Swansea-based startup hits Silicon Valley

News-DemocratNovember 25, 2013 

A local crowdsourcing startup company now has a base where many of the world's largest technology corporations and thousands of small startups call home.

Swansea-based CrowdSource has recently acquired Servio, a crowdsourcing company in Silicon Valley that employed about 15. CrowdSource Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Stephanie Leffler did not disclose the terms of the deal but said the San Francisco-based company's staff will come under CrowdSource and will enhance the metro-east company's services.

"They provide similar service and have been a big competitor of ours for a long time," Leffler said. "We will maintain that office, however, our headquarters will remain here. We have no plans to move."

CrowdSource is one of many crowdsourcing businesses that tap into the general public online seeking workers with particular skills. Leffler estimates the company has about 50,000 workers who work part- and full-time from home. She describes it as "a workforce at your service."

"We have full- and part-time workers part of the CrowdSource labor force all over the country who log in every day from their computer and they look at a catalog of jobs that are available on any given day," she said. "They can see each job and how much it pays and they can decide if they want to do that job or not."

A lot of this work is writing for clients such as retailers that need product descriptions. She said big-box retailers can unload as many as 5,000 products a week that need to be processed.

"It's not something where they want to have a warehouse filled with writers and all they do is write product descriptions," she said. "So we will do that work for them."

CrowdSource's parent company is Juggle.com, which is headquartered at the Bronze Pointe business complex. Juggle.com has 47 employees in-house who come from computer programming, online marketing and other professions. The company has been expanding into more space at the business complex and has established a workplace that is far from a ordinary office environment.

Because employees spend long hours at this office, Leffler said Juggle.com fellow co-founder and president Ryan Noble created a unique atmosphere for employees. Once they arrive to work, they walk past models of characters from Star Wars and into an office where the Simpsons sit and Spiderman hangs from the wall. Parked inside CrowdSource's office is a bright purple and yellow race car with Juggle.com's logo on it that the company sponsored in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Race in 2009. The lounge is a brightly colored and decorated area. One corner of this large room is decorated in a Super Mario theme. Nearby are tables, chairs, counters and stools where employees have access to cereal and snack dispensers and refrigerators with milk, soda and other beverages. Employees can also work out in an adjacent exercise room, play pool or watch a large flat-screen TV.

"If you build a space like this, it will just inspire people to come in and be more productive," Leffler said. "It creates interaction. It just takes the stuffiness out of the environment and I think fosters the type of communication we want to have as a team. On top of that, to me and to Ryan, your people and the team that you can build is the single-most important thing. You could have the greatest software in the world, but if you don't have a team of people who are not committed to helping you win, it's very difficult to get what you need to be done."

Leffler, a Virginia-native, and Noble, who grew up in Belleville, established their first Internet services provider business in 1998 while they were students at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va. They then moved their business to an old Sparta farmhouse and later relocated to an office above Noble's parent's garage in Belleville before opening the office in Swansea.

They opened Monster Commerce at Bronze Pointe in 2002. Three years later, they sold the company to Network Solutions. Leffler and Noble joined that company and worked there for 18 months following the acquisition. In 2009, they launched Juggle.com, where Noble serves as president of the company.

The company has since expanded into three tech businesses. Aside from CrowdSource, Juggle.com is also the parent company of ROImedia, develops retail websites where consumers can shop online and compare multiple products reviewed by other shoppers. Leffler said Juggle.com originally "morphed" into ROImedia.

"Really what happened was when we launched CrowdSource, it was a little confusing for people, because what is Juggle?," she said. "Juggle is the owner of CrowdSource, but Juggle also is an advertising business. So we thought it would probably make more sense if we made Juggle the holding company and then we have each separate business."

A third company launched under Juggle.com is ClickableNames.com, a domain and online brand site. This company has software that looks at all of the domain names that are expiring or are available to help clients looking to enter or enhance their reach online.

"If you think about it, sometimes if people may have registered a name 10 years ago that is a great name and they just forgot about it or don't really pay attention to it and it becomes available, our software looks at all of those names and helps us know which ones are really good," she said. "We buy those names and then we build a logo for that name and we post it as a ready-to-go brand package. So a small business or individual can come in and buy the name and buy the logo that matches it."

Leffler foresees the company thriving and continuing its home base in the metro-east. She said the workforce and universities in the Midwest have provided ideal employees.

"There are really talented people and especially with technical folks," she said. "I personally like doing business in the Midwest. I think it's a competitive advantage to be here."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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