It’s no secret starting a business is a hard, daunting journey made up of determination and hard work. Playing a starring role in some cases, and a supporting role in others, is technology. Love it or hate, in order for small businesses to be successful these days, being technological savvy is a requirement for owners.
Take YouSendIt, the Campbell, Calif., digital document company that lets users send large documents securely over the Internet.
Launched in 2004 as a 100%-free service with zero paying customers, YouSendIt now has more than 274,000 paid customers. Early on, the company relied on an advertising model to make money. But when it switched to a subscriber-based business, it meant an overhaul in technology.
“We wanted to build a subscription based on the model of Fedex,” said Ranjith Kumaran, founder and chief technology officer of YouSendIt. “When we launched the subscription service we had the first subscriber in four minutes and it took off from there.”
When that happened, YouSendIt had to build out its IT operation to create a customer-service operation, which meant more data centers and advanced technology.
Switching from an ad-based model to a subscription business brought more than just technological challenges. The company lost some employees who had signed up to be part of a fast growing ad-based business, according to Kumaran. “It’s very hard to shift to a subscription model but I learned to do it quickly,” he said, noting that he was very clear with employees as to what the company was doing.
YouSendIt faces tough competition, but Kumaran isn’t worried. The best thing for any company is the brand,” he said. "We tried to instill in the company in the early days that we need to know what we do, and do that one thing better than anyone else.” Kumaran said the company's secret sauce are its employees who love to come to work every day.
“My DNA is not to worry about competition. I can’t control what they do I can control what we do,” said Kumaran. As for the company’s future, he said it is projecting 100% growth over the next several years and that in a year or so the company could be ready to launch an IPO.
Technology can also play a crucial role in generating business and attracting customers, such is the case for Stephanie Serie, founder of Serie Sweets.
A stay-at-home mom to three kids under five, the former Donna Karen public relations executive recently launched her own clothing business in which she brings designer fashion to people home’s to sell, similar to how Avon sells its cosmetics. Dubbed a “boutique in a box,” Series Sweets is based largely on word of mouth and online buzz.
Without technology, Serie would have a tough time building her business, but thanks to social networks like Facebook she is able to generate substantial awareness about her company.
"Facebook has been amazing for me,” said Serie. “I have over 250 friends [on Facebook] that I was able to reach out to just by putting a status update.” Within just one night, she got more than 1,000 hits to her new Web site thanks to Facebook. “It’s insane; I could never get that if I didn’t have Facebook.”
While social networks are a powerful marketing tool to generate interest in your company, it’s their experience on your site that is going to make them loyal customers.
Serie knew that visitors to her Web site and Facebook page didn’t want to be bombarded with self-serving marketing spiel, so she designed both as informational and helpful.
She posts tips on how to dress and updates her Web site with the latest fashions trends in addition to showcasing the products she sells. Since the company is so new, she hasn’t engaged in Twitter yet, but that’s next on her list. Serie is also dabbling with sending out blast e-mails every couple of weeks when her inventory is updated of she has fashion tips for a particular season.
“To be successful technology is a major part of everything,” said Serie. Without it “I mine as well have a horse and buggy to bring my boutique to your house.”