Webvanta launches easy service for building complex sites …

On Tuesday, after more than a year of beta testing, Webvanta is formally launching a service that makes it easy for web designers to create web sites that access tons of data.

The Sebastopol, Calif.-based company hopes to save tens of thousands of dollars in programming costs for professional web site designers. It focuses on creating data-rich sites such as an information portal, a business site, a nonprofit site or a membership site. The web designer doesn’t have to know all of the technical ins and outs; they can just walk through a series of menus and select the features they want. To set up a site with user forums, the designer simply checks a box.

Webvanta’s solution is the only hosted platform that makes it easy to build sites around custom database structures. Instead of having just articles or posts, you can add structured content. A web designer can add new features easily, like showing the room types, special deals, and activities at the Highlands Resort site.

Webvanta was started by Michael Slater, (right) famous in chip circles for his acerbic wit as the founder of the Microprocessor Report. He left that business in 1999 and founded Photo Tablet, which made some of the first digital photo organization and sharing software. Renamed Fortiva, that company was sold to Adobe in 2001. Slater stayed at Adobe for five years but became frustrated at how tough it was to get new businesses off the ground. He left at the end of 2006 and co-founded Webvanta in 2007 with Christopher Haupt.

Slater wanted to do a web start-up and started playing around with Ruby on Rails, the open-source web framework which powers many web sites. He practiced building sites. He found that he had to rebuild many features, such as the “contact us” pages, from scratch. He began looking for a way to generate the pages automatically.

While there were blog software platforms such as Word Press and social networking platforms such as Ning, Slater said there was no corresponding software to easily set up something that was richer than a blog. The focus has now evolved into a hosted service for web designers who use the system to deliver better sites for their clients.

Slater and Haupt are the only employees, though they have a variety of contractors. They have run the company so far with just $460,000 in angel funding. Two of the investors are David Hehman and Greg Seal. Slater expects to raise another small round this fall but is focused on being capital efficient. There are about 30 sites running on the Webvanta platform today and they’re paying customers.

Slater says the company is now just starting its marketing efforts. The major competitor today is WordPress, though you can’t do as many things as you can with Webvanta. Other rivals include Drupal, which isn’t all that designer friendly; and then there is Business Catalyst, acquired by Adobe and focused only on e-commerce sites.

A video description is here.