Hi there, and welcome to another monthly blog post here on AidanBooth.com!!
This months blog post is a little different, I want to give you a look behind the scenes of one of our companies to give you a feel for what really goes on… the company is called NetBlaze, and it’s a start-up we’ve been working on intensely for the past 18 months or so.
To get to the meat of NetBlaze, I figured the best approach was to interview Steven Clayton (my business partner), who is currently the CEO of the company.
Throughout the interview, you’ll find out how we’ve approached this project, from concept creation, through to where we’re at now, with a product that’s on the market helping customers and showing huge growth potential.
We’ve also got a fun give-away prize draw where we’re going to give away a lifetime access NetBlaze account, and $500 cash for good measure. The criteria is simple:
- You must own or work in a local business in the USA
SIDE NOTE: We hate to exclude people from these kinds of contests, but as explained in the interview, NetBlaze is currently only of use to people in the USA who own (or work in) a local business anyway.
Update 10th September 2018 – WINNER ANNOUNCED
The winner of the $500 cash and lifetime access to NetBlaze is Richard Robinson, Richard, we are getting in touch
Before diving into the interview, you may find it useful to watch this short video that walks through what NetBlaze is all about:
Interview: A Look Behind The Scenes Of NetBlaze.com
Let’s now dive into the interview, the timestamp and transcription is below:
2:05 – What is the elevator pitch for NetBlaze?
3:36 – Why NetBlaze isn’t how we envisioned it would be years ago
4:09 – What was the first iteration of NetBlaze like?
6:29 – What does NetBlaze look like nowadays, how has it changed?
8:17 – How did you come to that conclusion?
9:57 – Who is the typical NetBlaze customer?
11:23 – How does someone use NetBlaze for the first time?
13:18 – What’s the platform that NetBlaze is on?
13:55 – Can you share with us any recent stories or case studies?
15:47 – Why many times it is like a very specific region that needs to be targeted
16:15 – Why helping local businesses is exactly what exactly NetBlaze does
16:35 – What do users need to do on a daily or weekly basis?
19:30 – The other things that are going on behind the scenes of NetBlaze
20:05 – Are there any reports that can be used to monitor progress?
21:31 – Why text is quite a big part of NetBlaze
23:15 – Is email messaging automated?
24:45 – What kind of investment has been needed to build NetBlaze?
27:12 – Understanding why NetBlaze is on a different scale
28:12 – What about the make up of the team?
31:20 – How do you think the mixture of people will change?
33:21 – Where are the other key team members based?
34:15 – How does the team get together?
35:09 – Have you considered outside funding or bringing on investors?
37:25 – What costs would a user pay to be able to use NetBlaze?
38:12 – How did you find and hire your team members?
40:10 – Why internal poaching is a big benefit to us
40:31 – Do you have a system in place that you use for team meetings?
41:17 – Does NetBlaze use any special project management tools?
42:55 – Do you look for any special traits or characteristics in team members?
44:52 – Do you plan to take NetBlaze to other markets in the future?
46:10 – What does the current NetBlaze marketing plan look like?
50:44 – Why it’s imperative that you can track your results
51:27 – What’s been most challenging part about this project?
54:10 – What is the toughest decision that you’ve had to make in the past few months?
54:55 – What has been the biggest challenge over the past 30 days?
55:30 – Challenges, the key is the way you deal with them
56:18 – Is there anything that you would do differently?
57:41 – Are there any open positions now or in the future?
59:14 – How does someone go about creating an account?
59:47 – How to get a lifetime account with NetBlaze and $500 cash!
Aidan: Hey everyone Aidan Booth here, I’m joined today by my business partner Steve Clayton, Steve thanks for being on the call with us.
Steve: Yep happy to be here, how you doing?
Aidan: Now guys as you may already know, we’ve got a handful of different businesses online and most of them are actually outside the ‘how to start an online business’ or ‘how to make money online’ space which is quite likely where you know us from and just like the thing we’re going to be talking about today, it’s completely outside of that space and I thought it would be interesting to give you a look inside one of our businesses, one that we don’t talk about all that often but one that possibly has the biggest growth potential out of any that we’ve involved with right now and one that we’re certainly putting a lot of time, energy and resources into, and the idea here is to give you a look behind the curtain to see what this kind of a business looks like.
The challenges that we face on a day to day basis and just a general look inside an exciting start-up, and we want to make this fun as well so if you have a business which could use the service and software that we’re talking about here today and you’re inside the United States, then if you enter your details in the form on this page which you’ll see in probably multiple places on this page depending on where you’re reading it, then enter your information and we’re going to give one lucky person a lifetime account of the special software that we’re going to be talking about and $500 cash on top of that so that’s what you stand to win just by entering your details on this page
Now with that said, Steve let’s dive in here, now guys the software and the business we’re talking about is called NetBlaze.
So Steve give us the elevator pitch for what NetBlaze is.
Steve: Sure so NetBlaze.com is what we’re talking about here and the way we like to describe it is NetBlaze is software that functions like a virtual Chief Marketing Officer for your small business.
There are so many small businesses in the United States and these are small Mom and Pop local community businesses like the pizza parlour, the local retailer, the local restaurant, the hair salon, and these folks are busy running these great businesses, they power of the US economy for the most part but it’s kind of a catch 22 because they have so much power at their fingertips now to market with Google and Facebook and Trip Advisor and Yelp and all those kinds of things, but even though they have this power, they don’t have a clue what they ought to be doing.
They don’t know whether they should be tweeting, or posting on Facebook, or how is it that their competitors show up when people type in something where they’re looking for a business like theirs online or on their mobile phone, so they’re a super super frustrated bunch because they really don’t even know what they don’t know. So NetBlaze was designed to basically be an instant marketing department for these local small business owners.
Aidan: I know that the way NetBlaze is now wasn’t how we kind of envisioned it would be years ago, and just to give people some more background, the reason that I am interviewing Steve about it and not the other way around is because this has really been Steve’s baby from the get go and something that he dedicates a lot of his time to and I don’t dedicate all that much of my time to it because we try to divide and conquer and run different elements of our businesses.
So Steve, tell us a little bit about the first iteration or how you first approached NetBlaze the first go round?
Steve: Sure this is a market that we know a lot about and customers we know a lot about, for example when we first started online marketing, so you’re talking about almost 15 years ago, I would go to a party or a gathering or hangout with my friends or something, when I started to explain ‘hey I moved from corporate over to building my own company, and our core competencies are online marketing and we’re doing this that and the other thing’, I was amazed at how many of these people that were small local business owners, they were like ‘oh my god I need so much help I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to be doing on a daily basis, it seems everybody knows more than me, I don’t even know what questions to ask’, they’re just like this super frustrated bunch that’s very under served.
So the general problem that NetBlaze is trying to solve is which is always something to keep in mind when you’re starting a business, is what problem does my product or service solve? That has not changed for 15 years, this problem has existed.
What has changed is as Aidan said, our approach to it, so we tried a few different things with NetBlaze, so for example, one of them was why don’t we just train because as you guys probably know we’re super big on training programs, we like to do that, we love to teach so one of the first considerations was why don’t we train small business owners, ‘hey here’s what search engine optimization is, here’s what reputation management is, here’s how you build citations, here’s how you go out and solicit reviews, here’s how you develop email marketing campaigns’, and while that’s good information, and would be helpful to people, what we quickly realized is these folks don’t have time to become marketing experts, they’re running their hair salon, they’re trying to make the best tasting pizza within a 25 mile radius, I mean that’s what they’re focused on and rightly so. So they just don’t have the time or the energy to focus on learning things.
Aidan: So the NetBlaze customer is clearly a large audience that needs a lot of help, and the current solution and the one that we are focused on now is obviously different to just the stand alone training that we envisioned it would be initially, so tell us a little bit about how that’s changed and what the solution looks like now and why we’ve gone with that.
Steve: I think, I know what we learned is that these customers just don’t have enough time, they don’t want to learn it, they really don’t want to spend a lot of their time doing it, and they don’t want to pay a lot for it. So the vision when we were developing the NetBlaze software and what I would always push back with the group was, no we can’t teach them how to do it, we must get the software to do it for them or at the very least we need to walk them through very very simple, push this button, type this in here, and press enter, that kind of thing.
So when we were working hard to develop the software, that was sort of the vision that we kept coming back to. Any time our software would veer off somewhere where it would start to get into more like, ‘well let me explain why this is, let me teach you how to do this’, we would just push back and say no, no, no, it has to do it for you wherever it possibly can because these people just want something done for them but they don’t want to spend a lot of money on it and they want to see results right away and they want it to happen fast but they just don’t have the time to do it themselves.
Aidan: Was that an observation that you and the team had through trying other approaches or is it feedback that you got, or how did you come to that conclusion?
Steve: Yeah definitely, we tried teaching them, and we got a lot of feedback on that like ‘I just don’t have the patience for this, again I’m worried about making my good pizza’, and we tried other things like more of a traditional agency role so for example, having someone come into their office and say OK we’re going to put together a comprehensive search engine optimization plan for you, here’s what that all looks like, here’s how it works, here are the tasks that are going to be done, here’s a PPC campaign strategy and let me show you all the metrics.
So that was more of a traditional consulting or agency role and again the push back we got from that was ‘for crying out loud, we just want to show up when people type in pizza parlour in my town and I don’t care how it happens, I want to be able to easily get reviews from my customers and watch my customer reputation but I need help’. You know what they needed? They basically needed a Chief Marketing Officer but they couldn’t afford to go and hire one so that became our vision, we’re going to create software which is essentially a Chief Marketing Officer for these companies.
Aidan: You’ve mentioned pizza parlours things like that so who is the typical NetBlaze customer, can you give our listeners or readers a few other examples for the types of businesses these people run?
Steve: The perfect customer is someone who’s got a defined generic area so it’s not for example a national ecommerce company, that’s a completely different scope of work. So this is a company that is a business that services a community, maybe they have one location, they could have maybe a couple of different locations around the Chicago area as an example but they’re really focused on a set geographic area in a community they’re servicing and that is millions and millions of businesses. Even though everything is going Amazon and Walmart, there’s still millions of plumbers, electricians, accountants, attorneys, dentists, real estate agents, restaurant owners, small retailers, on and on and on, that service these local communities, and is the lifeblood of the US economy.
Aidan: If we talk a little bit more about the actual software for a second, the first time that someone uses NetBlaze, what do they do? Can you walk us through and paint us a bit of a picture about what it’s like the first time they log on and what they might be doing the first time they log onto it.
Steve: The first thing that we do is try to make the onramp process as painless as we possibly can but they need to tell us a little bit about their company; their address, their website, their phone number and then we go out and try to find their Facebook page, we try to find their Yelp page, their Google+ page, their Trip Advisor page, if those things are applicable.
We just say ‘hey is this you’ and just to make sure we’ve got it all hooked up well and that’s really the only thing that they need to do, it really just takes minutes and obviously if they haven’t claimed their Google+ page or Google Places page, if they don’t have a Facebook page, if they don’t have a Yelp page, those are things that we will work with them to create later on but the first step is simply gathering a little bit of information, it just takes minutes and then you’re transported into the dashboard.
The dashboard gives you all sorts of information about your website and your rankings and your reputation online and any reviews that are out there, so it gives you a snapshot of what’s going on but the real meat of the software is what we call our ‘to do’ list which is basically ‘hey here’s what you need to work with, with your Chief Marketing Officer and check these things off’, like for example, claim your Google Places listing, press this button, go here, do that. Some of these things require a phone call so we just walk them through it.
Aidan: Just to fill in some of the gaps here that people may be having, what’s the platform that NetBlaze is on, is it something that you can log into on your iPad or do you have to download special software?
Steve: No it’s all web based and we also have an iPhone app as well that does all the things that the web based system does but because it’s software as a service, it’s a web based product and you can access it from a PC, a Mac, an iPad, and an iPhone too but there’s also an iPhone app that makes it a little bit easier.
Aidan: So if we talk about the actual customers now, are there any recent stories or case studies, quick ones that we could just share with people listening or reading this so they can visualize the kind of results that people using NetBlaze have been able to get?
Steve: Here’s my favorite one; there’s a gentleman in California that runs a smartphone repair center so you go to him if your phone screen gets cracked. Prior to using NetBlaze he was not showing up at all when people would type in ‘iPhone repair’ and they were in his geographic area but his competition was.
NetBlaze identified several changes that he should have made to his website. Now the way we handled that most people have gone out and dealt with someone to develop their website, most business owners don’t do it themselves and they don’t want to know all the different technical details and suggestions that NetBlaze has, so what NetBlaze says is ‘look I’ve got suggestions that you need to make to your website in order to do better in the rankings who should I send that to’?
We’ll then package up an email and send it your developer. So he did that, he followed the NetBlaze to do list and sent off an email to his developer. The developer said this is silly this isn’t going to make any difference but I’ll do it. They did it and three days later he’s number 3 in the rankings for his geographic area!
Aidan: That’s amazing, three days I guess that’s the beauty as well of these local businesses when you’re going after international or even nationwide search terms. Many times it is like a very specific region that needs to be targeted.
Steve: Exactly, it makes it much more manageable and you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, you can have an immediate impact in someone’s business.
Aidan: There was always the thing that I love about search engine marketing consulting is by helping these local businesses which is basically what exactly NetBlaze does, you can get that very same impact very quickly on people.
NetBlaze automates a lot of the tasks and the marketing operations for it’s users, so what does the typical user of NetBlaze need to do on a daily or weekly basis because I’m sure there’s something they need to do?
Steve: The biggest thing that they need to do is interface with NetBlaze with their customer data. NetBlaze will function as a CRM ‘customer relationship management’, meaning if you give us every day or every week the customers that have done business with you, we will in the background (NetBlaze will do this automatically), we will solicit reviews, so we’ll reach out to those customers through emails, through texts, and we don’t just say ‘hey could you leave us a review’, NetBlaze is much much smarter than that so NetBlaze is doing two big things.
The first is it’s doing what we call ‘review gating’, where it has a process which we sort of figure out if someone’s going to leave a good review or bad review, because we don’t want them to leave a bad review on Yelp, so we kind of feel them out first.
Then the second part that NetBlaze does automatically is it sends the person to make the review where it will do the most good, so let’s say for example you’ve got 25 Facebook reviews, you’ve got 25 Google+ reviews, you’ve got 100 Trip Advisor reviews but you have only 3 Yelp reviews. NetBlaze is going to say you know what we really need some help with Yelp so I’m going to try and get some reviews for Yelp, or maybe your ranking went down because of a bad review on Facebook, so NetBlaze is going to say ‘oh oh you know what for the time being I’m going to try and get more reviews on Facebook, more obviously good reviews so I can dilute that bad ranking and get it up and make it higher’. So really what people need to be doing is checking your to do list with NetBlaze and review what it’s doing for you.
It will also give you some insight and say ‘hey you’ve got a review posted, you should go and respond to it because that’s something that’s really important’. NetBlaze will tell you that once or twice a week you should make a Facebook post and NetBlaze will also make suggestions on what to post just to keep your audience engaged and things like that. So we try and do a lot for you but it’s good to visit NetBlaze maybe a couple of times a week just to make sure that you’re on board and you’re doing all the things you’re supposed to be doing too.
Aidan: We’ve spent a lot of time explaining reviews for example, but that’s only one type of thing that you’ll be looking to do because there’s social media management, there’s also getting red flags raised if some kind of potential marketing problem is identified so there’s a lot of other things that are going on behind the scenes there as well.
What about in terms of reporting and managing metrics, are there any kinds of reports or things like that that can be used by the user to monitor their progress?
Steve: We purposely don’t create a lot of reports so what they are able to see is mostly the dashboard, and the dashboard will give them again a snapshot but also some graphical representation over time of their visitors, their reviews, their scores, some of their rankings within Google and things like that. So we purposely shied away from creating all sorts of different reports and stuff.
If they dig deep enough, for example, one of the things we do for search engine optimization (and I won’t get into too much information here) but we’re constantly behind the scenes building citations in order to increase their rankings. So they could if they wanted to go and see every single citation that NetBlaze is building for them. They could if they wanted to go in and see every single review, text or email that goes out to customers, but it’s not really necessary, the whole idea here is for business owners to be able to log in, take a look at the dashboard and understand exactly what’s going on but let NetBlaze handle all the heavy lifting and analytical stuff that goes on behind the scenes.
Aidan: You mentioned one little word there which may have got people thinking and they may not have been aware but you said text messages so I think it’s interesting for people to know that’s quite a big part of something that’s built into NetBlaze as well, it’s not just about reaching out to customers in one way and it’s not a one shoe fits all approach here. Maybe you could just talk a little bit about the different ways that a customer may typically be reached out to through NetBlaze. So you’ve obviously got email, text message…
Steve: Those are the two big ones and then obviously we help to foster a Facebook presence that’s really the biggest social media vehicle that we look at, we think it’s the most important, we do focus a lot on the 80/20 rule because you can quickly get carried away with online marketing, you could be tweeting every day, you could be on Instagram, there’s a million things you could be doing but unless you’re a Kardashian, probably as a small business owner, tweeting is an enormous waste of your time because it’s just not going to give you that 80/20 rule where you do 20% of the work and get 80% of the benefit. So for us, customer interaction, the 80/20 rule is email/texting/Facebook.
Aidan: So what about automation and those things I’m just trying to paint a picture here for people as well. I’m assuming that the text message side of it is all automated, the same with email messaging?
Steve: Absolutely, the whole idea is that you’re interfacing with customers for two reasons; one is to get reviews, that you never have to do anything so NetBlaze is constantly working behind the scenes to communicate with your customers to solicit reviews so again making sure that we get the good ones. I’m not trying to suggest it will ignore bad reviews but bad reviews become an email to you to the business owner, they don’t become a Yelp review, or at least that’s the goal. So we don’t ignore them. So all of that the business owner does nothing.
The other way to use it is ‘hey it’s Friday night it’s raining, and as a restaurant owner I know that I’m not going to get as many visitors or potential customers so I’m going to ask NetBlaze, hey can you just run a quick promotional campaign and say rainy day special 10% off appetizer’, and then NetBlaze will send out either a text or email or both to your customers and try to get you more business.
Aidan: That’s really cool that’s awesome. The picture that’s really been painted here is that NetBlaze is designed to be a push button solution so that small business owners can focus on the other parts of their business not trying to do everything they’re currently doing as well as being Chief Marketing Offer for their businesses as well.
If we just change our focus a little bit more I want to talk to you a little bit about what it’s like running a business like NetBlaze. Just to give people a bit of an inside view what kind of investment has been needed to build NetBlaze to where it is today, over what sort of time frame are we talking?
Steve: Remember guys this is software as a service so that’s what’s being built here. It’s been depending on when you say we’re pressing start, it’s somewhere around the two year mark to really develop the software. It’s a little bit inaccurate to say, because you want to really do this within a year. What happens with Aidan and myself, we have a lot of other things that we’re doing and so I think we could have done this much much faster but for us it’s been a couple of years.
Software like this will easily be in the quarter of a million to half a million dollars to really do it up correctly so it’s not cheap by any stretch but software as a service is a powerful business model because the profit margins are generally very very high because the incremental costs to run the business, once you develop the software, as you bring on more customers, you don’t have to spend even more money to develop the software. Obviously there are some support costs and things like that but it doesn’t scale for example like a retail operation, it scales much much nicer and there’s much much higher profit margins.
Aidan: A few people may have just been a little bit shocked by the type of investment we’re talking about here but I want the readers or listeners to know that NetBlaze is a very sophisticated and comprehensive type of a software as a service as opposed to a simple web app which you can develop for $1,000 for example, so just make sure when you’re listening to that, that you are thinking about it with that kind of perspective in mind and you’re not comparing with something that it just on a completely different scale.
The takeaway from that is that significant investment from us and it’s taken a couple of years but it could have been faster if we’d really pushed it along.
What about the make up of the team, what is it like at the moment, how do you envision this changing as NetBlaze continues to grow?
Steve: Right now we’ve got a development team which does the software development and we’ve got a Project Manager/Analyst who lives in the Philippines and his role is essentially to translate our business vision into what the programmers need to hear, so he manages. We don’t actually talk for the most part to the people who are programming so we sit down with the Project Manager/Analyst and we say here’s what we want to develop, here’s the business need we’re trying to solve, here’s how we want the flow to go, here’s what we want the customer experience to be, and he takes all of that and translates that to the programmers and says ‘we need to build this’, and then they build it.
So we’ve got that whole silo within NetBlaze which is product development. We’ve got a customer service team now that does two things, it will do pre-sales customer service so people that come to the website and want to have a conversation with an online chat or they have questions about what the software can do or can’t do, those folks will handle that and then of course anybody that’s got issues or problems running the software.
Then we have a huge marketing push right now which is obviously really where I’m focused the most on right now because this is a start up, we literally just started selling the product and so the marketing team is really the big big push and so right now we’ve got people that are focused on paid advertising, we’ve got a person focused on a direct mail campaign, we’ve got a person who’s focused on inside sales which is basically telemarketing, and we’ve got a person who is focused on copywriting, branding and content management so creating YouTube videos, those kinds of pieces of content, podcasts and things like that where we can reach people and then we’re also bringing the customer service team in to help us out as when we get to a certain point, we won’t be able to do that anymore because they’re going to be busy but doing things like putting together a plan for trade shows, and public relations going out to reporters and things like that so that’s where I’m spending most of my time now is working with that team, that’s pretty much the team right now.
Aidan: So it sounds like there is a few main areas there, the development side of things, the marketing and the support which kind of roles into the marketing. As NetBlaze continues to grow, how do you think the mixture of people in those different areas will change, will it be more and more people coming into the marketing, more and more people coming into the support, how do you envisage that unfolding?
Steve: Our plan is to really expand in two areas; one is support so obviously as we get more customers we have to come up with the right metric that says for every 100 customers or whatever it is we need one support person or whatever, it won’t be 100 to 1 that’s for sure, but it’s probably going to be more like 400/500 to 1 so that’s one area.
The second area is inside sales so telemarketing, we feel like this is a product that will do very well with telemarketing so as long as that tests out appropriately where our costs per acquisition of new customers is in line with what we want it to be then it makes logical sense to scale that so it’s the same reason why if you could spend $100 on adwords ads and get a 100% return on investment, then why not spend billion dollars or as much as you can. So it’s the same thing with inside sales if we can get the right cost per acquisition, and that model proves out then we will aggressively grow the inside sales team so those are the areas we see growing in a huge way.
The good news is that the development team doesn’t really need to grow and the marketing team doesn’t really need to grow that much because you build it, you build the foundation, you get the right team and it doesn’t matter if you have one hundred customers or a million customers, you’re still doing the same kinds of marketing and development.
Aidan: You mentioned a moment a go that one of the key team members is in the Philippines, where are the other team members or who you would consider the key team members based?
Steve: They’re all over the place right now which is kind of an issue but we’ve got the Philippines, we’ve got the development team who is all in Pakistan right now, we’ve got our inside sales and customer support are both here in Chicago with me which is awesome, our paid advertising gentleman is in Ireland, our branding content and PR and that kind of thing is in North Carolina so we are kind of spread out but we are hoping to change that over time.
Aidan: Given that there are already a few of you in Chicago how does that work, I mean do you guys get together, do you have a shared space, do you just work remotely and meet online, what does that look like?
Steve: So obviously for the people that are not in Chicago we just work remotely and meet online, but for the Chicago contingent I’ve an office here on Michigan Avenue and basically what I did is leased another office a couple of doors down and so the people who live here in Chicago they come and spend much of their time here in the office which is great for me because it’s nice to have some brainstorming and people you can be face to face with when you have things that you’re trying to work out.
Aidan: A moment ago you spoke about some of the costs and gave an idea for the scope of investment required to put something as sophisticated as NetBlaze together and obviously with the team that’s in place now as well there’s going to be significant monthly overheads and this is what probably any serious start up that’s really going for it is going to come up against. Up until now this has been 100% internally funded but have you considered outside funding or bringing on investors to help lighten the load or what’s your take on that?
Steve: I think it’s always a consideration and always something you should consider, we (me and you) have been lucky enough that we have other business ventures that we are basically using to fund this one, so most people don’t have that luxury so it requires outside investment. I am still going to consider outside investment for NetBlaze, we might get to the point where we’re growing at a good clip but if we could do a Super Bowl commercial we could become GoDaddy or salesforce.com, I don’t care how well we’re doing, we’re probably not going to fund a Super Bowl commercial by ourselves.
Aidan didn’t mention this but I am the CEO of this company and as the CEO of this company I am preparing to put all our ducks in a row to have a very very polished business plan and pitch desk so that if Aidan and I decide ‘hey we want to go and raise $10,000’ we don’t have to scramble. We’re going to be very well prepared for that so we’re not planning on it right now but I’m working on right now having the resources available if we choose to go out and get outside investment.
Aidan: Talk about the costs that a user would pay to be able to use NetBlaze, how much are they paying and why did you choose this price point?
Steve: It’s $97 a month and we really chose this price point based on feedback from the customers. Just years of working with these guys in a couple of different capacities to know what they’d be wanting to take a chance on because this is pretty new stuff and what their pain point was and what their fresh-hold is, most of these folks are counting every single penny and so that is based on our research that’s the right price point for these folks.
Aidan: A few moments ago we spoke about the team working behind the scenes and there’s people all over the world, how did you find and hire these people, any special recipe for doing that?
Steve: I mean for us again we’re lucky enough I think that every single person we have on the team, not all the programmers but all the other folks have been referrals in some way shape or form or people that we’ve worked with in the past. I don’t think there has been one position where we’ve put out some kind of ad to hire someone, in fact I know there hasn’t been. So really I think that’s what it boils down to and I think the other thing that it boils down to is collecting these contacts and knowing who is kind of good athletes out there.
We have a saying here out in the United States, US football, not soccer, they have a draft every year where they get (it’s a complicated process) but maybe your team needs a specialty player, maybe your team needs a quarterback but the best athlete in the draft is a wide receiver and so there’s always a battle with management to say well we really need the quarterback but he’s an OK quarterback but we’ve got this great athlete we don’t really need a wide receiver but he’s really the best athlete out there so I’m always a big believer in collecting these best athletes because I know I’m going to need them somewhere somehow later on down the line so that’s what we do over the years and just referrals and working with people on a project basis and then finally we just say ‘hey do you want to come and join us’?
Aidan: I know that as well speaking about where our team came from and stuff we certainly did some internal poaching where we took people away from other companies that were already established and that made sense so that’s obviously a big benefit for us there as well.
Do you have a set system in place that you use for team meetings, do you just get together on an informal phone call, do you use Skype, do you use something else, and how often do these types of things take place?
Steve: We use Skype or Zoom, Zoom more lately just because Skype has been acting up quite a bit. We have a weekly marketing meeting and the whole management team really gets together at least twice a month just to check in with everybody and check in with the development team but the meat of the work that’s going on right now requires a weekly meeting with the whole marketing team.
Aidan: Does NetBlaze use any special project management tools, there’s lots out there, some of them that we use now in our other businesses are things like Basecamp is one of them for example, how does NetBlaze approach that for running it’s projects and staying on top of regular operations and communication channels?
Steve: The programming team actually has a very very disciplined approach to that and I actually don’t know what their big thing they are using now. I know they use Slack and Basecamp but I’d have to go back and check and see what other tools they’re using, but they are very very disciplined with that because you’ve got the Project Manager in the Philippines and you’ve got the rest of the development team in Pakistan and they are organised around these cycles of work that they call sprints so as I said very very disciplined. So we do use Basecamp and Google docs for the most part, but I’m a big believer in if I’ve got someone who is (which I do), is running inside sales, I basically leave it up to them to say ‘OK we need a plan but I don’t much care where you put that plan’. There are pros and cons to each of those platforms, so I typically go with whoever is in charge of that plan, I’ll just let them pick what they’re most comfortable with and that sort of gets me the best results.
Aidan: Just going back to employees a little bit more, you mentioned the analogy of these super special athletes and we’ve certainly got a few of those in our team. When looking for someone to fill a specific role do you look for any special traits or characteristics that person should have, or do you just look to say ‘these guys are already 100% perfect for this job that we want to do’, or do you see someone that’s a great athlete and say they could probably do a good job at that. Any tips for people of things you’ve picked up, not just from NetBlaze but from other companies that we’ve got as well?
Steve: I think it’s a mix of strategies I really do, I’m a big believer in collecting those athletes and you’ve seen it over the years that we’ve worked together, it allows us to get lucky later on because all of a sudden we have this urgent need and and we go ‘oh well we’re lucky because we’ve got somebody we can slot into that position’. So I’m a big big believer in that.
The other thing I’m a big big believer in is entrepreneurs, we are often tempted to hire people that are like us, entrepreneurial when in fact I’ve said this before and I’m not even joking, entrepreneurs make crappy employees. We don’t really want entrepreneurs we want people who are much more detail oriented who are not as risk adverse but we’re plenty comfortable with risk, you want someone to offset that, you want somebody who is a little bit more conservative may not be the right word but somebody who is going to come in, who is going to take somebody else’s vision and is going to really make it happen, executed detail orientated that kind of thing. You want to look for somebody who is strong where you’re weak. So that’s kind of what I’ve learnt over the years.
Aidan: Right now NetBlaze is limited to the USA geographic region, just wondered if you could share why this is and whether or not you plan to take NetBlaze to other markets in the near future?
Steve: For us the US market is so big there are millions and millions of potential customers for NetBlaze within the US so it’s just a large enough market certainly to start out with and perhaps for the whole duration of NetBlaze’s existence honestly. The other thing is that from a cultural standpoint we all understand the market, we understand how to ask consumers for reviews. We sort of just understand the context of what the businesses are dealing with because all of us are here living in the US and are from the US. So I think the jury is still out on whether or not it makes sense to move NetBlaze to other countries, I think it’s an open question right now.
Aidan: Going back to marketing because that’s obviously the key to the success of any business and in most cases ends up being the roadblock or the bottleneck for most businesses. This is something we could talk about for hours and hours but what does the current NetBlaze marketing plan look like. You hit today a few things a few minutes ago there with strategic positions that we’ve got but any light you could shed on that from a 10,000 foot viewpoint?
Steve: It is the most complicated marketing plan that I’ve ever been involved in. As I’m talking to you right now I’m looking at our marketing plan. I have this big wall that is a whiteboard, the whole thing was painted with this whiteboard material so that you can write on the wall just like a whiteboard, and my whole wall is filled with essentially a picture of what is the NetBlaze marketing plan.
So obviously we can’t go into gory detail on this call about what it is, but generally what I have on the outside are traffic sources, so I’ve got paid advertising, I’ve got direct mail pieces, I’ve got organic traffic, I’ve got PR, so public relations; so press releases, interviews that kind of thing. I’ve got influencers so we’ve got bloggers, people who have tribes on Facebook or whatever. I’ve got content, so YouTube, podcasts, whitepapers, anything content that we develop. I’ve got trade shows so there are lots of trade shows around the United States where small business owners will go.
Finally I’ve got inside sales so this is people who are making phone calls to potential customers, both cold calling, so calling people who’ve never heard of us, and what we call warm calling or calling of leads that were maybe generated from a direct mail piece, or from a webinar that we’re running or from the website or whatever. So I have all of those things outside of this diagram for lack of a better word, and then there are what I consider conversion vehicles, I’ve got our website in the middle, I’ve got a tool that we have called a ‘free scan’ tool, and this is where somebody for free can basically type in their information to get a ‘temperature check’, how is your business doing online, what’s your online presence, do you have a Yelp account, what’s your ranking there, how’s your website, those kinds of things.
Then we’ve got our webinars, we run an automated webinar series which is about an hour to an hour and a half, of the state of the union of online marketing for small businesses and why you need NetBlaze essentially that’s really what it is. For each of those conversion vehicles we will drive other activities, so a quick example; is that on the ‘free scan’ tool once they’re done with it, they would get a couple of different options, they could just buy our product or maybe they want to talk to somebody so they can set up a call, so then that becomes a warm lead that goes to our inside sales for warm calling. Then obviously for each of these people sign up for we’ve got email follow-up sequences, re-targeting and so on and so forth.
So I think at a high level what the NetBlaze marketing plan looks like is all these different traffic sources on the outside, conversion vehicles on the inside of the diagram and then for each of the conversion vehicles we need to be able to have a funnel, some plan that says OK it’s great that we’ve got traffic, it’s great that this traffic is coming to one of these conversion vehicles, what do we do as they enter that conversion vehicle to make them into a sale and so that’s what we have.
Aidan: I think just a takeaway from that for everyone who’s reading or listening to this is that it’s imperative that you can track your results from whatever efforts you’re putting in and then you can if you’ve got multiple options and multiple ways to attack whatever it is you’re trying to do, you can tweak the approach and then try again. So if you track, if you tweak it and then if you try again eventually you’re going to end up with marketing strategies working for you and you’ll quickly weed out the ones that aren’t so I think that’s helpful.
I’d like to quickly discuss now some of the challenges to give people a bit more of a look behind the curtain a little bit of what they would not normally see from a business of this kind. So what would you say has been the most challenging part of bringing a project like this from idea into reality, the most challenging part of all of that?
Steve: I think there are three big challenges that come to mind, the first is just focus you know finding the time and the mental focus to be able to make the vision a reality when you’re busy running other businesses, or you’re busy with a day job or with your kids or whatever, it’s a challenge for all of us to allocate the appropriate time to invest in something like that, so that’s one big thing.
I think the other big thing is people, how do you find the right people to help you make this vision a reality, that’s not an easy task. We talked about ways to do that and everything and how we do it but it’s not easy even if you have a good process and sometimes you have some fits and starts and someone that’s not a good fit and you have to re-tool that so that’s problematic to make that work.
I think the last thing was trying to figure out the scope of what is a product that you can bring to market. It’s a very difficult decision because as you might imagine there’s a million things we want to ultimately do with NetBlaze, so one great example of that is that I mentioned hey it’s raining in your local area so you want to send out a a promo. I’d like to get to the point where you don’t even have to think of that, NetBlaze knows you’re in Chicago, your business is in Chicago, NetBlaze knows you’re a restaurant, NetBlaze knows it’s raining in Chicago tonight, all of those things are reasonable for NetBlaze to to know. NetBlaze should just email you and say ‘hey Joe, it’s going to rain tonight, you should run a 20% off on appetizers special, do you want me to do that for you’? Just click yes and it will do it.
But do you need that to go to market? We chose no, but it’s very difficult to figure out the scope of the product that’s good enough to actually start to market. So I would say those are probably the three biggest challenges we’ve run into.
Aidan: Just a few other quick fire questions for you here, as CEO of NetBlaze what would you say is perhaps the toughest decision that you’ve had to make in the past few months?
Steve: I think two prioritizations; one is what functionality to add when, what is the prioritization and what is the functionality, and then the other is; the prioritization on the traffic sources, paid ads, direct mail, inside sales, content, trade shows, influencers, PR, which ones get the most attention now, I think those are two of the big ones.
Aidan: Next question for you here is what would you say has been the biggest NetBlaze business challenge over the past 30 days or so?
Steve: Probably PayPal, we sold our first customer and then PayPal just shut us down, it’s ridiculous because we had people accessing us from Pakistan, who knows why they’re a pain in the ass so that’s probably was the biggest challenge.
Aidan: Guys if you are reading this or listening to this, these are challenges that everyone faces, we’re definitely not immune to them, I think the key is the way you deal with them, so getting an issue with a PayPal account, that’s easily overcome by just having a new payment gateway but some people tend to get hung up on those kind of things because it’s a real kick in the stomach when you’re just trying to get things off the ground with a new business but the key is how you deal with it and how you move forward with that. So anyway if you’ve had those kinds of things happen you’re definitely not alone and they happen to all kinds of different businesses of all kinds of different sizes and scales.
One other question here for you Steve, if you had to start over and build another software as a service business, is there anything that you would do differently, I’m sure there are hundreds or thousands of things, but any major thing you’d say if I had to do this again I would definitely do that differently?
Steve: I think it’s just we constantly underestimate the focus that’s required in order to bring something to market. I think one of the reasons why it took us two years instead of one year is we kept feeling like well we could describe it at a high level, I could really describe it at a high level to someone who could take that vision and run with it and you really can’t do that. If you’re the visionary, if you’re the person who has the product in your head, if you’re the one that is really passionate about this, you need to put everything else as a secondary priority and make sure that every single day you are driving that focus into the product that’s being developed and that has to come first. It was only when we did that, when Aidan and I decided as a team that I could do that, that’s when we were finally able to bring it to market.
Aidan: To wrap things up here a couple of last minute housekeeping things, are there any open positions now or positions that are going to be opening in the near future that you can think of and if so if someone is reading this or listening to it, and they think they’d love to get involved in a start up company like NetBlaze, how is the best way for them to reach out, let us know and essentially apply for the job?
Steve: The areas that we feel we are going to be expanding are going to be customer service, and also inside sales, so those are really the two areas, so people who have experience with customer support or with calling out to potential customers and closing business on the phone, those are people that we would be thrilled to hear from. As far as how to contact us, you can contact us here on the blog or go to NetBlaze.com. What I’ll do is create a NetBlaze address for these kind of inquiries and we’ll put that on the blog.
Aidan: If someone is reading this blog post or listening to this and they think they could use NetBlaze to help a local business that perhaps they work in or perhaps they own themselves, how do they go about maybe getting more information and creating an account?
Steve: That’s easy all you have to do is go to NetBlaze.com, it should be pretty clear on there, there should be a big button there that says ‘try it for free’ you can even try it for free today so give it a go.
Aidan: Just a reminder we wanted to have some fun with this whole content piece today as well so if you are someone that’s got a local business and you think that NetBlaze is something that could work really well for you then put your details on the form on this page, it will probably be on a couple of places on this page and you will go in the draw to win $500 cash but an even bigger deal than that there’s a lifetime account of NetBlaze which you can’t even purchase so go-ahead if you think that you fit the criteria for that and we’d love to put you in the draw and see if we can set you up with a lifetime account and $500 cash just for good measure.
With that said Steve, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day today, I think it’s going to be quite insightful for people to have a look behind the scenes of what one of these start-ups looks like and what goes into it certainly for small business owners, I think it’s going to be useful for them to find out that things like this actually exist out there, well at least NetBlaze does anyway so thanks so much for your time.
Steve: My pleasure.
Aidan: Alright guys, well leave a comment below if you’ve got one, or a question, and you know how to reach out to us if you need anything.
Thank you so much for listening and we’ll chat again soon, bye for now.
Update 10th September 2018 – WINNER ANNOUNCED
The winner of the $500 cash and lifetime access to NetBlaze is Richard Robinson, Richard, we are getting in touch
So there you have it! We’d love to hear your thoughts and take any questions, so leave a comment below.
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