Start-up roundup: Xtrant makes project sharing simple

Locally based start-up Xtrant, the cloud-based task management platform, easily allows people to collaborate and share project information online.

Memphis start-up Xtrant aims to help you "get more done with fewer meetings," which is certainly a welcome improvement to regular professional life. By helping to reduce email time drain and increase easy information exchange and collaboration, Xtrant makes the tedious task of project management more like logging on to Facebook (and, similarly, users can signup for free). James Sposto, Co-Founder and CEO of Xtrant, talks about the history and future of the company, and what it's like to launch a tech company in the Bluff City.

How was the idea for Xtrant conceived?
Xtrant got its start as the client extranet for my digital creative agency Sposto Interactive (a boutique digital creative agency specializing in UX/UI design and online campaign development). When we launched the first incarnation of Xtrant internally 10 years ago, Yahoo! was by far our biggest and busiest client. We were doing over 100 projects a year for them and had dozens of stakeholders and clients that we had to communicate with and manage. Instead of hiring a team of account representatives and middle management, we created this software layer between our team members and the clients and stakeholders.  

A few years ago I decided to spin Xtrant out of Sposto Interactive and turn it into a startup, initially thinking that it would be a product other creative agencies could use. And even though we started developing the first version of Xtrant before Facebook ever existed, it had quite a few similarities. We were solving an internal business/project/communication problem with it, but the processes were very similar. In the meantime Facebook exploded, and with that, as we showed the early prototypes of Xtrant to potential users, we realized that any type of business could use this product.

But what exactly does Xtrant do?
Having each of our projects on this interactive system allowed us to share everything from the initial contracts to the project progress to the final deliverables in one page.  This meant that our projects documented themselves, becoming not only a repository of everything we've shared with the client, but also an organic archive that we could refer to. That system now has thousands of projects on it.

Describe your experience as a Memphis tech start-up.
This was due to the fact that we were using familiar social protocols--the way people were now used to "playing" online, to be productive and get stuff done.  So instead of social sharing, we coined the term "Productive Sharing" for what we offered though Xtrant.

We are self-funded at the moment, and our growth hasn't been quick (mostly because without outside funding we haven't had the budget to market it aggressively, and we've been holding off on press until our mobile app comes out--it's in beta right now).

What do you feel Memphis has to uniquely offer start-ups? What are the advantages of being here?
Memphis has a strong and inspiring history of entrepreneurship and influence--we've influenced the entire world, from the invention of the modern supermarket, to rock and roll, to FedEx, to many strong privately held companies. You can see success all around. That inspires me to want to do the same and to continue reaching out to touch the world.

And part of that goes back to the easy nature of doing business here. Memphis doesn't put up a lot of roadblocks to success. I wouldn't dare start a business in California or New York, not only for the prohibitive cost of living for present and future team members, but for the burdensome red tape and demoralizing nature of a contentious and unnecessarily "zero-sum-game" attitude that seems to be pervasive there.

Will you brag a little about your success?
We have users in the U.S., Great Brittain, India and Aulstraila. We are at only 1500 registered users, about 25% of those active and about 15% of our active users are paying, which is the right ratio for a "freemium" SaaS (Software as a Service) product. Our local clients include Memphis College of Art, MBI (medical device designers), Technology Happens and various local professionals in the legal, architectural and web design fields. For over a year now a group has been using Xtrant to plan and develop a rails-to-trails project from Little Rock to Hot Springs, Arkansas.   

Our mobile app is in private beta, but we hope to release it to the public in August.

Why is your business Memphis based?
I chose Memphis because it's where I personally wanted to live--I'm a Memphian by choice, and I believe in this city's entrepreneurial spirit and potential. My chief technologist at Sposto Interactive, Mike Trevarthen, who built the original extranet and is my partner in Xtrant, now lives in Memphis, too. Our offices are at Emerge downtown.

You mention being a Memphian by choice. Why did you make that choice?
I've lived a lot of places--various parts of Southern California where I grew up, here in Memphis in the late 90s, and the northeast (from 1999 to 2007)--Memphis is by far my favorite place to be. Memphis is a truly authentic city. You can see it in our thriving independent businesses, especially in the city proper. And Memphis is a welcoming city, like a giant small town where everyone knows you, and I personally don't feel out of place anywhere I go. Really, Memphis is pretty chill.

What challenges does Memphis hold for start-ups?
The biggest challenge is the lack of local angel and venture investors who understand the nature of tech and innovative startups and can break with their conservative traditional investments. Also the lack of talent draw from not having that investment happening here.

Read more articles by Anna Mullins.

Anna is a local writer, editor and non-profit administrator. She serves as Managing Editor for High Ground and as the Director of Communications and Marketing for the New Memphis Institute. Share feedback and story ideas with her here.
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