LAS VEGAS — Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer mentioned a few companies in his keynote speech Wednesday evening outside of the usual suspects. Among the mentions was Graphic.Ly, a startup launching a digital comic book store and social network.
The reference came when Ballmer talked about the comic book reader running on one of the PCs in a display of several on stage. It was brief, but the publicity was valuable for a startup as more than a thousand reporters and bloggers covering the event looked on.
“They got us in the keynote, and we hadn’t really even raised money,” said Micah Baldwin, chief execuive of Graphic.ly, which developed the reader. So how did the company land a laud?
Turns out Graphic.ly is part of Microsoft’s BizSpark One program, which provides mentorship, free hosting for a few years and developer support to accelerate the growth of startups. Companies apply to join the program.
Graphic.Ly is launching it site Friday, and has signed partnerships with Marvel and Top Cow to distribute their comic books in a digital format online. The first 1,000 users will get free digital comic books.
“It’s like an iTunes for comics with a kind of Etsy back end,” Baldwin said. The reader can pull up a comic book panel by panel, and provides a social network for comic book fans to interact and share thoughts on the panels.
As a startup, Baldwin said, Graphic.Ly probably would have gone the open-source route and toward products like Google Docs if it had not been for the BizSpark One program. But the engineers who started the company were comfortable with Microsoft software, and Microsoft encouraged them to apply for the business mentoring program. Microsoft has helped set up meetings between BizSpark and partners they need, such as Hewlett-Packard.
“We’re front of mind and it makes me feel good,” Baldwin said.
He said his company decided on its own to build the network and store on Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure. On the device side, Baldwin is building for PCs but also non-Microsoft products, such as Apple’s iPhone and Adobe AIR.
Baldwin is surprised Microsoft has not pressured his company to build exclusively on Microsoft software and platforms.
He calls himself a bit of a convert.
“I initially felt it was like a tobacco company marketing to kids,” Baldwin said of Microsoft. “But they never offered us cigarettes.”
(Top photo of Graphic.ly on Sony Vaio L: Sharon Chan; Screenshot of Graphic.ly: Graphic.ly)