Sir Richard Branson & Flipboard Investor Jerry Murdock Put Nearly $1M Into MySocialCloud

Next Story

Keen On… Bruce Schneier: How The Internet Allows Us To Scale Trust [TCTV]

MySocialCloud is a new, and somewhat stealthy, startup that aims to organize your online life through bookmarking, stream consolidation, filtering and auto-login capabilities. The service, which until now has only been available to users at a handful of colleges out in California, has some pretty impressive backers, too. The startup has raised “just shy of a million” from Sir Richard Branson and Jerry Murdock, also an investor in Flipboard and Twitter.

The idea for the service was prompted by one of those awful moments in life: a hard drive crash. Explains MySocialCloud’s founder and CEO Scott Ferreira, after the event, he realized that the worst thing that he would lose off his MacBook was an Excel spreadsheet where he kept a list of his 500 usernames and passwords to various services. Not the best system, perhaps, but let’s face it – most of us have similar strategies: lists, spreadsheets, or worse – using the same password across the web. (Just admit it).

Ferreira said he knew there were already technical solutions to storing your passwords online, but he didn’t really like any of the alternatives out there.

“They’re not very user-friendly, they’re cumbersome to use, some of them you have pay for, and some of them look really sketchy,” he says. “So I set out to build my own.”

As he and his friend from USC, co-founder Shiv Prakash, started to build the service in May 2011, they realized there needed to be more to it. Users don’t want to just store their usernames and passwords, they also need to be able to find content, save it for later and share it with friends.

“There’s a life cycle to websites in general that starts with the discovery and ends with creating a username and password or storing and saving a site,” explains Ferreira.

So instead of just building a better version of something like LastPass, for example, the team decided to build a site that does it all. Today, MySocialCloud hooks into social networks like Facebook and Twitter to help you find interesting content your friends are sharing, then allows you to bookmark items you like for later reading, share those items with your friends, and store your associated usernames and passwords for the websites, too, if desired.

Both the bookmarking and password-storing can be done on the site and through the use of a “Cloud It” bookmark.

The end result is something akin to a social news reader. A two-column stream of posts and tweets is displayed on the homepage, and you can click through to open up the corresponding website to read the content.

When you bookmark an item, there’s also a field where you can enter in your username and password information for safe-keeping. Despite Ferreira’s previous system of using a spreadsheet for this task, he assures me that MySocialCloud’s security is top-notch.

Passwords are stored in an encrypted form in the database and can only be decrypted by the user. All communication between the user and the backend servers is encrypted using 256-bit SSL, and there’s something else, too – nobody’s information is encrypted in the same way on the site. So even if a hacker compromised the servers and manage to get into one person’s info, they would have to start the process over to compromise the subsequent account.

“We’re hackers ourselves,” explains Ferreira, “we know what would drive us crazy.”

As for Sir Richard Branson’s investment, that came by way of a tweet, saying that he wanted to meet with 18 entrepreneurs in Miami while he was there celebrating the 25th anniversary of Virgin Atlantic. Ferreira and his sister, co-founder Stacey Ferreria, applied to go to the pitch session, were accepted, and flew down to share their idea. Instead of 15 minutes, they ended up in conversation with Branson for nearly an hour. Branson later introduced to them Murdock, and within a month, both had invested in the startup.

It’s a great story, but of course you need more than rockstar investors to have a successful company. And MySocialCloud, at present, is earning its “beta” label. The user interface needs polish, the stream didn’t automatically update in my tests (you have to push a reload button), and the informational pop-up messages have weird, video player-like buttons that don’t seem to make sense for what they are supposed to be: quick hints as to how a particular feature works. This is all surface stuff, though, so there’s room for improvement.

But MySocialCloud is not without its competition – the dozens of other “social” news discovery apps out there, like News.me, Zite and even Murdock’s other investment, Flipboard. The question is whether the password-saving aspect will be enough to differentiate this service from others further along in this market. (Ferreira also claims the speed with which it pulls in the data beats Flipboard, but since the interface requires manual refreshes, this is hard to confirm).

For now, MySocialCloud remains in private beta, but TechCrunch readers can get in using the code “tc2012” to sign up here.