Ajah is a bootstrapped startup, built around open data and offering services to non profits. There are many bootstrapped ventures, even some working with open data but very few are targeting non-profits – even though it’s a sizeable market, around 7.6% of GDP in Canada. The partners readily admit that part of the bootstrapping move was based on the fact that this is not a big exit play – not the kind of thing VCs typically go for – so they had to make a go of it with their own funds. However, they also expect that it can be a pretty lucrative market, at much more than just “making a living” levels.
We didn’t go into technical details too much and I’m sure they’ll be covering more of the coding aspects when they launch but as much as on code, the site is being built on data, loads of data and that’s what makes their product interesting. Since the beginning, they have been producing freedom of information requests to liberate data, accessing, scraping and downloading database after database and even hiring interns to clean up and standardize that data.
So what is Ajah? A platform that non-profits will use to find, investigate and research funding options. Right now a typical non-profit has to pick through sites, documents, tips and rumours to find out about funding opportunities. They also have to deal with funding “seasons”, go through feast and famine cycles which affect their ability to plan and try to guesstimate where they should spend their time, who might be interesting and who will actually even consider them.
With Ajah they will have one centralized source for all that information. They’ll be able to find programs and foundations, read about the exact requirements, find investment history, investor preferences, etc. They’ll also be able to deal and better understand how the funding market evolves.
One example would be an org identifying a funding program they didn’t know about who has some funds available in their field. They could then dig deeper in the data, find all previous fundees, the amounts they got and for which projects. They could also see who sits on the board of that foundation, where else they are participating in, some of their historical decisions and involvements. That org could then use that information to better tweak its application or could decide to disregard that program because it historically never goes to projects like theirs, saving time and money which they can apply to another program that better fits their mission.
With historical data, they could also come back to a government agency funding them and ask about this or that other project which got more money for similar work, ask questions, find out why there is a discrepancy. All this information is currently hard to get to, unavailable or siloed in many places, all of it will now be regrouped in one source.
Ajah also plans on becoming a great resource and partner for research projects. All that data can be crunched in hundreds of ways to find trends and patterns, they plan on working on some research themselves and help academics and non-profits in producing reports in a variety of fields.
Something I always find interesting is hearing about how companies work, how they band together and build a distinctive team culture. That’s why when I visited with the founding team of Michael Lenczner, Daniel Drouet, Yannick Gingras and Nicolas Cadou, we not only spoke about the product but also how they work.
Ajah’s office is situated on a quiet street right in the middle of the Plateau, and the space is a ground level loft with tall windows opening to the street. As I arrived for the interview, the team was just getting back from picking up lunch and were heading out to nearby Parc Lafontaine, a pretty regular occurence for them. Most days they have lunch together, grabbing breads, cheeses and varied fares from around the neighbourhood and Mike will often prepare a salad for everyone. Nothing spectacularly innovative but a great way to build morale and take a break in the day. The office is also very relaxed and the coders have a separate room so they can concentrate while the business guys brainstorm and make calls.
Also part of the culture; community involvement. Michael co-founded Île Sans Fil, Daniel was its President for a while and Yannick is currently involved with the Python group. As you might have guessed, Ajah will be coded in Python and even before launching, they are already giving back to that community. Yannick has held a number of code and translation sprints in their office and the Montréal Pythoners have been so active that project leaders in Paris are working through the nights to be online at the same time as our local coders instead of the other way around.
I’m looking forward to hearing more when they launch and hopefully reading some use cases of how the service helped non profits. Until then pricing details will probably have been announced, expect yearly and/or monthly access plans to be available. The site should be open for an open or private beta by late September. We’ll keep you posted.