Share:

  • Facebook
  • Hacker News

Follow:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
Chris Cardell

Interview with Chris Cardell (Cardell Media)

Chris Cardell has shown thousands of business owners how to grow their business.Chris Cardell's - Cardell Media

I interviewed Chris Cardell, founder of Cardell Media to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Chris!

Avoiding the Dangerous Number One

Chris Cardell is a strong believer in the golden rule of the entrepreneurial world: the most dangerous number in business is one.

As UK & Europe’s leading provider of online and offline marketing information for businesses, Cardell knows that Entrepreneurs can’t rely on one of anything – whether it’s one key customer or client, one key employee, one key supplier, one key product or price, or one key marketing method.

It’s a lesson he knows well and has continued to teach during the more than 20 years that he has helped Entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

As one of his current clients at Cardell Media puts it: “The lesson that we learned during the recession was that you can’t be reliant on one business source, which is something that people who have listened to what Chris Cardell has to say are aware off.

“That’s one of the first things you learn when you sign up to work with him,” according to Dan Butt of Now Chartered Surveyors, whose one key business source prior to the recession was High Street lending institutions.

He is just one of the many business owners that Cardell and his marketing company, Cardell Media, have helped get out of the “one” mode.

“The majority of businesses have one or two or three vital customers who – if they were to go – would cause major difficulties,” Cardell said. “On the face of it, it is very appealing to have one great customer paying you oodles of money and who is enjoyable to work with. But all the positive points are outweighed by the risks involved in that dependency.”

For one, this type of situation makes business owners weak, because at some level, they are operating from a level of fear, according to Cardell. It also means the Entrepreneur doesn’t have a system to bring in new customers, so the business can never grow.

It’s a situation Cardell knows firsthand. He was in the “one key client” position early on in his career, a situation that worked well for both Cardell and the client at the time. And although the relationship ended amicably, he said most of these types of relationships end badly.

“Freeing yourself from that dependency should drive your entrepreneurial actions every day,” he said. “You need to have enough customers so that if, despite your best efforts, you lose some, it doesn’t matter.”

Having gone from one key customer to Cardell Media’s tens of thousands of customers, he said: “I can assure you that the difference is not just financial. It’s psychological. I don’t want to lose a customer. But if it happens, it makes zero difference to my life. That is a key element of what financial freedom is about.”

While one key customer is bad, the “just one” key form of marketing is even worse.

It’s also fairly common, he said, noting that about 90 percent of businesses are dependent on just one or two forms of marketing to get customers, usually Google, referrals or Facebook.

“I have lost track of the number of businesses I’ve heard about who were making small fortunes purely from free traffic from Google. They were completely dependent on it and everything was going fine until Google did one of its algorithm changes,” Cardell said.

“These business owners woke up one day to find their website had gone from the top of page 1 of the search results to page 5 or 10 – or in some cases, they had completely disappeared from the search engine. End of business.”

Of course, he continued, there are also “the business owners who got all their customers from Yellow Pages – until the year that their phone number was printed wrong. Or the businesses that were totally dependent on Google AdWords – until the month a couple of years ago when Google closed the accounts of 30,000 businesses in a policy crackdown.

“I’m sure you get the idea,” he said. “The first step to marketing success is to find one or two methods that work to attract customers. The second step is to do whatever it takes to find two or three more, so you’re not dependent on the first ones.”

Again, this is an area that Cardell knows well. He grew his business from a small company to a multi-million pound enterprise by using a wide variety marketing methods, including Google AdWords, Facebook and other online marketing methods.

But he said he also has spent – and continues to spend – a huge amount of time and resources on direct mail, newspaper ads and multi-channel TV advertising.

“Why? Because I don’t want to be dependent on the online element.”

While he is proud of the rapid and dramatic profit increases he has helped business owners achieve, he said, the more important work they do together is to build a long-term, multi-marketing approach to growing their businesses.

And yes, he practices what he preaches. For example, he has spent about £3 million of his own money on Google AdWords. He handles the Cardell Media ad campaigns himself, making him very qualified to be Europe’s leading trainer of Google AdWords.

“I’ve trained more people in AdWords than anyone in Europe,” he said, noting that it is absolutely crucial that businesses advertise through this medium because people are always searching for products and services on Google.

 

Another area where Cardell works diligently to change attitudes with Cardell Media members is the idea of one product and one price.

He continually encourages them to think about offering premium products/services, so that they can charge premium pricing. In doing so, they are offering more than one product and reaching a larger number of potential customers.

There will always be those who will buy the most high-end product available, he said. And when Entrepreneurs add in that higher-priced option, their more basic offering will look even more affordable so their sales will increase too.

He used Apple’s recently released watch as an example of why business can’t fail with a high-end version of a basic offering.

“Along with their main offering of the Apple Watch Sport, which starts at $349 (£230), they also launched a premium price version that will range from $10,000 to $17,000,’’ he said. “The more that Apple has us talking about the $10,000 watch, the more we forget to have a conversation about why a $400 or $700 watch is actually pretty expensive.”

Enough said. It’s easy to get the picture. Perhaps that why Cardell Media has had a hand in creating more successful Entrepreneurs than any other marketing business in the U.K.

Cardell can take a situation from today’s news reports, like the Apple watches, and put it in easy to understand, practical terms for all sorts of Entrepreneurs – whether it’s on premium products and pricing, AdWords, or avoiding the forbidden “one key” of anything.

More on Chris Cardell

Interview with Kevin Kogler (MicroBiz)

MicroBiz is a cloud based point of sale, software solution.

I interviewed Kevin Kogler, MicroBiz President to find out more. This is the two hundred and eleventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Kevin!

How would you describe MicroBiz in under 50 words?

MicroBiz is cloud-based POS software for omni-channel retailers. It features real-time multi-store inventory management and enables retailers to manage their operations using iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, PCs and Macs. Its Magento ecommerce extension allows retailers to operate their Magento ecommerce sites and retail stores from a single application.

Can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to start working on MicroBiz?

About 2 years ago, I attended an eBay technology conference in San Francisco to further research the free open source Magento ecommerce platform as a replacement for an outdated proprietary ecommerce platform developed by my prior business, CAM Commerce Solutions. eBay featured a local soccer store named Soccer Pro to highlight how easy it is to launch a new ecommerce site using Magento. It turned out that Soccer Pro is right down the street from where I live. So, a couple weeks later, I was shopping at Soccer Pro and noted that their legacy POS system was totally disconnected from their new Magento ecommerce site – forcing Soccer Pro’s owner to do double data entry and creating situations where he sold items online that were no longer in stock in his store.

I immediately realized the opportunity to sell a modern cloud iPad POS system to the 170,000 retailers using Magento. The next day I decided to start the process to sell my current business in order to start a new business which would develop a cloud POS platform specifically designed for multi-channel, multi-store retailers. We posted a video on YouTube that recreates the light bulb going off.

You put together MicroBiz after feeling frustrated with technologies already available to you. What did you do differently?

The biggest difference is that we decided to build an entirely new application rather than trying to do what most established POS companies are doing – using middleware to connect old legacy POS/ERP systems to an ecommerce platform. We also wrote the new application using the most modern, open source technologies and frameworks available. Rather than create a closed ecosystem like most legacy POS applications, MicroBiz has an open standards architecture which will allow MicroBiz to easily connect with whatever third party technologies and services that a retailer wants to use. For example, a retailer will be able to use MicroBiz as a platform to connect with mobile payment providers and other cloud based ecommerce, accounting and marketing applications (such as Magento, QuickBooks Online and MailChimp), to create an integrated store management platform for a fraction of the cost of a legacy retail ERP systems.

As you decided not to raise any venture capital, was it difficult to finance in the initial stages?

We are a little different than most start-ups. The “new” MicroBiz was created by spinning an existing POS product out of a larger POS software vendor. So, we have an existing brand and base of customers that have generated much of the cash used to fund the development of our new iPad POS product over the past 18 months. However, we still have to be very careful how we spend our money, as we do not have millions of dollars from a VC sitting in the bank. We have almost exclusively used open source technologies and looked to hire developers in lower cost areas. For example, our development and support team is based in Las Vegas – which offered significant cost savings vs. the San Francisco Bay area. While its amazing how much technology is available these days for free or through hosted offerings, the lack of VC capital to date has forced us to be very focused and make some hard choices on what features we can added to the product during our start-up phase.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing MicroBiz?

From the first line of code, MicroBiz Cloud was built to integrate with the free open source Magento ecommerce platform. So, every feature in the store management system has to be designed to be able to work with a Magento ecommerce site. For example, our system is designed so that any change in a customer or item record in a store system must instantly be updated in the ecommerce system, and vice versa. While this has significantly added to our development costs, it has resulted in a seamless integration between the MicroBiz store management system and the Magento ecommerce platfom.

Prior to the sale of CAM Commerce Solutions where you were President, what did you learn from working at Citigroup and Credit Suisse as a technology investment banker?

I was a banker during the first dot com bubble and saw many companies being created for the wrong reasons. Many of these companies were way too far ahead of market demand or were more focused on creating a good “story” for investors rather than creating a company with a differentiated product and a sustainable business model.

At MicroBiz, we are very focused on providing small to mid-sized retailers with easy-to-use and affordable software to manage their online and offline retail operations. This may not be as “sexy” as many other start-ups today, but this is a large market opportunity with a clear demand and need for the product. Being a banker also taught me the value of profitability – so we are very focused on measured growth and a rational pricing/cost structure.

You allow retailers to try out your POS application free for 14 days before committing. How successful have you been in converting users?

We have been happy with the positive feedback received from these trial users, and most of the users that invest a few hours trying to learn the system request a paid subscription. However, because our application is much more feature rich than most other cloud-based POS solutions, our users tend to be more sophisticated retailers looking for purchase orders/receiving, inventory management and other multi-store features in a cloud-based application. So it is a longer sales cycle than more simple, single store cloud cash register solutions.

You have nearly 25,000 retailers on board. Did you expect such rapid growth when you initially launched in 2012?

The fact that 25,000 retailers around the world have purchased MicroBiz software does show that our solutions meet the needs of small retailers. It’s also created a nice base of retailers that know about MicroBiz. While not all of this growth has occurred since 2012, we have been pleased with the market acceptance of our new cloud iPad/Android POS offering.

How much competition is there in there in cloud based POS?

It’s a pretty competitive space, but the cloud POS market is becoming more segmented. Most of the cloud POS vendors focus on the restaurant/hospitality space, and have robust reservation and table management features, but typically lack any real inventory management functions. Of the cloud POS vendors that focus on the specialty retail space, most are designed to replace cash registers at single stores, and either lack or have only very basic inventory management features and no ecommerce integration.

MicroBiz was designed from the first line of code to be multi-store and integrate with Magento. As a result, we have much more sophisticated store management features and functions – such as customer records that show both store/online sales, item records that show real-time inventory at all locations, special orders, store transfers, integrated gift cards, etc.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments for MicroBiz at the moment?

A good retail management solution can take years to build, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We are focused on adding more multi-store back office management functionality and building out integrations to third party applications and services most requested by our customers.

Where do you see MicroBiz in 5 years time?

This is a huge market opportunity. The rapid adoption of tablets and smart phones will change the way people shop. In 5 years I see consumers using their mobile devices to instantly tell them where they should buy a product – either from an ecommerce site or from a nearby store that is confirmed to have that specific product in stock. Retailers will have viability into where their customers shop – whether on an ecommerce site, at stores or from other online marketplaces. I see MicroBiz as the management hub that runs these smaller multi-channel retailers and exposes the store’s current inventory to all the locational based search engines and online marketplaces.

MicroBiz will also track and provide actionable data on customer activity across all channels, and allow the retailer to sell goods anywhere, anytime and with any type of device. I believe the way we shop will change more in the next 3 years than the last 20 years, and see MicroBiz as the key platform enabling smaller local retailers to compete in this evolving market.

What one piece of advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders?

Be laser focused on your market opportunity and try to do a few things really well instead of being average at a whole bunch of things. I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and see early stage companies get caught up in the hype surrounding the start-up community all the time. These companies tend to get distracted by all the opportunities and end up changing direction too often, wasting precious resources and time, and creating a mediocre product. Instead, focus on creating a really great product and then focus on the one or two go to market strategies to connect with the market segment most likely to be early adopters of your product. Do not try to have your product be all things to everybody or try to sell to every opportunity in the market at once.

Can you convince the reader to start using MicroBiz in under 50 words?

If you operate one or more retail stores and have an ecommerce site, you should use MicroBiz. MicroBiz’s cloud-based POS software features real-time multi-store inventory management and runs on iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, PCs and Macs. Our Magento extension operates Magento sites and retail stores from a single application.

Finished reading? Check out MicroBiz!

Interview with Scott Pielsticker (ContactMonkey)

ContactMonkey is an e-mail tracking service.

I interviewed Scott Pielsticker, ContactMonkey founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty seventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Scott!

How would you describe ContactMonkey in under 50 words?

ContactMonkey is smart email tracking for Outlook, Gmail and Salesforce.com. We track your one-to-one emails to give you valuable insight on your hottest leads and prospects.

Why did you decide to launch ContactMonkey in 2011?

I was frustrated with sending emails every day to my leads and prospects without knowing what happened to those emails. Were they opened? How many times? Where? Who seems most interested in buying my services? As I couldn’t find answers to these questions I decided to solve the problem myself!

How did you go about finding your team, Aaron Vegh and Alex Smith?

I found Aaron through an exhaustive search using all channels available to me including job boards and recommendations of friends. Alex was introduced to me by a mutual friend.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of ContactMonkey?

It took us 4 months to put together the initial MVP.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing ContactMonkey?

Dealing with edge cases! The most difficult part of the process was dealing with edge cases after the initial product was built.

The technology works through placing an image in outgoing emails, often these images are blocked unless specifically allowed by the user. How much of a barrier has this been?

This has been a relatively small barrier. We developed a best practice for our customers to include a remotely-linked image of their logo in their signature. This motivated recipients to display images as they are naturally curious of what the image is in their signature.

We also implemented link-tracking. If a recipient clicks a hyperlink in the email, no matter what it is, we can tell our customers with 100% accuracy and reliability that the link was clicked. This also tells a great story to our customers. Not only did the recipient open my email, but they clicked the link to my online promotion.

You received around $800K in funding. Had you any previous experience raising funding?

Yes. I had raised venture capital for my last company Blueback in London, UK. We eventually sold that company to a leader in our space, and that company was eventually sold to the private equity house The Carlyle Group.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Our primary target audience is B2B salespeople who use Salesforce.com. We are reaching them by embedding ourselves in the Salesforce ecosystem including the Salesforce.com AppExchange.

You recently released a service allowing your clients to scan a code to retrieve contact information. Do you have any other features in the pipeline?

Lots! Our dashboard is gong live shortly. 3 big new features are being released too but we’re keeping those under wraps for the time being.

Have you got the feedback and growth you expected since launching in 2011?

We’re now growing at 50%/month so we’re delighted with our growth so far!

Do you have much competition? What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

There is not much competition in our space right now which is very exciting. The market is so new and large that several of us can co-exist very nicely.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We are growing at 50%/month. Our biggest driver our growth is our users recommending our service which means they love it and can’t live without it.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Passion & Perseverance. Be passionate about what you do and never give up!

Can you convince the reader to start using ContactMonkey in under 50 words?

Wonder if your email was read and your links were clicked today? ContactMonkey tracks your daily sales emails.

Finished reading? Check out ContactMonkey!

Interview with Benjamin Bartling (ZoomShift)

ZoomShift is online employee scheduling software.

I interviewed Benjamin Bartling, ZoomShift founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty sixth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Benjamin!

How would you describe ZoomShift in under 50 words?

ZoomShift is a web-based staff scheduling tool that makes scheduling simple for managers and staff members.

What made you decide to start working on ZoomShift?

It was the classic case of “scratching my own itch.” During college I saw many of my friends, as well as myself, get frustrated with the scheduling process at work. Most organizations were using basic excel spreadsheets to schedule their workers, and communication was really difficult. It made sense to move this process online to simplify it for both the managers and staff members.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing ZoomShift?

Keeping it simple. Scheduling is a complex problem, and everyone seems to approach it a bit differently. We found out pretty quick that if we built ZoomShift to work for everyone it would end up working for no one. It can be difficult to draw the line between a necessary feature and one that’s not. Our biggest challenge has been building ZoomShift to be powerful and flexible enough to work for a wide range of organizations while still keeping it simple.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Any business that has an hourly workforce. We never fail to be amazed by the wide range of businesses that rely on ZoomShift.

Does ZoomShift have any new features in the pipeline?

We always have new features in the works. Since we are still quite lean we are able to add new functionality very quickly. We have some updates planned that we are really excited about, but you will have to stay tuned to learn about them…

Where do you see ZoomShift in 5 years time?

Regarded as the simplest and most effective employee scheduling solution. I’m sure our team will grow and ZoomShift will continually evolve, but I can guarantee that our mission of finding the simplest way to schedule will always stay the same.

Can you convince the reader to start using ZoomShift in under 50 words?

It’s simple. If you want to spend less time scheduling, reduce overtime, and increase employee satisfaction you need to check out ZoomShift.

Finished reading? Check out ZoomShift!

Interview with Ted O’Neill (Hoop.la)

Hoop.la is a hosted online community platform for group communication.

I interviewed Ted O’Neill, Hoop.la President and Founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Ted!

How would you describe Hoop.la in under 50 words?

Hoop.la is a comprehensive online community platform that utilizes the SaaS model (software as service). It allows any organization to easily create an integrated community where members can blog, post to forums, share photos, videos, and documents, form groups, and general stay connected.

You and your wife, Rosemary are the founders of Hoop.la. What gap in the market did you discover that inspired you to work together on Hoop.la?

We’ve been making community products longer than any other company (since 1996) and our products have ranged from downloadable software to hosted solutions. What we realized however was that most sites were taking a Frankenstein approach to their online communities. They would install a blog from Company A, some forums from Company B, etc. and it always looked disjointed. Aside from sign-in issues, the design of the applications did not mesh. We created Hoop.la to allow organizations of all types and sizes to easily extend the tools available for their community of users and to do so in a way that is integrated, seamless, polished, unified, and affordable.

The current version of Hoop.la boasts features including blogs, forums, calenders and social hooks. Does this version differ much with the original?

Yes, we’ve added many new features since we initially launched the service… and we continue to add more.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Hoop.la?

The biggest challenge was and is keeping things incredibly easy to use even as we add more features and extend the breadth of the application. Our goal is to keep things as clutter-free as possible, while keeping the application flexible and powerful. That leads to lots of tough decisions about which features are truly necessary and also how best to integrate each new feature.

Is your main target market consumers or businesses?

Our primary target is organizations who have a community of users, be it customers, advocates, fans, students, or employees. Hoop.la is designed to give a voice to those community members.

You offer 3 pricing plans including a free option. How do you persuade customers to go for the Standard or Pro option? What made you decide to go for a freemium model?

We’ve found that most established organizations opt for our Pro plan because of its benefits. We basically have two distinct customer configurations. Our non Pro accounts are in one giant environment and we pool equipment resources for those customers to keep costs low.

Pro customers, however, are each in their own sandboxed environment. That allows us to scale them as needed, provide a strong SLA guarantee, offer advanced support, and even support application customization.

As far as the freemium model goes, it is a great way to let people kick the tires and also grow into their communities, especially for new communities that are just launching or that have no established audience.

Do you have any examples of value that Hoop.la has created?

One of the biggest values we have seen for customers is the ease with which their communities can be monetized. The two primary mechanisms for that are ads and premium memberships. Hoop.la makes it very easy to include ads and the premium membership is entirely turnkey, allowing site owners to craft a premium membership based on reserving the specific features or content that they want. We have many sites earning thousands of dollars per month on premium memberships (usually far more than they earn from ads).

Another value, in terms of time-saving, has been Hoop.la’s content management features, allowing sites to create their own content moderation rules. For instance they can have all content screened automatically to check for certain keywords (competitors, bad language, etc.) or they can even automatically detect comment spam with our integration with Akismet.

Where do your priorities lie at the moment in terms of products and new features?

Our ambitions are huge with Hoop.la and our product roadmap is extensive. Some of the items on the docket for this year:

— A new customer support content module called QuestionShark. This will allow for easy tracking of questions, issues, and suggestions by customers, development of FAQs, and include some innovative features that have not been seen before.
— Support for Chat Rooms
— A revamped/improved API
— Support for a Classifieds system
— Introduction of Publication Tools for bloggers (editorial review features and blog publication calendar)

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

You must have a passion for what you are trying to do. It needs to be something you would do even if no one was paying you. You must have a strong vision for your product/service and the confidence to make it happen, despite critics (many of which will be your own friends and family). And you must be able and willing to work like a dog until you reach critical mass.

In addition, interact with your customers every single day and make that a fundamental part of your corporate DNA. Your customers will give you the best ideas… and listening to what they want or the issues they are having is the best way to consistently improve your product and bring in more sales.

Finally, I would advise writing down your goals. Visualize them and then make them happen.

Finished reading? Check out Hoop.la!

Interview with Joris Vertommen (Citytrip Planner)

Citytrip Planner automatically generates personalised walking tours and city guides.

I interviewed Joris Vertommen, Citytrip Planner founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty third in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Joris!

How would you describe Citytrip Planner in under 50 words?

CityTrip Planner is an online/mobile planning service that automatically generates fully personalized city trip itineraries for travelers based on personal interests and practical issues such as opening hours and hotel location. The service is available in 120+ cities and marketed as a white label solution for travel brands.

How did you meet co-founder Wouter Souffriau?

Wouter and I met at the Centre for Industrial Management, a research division of the KULeuven in Belgium, where we were both working on a PhD. We got along very well with each other, sharing interests both in- and outside the professional area. We were also both very keen on founding our own technology business, which is what we did after we obtained our PhD.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Citytrip Planner 2010?

Well, we actually saw a number of trends converging in CityTrip Planner: first of all, worldwide travel had and has been steadily increasing over the last decades, including the city trip segment. Secondly, city trips are often booked at the last minute, leaving little time for travelers to research what they will do on location, especially taking into account the busy professional and personal lives that many people lead. Nevertheless you still want to get the most out of your trip. Finally, the explosion of digital information (in all sectors, not just travel) has created a large demand for personalized services.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of Citytrip Planner?

The core planning engine behind CityTrip Planner had largely been developed as part of Wouter’s PhD research, and we had already built a prototype pre-launch for testing purposes. However, the interface was very much built by engineers for engineers, and our major product development challenge ever since has been creating and maintaining a good user experience and interface, keeping in mind commercial targets.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Citytrip Planner?

When visiting a city there are literally thousands of things you can do, but you only have limited time available. Add to that practical constraints such as the varying opening hours of attractions and the travel times to get from one attraction to the next, and you are left with a very complex planning problem trying to map your personal interests onto an ideal trip.

Our planning engine takes this planning problem out of your hands and generates a personalized itinerary within 1 second. The largest technological challenge was building an engine that delivers good results within a very short timeframe, making it relevant to use as part of online and mobile services. When we started, traditional optimization engines still needed several hours of computation time to achieve similar results.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Generally speaking, our target users are travelers with busy lives and little time to prepare their trips. We are at the moment looking into creating additional added value for different subsegments such as business travelers. Having said that, we notice that we also have many users who are using our service as an inspirational tool, finding out their ideal destination or getting an overview of what is possible on location.

From a commercial point of view, our target audience are travel brands such as (online) tour operators, hotel chains and travel companies. We make white label implementations of CityTrip Planner available for their (potential) customers, which in turn is how we get into contact with travelers.

Has Citytrip Planner got the feedback and growth you expected since launching?

We are definitely getting a lot of feedback from both our users and commercial customers which is helping us grow. Concerning actual growth: we have a B2B model and have experienced that breaking into the travel industry as a startup was more difficult than initially expected. However, we have a strong business development pipeline and the prospects are good.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

Our functionality for travelers is much, much more relevant than the typical “50 interesting things to do” that you find with most travel service providers. In our view, personalization goes a lot further than offering a few filtering options.

For our travel brand customers, this means they can offer a state-of-the-art and relevant service to their customers. And it doesn’t stop there because CityTrip Planner acts as a data gathering platform as well, helping travel brands to get a grip on the large number of anonymous visitors that passes through their websites.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

As mobile is becoming increasingly important for travelers, that is definitely an area of development we are working on. We are also looking to introduce additional features for specific traveler types such as business travelers. And finally, we are constantly adding new cities to our service.

Where do you see Citytrip Planner in 5 years time?

As a strong and relevant service for travelers, embedded within the e-commerce environment of travel brands all over the world. We will also move beyond the city trip segment, we have already built a prototype of a planner offering the same personalized service for longer holidays in whole regions e.g. two weeks in Tuscany, which is expected to launch commercially in 2015.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

The biggest hurdle lies in business development: it takes a long time to get from initial contact with a travel brand to actually signing the contract. Everybody just has so much on their plate, so many priorities. Not surprising given the high pace at which the travel industry continues to evolve, driven by new technology creating new possibilities.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

It’s good to have a solid idea on where you want to go with your startup, but you’ll only find your way by jumping in so get started soon!

Be prepared for a rollercoaster with extreme highs and lows, it’s essential that you can handle high degrees of stress and uncertainty. If you have a family, be sure that they are on board because it will be impacting them as well.

Finally, have confidence in yourself and your ability to find solutions for the problems that you will encounter.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We are on the verge of closing deals with several major travel brands that will help us establish a significant presence in the European travel market. It’s not just reaching that point that I find exciting, it’s about the opportunities and possibilities moving forward after that.

Can you convince the reader to start using Citytrip Planner in under 50 words?

A fully personalized city trip itinerary without the planning hassle, that’s what CityTrip Planner has on offer. If you tell us what you like, we will show you how to get the most out of your city visit, and it just takes a few clicks.

Finished reading? Check out Citytrip Planner!

Interview with Robert Ryall (DateinaDash)

DateinaDash is a London based speed dating service.

I interviewed Robert Ryall, DateinaDash founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty second in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Robert!

How would you describe DateinaDash in under 50 words?

We are the market leaders for Speed Dating events & Singles Parties in London. We host up to 20 events a month somewhere across the capital for singles of all ages.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch DateinaDash 2011?

It wasn’t so much a ‘gap’ in the market but after attending a speed dating event myself I quickly realised that there was a huge demand for this type of activity and I was confident that I could do it better.

I was amazed at the amount of people who attended the event I went to, I remember doing the math in my head at the time and calculated that they must have made over £800 in ticket sales alone! It was obvious that they had a deal with the venue to get the room for free so there were minimal overheads and it seemed like a great deal of fun!

I set about finding more upmarket venues to hold the events in, offered complimentary drinks on arrival, decorated the venues with heart shaped balloons, had bowls of candy on the tables, it was definitely the little touches that made the big difference initially.

As a host I would spend a great deal of time getting to know my customers, building rapport at the events and following up with an e-mail or phone call the next day.

Was it a difficult decision to resign from your job as a Police Officer?

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because I wasn’t enjoying the job anymore, long shifts and not enough time spent with family and friends. I found myself spending any downtime I had in the job working on DateinaDash, it was where my passion lied.

It was definitely a risk though, after all I had a secure job, decent salary, pension and I gave it all up for a business that wasn’t even making £500 a month but I knew that if I gave it my full attention it could make a lot more money.

How long did it take to put together the initial website?

The website hasn’t changed much since it was launched back in October 2011. I think from start to finish it was online in about 3 months. The longest part of the development process was spent programming the backend which is custom built. It’s constantly evolving and we’re always fixing bugs and adding new features.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing DateinaDash?

The challenge wasn’t in building the website as we work with a great team of developers but it was learning how the online and offline worlds would meet. It was an interesting concept to match people up at ‘live’ events and then tell them to go online to continue the conversation, it seemed a bit backwards.

In the early days we used to provide any matches with the persons e-mail address and contact number, we quickly realised that this was losing us traffic as people were leaving the website to move to e-mail. After the second or third event we changed it so that users could only communicate with their matches through an internal messaging system thus keeping members on our website.

When we launched in 2011 we just missed the boat on ‘mobile apps’ and our biggest challenge now is converting our existing website into a mobile friendly one.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

We run events for single people of all ages, right from 18 to 65. All our events have an age guide so we welcome people if they’re slightly younger or older.

We have strong organic rankings in Google, we’re #1 for ‘Speed Dating London’ which gets 8,000 exact match searches a month and drives 50% of our traffic and sales. Nearly 25% of our customers come via word of mouth which is a strong indication to the quality and success of our events.

How difficult was it finding employees confident enough to host your events?

Most of our hosts are part time actors who have appeared on stage or TV so have a lot of experience performing in front of lots of people. We’ve never openly recruited for hosts most actually approach us or attend one of our events and get talking to us at the bar. The first question people ask me when I’m hosting an event is ‘So how long have you been doing this?’ they’re fascinated by it and think it’s a really cool job but that’s the easy part.

Has DateinaDash got the feedback and growth you expected since launching?

The feedback to our events has been fantastic, we always hear from our customers about the great experiences they’ve had and it’s especially nice when they compare us to our competitors and say how much better our events were.

Our growth rate is phenomenal, we are signing up 500 people a month to our events (probably the fastest growing speed dating company in London!) word of mouth accounts for so many of our bookings and that says a lot!

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

I don’t necessarily think you need to be different from your competitors to be successful, you just need to better in one area, whether you offer more value or deliver a better experience. When I first launched DateinaDash we started running events in the same areas, to the same age groups and at the same prices as our rivals but we just made sure that our experience was 10% better.

We held our events in upmarket and stylish bars as opposed to backstreet pubs. We offered a complimentary drink on arrival, decorated the venue with heart shaped balloons, had candles on the tables and we even had our own DJ in the early days! From the moment a guest walked through the doors they were greeted by friendly hosts who make a conscious effort to put them at ease, introduce them to other guests and break the ice. We spent time getting to know our customers, building rapport at the events and then following up with an e-mail or telephone call the next day.

We started offering a range of activity based dating events that no one else was offering. I always thought the best dates were when you’re doing something, it puts people at ease and gives you something to talk about. We started running bowling parties which were a roaring success. We now offer more events than anyone else in London from wine tasting evenings to singles bar crawls, there really is something for everyone!

Have you started a relationship through DateinaDash?

Ironically I’m probably the only person I know who has (although I’m sure there are dozens more!). I met my girlfriend back in early 2012 at one of my first events and we’ve been together ever since, in fact we’re now looking to move in together!

Any plans to expand out of London?

Absolutely, we held a couple of events in Birmingham & Manchester last year but we probably expanded a little too soon as we didn’t have the infrastructure in place to run these regularly. We’re currently looking at a couple of options to expand including a franchise route.

Where do you see DateinaDash in 5 years time?

The dating market is shifting more and more towards mobile and offline dating events. I’m not sure people will be using traditional online dating websites like Match and eHarmony in five years time. I think it’s fairly telling that Match launched their ‘stir’ events brand last year and that Plentyoffish (the worlds biggest dating site) recently acquired the Speed Dating franchise FastLife.

DateinaDash will certainly be going mobile via an App, this will allow us to combine online dating with offline events. I also see an expansion across the country, possibly via a franchise model. I’d like to think that within 5 years we will be the largest dating brand in the UK operating more events and in more cities than anyone else.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

One of the biggest problems anyone running a Speed Dating business will face is ensuring there is an equal ratio of men and women at the event. Back in the early days we’d have to recruit people from dating websites or give away free tickets to past customers. I remember spending hours stuck glued to the monitor sending our hundreds of messages to people on Plentyoffish, fortunately we don’t have to do that anyone!

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Start a business based around an interest or hobby, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel you just need to take an existing business and make it better, cheaper or faster by 10%. Give it time and keep plugging away, DateinaDash was a loss making business for the first two years so don’t expect to get rich quick!

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We’re always trying to keep things fresh and are constantly coming up with new and creative ideas for dating events. Last month we launched the world’s first ‘Zumba Speed Date’. Behind the scenes we’re really excited about our mobile app which is currently in the early stages of development but we can’t reveal too much about this yet!

Finished reading? Check out DateinaDash!

Interview with Manish Bhalla (FATbit Technologies)

FATbit Technologies is a web design company based in India.

I interviewed Manish Bhalla, FATbit founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty first in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Manish!

How would you describe FATbit in under 50 words?

“We serve with smile at affordable prices”. We specialize in designing and developing highly convertible and user engaging websites.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch FATbit 2002?

Internet was at its infancy and recovering from burst of dotcom-bubble. WWW world was being re-constructed after unrealistic expectations of investors almost killed market confidence. There was a huge gap of skilled professionals to provide quality services and our plan was to fill the void.

How long did it take to get your first 5 clients?

5 Months

What was the most challenging part of setting up a web services company in the early 2000s?

Ignorance of target audience. Before the IT revolution, people were mostly dealing in commodities that could be touched, tried and felt. Web solutions, being a virtual product, defied this logic. FATbit offers custom web solutions and there is no way to judge cost without hiring a professional to do requirements analysis, cost and time estimation.

Who do you see as your target market? How are you reaching them?

WWW industry is perhaps the biggest industry with over 200+ Billion USDs being spent every year globally. Sadly, no web solutions company has yet managed to get even 1% of this market. Our target market is primarily those seeking ecommerce solutions and business applications.

We get 80% of our business from repeat clients and referrals. To acquire new clients, we invest in AdWords, SEO, SMM and Content Marketing (Mostly Inbound Marketing).

How do you protect your company from the problem of Brain Drain?

Brain drain is a chronic issue in the IT industry. Young professionals want to climb the hierarchy ladder quickly and if you fail to address their needs, they switch. We manage the problem of brain drain by giving equal opportunities of growth to every employee and paying attention to aspirations. We preserve our best talent by opting for a combination of monetary and non-monetary benefits. Our HR team is also doing great work in this regard by regularly gathering feedback from team and making FATbit one of the best Indian web services firms to work for.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

Client acquisition cost is very high in our industry. From the very beginning, we were clear that we have to deliver quality services at affordable pricing to survive and grow in this industry. To achieve QUALITY, we have stringent quality control processes in place. We follow SDLC process and use a project management system for daily reporting. Clients can login to the in-house developed PMS system to stay informed about project progress. Clients can actually see how their work is being done, who all are involved in the project, and even communicate with team members. Every minute spent on the project is logged and reported into the PMS system and is visible to clients. And to sweeten the deal further, we provide FREE technical support for 12 months after project completion.

Where do you see FATbit in 5 years time?

We are targeting annual turnover of 5 Million USDs by the end of 2018 and annual growth of 40%-50%. We are trying hard to earn honest appreciation from our customers to be counted amongst the most reliable web solutions provider at global level.

What kind of online businesses are going to be more successful in next 5 years?

  • Search
  • Ecommerce
  • Online communication/collaboration/documents storage and sharing
  • eLearning websites

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

“People buy from you when they trust you”. Our majority of clients are based in Europe and USA. Their first choice is local web solutions provider for obvious reasons. However, our large variety of successfully completed projects, big percentage of repeat clients and industry experience works in our favor. Add cost factor to this and we become the logical choice for entrepreneurs as well as web solutions companies in different countries. That said, the challenge is still alive and breathing.

To mitigate this challenge, we are planning to establish offices in USA and Mauritius. We are also associating with large web solutions providers based in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Nigeria, South Africa, Middle East and Australia. So, the biggest hurdle may not remain that big in a couple of years.

What advice would you offer to anyone looking to enter the web services arena?

The competition is brutal in the web services industry. You have to differentiate yourself and build the USP quickly because WWW world is changing every second.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

In past 2 years, we did 100s of experiments related to User Experience on our website. We have got really astonishing results; our website’s bounce rate has hit rock-bottom, we get quality leads and many partnership offers every day. We are excited to deliver User Experience Optimization services to our customers and thousands of online entrepreneurs out there.

Can you convince the reader to consider using FATbit for their next project in under 50 words?

“We serve with smile at affordable prices.” If you want the CHEAPEST, hire a freelancer. If you want the BEST –FATbit is among the best options available. Send us your business plans and project specifications –our team will use their experience & expertise to deliver professional solution.

Finished reading? Check out FATbit Technologies!

Interview with Ander Michelena (Ticketbis)

Ticketbis is an internet website where everyone can buy and sell tickets for various events

I interviewed Ander Michelena, Ticketbis founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twentieth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Ander!

How would you describe Ticketbis in under 50 words?

Ticketbis is an online platform which allows users to buy and sell tickets to all sorts of events all over the world. Ticketbis acts as an intermediary between users who have tickets to an event that they won´t be able to attend and those users interested in buying them.

How did you meet co-founder Jon Uriarte?

We actually met on a flight to London. We were both in the airport when we discovered that we were workmates, both working at investment bank Morgan Stanley. We had more things in common, such as we were both from Bilbao and we were both supporters of the football team Athletic Bilbao!

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Ticketbis late 2009?

At the time we were working at Morgan Stanley and we were both burnt out. We had been researching different business models that had had success in the United States and we noticed that there was a gap in the market for a secondary ticketing market in Spain, so we decided to go for it and start Ticketbis. We jumped in the swimming pool and luckily there was water!

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Ticketbis’ target audience is men and women aged between 25 to 45 years old and the majority of our users know exactly what they are searching for, so for us Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is fundamental; the majority of sales actually come from SEM. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is also very important for us. It is essential that we are well positioned in search engines, mainly Google.

You have offices all over the world! How do you manage time differences and distance?

In Spain we have offices in Madrid and Bilbao, with the majority of staff in Spain situated in the Madrid office. In Latin America we have offices in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Bogotá and Santiago de Chile. I spend the majority of my time in the Madrid office, whereas Jon usually divides his time between the offices in Madrid and Bilbao. With our offices overseas we hold regular meetings using tools such as Google chat and Skype to make sure we stay connected with what is going on. In addition to this both Jon and I try to go at least twice a year to the offices in South America and we get the staff working there come and work in Madrid, this way the whole Ticketbis team gets to know each other. We believe it is important that all the pieces of the puzzle that make up Ticketbis are connected.

You’ve received $5.65M in funding. How difficult was it to secure this funding?

Actually we have received slightly more than that. In total we have raised $7.9M (€5.8M) in four rounds of funding.

We both left Morgan Stanley in 2009, during the crisis. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to find capital but we knew from talking to potential investors that we had a good idea. Finally after fighting for 4 months we closed our first round of funding of $550k (€400k) among the famous triple F: Friends, Family and Fools. Convincing Friends and Family is easier because they will always support you if they can. However, the challenge is to attract “Fools” or angel investors with a track record, who can open up doors for you. We had good luck of finding 2 businessmen who had had a lot of success: Eneko Knorr (founder of ideatecca and Hostalia) and Nicolás Iglesias (founder of Arsys). Later we closed our second round of $1.3M (€1M) where we were lucky enough to have investors such as Fabrice Grinda and José Marín. One year later, in 2012, we closed our third round of funding, obtaining $1.2M (€900k), and then in July 2013 we closed our fourth round of funding $4.8M (€3.5M).

Why have you targeted South America?

We decided to target South America as there were no competitors there who were working in the secondary ticketing market. Moreover, internet connections are constantly improving, and e-commerce is growing at an incredible rate. Also the most important sporting events and the biggest music tours can all be found in South America.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

What differentiates Ticketbis from other secondary ticketing companies is that we are present in more than 18 countries; this allows us to offer tickets to over 1 million events all over the world. In addition, we have a global team made up of local professionals, originating from all the markets in which we operate. This enables us to offer our clients a more personalised service, in their native language and in their local currency.

What protection do you offer against forged tickets?

Ticketbis has guarantees in place to make sure that the tickets purchased by the buyer arrive on time and are 100% legitimate. In order to ensure that the tickets are original and are exactly the ones which the buyer had ordered, we don’t pay the seller until the buyers has attended the event and have confirmed that there were no problems with the tickets. Additionally, the finance department make routine checks to check that there are no problems with payments. Our main concern is that both the buyer and seller are covered.

Where do you see Ticketbis in 5 years time?

We have plans to continue our strategy of international expansion, and as well as this our intention is to reinforce our position as market leaders not only in Spain but also in the other countries that we operate. Since founding Ticketbis we have witnessed its rapid growth and we hope to continue with this growth for a long time!

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Initially there were a few hurdles. Firstly, Jon and I had no idea of the ticketing market or how e-commerce worked, and there was a moment of fear when we got everything up and running and we thought “now how do we find buyers?”; you cannot imagine our relief when just a couple hours after being officially online we made our first sale. I even still remember the first buyer´s name! He bought two tickets to see U2 in Barcelona.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

I would encourage all would-be startup founders to pursue their dream and make it a reality. In my experience there is no “perfect moment” to start a business. I also believe there is no secret key to success; you just need the desire to work hard and to not become disheartened if things go to plan in the beginning. It is important to stay motivated, and if you execute your idea well you will continue moving forward.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Honestly the thing that excites me most at the moment is the fact that we are creating jobs. In Spain right now youth unemployment is over 50% and knowing that we are able to create jobs is really motivating for me. In the last year we have gone from 80 members of staff to over 200 who speak more than 20 languages from 17 different nationalities.

Can you convince the reader to start using Ticketbis in under 50 words?

Just found out that you can’t attend a concert that you had bought tickets for months ago?
All the tickets to see your favourite band are sold out?
Buy and sell your tickets on Ticketbis!!

Finished reading? Check out Ticketbis!

Interview with Shalin Jain (HappyFox)

HappyFox is customer support and ticket management software.

I interviewed Shalin Jain, HappyFox founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and nineteenth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Shalin!

Describe HappyFox in under 50 words.

HappyFox is a cloud-based help desk ticketing system, with a built-in knowledge base, support centre and community forum. Coupled with a beautiful interface, HappyFox’s features offer businesses the easiest way to provide great customer support.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

A creative introvert entrepreneur who loves building highly usable products.

What made you decide to start working on HappyFox?

We were shopping for a good help desk application in 2005, but in vain. Getting into building a customer service & help desk product came out of our own internal needs.

How did you come up with the name?

The goal of every company is to keep their customers Happy. Custom Support traditionally is seen as a cost-center and as a stressful job. But when equipped with the right tool, it is fun, improves customer retention and above all makes everyone happier. Our name is inspired by the role our product plays. HappyFox carries that thought to every customer. Customers love the name and are relieved that it’s not another something+desk.

Where are you based?

I am based in Irvine, Southern California.

You decided you wanted to own your own business at the age of 18. How did you make your dream come true? How did it all begin?

Writing music, learning to code and designing interfaces was all I focused on during high school. I had two jobs before starting on my own. The latter one was in a 100 member technology company. I was influenced to bring my focus back to my academics and grades, so that I could make it to the Ivy League schools. So, I quit. But within 3 days of moving away from work, I felt incomplete. So, I thought starting on my own would give me the perfect balance that I wanted.

I started building advertising banners for a company, for free – I wrote the storyboard, designed and animated it. I had 200 customers in 6 months. From then I started charging customers but very soon I realized that my interest did not lie in services. I was passionate about building products. Turning ideas into usable, useful products was what I wanted to do. My experience in composing music probably groomed me so. I hired my neighbour and gave him everything that I had earned so far to build a product. In a couple of months I made back all the money and the growth I saw was insane. It was a dream come true. I was chasing a passion and making money off it at the same time.

What appealed most about being your own boss?

Being your own boss is a lot of hard work but comes with a perk which can otherwise be hard to find: great co-workers. I love the fact that I can actually choose the people I want to work with. I love working with people that have multiple passions. We have singers, marathon champions, play writers, electronic DIY lovers and boxers. These are people who have lived with different passions at every level of their life. It has a huge influence on the culture of our company and has personally helped me grow manifold. It inspires me, motivates me and lets me have fun everyday. The mere choice of being able to hand pick each one of these people and have them come together is such an experience; Like building your own league dream team.

What technologies have you used to build HappyFox?

We primarily use Python, Postgres for Database and Amazon Web Services for our infrastructure.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing HappyFox?

Live Reporting. We store millions of emails, web requests and updates. The volume of data is overwhelming. We still believe in live reporting and having no restriction on reporting intervals or number of reports.

How long did it take to put together HappyFox?

HappyFox gets its roots from our successful on-premise help desk. Originally when we started building the product, we had our first version out in 2 months. Not knowing what the competition is and what they do, an MVP like that was made possible. It did very little and we were even embarrassed to release it initially. We thought this would not sell, but we were proved wrong.

How have you marketed HappyFox? Which tools and techniques have been most successful?

Our marketing team is very lean. All of our leads are inbound. People mainly find us through search, our reviews or customer references. Our biggest marketing investment has been on our customer success.

How did you decide on the pricing plan?

We started with bundled pricing. Fixed the price for a range of help desk staff members. It had its challenges and we were quick to switch to a per-agent price.

We have also carefully segmented our price plans to appeal to very small businesses and provide true value for money for our larger customers.

What do you wish you’d have known ten years ago that you know now?

Managing multiple products is like managing multiple businesses at once. It is much easier to do this later than earlier.

Where do you see HappyFox in ten years time?

We want to stand out as a company that knows and has everything your business would need to have a support platform and still keep it fun and different. We want to be an Apple in the world of Microsoft and IBMs.

Has HappyFox got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Absolutely. We have grown exceptionally well. Our product is loved, is dependable and has roped in all the good feedback from our customers promptly.

Who would you say is HappyFox’s biggest competitor?

Our biggest competitors are Zendesk and Desk.com, owned by Salesforce.

What advantage does HappyFox have over its competitors?

HappyFox is simpler, more flexible and has the most unique interface in the industry. We also are high on emotion – happiness.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

My biggest hurdle was not delegating or hiring soon enough. That sure slowed us down at times.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

I have drawn a lot of inspiration from other entrepreneurs. Gautam of Conceptworld, Sreeram of Claylabs and Viresh Bhatia, ex-CEO Installshield.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

I admire Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. I think I can relate to them more because both of them have an eye for creating the best.

What one piece of advice would you give to other young startup founders?

Make everyone in your startup participate in customer support.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We have seen our biggest quarter-wise growth. We are doing things differently as a bootstrapped company and growing as fast as a funded one.

What’s next?

We are launching two new exciting products built around HappyFox in the next two quarters. One for mobile app developers and other is for large consumer enterprises.

Can you convince the reader to start using HappyFox in under 50 words?

Got customers? Get HappyFox. HappyFox is a simple and complete help desk software for your business. It is unbelievably affordable and backed by fantastic support.

Finished reading? Check out HappyFox!