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Meet Sqrl, the Cincinnati Startup Out to Make Your Job Easier

Ryan Watson and the Sqrl TeamThe day-to-day rituals of office life can siphon productivity from even the most determined professional. Take email, for instance. All that time spent meticulously crafting messages to co-workers and clients, only to have them volley one back so the process can repeat. Even worse? Waiting on a response and not hearing back for hours - or days. As the workweek slips away, lost to this virtual back-and-forth, who hasn't wished for a better way to conduct business?

Enter Sqrl.

Named after the small furry critter, Sqrl is a digital hunter-gatherer that tracks down the information or files you need from clients without the hassle. The cloud-based platform automates communication between service providers and their clientele, eliminating the need for routine requests and follow-up messages.

"Sqrl is a request engine. It's a Web application that drastically reduces the time spent gathering information from and following up with clients," says CEO Ryan Watson. "Think of it like an active Dropbox. Whereas Dropbox is a very passive portal … Sqrl is an active version of that."

Founded by Watson, Ryan Baker and Craig Baldwin in 2013 to solve an efficiency problem they faced as accounting professionals, the Cincinnati company is now helping businesses of all kinds ditch their cluttered inbox and get back to work on what matters.

A solution born out of necessity

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According to a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report, the average professional spends 28 percent of their workweek reading and answering emails. Assuming most work the standard 40 hours, that translates to over 11 hours dedicated to emailing each week. In fact, the report, based on findings from the International Data Corporation, ranked email second only behind "role-specific tasks" as the most time-consuming element of office life.

Watson experienced this time suck firsthand as co-founder of Upsourced accounting, an online CPA practice he started with Baker and Baldwin. Despite building clients and revenue, the team was losing precious time to back-and-forth emails. The administrative resources spent personally hounding clients for audit and tax information cut into their billable hours and, as a result, their profitability. Searching for a better way to make and manage requests, Upsourced surveyed some 50 other accounting firms and found many were plagued by the same efficiency issues. Sqrl was initially built as an internal tool to help Watson and his partners alleviate the burden of gathering important documents from clients. Soon, their fellow accountants were asking to use it too.

"Accountants, lawyers [and] insurance agents spend as much as 25 percent of their time just trying to wrangle the information they need to do their job, and it's generally a very manual process," says Watson. "Sqrl puts that on autopilot."

Sqrl's Real-Time Dashboard

All of a user's requests are organized in Sqrl's real-time dashboard, which makes checking the status of each transparent and easy. Sqrl follows up on requests until they're fulfilled, automatically sending reminders to the client until they submit the needed information and notifying the user when it arrives. Requests are sent to the client through email, so they aren't required to adopt the platform or even new software. What's more, Sqrl boasts added security measures to protect important financial and personal data. Templates allow users to save time on requests they send often, and Sqrl can even analyze frequent contacts, offering insight into specific recipients' response rates.

On to bigger acorns

Watson and his partners took Sqrl through the Brandery startup accelerator, which helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into successful businesses. In the first three weeks Sqrl was available to the public, 500 individual organizations signed up for the service. Watson notes a significant segment of first adopters were not accountants at all, but lawyers, insurance providers and even creative agencies. While the platform was initially aimed at small to midlevel accounting firms, it seems a wide range of professionals were in need of the simplicity and structure Sqrl offers.

In fact, Watson sees Sqrl as part of a broader evolution in technology bent on improving the aspects of email that just aren't working. With its emphasis on action-oriented communication, Sqrl aims to get users a specific response in a specific time frame. Tasks that typically required a series of exchanges over multiple days can now be accomplished painlessly, without the guesswork or formalities. By serving as a buffer for requests, Sqrl maximizes response rate and cuts down on the time spent lobbing emails into the ether.

The Sqrl team recently raised $550,000 in seed funding led by investors CincyTech, Hyde Park Venture Partners and Vine Street Ventures. The basic service is currently free to the public, with priced "Team" and "Firm" options boasting additional features coming soon.

Sources:
Interview with Ryan Watson, CEO of Sqrl
"The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies," McKinsey Global Institute, July 2012, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_social_economy
"Sqrl Raises Seed Round," Sqrl Blog, January 29, 2014, http://blog.getsqrl.com/sqrl-raises-seed-round/

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