Interview with David Hunegnaw (AboutOurWork)
AboutOurWork social network site for business’ and their contacts
I interviewed David Hunegnaw, AboutOurWork founder to find out more. This is the hundred and sixty ninth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to David!
How would you describe AboutOurWork in under 50 words?
AboutOurWork is a B2B recommendation engine for small businesses. Just like Amazon connects us with the next best book to read and Netflix with the next-best movie to watch, AboutOurWork identifies next-best opportunities between small businesses then automates intros for them.
How did you meet co-founder Brooke Paul?
Brooke and I met a few years back right around the time we both were exiting our startups at the time. Once I sold my business I started dabbling in some local projects (including the creation of a coworking space and a bike share…) and when Brooke sold his business, he immediately started putting together plans for Founders Factory, a Columbus, Ohio-based startup accelerator. I can’t remember who approached who with the idea for AboutOurWork but knew we wanted to work on a startup together.
By the way, Brooke is quite literally at the center of the Columbus, OH startup scene and is deeply involved in the community as the founding partner at Founders Factory, serves as a program lead for the 10X Accelerator at The Ohio State University, and advisor/mentor/investor to many Columbus-based startups.
What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch AboutOurWork late 2011?
AboutOurWork was created because even with the advent of social, small business networking (particularly those focused on the service sector) has remained the same which is a mostly offline networking process. Hundreds of small business networking events take place and are attended by thousands of business owners every single day. We believe that AboutOurWork can augment or enhance the process of networking for small businesses.
It says on your website that you love the challenge of building businesses and are rarely seen without your laptop. How did this interest come about?
I’m pretty lucky to be surrounded by a group of entrepreneurs that love the challenge of identifying opportunities and building solutions to address those opportunities.
How long did it take to put together the initial version of AboutOurWork?
About 6 months.
How have you funded AboutOurWork?
Brooke and I self-funded the early days and once we saw some traction, reached out to Founders Factory for additional funding. We’re now in the process of preparing to raise an angel round.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing AboutOurWork?
AboutOurWork was built around three key pillars:
1.) Our company profile that helps our small business members get found online
2.) MatchUp, which automates the process of identifying business-to-business opportunities, and
3.) Connected, which allows our members to promote their business visually through existing connections.
The challenge for our team was how to design and build the product in a fully integrated and seamless way to ensure a positive user experience. We still have some work to do in this area but I am happy with the progress we’re making.
Do you find that many clients use AboutOurWork to supplement their current websites, or do many replace their original sites with their page on your website?
Allowing our members to use their company profile as a website is a relatively new feature that we built based on our discovery that over 60% of small businesses (with fewer than 10 employees) don’t have a website.
Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?
We identified small businesses with fewer than 10 employees as our target user because they’re often ignored by major social networks and they’re also often the very companies lacking financial, technical, or human resources to identify alternatives to the offline networking process. In order to reach this audience, we have identified and established several channel partnerships with many of the local chambers, associations and other trade groups that focus on serving small business.
What was the inspiration behind launching your MatchUp service, and what added edge does it give your clients?
MatchUp is the recommendation engine that automates introductions between businesses. We were inspired to create MatchUp because our discovery that within the small business community, the process of networking and connecting largely has remained the same for over 100 years… the traditional networking event. While networking events can be highly productive, it is a process that doesn’t scale. Small business owners simply do not have the resources to attend every event and “shake every hand in the room” in order to identify the next-best business opportunity.
Small businesses are busier than ever and in today’s competitive environment, need the right tools in order to grow. MatchUp gives our members exactly what they need and can’t get anywhere else online – targeted and qualified next-best business opportunities delivered to their inbox. No status updates required.
Has AboutOurWork got the feedback and growth you expected since launching November 2011?
We spent a large part of 2012 validating our concept through interviews with small business owners, chambers of commerce, and associations that focus on small businesses in order to ensure that we were on the right track. Now that we’ve validated the business and model, our plans for 2013 are focused on growth.
How much flexibility does the site offer for clients to tailor the website to their companies needs?
We provide 6 themes/templates for our members to build their company profile, each of them are fully customizable. We even allow them to use their company profile as their website, removing all AboutOurWork branding. No other network or directory provides this for their members!
What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?
From a product standpoint, we’ve built a pretty solid base. Our focus now is to refine our product to create a better user experience. In addition, we’re focused on business development and adding members through our channel partners.
Which site or app do you check first when you wake up?
First things first, I check my emails for any important issues with the team, technology, etc. Next, I scan Twitter for potential support issues with AboutOurWork.
After I check emails and twitter for important issues, I go to my Reeder app to scan the daily news and updates from my favorite blogs including AVC, PandoDaily, Techcrunch, Techmeme, etc.
Where do you see AboutOurWork in 5 years time?
97% of businesses in the US are considered small with fewer than 10 employees and unfortunately, they’ve long been ignored by the major networks and platforms. Our mission for AboutOurWork is to be the hub for this community, powering the networking opportunities and connections between small businesses around the world.
It’s a lofty goal for sure but we’re lucky enough to have a the right team, technology, vision and overall opportunity to execute on our mission.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Access to capital which is a hurdle not only for AboutOurWork, but for many startups in Ohio and throughout the midwest.
What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
Solve a real problem.
Using AboutOurWork as an example, we all know that there isn’t a single company on this planet that can stand alone and be successful without the support of other businesses – whether they are clients, vendors, advisors, or collaborations with other businesses. Before AboutOurWork, there wasn’t a network or technology built to solve that problem which is why we decided to build the business. AboutOurWork is solving a real problem for small businesses.
There’s an often quoted question in the startup community… “Is your startup a vitamin (a nice to have technology) or a pain killer (a got to have it technology)?”
I believe AboutOurWork will evolve into a painkiller “got to have it” technology for the small business community and my advice to new startup founders would be to find and build their own pain killer.
Can you convince the reader to start using AboutOurWork in under 50 words?
Are you a small business? Then join AboutOurWork, the first recommendation engine that identifies next-best business opportunities. In only 5 minutes & 5 clicks, you’ll increase exposure online & MatchUp will identify the right opportunity at the right time, delivering those opportunities to your inbox. No status updates required.
Finished reading? Check out AboutOurWork!