One Day One Job – How a pissed off CEO became a startups biggest revenue stream

Willy Franzen and I met not too long ago at a “hacker meetup” in Chicago, and I immediately fell in love with his startup and the story of how it all started.

The name of the website is called, which as the name suggests features one employer every day, of whom is looking to hire an entry level position for college graduates. Willy also runs which is the same concept except for internships.

Here’s what I enjoy the most about this interview:

  • He is the sole founder, and he still operates both sites as an army of one
  • He started the company straight out of college.
  • While interviewing for jobs, he mentioned the idea to his interviewer (The CEO), who was angry that he was creating a “competing” product to their company.  Eventually that company became their #1 revenue source (more details in the interview)
  • He snuck into a job fair, spoke to every recruiter and got 40 business cards of recruiters who said they were interested in being featured. Only 1 out of those 40 responded after he followed up.  He then took another approach which eventually got their attention.
  • He is not a web developer or programmer.  Both sites run purely off WordPress. He talks about how he picked up the skills to get the site running.
  • He is completely bootstrapped, with no outside investment.
  • He has received significant offers to be acquired, but he has turned them all down.
  • The site has been featured on Times, Readers Digest, Business Week, Freakonomics Blog, Science Magazine, Slate & Big Money Magazine.

Since the interview is kind of long, we provided a linkable table of contents so you can go to the question that you want to see answered.

  1. Where did you get the motivation for this idea?
  2. How long did it take you to go from idea to implementation of the site?
  3. How did you market the site in the first 6 months, what were your biggest challenges?
  4. Why did you decide to stay bootstrapped? Have investors approached you to invest in the site?
  5. How do you make money? Take us through the different revenue models you tried. What were the challenges with each?
  6. Are you profitable now?
  7. What advice can you to other non technical entrepreneurs like yourself.

1. Where did you get the motivation for this idea?

I graduated from Cornell in 2006 and headed for a career in Human Resources. After two summers of interning in HR, I knew that I was about to make a bad choice. I decided to turn down a few job offers and look at my other options. I took some time off over the summer, and when I started job searching, I became very frustrated. Part of it was that I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t know what to do or how to do. A bigger part was that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and I couldn’t find a good way to learn about what’s out there for new grads. Job searching is easy if you want to go into banking or consulting, but it gets a lot harder when you’re not sure what you’re looking for. I started thinking really hard about how I could provide a service that would introduce students and grads to options that they’d never considered before.

2. How long did it take you to go from idea to implementation of the site?

Before I even started One Day, One Job, I started getting involved in the online recruiting community. I wanted to learn everything that I could about how employers reach candidates on the Internet. I read the blogs, I participated in some early social media sites, and I reached out to big names in the industry. This included applying for a job at a big startup in the space. I sent a cold e-mail to the CEO and told him about some of the ideas that I had for changing how online recruitment works. It got me an interview for a Business Development position, and it went well until the CEO walked in. I was trying to explain what I had been doing since I graduated (admittedly not much) and I started talking about One Day, One Job (it was no more than a few weeks old at this point). He got pretty angry at me for coming in to interview when I was working on what could be a competing product. 3 years later, his company became One Day, One Job’s biggest revenue source (through an advertising platform).

In late May of 2007, I came up with the idea for a site that features one job every day (like Woot for jobs). At first I thought that I’d need to hire someone to build the site, but I decided to just give it a go. A friend mentioned WordPress as a CMS platform, so I started playing around with that. My mom is a Graphic Designer, so she did my logo, and I built the site based off of the design of the logo. I had done some basic web development in high school and early college, so I taught myself how to build a WordPress theme and kludged together a working site based on a custom theme over the next 6 months (One Day, One Job launched in November of 2007). I found that FeedBurner could deliver daily e-mails for me, so I had everything that I needed for free. All I had to do was pay for a cheap shared hosting plan. (Over time I’ve had to upgrade my hosting to a cloud VPS, build on top of a more sophisticated paid WordPress framework, and move my e-mail list to AWeber. But the free/cheap stuff took me a really long way.) The technology was the easy part. Getting the product right was much harder.

That’s why I spent a ton of time researching and learning. I was constantly looking at competitors and trying to figure out what it would take to build something that could gain traction quickly. I probably could have been much more structured in the way that I approached the problem, but I chose to get a feel for the market. I did a lot of watching and thinking while keeping mostly quiet about what I was working on.

The original idea was to sell a sponsorship every day. It was a good idea, but it was too hard for me to implement. I had no traffic, so I couldn’t even give away free trial postings. I didn’t have any jobs, so I couldn’t build an audience. Other people have succeeded with this model (Groupon), but they’re usually selling to a Marketing/Advertising/Sales department. I was selling to HR. They’re far more resistant to change, so a new idea wasn’t something that they were willing to invest time in learning about.

I even snuck into Cornell’s career fair to pitch employers (I was all sketchy about it, yet they’re more than happy to have alums go to the fairs). It was the first time that I really put my idea out in the public. I targeted employers whose booths were empty. I introduced myself, told them a little bit about One Day, One Job, and offered them the opportunity to get a free posting. A lot of people were excited about what I was doing, so I was excited when I left with 30-40 business cards in my pocket. I followed up with every company that I spoke with, but I got almost no response. Even a free trial wasn’t worth their time.

I waited and waited for the employers to get back to me, but it never happened. (3 years later one of the relationships that was formed at the career fair turned into a sponsorship.) So I made a drastic change to my plan. Instead of working with employers to put together the features and charging them for the placement, I decided to make my content editorial. I’d write profiles on companies and their entry level jobs with nothing more than the publicly available information that every job seeker has access to. That way I’d have the content to build an audience, and eventually I’d be able to sell the ability to get in front of that audience. It worked.

3. How did you market the site in the first 6 months, what were your biggest challenges?

After I launched, I focused almost singularly on growing the audience.  One of the first things that I did was put together a cornerstone article that could generate some buzz. It was called How to Use Google to Find a Job – I used that article to introduce the site to people. It did really well on StumbleUpon, and it generated a lot of incoming links. It also helped me grow my exposure in the job search community.

I spent a lot of time personally e-mailing as many Career Services offices as I could find e-mail addresses for. I introduced myself and told them about what I was doing with One Day, One Job. This helped me build more incoming links, and I was able to find a few people who really loved the site and shared it with lots of students. This was really time consuming, but well worth it.

Facebook launched their PPC platform right around when One Day, One Job launched. I used that a lot too. I targeted students at Ivy League and Top 40 schools. I figured that it would cost the same to reach them as it would cost to reach other students, but they’d be much more valuable when pitching to employers. It helped me build a small following at a lot of elite schools, and to this date One Day, One Job continues to have a strong presence at the schools that I targeted. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but it really helps me sell advertising.

Finally, SEO was a big focus for me. It didn’t pay many dividends in the first 6 months, but by understanding the core ideas behind SEO, I was able to build a foundation for a site that would rank well moving forward. I didn’t realize how big search would be in driving traffic to the site.

I also tried giving away a Nintendo Wii. I ran a contest for users who helped spread the word about the site. It failed miserably. I eventually learned that virality and job search don’t fit together. People don’t like sharing stuff related to their job search. It’s a personal matter that most people don’t like putting out in public. I’m glad that I learned this early, because it’s easy to get caught up in chasing viral growth. In some markets it’s just unrealistic.

4. Why did you decide to stay bootstrapped?  Have investors approached you to invest in the site?

When I started, I didn’t really know anything about startups. The thought of using other people’s money to grow my business was completely foreign. My parents and girlfriend helped to support me along the way, but I figured that if I couldn’t get to profitability with what I had, then I’d have to go get a job. One Day, One Job’s expenses are minimal, so I was able to last a really long time on my savings. In a lot of ways I straddle the line between startup and lifestyle business, but I certainly consider One Day, One Job a startup.

I’ve had a few investors approach me along with a few acquisition offers. I talk to everyone, but I’ve told the investors that I’m not interested. I’m always interested in a potential acquisition, but it has to be the right fit. There are a lot of ways that I could put capital to use for One Day, One Job, but I think that investment would change the conversation. I’m ok with the fact that One Day, One Job is never going to be a $100 million business, but I think that it can be a $5 million business. I’d be thrilled with that. Investors wouldn’t. By owning 100% I have a lot more flexibility, and I might even stand to make more if I ever do exit. I definitely stand to gain more if I decide to keep doing One Day, One Job for a while.

5. How do you make money?  Take us through the different revenue models you tried.  What were the challenges with each?

Like I mentioned before, the original idea was to sell placement in our daily profiles. It didn’t work. Selling to HR is a full-time job, and you can’t do it if you don’t have something to sell. Luckily, my choice to move to editorial content enabled me to build a really significant audience.Between One Day, One Job and One Day, One Internship we have nearly 14,000 subscribers, and the two sites combine for 100k-150k unique visits per month (it’s quite seasonal).

From launch, I’ve pretty much stayed focused on an ad-supported model with one big bump in the road. The initial plan was to sell sponsorships alongside the editorial content. It took me a year to get my first sponsor. It was $500. Suddenly I was getting a lot of interest from employers. Then the economy tanked and everyone who had contacted me said “Let’s wait and see what happens over the next few months.” My next sponsor came almost 15 months later.

In between I committed a lot of resources to a project called Found Your Career. It was an online course for entry level job seekers. I had a partner who helped me develop some amazing content. The course was spread out over 21 days and consisted of 41 lessons. We priced it at $152. We launched it to the One Day, One Job audience and sold 10 in our first week. It wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for, but it was a pretty strong sign that we hit on something. Then the sales dried up. We sold 10 more over the next 6 months. Then we didn’t sell any for 6 months. I eventually lowered the price to $27 and sold a few more. But by that time I realized that advertising was more lucrative. Selling to job seekers is a terrible business decision, especially when you’re trying to sell them something they don’t think that they need. (Very few job seekers focus on improving themselves. Most think that if they can find the right job and craft their resume properly then they’ll magically get a job.)

Here’s the breakdown of revenue by percentage from 2010:

Employer Sponsorships: 35%
Contextual Job Advertisements: 50%
Found Your Career: 10%
Other Sponsorships and Affiliate Programs: 5%

I don’t actively sell sponsorships. Whenever I do, I fail. However, when an employer comes to me and wants to advertise, it usually works out really well. I’ve been working on expanding our offerings (and simplifying them), and so far it’s working really well. You can take a look at our media kit here:

Advertising jobs beyond job postings is unfamiliar territory for a lot of people in recruiting, so I try to focus on working with employers who already get it. I think that I should probably sell harder, but it’s hard to get the conversation moving in the right direction. I think this could be the area where I gain the most in 2011.

The contextual job advertisements section represents a huge win and a surprise. I had worked with the ad network before, but it never did much for me. Out of desperation I tried implementing it again late last year. Once again, it made me a few dollars over a few days. However, my business  development contact at the company contacted me when he saw all of the impression that I had delivered. He helped me change up my approach, and it became a revenue source that I was able to grow significantly over the 4th quarter of 2010. This is great, because it’s essentially automatic. But there’s always room for improvement.

I’m putting an increased emphasis on affiliate marketing in 2011. A lot of people think that all affiliate marketing is sketchy, but I’ve found a few partners that live up to my standards. The offers add value for the One Day, One Job and One Day, One Internship audiences, and they perform well. It’s still something that I’m learning a lot about, but I’m excited at the potential.

(I also occasionally promote my referral links for Bonobos and Gilt Groupe. I never intend to spend money on clothing again because of this.

6. Are you profitable now?

Yes, 2009 was technically profitable. 2010 was enough to pay my rent. 2011 is looking much better. In 2 months, I’ve already covered business expense for the year (they increased significantly because of some necessary upgrades, but they’re still very low). I’m hoping to invest in some interns (who should always be paid) soon.

7. What advice can you to other non technical entrepreneurs like yourself?
Don’t underestimate the power of content businesses. There is huge potential.

Monetization, marketing, and business development are areas where you can add immense value without technical skills, but you need to commit a ton of time to learning them. They’re not easy just because they’re not technical.

I’ve seen a lot of businesses fail in my space. The non-technical founders have typically failed because they couldn’t control technology expenses and didn’t understand the technology that is core to their product (even if it’s not all that high-tech). There have also been a lot of technical founders that have failed because they didn’t understand the market. They thought that flashy technology could solve the problems that plague HR and job seekers. It’s just not that easy.

It’s really hard to be a completely non-technical entrepreneur if you want to build an Internet business. Without my barely adequate coding skills, I probably wouldn’t have made it to profitability. It would have been too expensive to build and maintain the site. By piecing together free technology, I was able to build a pretty decent platform for reaching job seekers and helping employers get their message out. I had some prior knowledge, but I learned most of it along the way.

If you do everything yourself, you can last a lot longer. 6 months ago my business was nearly identical to what it is now, except now it’s making money on a consistent basis (still not nearly as much as I’d like). If you can buy yourself enough time to try a variety of things, you can often stumble upon something that will make a huge difference. I can’t tell you why I never quit, and I can’t tell you what gave me the confidence to keep going, but I’m glad that I did. If you’re constantly learning and working towards something, advantages accumulate. Eventually you figure out how to combine these advantages and start making money. Just make sure that you’re building all of the advantages along the way.

Check them out at, or follow Willy on twitter @willyf.

Follow the author on twitter @robbieab, and for up to the minute startup news – follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

Ask TSF Readers – What happened to “real world” startups?

You know, the startups that actually have tangible products such as Zappos, Amazon, Redbox or Groupon.  If you can explain it to your grandmother, then most likely it has a real world aspect to it that normal people can relate to. If you’re debating a freemium model vs. Paid model then most likely you don’t have a physical product / service to sell.

As Startup Foundry grows we get more and more startups asking for us to cover them, and 99% of them don’t involve any “real life” aspects to them.  Why is that?  I have a few explanations why they don’t exist.

  1. Pure software startups have almost zero barrier to entry if the founders are developers
  2. Developers are so immersed into their digital lives, they forget about problems that can be solved in the real world.
  3. The people who have the ideas for real world startups, are not entrepreneurs, thus the idea never gets executed.
  4. There are actually plenty of real world startups, but I don’t hear about them because I’m also so immersed in my digital life.

Reason #1: Pure software startups have almost zero barrier to entry if the founders are developers

Or as I like to day: The path of least resistance.  A digital site that doesn’t involve physical things means that a developer can essentially develop and market a product without ever having to go outside of their house.  Chat Roulette being a prime example of this.  The founder of Chat Roulette didn’t have to go outside of his house and market his product to retail stores, companies or anything of that sort.  He just built it, and the initial (albeit short term) success was great.

All a developer needs is a computer and an internet connection.  Most of the popular developer frameworks are free and open source. It’s a no brainer.  However, this leads to a billion websites that all try to accomplish the same thing and there really is no innovation involved.  I don’t want another website that allows me to filter and display my online content in an easier way.  I’m absolutely dying for someone to come up with another article recommendation engine or a better way to determine my online clout.

The path to least resistance is also amplified because there are no hardware costs associated with it besides server costs (A server you will most likely never ever see).

Reason #2: Developers are so immersed in their digital lives, they forget about problems that can be solved in the real world.

This is another big reason why I think why we are too busy solving online problems instead of real world problems.  Developers are doing what they do best: Developing.  This involves a computer and an internet connection and also means most of their lives are spent are in front of their computer.  Ideas evolve from frustration you experience, and developers frustrations are mostly online because this is where they are most of the time.

If you combined the “path of least resistance” along with frustration you experience online, you end up with a digital product that solves a digital need – not a real world need.

Reason #3:  The people who have the ideas for real world startups, are not entrepreneurs, thus the idea never gets executed.

I’m sure there are plenty of mothers out there that experience a lot of frustrations in their lives with the products they use.  A baby monitor that doesn’t work, a crib that is too hard to put together, etc.  But, they are too busy to implement these ideas, or have the slightest clue where to start.  For this case in particular, i’m sure the major brands are all over it anyway.

But, as I type this, reason #4 seems like possibly the best answer to this post.

Reason #4: There are plenty of real world startups, but I don’t hear about them because I’m also so immersed in my digital life.

This can quite possibly be the answer.  Maybe it’s because I’m like everyone else, and I spend most of my time in front of a computer.  As sad as that sounds, it’s true.  The places I “hang out” are mostly online.  I hear the frustration of signal vs noise on twitter, but I never hear something like “I wish there was a better way to hang my keys”.  I’m so immersed in my online life, this is seriously the best real world problem I can come up with.  And it’s not even a problem!

In my example in reason #3, it is quite possible that sine I don’t have kids I have no idea what the newest and greatest products are and most importantly who are making these products.   Are there startups focusing on making baby products, I have no idea.

This is where I need the readers help – Where are all these real world startups.  Do they exist & if so where do I find them?

Get Satisfaction tells TSF why their commitment is to “be a good citizen”

Thor Muller is one of the original co-founders of Get Satisfaction and is also the current CTO.  Get Satisfaction officially launched in September of 2007 and since then has grown to 50,000 communities, 6 million visitors a month and over 2,000 paying customers.

I had the chance to speak with Thor on the phone and we had a great conversation regarding how t hey started, challenges on the way, and their commitment to “Be a good citizen”.

What type of company would be suited to use your service?

Get Satisfaction is used by every size and category of company.  It ranges from small mom and pop retail shops to Global 500 customers such as Walmart, P&G, Microsoft & Motorola.  The appeal is broad.

Tell us about the first 6 months of Get Satisfaction, and how the idea originated.

My wife, Amy Muller, and I were founders of a consulting company we founded called Rubyred Labs.  We had grown to a team of seven, working together on developing new social networks and web apps.  Through a side-project called ValleySchwag we stumbled onto the intractable problem of customer service, which we thought could be reinvented using the social web.  Lane Becker, a friend who had co-founded Adaptive Path, told us: “If you two don’t start it, I will”.  We brought him on board as a co-founder and started Get Satisfaction.

During our initial pitches to investors we were told that most companies would never allow their “dirty laundry” to be aired in public. Customer service issues were “best kept hidden,” according to them. But our story was that companies don’t really have the choice:  through blogs, Get Satisfaction, Twitter, Facebook, etc, people are able to summon companies into public conversation.  This disruptive position was what ultimately attracted our initial investors, First Round Capital,  OATV, and SoftTech VC, to us.

To be clear: we never set out to be a complaint site. Our goal was to create open spaces for people to connect with each other around the products and services they cared about. Being a “good citizen” has been central to playing this role. Instead of just providing a SaaS community platform we allowed anyone to start a customer community–be they an employee or a customer.  This led to an initial launch of our service that was fundamentally consumer-driven.

Did this unconventional approach cause you any problems?

The good folks at 37signals had an issue with it, the result of a hasty update to our site design.  We responded quickly to the issue (and it was a valid issue), and fixed our mistakes. I am the first to admit that it was our mistake.  We received some feedback from outsiders to push back hard against the critique, but we felt that missed the point. This was our opportunity to live by our creed of conducting business with more humility, more humanity. Our original idea for a lightweight web app was inspired by 37signals’ work, and we genuinely respect the work that they have done.

Besides the 37 signals issue, were there any other public issues that you had to deal with? We’ve been fortunate to avoid many public mis-steps. One near miss: a year ago we pre-announced a change to our paid plans, including the removal of features from our free plan. However, we did not “grandfather” existing users. Not surprisingly, free users were upset. But since we were able to collect feedback before the actual change, we were able to add a grandfathering policy for our early users.  We avoided a black eye by being ultra-responsive.

Are you bootstrapped or funded?

In our early months were able to use our existing cash flow from the consulting business, along with funding from our friends and family who were eager–perhaps recklessly so–to support the venture.  Since we spun the business out of our development consultancy, we had a whole product team from day one.

How did you market your startup initially.  What advice do you have for other early stage startups?

First and foremost, you need a good story.  Early on, we had a provocative position: “Your company doesn’t own its customer service.”  That statement resonated with a lot of people and that’s how we were able to get press.  We also did a lot of speaking engagements, conferences, etc.

Another big thing that helped is that a few times we were featured as part of hot news stories or controversies. A prime example of this was last November, when DecorMyEyes was accused of cultivating complaints and bad reviews to gin up the SEO of their e-commerce site. The story got a lot of attention & press. We responded to the story, clarifying numerous mis-conceptions and providing technical guidance on how other sites could avoid being gamed by bad actors.  This was an example of how we look for opportunities to be a good citizen. This is the social capital that the reputations and businesses are built on today.

Check Get Satisfaction out at, or follow them on twitter @getsatisfactio. Follow the author on twitter @robbieab, and for up to the minute startup news – follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

Get Clicky with it – Real Time Analytics for your Startup

Clicky was an easy choice for us to ask to interview.  I am a big fan of the service, and I love to see the little guy go up against the big guy (Google Analytics) and actually see some significant traction. I had an amazing opportunity to interview Sean Hammons from Clicky and he goes into detail of how they started, their biggest challenges and why they keep turning “hundreds of investors” down to invest in their company.

It’s an interesting read, and an insightful look into a great startup.  If you are a member of Clicky, or just needed the extra motivation to sign up – they have a built-in affiliate program that is worth looking into as discussed in the interview.

The transcript of the interview is below.

Who you are, position in the company, and how long you have been with Clicky.

Sean Hammons, co-founder and lead developer. I started working on Clicky started in October 2006 so it’s been a little over 4 years.

In two sentences or less, explain what your service does & what its’ competitive advantage is of other big players in the market

Clicky gives you simple yet detailed reports on your web site’s traffic in real time. The ease of use, real time data, great customer support, and affordable pricing has helped us stand out in this fairly crowded vertical.

What is the biggest challenge you have to making clicky real time.  Was it always real time?

Clicky has always been real time. In 2006 there weren’t many real time analytics tools (and none that were affordable), so we decided to make one ourselves. These days pretty much all services are real time (Google Analytics being a notable exception) so it’s not as much of a standout feature anymore. We had a lot of demand immediately, so I think we definitely got a bit lucky with our timing.

It has been a huge challenge dealing with the bandwidth and the amount of data we have to process every day. But challenge is fun and exciting. I absolutely love what I do. I’ve never worked on any project even one thousandth the size of Clicky, so I didn’t have experience with scaling or optimization or things like that, nor was I much experienced with using Linux as a server. Now I run 50 Linux servers that we built ourselves and during peak times we’re tracking over 4,000 page views per second across our network of 300,000 sites. If someone had told me in 2006 that I would be running a service of this size and scale in 4 years, I probably would have laughed.

How many users does clicky have?

We’ve got about 150,000 users (15,000 paying) tracking 300,000 sites.

Take us through the first 6 months at get clicky.  How did you get traction, press, etc.  Were the founders also developers?

My partner Noah was my boss at my last job, and Clicky was created as an internal tool for our own usage there. We saw the potential immediately, so we decided to become partners and pursue Clicky full time. Noah had a bit of cash saved up and I was a developer, so we didn’t need any funding. We lived off his savings for the first 4 months until we started making money directly.

Getting people to initially try the service was challenging and frustrating. We didn’t have any good connections at the time so it was hard to anyone to even look at our site. I was posting in forums, going to hundreds of blogs and using the contact forms to try to get the owner to try Clicky out, things like that. Not a single person signed up from those efforts. But finally, we got a break, and as soon as we got that one post, it just took off. We didn’t do any marketing or advertising, it was just that one single post on a largish web site. A few months later, we started making money, and that was a great feeling. We were growing much faster than we expected to, so the first few months was pretty challenging, as I had to really buckle down and learn about how to scale this kind of service. It was a lot of fun though. I’ve never learned so much in such a short period of time.

Tell us how you really feel about Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an extremely powerful service but it has a very steep learning curve. We designed Clicky’s interface to be easy to understand up front so people don’t get scared. We have some powerful features (goals, split testing, etc) but they’re not up front intimidating you. They’re there to discover when you want them, but otherwise it’s all about simplicity. A lot of people use Clicky and GA together on the same site – Clicky for most day to day needs, but GA when they need some of the power we don’t provide. For example, Google’s has really good segmentation and historical trends with that data. We have segmentation too but it’s calculated “on demand” so it’s not as fast as Google, especially when viewing over a large date range.

What are some marketing techniques that you can share with others who have just launched their product.

Well like I said above, we didn’t do any marketing or advertising. But one thing that really helped our growth is that we’ve had a very simple affiliate program from day one. Every user is an affiliate by default so there’s no forms to fill out or junk like that. The program is simple – every new user you refer to Clicky who signs up for a paid account, you get 20% of every payment they ever make to us. This really encourages people to talk about us more than they might otherwise, and we have some people making several hundred dollars every month because they have referred so many users our way. If your service is is freemium or paid only, either way I would whole heartedly recommend implementing a similar affiliate program. Whatever other services I create in the future, I can guarantee they will all have affiliate programs. It really does help your growth and your bottom line.

I noticed you don’t have a Facebook fan page.  I had a post earlier that mentioned Facebook fan pages are worthless for startups.  Would you agree?Why does clicky not have a facebook fan page?

I think Twitter is a much better place for handling B2C relationships because of its public nature. I’ve never been a huge Facebook fan anyways. I do use it, but only for keeping in contact with “real life” friends.

Are you funded or bootstrapped?  If you did get funding, at what stage did you get the funding.  Pre-prototype or post-prototype?

We’re bootstrapped. We’ve been contacted by hundreds of investors at this point though. Originally we were interested in taking on some money to help us grow faster, but that is no longer the case. If you can afford to bootstrap, do it. Owning 100% of your company and not having to answer to shareholders is ridiculously satisfying. The only time I think it makes sense to take on funding is if you need a fairly large team up front to build your service. Otherwise, don’t do it because you’ll probably regret it. must bother you.  Any changes clicky will purchase

We contacted the owner of a long time ago but he was not interested in selling it at the time. It’s a bit frustrating because the domain is not being used for anything anymore. But, most people know us as “get clicky” anyways (because of our domain name), so it’s not really the biggest deal in the world.

Check Clicky out at, and follow them on twitter @getclicky

Follow the author on twitter @robbieab, and for up to the minute startup news – follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

Silicon Valley is Hollywood for Startups

I watched Social Network for the second time today, and it got me thinking. Entrepreneurs are no different than struggling actors. The end goal for an actor or entrepreneur is not to land a high paying job at some respected company, but to become rich and famous. If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to create something new and exciting that hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of people will use. If you are an actor, your goal is to get on TV or the big screen and be seen by millions of people.

We’re all working towards the same goal and yet everyone has a different approach. However, We all can agree on one point: You have a higher probability of succeeding if you surround yourself with the smartest people in your industry. The more connections you have, the better chance you have of getting found. Silicon Valley and Hollywood have a large concentration of industry talent all in one small area, and this is why they are arguably the most importent and influential areas in the world. Yes, the world.

What other place can you get a more dramatic scene when you finally tell your parents: “Mom, Dad: I’ve decided to quit school & work, and move to hollywood to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an actor”. Change Hollywood with “Chicago, New York, London, Tokyo, Paris” and it just doesn’t have the same effect. No matter how much you love your city, it’s just not as influential as Silicon Valley or Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, other cities ARE important too and you can become rich and famous by starting a company outside of silicon valley such as Boston, Chicago or New York, and there have been plenty instances of actors outside of Hollywood that have gone on to become rich and famous. But that’s not my point. There are no other areas in the world that are more influential and important than Silicon Valley or Hollywood. Period.

Silicon Valley is home to the most brilliant entrepreneurs and technology companies who have impacted people’s lives around the world. Google, Facebook & Apple are a rock throw from each other. Where else in the world can you say three companies of that magnitude are located so close to each other? Better yet, imagine if they all disappeared right now. Wouldn’t things be a whole lot worse?

Hollywood is home to some of the most influential actors, agents, producers and studios along with movies & music that are watched and heard around the world. They control America’s media, and arguably have a huge impact on international media as well. Media is important and goes hand in hand with technology. If president Obama shut off our internet AND TV, you can guarantee there will be mass riots.

Speaking of riots, technology & media were part of the reason people in Egypt were able to organize protests efficiently and succeed in their mission to overthrow Mubarak. It wasn’t the people of Silicon Valley or Hollywood that were part of this, but you can’t look past their role as an enabler, and you can’t look past the importance of these two areas and their impact across the world.

I would love to be proven wrong on this issue. If you think there is a more important region, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Side note: I am a fairly well travelled individual who has been to most of the major international cities except East Asia. I also live in Chicago. Go Figure.

You can follow the author, Robbie Abed on twitter @robbieab and The Startup Foundry on twitter @startupfoundry.

From 1 visitor a day to raising $4m for charity, Give Forward’s feel good story

I had the great opportunity to speak with Ethan Austin, co-founder of GiveForward (  Give Forward is a Chicago based startup that helps people raise money for their medical expenses.  Ethan speaks about how they once had only 1 visitor on new years day, to being able to get funding a year later.  The excerpt of the interview is below:

In one or two sentences, explain what GiveForward does.
GiveForward is a crowdfunding platform for medical expenses.  In a nutshell, we make it incredibly easy for friends and family raise money for things like chemotherepy treatments or organ transplants when their loved one gets sick.

How long has Give Forward been around?
We launched in 2008.

Was Give Forward bootstrapped or funded?
We bootstrapped for the first two-and-a-half years but recently got funding.

Explain what the first 0-6 months were like for Give Forward.  How did you get it off the ground?
Wow! To say the first six months were rough would be a massive understatment.  We launched the site in August of 2008 and on January 1st, 2009 we had one visitor on GiveForward that day — literally ONE visitor!  For the most part, our attempts at gaining traction involved coercing our friends and family to start fundraising pages.  I enlisted about 25 of my college buddies and their girlfriends to run 5 miles through Central Park for the cause of their choice in in an event we dubbed “run for a reason” .   I think we helped raise about $13,000 from the event, which probably accounted for like half of the donations on the site the first six months.  It was kind of ridiculous back then.

We really didn’t start to see any traction on the site until about nine months in when two Chicago sisters from Depaul used GiveForward to raise $30,000 for a kidney transplant.  After that, we received some media coverage and things started to pick up a bit.

[Editors note:] Give Forward has already raised $3,527,462 for medical expenses and other important causes. Talk about a startup making an impact on the world![/Editors note:]

How did you acquire funding.  Was a prototype built before funding?
Last summer, we got accepted into a Chicago startup accelerator called Excelerate Labs, which turned out to be a game changer for us. Through Excelerate, we were able to demo at the House of Blues in front of 500 investors from around the county.  My partner, Desiree, gave a pretty awesome presentation which  really opened the doors for us.  From there, Tim Krauskopf, one of the mentors at Excelerate helped us round up some investors.  We also used Angel List, which I highly recommend, to secure the final part of our round.

How big is the team?
We have a team of seven right now plus a few really awesome interns.

Being a Chicago startup, do you find it harder to succeed then if you were in silicon valley as an example
Not at all.  I know it’s a cliche, but the Chicago startup community is really coming into its own right now. Groupon has obviously helped to bring a ton of attention to Chicago, but things like Excelerate Labs, MidVentures Tech Week, and Social Dev Camp are changing the landscape in Chicago and helping to build a strong community here.  Granted, funding is always going to be an issue and there is no Sand Hill Road in Chicago, but with tools like Angel List democratizing the VC industry, the need to be in Silicon Valley isn’t nearly as great as it used to be.

What is your biggest challenge now?
Educating people and getting the word out.  That’s always been the hardest part.  When a loved one is going through a serious health issue like cancer, their friends and family usually feel pretty helpless and don’t know what they can do to help.  Our goal is make sure they are aware of our service.  Once people find out about GiveForward, they always love it.  We just need to let more people know about it.

Thanks to Ethan for the interview. All the best to GiveForward. For more startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

You can also follow the author on twitter @robbieab.

The ZookShop story. A behind the scenes look at bootstrapping a SaaS web app.

When I first saw the request from Christophe to cover his online retail startup ZookShop, my first reaction was “that’s all we need is another shopping solution”.  However, this one is different – I promise. Off the bat, it has a few things working for it:

  • It’s simple to setup
  • It’s simple to add products
  • It’s simple to buy products

And oh yeah it’s fairly cheap considering there are no transaction fees.  You still have to pay the merchant fees such as Paypal or Google checkout, but there is really no other way around it.  The pricing ranges from $29/month to $49/month, based on how many products you have. In my opinion the service is great for smaller to midsize companies who just need a simple solution without a ton of configuration needed for each product.

I had a chance to interview Christophe from ZookShop and here is an excerpt from our interview:

How long did it take you to develop ZookShop?
It took me 5 months to develop it on the side.

How is the startup market in London, and do you think you are at a disadvantage by not being in Silicon Valley?
There are very few startups here, you will mostly encounter people with side projects from already established small businesses, which is our case. Being in London is okay if you want to let your company grow slowly, but it’s hardly a startup then.

How are you going about marketing this product. What have you learned?
At the moment, I don’t really know. Until now, I focused on improving the product and responding to the feedback of the first customers.

What I learned building the website and having it in production for the first weeks:

  • Half of your developing time will be spent on features less than 10% of your customers will be using. But it’s worth the pain, because these features are deal breakers for them, and they may become your most vocal supporters
  • People really do love when you to respond their requests instantly, or fix bugs they encountered without telling you in minutes. My advice for other founder would be this: Watch the logs and be reactive

Where did you get the name from & where did you get the idea from.
“Zouk” is a popular music genre from our island of origin, and while searching for a domain name, we found out that were free, it was short, looked and sounded nice, so we just went for it.

I got the idea while working to improve the conversions on a shop hosted on an eCommerce platform, platform which had thousand upon thousand of users. It was so ugly, slow and painful to use, I figured that we might have a shot creating a better alternative. I believe we just achieved that, even if it’s still a really young product.


You can check out the sample shop that I created here:, and the main site here: You can also follow Christophe on twitter here: @christophe971

Facebook pages are worthless for your startup. Go where the early adopters are.

Facebook is an amazing tool, and is also great for businesses.  However, It’s a sinkhole for startups. Facebook pages will do nothing for you in the first 0-6 months of your startup post-launch.

We all know (or should know) that your friends are usually not your target customers, and in fact they are probably the worst people to consult on your business.  They usually won’t tell you that it sucks and they will always support your venture.  So when you create a Facebook page, what is the first think you do?  You post it on your Facebook wall, and send an email to your friends.  Now you have a Facebook fan page with a partial list of your friends (read: “people who are not your target customers”). This gives you a false indication of how people actually feel about your product  / service.

I would argue that the first 6 months of any startups should be used to get feedback on the product, build relationships with your customers, and target new customers with your marketing voodoo magic. Here lies the problem that almost every startup has (and why the response to The Startup Foundry has been so great): Marketing a startup is hard because the founders don’t have an extensive database of people that might be interested in their product, and don’t know how to reach them in an effective way.  The fact is, the first 6 months, any customer who joins your service, are usually early adopters.  Think of them as music hippies, but for startups.  Once Groupon got noticed, you just didn’t like them as much. Right?  If you agreed with that statement, then my friend I hate to break this to you but you are an early adopter.

You will not find many early adopters via Facebook Pages. Early adopters are all ON Facebook, but they will not find you via Facebook.  They will find you via twitter. More importantly, you will find them via twitter.  Facebook Pages are good for “pulling in customers”, but not good for “reaching out to people who MIGHT be your customers, or tell you what you need to do in order to convert them”.  The latter being the most important.

I hear this response all the time (and trust me, I’m guilty of it too): “Man, my product is amazing – but nobody knows about it.  How do I tell the masses about it without spending money on a Superbowl ad”.  Do you see where i’m going with this?  If I want to target my customers, I need to find them and build personal relationships with them via twitter, blogs, & in person.  Every customer matters.

We all know the importance of blogging and building personal relationships.  Twitter allows for building actual relationships and Facebook is good for building brand relationships. The first 6 months is about building personal relationships with people who might be your customer, or help you get to other customers via their network.  So why do you have a Facebook page again?

Authors Note: I took it a step further and deactivated my Facebook all together to focus on building this blog & my startup.  Because I focused all my efforts on other sites such as twitter and hacker news, I was able to make the right connections early on.

Founder, developer, and everything else- Ben Edwards talks about Swappa

Swappa is an online market place that specializes in used Android devices.  If you are looking to buy or sell an android device, Swappa is the place to be.

I had a chance to speak with Ben Edwards who is the founder & developer of this one man bootstrapped venture.

An online marketplace to buy & sell phone’s is not a new thing.  What makes swappa any different from ebay or craigslist as an example?
Usability is a big factor. One thing that makes Swappa a lot easier to use, compared to eBay for instance, is you start out by choosing the device to buy and sell. It makes it real easy to see all the listings together and compare apples to apples. If you search eBay for ‘Motorola Droid’ you get listings for a half dozen different types of devices and their accessories, all in the same list. It’s a pain, and it’s ugly. Swappa is simple.

Do you have any plans to sell non android phones?
No plans to list non-Android devices at this time. I believe the focus on Android gives Swappa a lot of advantages in terms of simplicity and marketing.

What about cost.  What is the cost to participate?
As of right now, I reduced the cost to $10 for the person buying the phone.  The seller does not pay any listing fees at the moment, however they will incur standard paypal transaction charges when purchasing.  You can find more about that here:

Is swappa profitable?
Yes, minimally profitable. The only main expenses at this point are server costs. Some early costs included buying an “inventory” of Android devices to have for sale on the site and some advertising (pay per click). The devices I bought and sold through the site paid for themselves, the advertising did not.

Marketing a startup is always a big hurdle.  What have you done so far to get traction on swappa?
Right now I’m doing the hustle to market Swappa. I’ve been contacting nearly every relevant Android site and blog I can (often more than once), giving an introduction to Swappa and asking for feedback.  I tried some paid advertising (Facebook) the first month the site was live, but that didn’t do much. Getting mentions on Android related sites has been what’s got Swappa traction.

Thanks to Ben Edwards for the interview. All the best to Swappa. For more startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.