As a serial entrepreneur, Marc Gingras was involved in a lot of startups. But once they grew to eight or nine people, he says, he faced the same problem - the time-consuming annoyance of scheduling meetings.
He found a potential solution in exchange servers. But at a cost of about $500 per person, he rejected them. Plus, they didn't solve "the cross-company, cross-platform, cross-time-zone dance" that he says is part of scheduling meetings for bigger companies.
So Mr. Gingras came up with a the idea of a peer-to-peer solution. He is the founder and chief executive officer of Montreal-based Tungle, whose Web-based scheduling application, Tungle.me, was a finalist in the 2010 Canadian Innovation Exchange awards.
He started Tungle in 2006, estimating that there are about 500 million business professionals worldwide who could use a tool to schedule meetings. The company, which also has a research and development office in Waterloo, Ont., built its technology for the first three years and launched officially as a free service in April, 2009.
The Tungle.me application now supports Google, Outlook, Apple iCal, Entourage for Mac, Lotus Notes, Windows Live and Yahoo!, and connects to major social networks including Facebook, Plancast, TripIt, LinkedIn and Twitter.
"The biggest roadblock was building an application that could work with all the different calendar applications," Mr. Gingras says. "There are so many different calendars and none of them work together, so a lot of innovation needed to happen."
He says the beauty of Tungle is that the people you're "Tungling" don't have to be on the same system as you. "You're not imposing something on somebody that they're not used to. You're not forcing them to sign up."
The company has grown rapidly since its launch and today has 470,000 users in 150 countries. According to Mr. Gingras, his customers include 40 per cent of the Fortune 1,000 companies plus staff and students from more than 800 universities.
The feedback has been very positive, Mr. Gingras says. "The best part of our growth is viral - 40 per cent of the people who get exposed to Tungle end up becoming Tungle users. Think of recruiters who do interviews all the time, salespeople who are trying to meet their customers, executives who have so many meetings, or consultants. These people are all thriving on Tungle because they're saving so much time."
The company launched a premium service in November that allows users to brand their page.
Mr. Gingras says that about 7 per cent of the user base has migrated from free to paid, higher than the 5-per-cent industry average. "I think it's because people want to have their personalities on their meeting invitations. They want people to feel that they're a big corporation or that they're representing something."
When it came to branding his own company, Mr. Gingras had three goals. First, he wanted to own the dot-com address, so it had to be available or very cheap because it was a startup. Second, he wanted people to be able to spell the name on the first or second try after hearing. And third, he wanted it to be able to be used as a verb, like Google.
"Instead of saying 'scheduling,' I wanted people to say, 'I'm going to Tungle you,' because it's easier - and it's working in that way," Mr. Gingras says. "Now it's becoming a common phrase of our users to say, 'Just Tungle me, here's my page,' and then people can start using it."