Dan Tocchini was frustrated.
While working a sales job out of college, Tocchini would moonlight as a programmer and web designer to help his friends and contacts with projects in his free time. No matter how easy and clear he tried to make the process, many of his clients had trouble using their site or updating it with a basic blog post or photo. The project was never truly over.
So, he began researching ways he could automate the process or make it easier with programming and artificial intelligence (AI). During his research, one specific article stuck out to him.
"I found this amazing paper by former Facebook VP Greg Badros from when he was a grad student in the 90s," Tocchini said. "It blew my mind and took all these ideas I was messing with and codified them in the form of a system called Cassowary Constraint Solver."
The Cassowary Constraint Solver is a toolkit that essentially allows web designers to design a webpage with more flexibility.
Soon after, Tocchini met Brian Axe who, coincidentally, worked with Badros at Google in the past. The pair founded The Grid, an AI platform that builds and designs websites for users in as little as a few minutes.
Badros ended up as an investor in the company. He said that the goal is to make responsive design accessible to everyone, regardless of technical prowess.
"They are removing a key technical challenge for the majority of publishers who want to communicate effectively across a wide range of devices without the burden of bad technology," Badros said.
In designing the front-end experience, the team wanted to make using the Grid as easy as posting to a social media site. Users send in content through either The Grid mobile app on iOS or Android, or through the Chrome extension. After content such as text, videos, and photos have been submitted, The Grid takes it and make a website in about three minutes.
Users can update their Grid site in seconds, Tocchini said. Whenever new content is added, the platform automatically reformats the site and implements the changes. Users who want more control can do more using the API if they want to.
While the backend does use some open-source technologies, it was primarily built from the ground up. Specific modular apps power the process of creating a website.
Using image recognition, The Grid will automatically generate and apply a relevant color palette, and can automatically edit images for the user. However, the user can override the system at any point, said Leigh Taylor, The Grid's creative director. For example, if they would like to, users can replace the generated color palette with their brand's colors.
The Grid then applies a specific typeface for different parts of the site and builds out the layout based on what the user wants. When the new site is presented, users have the option to make slight alterations using sliders, Taylor said, but The Grid will eventually learn their preferences over time and apply them to future iterations.
These days nearly every company has a website. That means there is a huge potential market for The Grid, especially among individuals and SMBs, but that is also their biggest challenge. Being able to scale the product for the massive potential of variations that will come is something The Grid team is focused on, Taylor said.
According to Badros, though, the biggest challenge moving forward for The Grid is keeping the right people behind the vision.
"That's clearly number one — to make sure they continue to attract the very brightest teammates to achieve their vision," Badros said.
Currently, there are about 50,000 "founding members" supporting The Grid. Membership costs $8 a month, or users can pay by year at $96, and that provides users with custom domain support, design and hosting for seven different sites, and access to a commerce engine when it is available.
In addition to Badros, the company has netted investments from AME Cloud Ventures, Stonewood Investors, and design firm Elegant Themes.
Tocchini said The Grid is currently rolling out the beta for founding members and working to perfect the product. Interested parties can sign up to be a founding member on the company's website.
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Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is Enterprise Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.