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February 11, 2009 5:00 PM

Hookup with Amazon's Turk gives Smartsheet "Viagra moment"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Smartsheet.com co-founder Brent Frei said his Bellevue startup had its "Viagra moment" when it hooked its software to Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk Web service.

He wasn't referring to how excited Smartsheet is about the partnership. Frei was talking instead about the accidental discovery that its software was a wonderful front-end for Turk, a service that brokers projects to independent workers around the world. He equated this with Pfizer's chance discovery that a planned hypertension drug could treat erectile dysfunction.

"I had been talking to the team about the unbelieveable coincidence about how well the product worked with the integration of their service,'' he explained. "It reminded me of that happy discovery with the Viagra product."

Frei, who previously co-founded Onyx Software and worked at Microsoft, Motorola and Intellectual Ventures, used the Viagra analogy in a blog post announcing the partnership this afternoon.

Amazon approached Smartsheet in November about a partnership after seeing an earlier Frei blog post, musing about the potential of work management tools to connect with outside workers, as well as teams within a company.

While the companies were working out the details, Frei and Madrona Venture Partners decided in January to increase Smartsheet's funding, adding $1.25 million more. Frei said the Amazon deal "certainly factored into the decision when we put the money in."

Smartsheet users will see a tab that connects to Amazon's service. Smartsheet delegates tasks to Turk workers, handles billing for its customers and collects a commission.

The idea is that a business manager using Smartsheet to manage a project can now easily assign certain tasks to outside workers via Amazon, without having to set up a different account or navigate the Amazon Web Services interfaces.

"We're the only work collaboration tool or project management tool that has integarated, on-demand crowdsourcing,'' Frei said.

Amazon is likely to dramatically raise the profile of the 10-person startup, founded in 2006. Frei expects it to be profitable early next year.

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