of hard work, and a tough path to pursue, but at the end of the day when you see people out there using your product and liking it, there is no better reward you can get for your work. From our experience, we would say that the most important thing is focus and dedication to your product, and a strong determination to make it succeed. The idea is as important as the execution, and a motivated team with a good mutual understanding can achieve the impossible. We wish good luck to all of

Readers, do leave your comments! 🙂