If you’re like most startups, you’re likely in a perpetual search for more and more funding. But shouldn’t you make sure you have a sustainable business first?

Thor Ernstsson thinks so. Ernstsson is the mind behind New York-based Casual Corp, a so-called social project studio that takes the funding-before-product start up model and turns it on its head.

Casual Corp allows its partner developers to rapidly develop prototypes and decide early on whether a project has any traction. It’s an interesting, if slightly unconventional approach that flies in the face of how most startups do business today.

“We’re not just supporting an idea. We’re supporting an actual product,” Ernstsson said from Casual Corps’ office in the lobby of a New York City hotel.

But Casual Corp does a bit more than enable rapid prototyping. There’s a format here that all its products follow, one that boils down to three words – casual, personal, and social.

  • Engagement has to be casual, which means that users shouldn’t have to jump through any hoops to sign up. That’s where services like Facebook and Twitter are so important: They lower the barrier to entry.
  • Casual Corp projects are also personal. Every user has to have their own experience, Ernstsson says, which makes things more relevant to them.
  • Equally key is social pressure. “Users have to have a social reason to return,” Ernstsson said.

These traits are pivotal components of Casual Corp-backed projects like Send Your Best, Mogo, and Momental, all of which are built with them in mind.

But the Casual Corp founder tears things down a bit further: You may have a good product, but that doesn’t mean you have a sustainable venture.

“We focus on building products that also make for viable businesses,” he said.

To illustrate this, Ernstsson points to services like Twitter and Instagram (and, heck, even Facebook) that grew to a massive scale without concrete and proven business plans. That’s not a model that Casual Corp aims to follow.

Because the company is still in its infancy, the biggest question mark for the Casual Corp approach is just how effective it is. While the data is currently slim, Ernstsson says Casual Corp will have more to report as it continues to monitor Giftorious, its first spin off company.

And what happens when a Casual Crop-backed project does turn into something sustainable? It becomes its own company and enters into the start up funding frenzy that every other start up has to deal with. So while money is key, it isn’t everything. “It’s just one piece of the puzzle,” Ernstsson says.

Photo: Casual Corp


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