In his early twenties, Justin Smith was doing pretty well for himself. He was vice president of operations for a Columbia-based startup, Velaro, that provided live chat software to enterprise-level companies like Dell and Comcast.
But it wasn’t enough, and in May, the now 25-year-old Smith left a great job for the chance to build Procurely.
“It’s crazy, right? Giving up an insane salary and a great title that could have taken me really far,” he says. “But I had this feeling like my time was now.”
For Smith, who had worked in an industry where companies routinely assembled requests for proposal (RFP) when it came to soliciting bids for services, projects, or equipment, it was time to develop something that would expedite the response to those RFPs.
From that idea came Procurely, now in a closed beta test with several companies, a platform that does two things, says Smith: (1) standardizes the RFP response process, and (2) makes it all cloud-based so that information is accessible to any number of people with the appropriate login.
“Basically, we are a collection of content that’s searchable, sortable, [and] categorizable,” says Smith, who lives in Columbia, but works regularly out of the offices at 1414 Key Highway in Federal Hill. “Something that used to take [companies] about eight hours now takes them about two.”
For instance, say a software or computer company is looking to get a new customer relationship management system. That company will assemble an RFP or questionnaire outlining what their specific needs are and send it out to a variety of companies for a response. Chances are, Smith says, that not only has the responding company had to assemble a similar proposal before, but also that multiple team members will need to collaborate on the response. What Procurely does is create a library of content online, which allows companies to drag and drop—reuse, essentially—elements of past proposals to cut down the time it takes to write proposals from scratch, as well as shorten the time it takes responding companies to answer all the questions an RFP asks.
Additionally, by integrating project management with cloud software, Procurely enables companies to create and manage proposals from one central location, which means different people can be assigned different duties as it relates to putting the RFP together. (Think of it like a Salesforce.com for project management.) And companies that already have sales proposal templates put together in Microsoft Word or Excel can integrate them with Procurely.
“The more you use the application, the smarter it gets,” Smith says.
Inspiration for Procurely originally came from Smith’s days working as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Education, where he worked on the web team responsible for managing students’ FAFSA forms.
“I started noticing we were having problems with project management,” he says. “One of our managers would print out an Excel spreadsheet—go to one office, fill out information, pass to the next office. We did that for 40 different offices.”
While vice president at Velaro, the problem Smith recognized during his time as a contractor became more acute.
“We get corporate RFPs, questionnaires. We have different sales people answering them completely differently, everyone’s working off their own content,” says Smith. “We were producing almost 80 percent of the same thing every time, yet it took the same amount of time every time.”
Hence Procurely, which Smith hopes will “disrupt the entire system.” After a successful seed funding round raised from Sean Lane with OSTP Ventures and Greg Cangialosi with Nucleus Ventures LLC—two of three co-founders of Betamore—Smith has been working on Procurely full-time since leaving Velaro in May. In the fall, Smith says, he’ll work on raising an angel round of funding, and he’s hoping to be part of the first class at Betamore.
“I’m really excited about the Baltimore scene,” he says. “It’s great to raise money around here and help fuel this ecosystem.”-30-
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