Interview with Kosta Gara (Vionic)
Vionic is a social media deals platform.
I interviewed Kosta Gara, Vionic founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and sixteenth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Kosta!
How would you describe Vionic in under 50 words?
We are a social media deals platform that enables brands to offer exclusive deals and promotions on Social Media.
Our company is essentially groupon on Facebook. We’re a true Do-it-yourself platform for business owners so they can market their deals or promotions via Facebook or our Market Place.
What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Vionic in 2011?
To be candid, I was very impressed with what Groupon did in such a short period, going from less than 100k in sales to $2B in 3 years.
As an entrepreneur I was drawn into that story, but when I peeled back the layers, I realized the flaws their platform had for SMB’s.
That’s when I had an epiphany and I decided to dedicate a team back in 2011 to come up with a solution to disrupt the daily deal space that has been overshadowed by fairly large companies at the cost of SMB’s.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing Vionic?
Even though developing our full scale platform entailed almost 50 million lines of code, it was nothing in comparison to getting the 2 dozen APIs integrated simultaneously and working seamlessly across all platforms.
You have 4 different pricing plans. Where have you seen the most traction?
Our Deal Maker Pro is the most popular choice amongst our users, simply due to the fact it encompasses all the features and benefits of our app.
Do you have any examples of value that Vionic has created?
We have a variety of examples from small mom and pop sized businesses such as Pure Barre, who generated tens of thousands of dollars in a short few months, all the way to Fortune 100 companies such as Office Max that increased their engagement on Facebook by 6,000%.
You’ve received $900,000 in Angel funding. How difficult was it to secure this funding? How have you put it to use?
I was actually not originally open to the idea of raising any funds, however, I realized in order to expand, raising funds was essential. The first round, although time consuming, was much easier than we anticipated.
We’ve used the funds to expand our marketing department, as well as our sales organization in Mexico and Canada to broaden our reach.
Prior to starting-up Vionic, you were involved heavily with two Fortune 500 companies. What did you learn from working with these companies?
Two Words: Corporate Structure. I think that has reflected in the way Vionic is structured, and how it still stands today. Simply put, all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
Has Vionic got the feedback and growth you expected since launching in 2011?
We launched the beta version of our software in 2012, and after street testing it for 1 quarter, we got an enormous amount of valuable feedback that took us almost 6 months to implement and improve our user interface.
We have had a tremendous response from our users and although we are not where we need to be in terms of growth, we are confident our unique platform will bring exponential growth over the next 12 months.
You have headquarters in California as well as a branch in Mexico. How do you manage the distance?
Luckily, thanks to technology, we are able to utilize video conferencing for our day to day communication with our office in Mexico.
How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?
Our platform enables merchants to build their deal under their own terms and at their own free will.
Some of the other features are:
• First of a kind real time split payment feature
• 9.9% versus 50-70%
• Full control of the duration and scheduling
• Full video capability feature
• Dashboard with analytics, sales report and tracking system
• Lastly, we’re the only one to offer Bitcoin
These are of course just a few attributes our platform offers.
What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?
Currently, we’re focused on two areas in our business: 1. Partnering with resellers and agencies under our white label brand. 2. Building our private label for our enterprise clients.
In terms of what you’ve learned from building Vionic, what advise would you give to your customers with their businesses?
Although I have learned many great and valuable lessons from building Vionic, I am not sure if any of my lessons can really help any of our customers, since we’re in a different industry.
For example, we’ve invested millions of dollars in building the platform in the last couple years, and most SMB’s focus is on creating profit rather than development.
Where do you see Vionic in 5 years time?
Consumer’s behavior about shopping has evolved over the last decade and continues to evolve everyday.
I whole-heartedly believe in the very near future, there will be a day that no one will have to pay a retail price ever again, and the world of shopping will take place on mobile devices around the world.
I am also confident in the next 24 months geo-fencing will evolve to a point where you will be able to find any sort of deal, any where in the country as you go about your day to day activities.
BTW, For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term geo-fencing, it simply means location based push notifications sent via messaging services within an app. Basically if your nearby a restaurant for instance, that is running a promotion, you will be notified through the app of that promotion.
We are well positioned with our innovative technology to be the forefront of this transition.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
The biggest hurdle has been educating our merchants on how effectively utilize our platform for maximum results.
Since most SMB owners are wearing multiple hats they are very time constrained which makes it very difficult for us to communicate and educate them on a regular basis.
Therefore, we are now putting a huge emphasis on educating our clients through email marketing and online video tutorials.
What do you find most interesting and rewarding in terms of running your own business?
What I find most interesting and rewarding is how we have witnessed the creation of our company from only a few employees in a small office, to today after 6 generations of evolution with our product and 3 years later with 30 employees and two offices, it is truly a remarkable process and has been an interesting journey.
Can you convince the reader to start using Vionic in under 50 words?
The future of online shopping clearly lies in the deal space, as no consumer will want to pay full price. Our software empowers all merchants to be in full control of creating, publishing and promoting their own deals online, under their own terms, anytime.
Finished reading? Check out Vionic!