Now is the Time to Startup
It’s hard to pinpoint just how many Web businesses exist at any given time much less offline enterprises that now demand stronger and more vibrant digital components to compete – but it is probably safe to say that it is growing…. and certainly far faster than in years past.
After a difficult and seemingly never-ending recession, business is starting to boom and the Web is once again a key driver of commercial activity. While some startups will certainly find their brands quickly headed in the direction of the digital deadpool, a select few will stand the test of time and earn the respect and dollars of consumers.
A handful perhaps will even reach super-company status — like Amazon, Google, Facebook and others that have gone public and very much changed the real and virtual world. Even if you’re not a super-company, there’s quite a bit of money to be made and now is the time to get started.
What is so very appealing about “starting up” a digital business today, far more so than in years past, is that the cost of entry is so incredibly, so phenomenally low. More and more people are finally recognizing — even those without any formal background in technology — just how much value the Web provides, how expansive its opportunities are, and how much potential exists for our most aggressive, innovative and interesting ideas — if you are willing to work for it.
As the commercial Web continues to evolve, it is serving an increasingly important role in the omnichannel success of the modern enterprise — from pure-play e-commerce merchants to app developers, as well as offline service providers and Web-based publishers. As a result, Internet professionals and Web workers like you must constantly engage in a process of discovery (or, in some cases, rediscovery) surrounding the fundamentals of Web success, mastering the most important lessons for those days when they are no longer “just” a startup but a profitable, established enterprise.
Economic growth is expected to brighten in early 2014, according to a Kiplinger finance report, thanks to business and consumer confidence gaining strength and Europe emerging from its own 18-month recession. Still, the 2014 economy, like that of 2013, will likely be well below the economy’s long-run potential, 4-5 years into a recovery. What does your business forecast for the coming year — positives or negatives? Take Website Magazine’s 2014 Outlook survey and see how your forecast compares to other Internet professionals’.
Receiving guidance as a startup can at times seem as useful as a Ted Talk (inspirational of course, but often short on “how to”). In most cases, however, a more practical use of time and talents is required for startup founders and startup workers. You already have the inspiration, now is the time for the perspiration.
OBLIGATORY DOWNER: IT’S NOT GOING TO BE EASY
Every 60 seconds, 571 websites are created, 11,000 professional searches are conducted on LinkedIn, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube and more than 200 million emails are sent. Only a handful of well-funded or bootstrapped startups will (without much effort seemingly) stand out and excel amid this level of activity, make a name among the millions of other digital properties trying to do the same and somehow manage to make a profit. The rest will need to operate efficiently, diligently and creatively in order to move from startup to established, profitable enterprise. With the right guidance, of course, anything is possible. That’s the focus of this edition of Website Magazine. Throughout this feature article, you’ll encounter both personal stories of startup founders, as well as links to several supplementary lists of practical resources at WebsiteMagazine.com. It’s not going to be easy to get through it all, but we’re sure you’ll manage just fine.
Ultimately, what startups need most is a formal plan, which provides a roadmap for success, projecting 3-5 years ahead and outlining the route a company will take to grow their revenues. Website Magazine has put together a quick guide on creating a “digital” business plan at wsm.co/newbizplan. If you are serious about starting up, let this be the first moments you spend as a startup.
The Ted Talk conference series is undoubtedly an idea worth spreading in itself — as its tag line indicates — particularly for startups and entrepreneurs. Website Magazine has assembled some of the most important Ted Talks from the past few years, covering motivation, productivity, marketing and advertising, innovation and more. Review this curated speaker series on the Web.
EXPERIENCE NECESSARY & PASSION REQUIRED
The image of startup founders pulling all-nighters in their basements or garages isn’t actually farfetched. Many do work in their homes or in shared offices, but it’s not where they are starting from that really matters, but who is doing the starting, or who with, which ultimately makes the difference between success and failure for today’s startups. “I previously spent 19 years at Microsoft where I led and grew a number of business units,” said Sanjay Parthasarathy, CEO of Indix, a cloud-based product intelligence platform for retail brands headquartered in Seattle. Indix has a total team size of 42, with six people based in the Seattle office focused on business development and marketing, and 36 people based in the Chennai office focused on the product development.
Parthasarathy also started the .NET Group, which eventually became the Developer & Platform Evangelism Division (D&PE) at Microsoft. It was responsible for upward of $1 billion in revenue. Parthasarathy’s last role at Microsoft was as the corporate VP of the Startup Business Accelerator, a new division created to build startups for Microsoft. What his general career experience affords him is a greater understanding of the challenges startups face, and the insight to know when an idea is worth pursuing. Parthasarathy is also an active investor in early stage startups, consequently, with investments in Buuteeq, GaMa, DocSuggest and Skift.
The startup enterprises with the most stable futures are likely those with the most experienced teams, not necessarily those with the cockiest millennial founder. For example, the executive team for TaxJar, a software-as-a-service that automates sales tax for small- and medium- sized online sellers (tax compliance), has deep experience in building tax companies, accounting products and collectively have spent years working with online sellers — so they know the challenges of their prospective customers firsthand. While “experience” does not ensure success, it can certainly be a determining factor.
The Dot Com domain name extension was once the hallmark of all things Internet. That, of course, is changing quickly with the introduction of the hundreds of new generic top level domains hitting the market in 2014. Stay up to date on important domain name related news at Website Magazine’s Domain Masters channel.
For every startup with a young, passionate, driven but unexperienced founder, there are others (like ex-Microsoft VP Parthasarathy) that highlight the value experience-driven insights can have on an enterprise. Given the choice, it’s likely that you too would choose experience over the alternative any day. The reason, while not necessarily true in every case, is that with experience comes an ability to differentiate product and brand — and as consumers and investors come around, that proves to be of immense importance. Of course, passion alone can take you quite a long way too.
“We are the misfits of tech,” said Braydon Moreno, CEO of RoBo 3D, makers of an opensource 3-D printer. Without substantial tech backgrounds like many other companies, Moreno and his team take a different approach. “We understand what the consumer is expecting in an electronics product and then work toward exceeding those expectations. Our goal is to work on developing and sustaining a superior customer experience while simultaneously expanding the possibilities of what one can do with tools such as our personal 3D printer.”
IDENTIFY DEMAND, DEFINE THE DIFFERENCE
Experience and passion are important and are two great equalizers in the startup game, but nothing is more vital to the success of an emerging enterprise than what it is, product or service, they are actually providing.
Thanks to his experience, Parthasarathy in particular understands the value of having a product that is in demand. His Indix solution provides a comprehensive view into the digital landscape for retailers — something that is sorely missing in the market today.
“We discovered that while salespeople leverage CRM tools, marketers have marketing automation, and financial analysts leverage financial modeling applications, product managers, pricing analysts, category/merchandising managers at brands and retailers don’t have a comprehensive tool at their disposal to research product landscapes in an efficient and meaningful way,” said Parthasarathy.
Even with the passion of a startup, there is always a time when you’ll need to start hiring others to take on some of the work — be it design, development, marketing or any of the other essential positions within a digital enterprise. Find out where startups (and established) companies are hiring.
“Instead, they spend an endless amount of time searching for and synthesizing product information from the Internet while leaving little time to actually analyze and act upon that information.”
The Indix platform enables merchants to explore, analyze and visualize product-related information (assortments, catalogs, channels, competition, prices and promotions) and to do so in real-time. The difference is what Indix and other successful startups must focus on. After all, a difference is the status quo, a difference improves the performance and professional lives of their users. So what’s next for this startup?
Indix’s long-term goal is to achieve a bigger scale for product data in its platform. There are more than 1 billion products and services on the Internet. Today, the Indix platform has between 100-150 million products and more than 4 billion price points. The next few months are crucial for Parthasarathy and his team as they move toward achieving a bigger scale on product data and realizing their vision of organizing, analyzing and visualizing the world’s product information.
The difference that Indix wants to be known for is the largest source of product-related information, something that will likely be in great demand for merchants across the globe.
A CLEAR & PURPOSE-DRIVEN TECHNOLOGY
Keeping your website, technology, product and/or service simple may just be the best piece of advice startups can receive to spur initial and ongoing use. Without a clear purpose, how will users know if they need or want it? It is, in fact, what many consumers find most frustrating.
The current ideology behind startups is to fail fast, so you succeed faster. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the idea is that in building a startup, failure is inevitable. There will be problems and the faster you encounter them, the faster you can learn, adjust and grow. Check out three high-profile failed startups from 2013 and discover what you can learn from their mistakes.
If what your startup is offering is complicated to explain or grasp — to any degree whatsoever, it is likely going to be a barrier to adoption by consumers, and a great big wall to potential investors (as well as the media and market influencers that can help spread the word about your startup to these two groups). In short, a clear purpose provides a clear path to profitability.
In this month’s Top 50, Website Magazine profiles some of the leading testing and optimization solutions for Internet professionals. Several of these solutions, including UserTesting. com and ConceptFeedback.com, can remove any doubt in a founder’s mind that what they are presenting to users will be understood, as well as any potential barriers to use or adoption.
With any luck, enterprises like local-mobile startup CommuteStream will understand and put testing and optimization at the top of their startup to-do list.
The solution aims to deliver foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations located near or around public transit — straightforward enough. A look under the virtual hood however shows the vision and the potential. Using its predictive geo-targeting technology, the startup plans to change the way local businesses interact with mass transit commuters. Its content delivery platform very much fills a void in mobile advertising on mass transit, learning the routines of riders, and matching individuals with relevant ads.
Just having a purpose for the technology you’ve innovated isn’t enough — the benefit it provides also needs to be in demand, and capable of making differences in the personal or professional lives of its users. But success as a startup goes even further — without a powerful and reliable technology to serve customers, you’re likely just one more solution headed for the digital deadpool.
There certainly needs to be some degree of user demand for solutions and services, but how do you know if what you’re offering is of interest to consumers? Check out three platforms to gather feedback.
STRENGTH & RELIABILITY WIN THE DIGITAL DAY
Without a strong and reliable back-end, platforms like CommuteStream would not be able to reach the tens of thousands of daily commuters in the next three months as it plans, much less the hundreds of thousands it expects a year from now.
While there isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking about the service on the whole (geo-targeting ads are nothing new), its approach is certainly disruptive and by all accounts unique, which seems to be what consumers and investors are looking for these days.
The good news for startups is that they won’t have to deal with any bulk legacy systems, instead, they can build with a vision for the future, ensuring there is synergy among features.
Few, if any, startups are flush with cash at the outset. So how do they get funded? Angel investors, crowdfunding platforms, venture capitalists or by their own bootstraps? Website Magazine interviews startups about the source of their funding and the lessons they’ve learned.
INNOVATIVE BY NATURE, DISRUPTIVE BY DESIGN
Startups are typically perceived as disruptive by design — one powerful idea, supported by a passionate group, and in demand from an equally passionate community — that’s a startup through and through. “When I saw this technology and the opportunities in the space, we all came together and jumped right in,” said RoBo 3D’s Moreno. “When we launched our product on Kickstarter.com, we had hopes of selling 50-100 machines and when we pre-sold over 1,000 machines, we knew this was something we were going to dive into long term and really change the space for better.”
It’s certainly easy to see how a startup in the 3-D printing space can be classified as “disruptive,” but being disruptive does not always require such dramatic shifts in production or presentation. Often, even the smallest change, the subtlest innovation, can result in wildly positive outcomes.
There are a number of retargeting platforms in existence, for example, but recently launched Dispop is the only one to combine a full display platform (including both direct targeting and retargeting campaigns) with built-in creative solutions. By taking this unique and rather novel approach to creative optimization, new and fresh banner ads are continuously injected into advertisers’ campaigns by a team of professional designers.
Thanks to the availability of data, it’s not uncommon for startups to become over-measured. Startups, however, need to remain focused on growth; choosing just a handful of metrics that showcase the success your enterprise had will go a long way. From “shares” to “sales,” find out the best progress metrics to measure.
“We cater mostly to SMBs who don’t have the knowledge and expertise with running a full blown display campaign,” said Ayal Ebert, CEO and founder of Dispop. “Most SMBs will run a display campaign alongside their search campaign on Google. However, 90 percent of Google’s revenue comes from search, so on a product level their display and retargeting solution is more of an after-thought.”
By making it easy for SMBs to set up and monitor their display campaigns, with the human-creative angle, Dispop is poised to be quite disruptive to the advertising industry as a whole.
IT’S TIME TO “STARTUP”
Companies today must provide a useful, convenient, smart and fun product or service. That’s a lot for a startup to consider. No two readers will find themselves at the same stage in the startup process — you may be on your couch or sitting at a desk at your full-time job. You could have just bought a domain name or are in the final stages of your first round of funding. Whatever stage your startup is in, it’s always the right time if you have a differentiated product or service in demand and the passion to see it through.