When photographer Benjamin Edwards wants to update his website, all he has to do is load a new picture onto his phone; drag it into his web host, The Grid; and voilà, the program loads it onto his home-page and rearranges and recolors the entire site to work with the new image. For his work on behalf of charities such as World Relief that takes him around the globe, the technology is a godsend.
“Since I’m out in the field so often, I don’t have a ton of time to work on my website,” says Edwards, who is based in Bend, Ore. “I can be in Bolivia, shoot a photo and, if I have cell service, it can be on my website right now.”
While building and maintaining a web presence has become easier than ever, it can be a laborious and expensive process. That’s where The Grid comes in. The San Francisco startup, currently in beta, provides a URL, hosting services and a dead-simple app — not a complicated content management system — on which to build a website. All users do is move text, video and photos into The Grid’s program. Once the content is loaded, The Grid’s artificial intelligence arranges it into a sleek layout based on best practices for user-interface architecture and SEO. It knows, for instance, if it’s building an e-commerce page and will create boxes beneath the images for descriptive copy. Prices are automatically turned into click-through buttons that lead to the checkout page. More impressive, The Grid’s AI makes thematic suggestions to improve the overall vibe of the site and its effectiveness, analyzing colors, photographs and text so it understands the subject matter.
Founder and CEO Dan Tocchini IV says his goal is to enable business owners to wrest control from web designers and template-driven website services. “You’re not sending ideas back and forth with a designer, waiting weeks to approve the latest backend,” Tocchini says. “All that latency is gone.”
More than 60,000 “founding members” paid $96 over the summer to beta-test The Grid and help its AI to grow smarter. At press time, the company was aiming for a year-end launch. New users, who will pay $300 per year for the service, will reap the benefits learned in beta. Today, for example, the software knows that when an image is dominated by blue sky, text can go into that negative space; meanwhile, if it detects a face, copy cannot run over it.
Andy Chou, who last year sold his software quality and security analysis firm, Coverity, for $375 million, says he turned to The Grid “because I wanted to create a website for myself, and I have no interest in being a web designer.” The more Chou investigated The Grid, the more he wanted to invest, eventually taking a stake in the company’s Series B round for an undisclosed amount. The $3.1 million Series A round, which closed in November 2014, included Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang; Greg Badros, former vice president of engineering and products at Facebook; and John Pleasants, former president of Disney Interactive. Tocchini says he has since declined an offer from Facebook to buy The Grid for an unspecified amount.
Chou was attracted to the simplicity of the business model. “There are so many web startups that are trying to figure out how to monetize after the fact,” he says. “The Grid is monetized at the start. You use the product, you pay for it.”