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December 12 2013

Shopify Raises $100 Million to Tackle Offline Commerce

Shopify, an ecommerce platform that helps small merchants set up stores online, announced Thursday that it has raised $100 million in a Series C round of funding to expand into the world of offline retail

Seven years after launching, Shopify now serves as a platform for 80,000 active online stores, which collectively have processed more than $1.5 billion in payments in the year to date. Revenues and customers have doubled year-over-year for the past four years, according to the company. But it's another statistic that is driving the company's direction now: Shopify has found that 30% of its merchants sell items offline as well through pop-up shops, farmers markets and other options. Read more...

More about Startups, Ecommerce, Shopify, and Business

December 27 2011

5 Tools for a Big League Website on a Budget

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

There’s an unpleasant moment that occurs for entrepreneurs more often than it should. Someone asks for your business card, and you hand it over. They say, “Great, I’ll check out your site!” You say, “Excellent, but ignore the ‘Shop’ section — it’s out of date. And, oh yeah, the email newsletter link isn’t working, but I can add you manually to the list if you want. And … well the design is a little embarrassing …”

By this point, the person who was excited about your product just moments ago has finished the drink they were sipping and is looking for a polite way to exit the conversation — immediately.

It used to be the case that developing a robust web presence for your company was expensive and therefore often inaccessible to newer companies or those without large ecommerce or digital marketing budgets. Today, thanks to the ingenuity of fellow entrepreneurs, this is no longer the case. “You can operate at the same scalability and efficiency of a large company,” says Harley Finkelstein, chief platform officer of Shopify. “You may not know any angel investors — today it doesn’t really matter.”

Here are some of the tools that you can use to make your business seem as if you have a giant team — and bank account — behind your company’s online presence.

1. ReTargeter

Traditionally, running ad campaigns on large news sites in order to reach millions of potentially qualified leads is cost-prohibitive for anyone without a multimillion-dollar (or at least a many thousand-dollar) advertising budget. But what if you could narrow down the audience so that you were just reaching people who had actually expressed some kind of interest in your product?

ReTargeter allows you to do just that. By adding a simple snippet of code to whatever pages of your site you’d like to track (a similar process to implementing Google Analytics), ReTargeter’s system allows you to purchase advertising that shows up repeatedly for those people who have visited the aforementioned site pages. Voila — you look like a company that has the budget to wallpaper nytimes.com.

Furthermore, ReTargeter’s reach extends beyond the outlets that some small business owners might be accustomed to. “If they’re spending that sort of money on display, the real goal is to have access to more inventory than just the Google network,” says founder Arjun Dev Arora. “We’ve gone out and partnered with Glam, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and more.”

2. Shopify

Once upon a time, a few big players had a lock on the ecommerce market. If you wanted to sell your wares online, you had to play by whatever rules eBay or Etsy set. It’s obvious that today, any potential online store owner can buy a domain name. But, then what’s next?

Shopify was designed to answer that question. Their technology makes it easy to create a totally customized, extremely professional-looking storefront with little technical effort, thanks in large part to its database of pre-designed templates. Shopify also takes care of the back-end, providing analytics, the ability to create special promotions, and tools to accept payments and track your orders.

Finkelstein names iPad cover designer DODOcase as a business that’s leveraged Shopify’s resources well to make the company appear as if it’s created a much larger footprint than it actually has — and that illusion has helped the company grow its bottom line. “Today it’s a multimillion dollar business — and they still don’t have an office,” he says.

3. SinglePlatform

Restaurant owners are usually busy with their main objective — you know, making sure food gets to the table in a timely and delicious manner. But ignoring website upkeep and presence across social media channels is missing an opportunity to connect with and market to customers.

SinglePlatform allows business owners to upload offers, menus and photos to one, well, single platform, and they do the rest, populating the content across social media channels and the company’s own website. Though the company began by serving the restaurant community, it’s now expanded the offerings to all types of businesses — spas, daycare centers and even sky diving companies. With a few minutes of work a week, you end up looking like you have a dedicated web and social media staff.

4. Unbounce

Want to create a special offer for the holidays to run on your site? What about five different special offers, depending on where your users are coming from? This could be a nightmare for whatever graphic design resources you have on staff, but Unbounce allows you to create various pages without tapping into your tech team — it’s a system they say is just as easy to use as PowerPoint.

5. Grasshopper Group & Twilio

No matter how big your staff is, it’s simply impossible to always be manning the phones. The last thing you want to do, though, is miss a call that could have turned into a sale. Grasshopper Group enables you to create a professional phone system without the cost or hassle of an enterprise level solution. Add extensions, pre-recorded greetings and (an often necessary evil) hold music. When you do need to miss a call, you can receive your voicemails transcribed as emails for easier processing and forwarding around to stakeholders.

If you’d like to incorporate text messages — say, notifying a customer of a purchase they just made over the phone — Twilio is an incredibly robust tool for this very function. The API also allows for innovative integrations and customizations should your business need them.

Do you have any can’t-miss tools for making your website more thoughtful and robust? Let us know in the comments below.

More About: ecommerce, features, mashable, newsletters, open forum, shopify, website

July 08 2011

11 Startups That Found Success By Changing Direction

Nicholas Thomas is the Director of Business Development at Docudesk Corporation and is passionate about user experience, design, and innovation. You can follow him on Twitter @nicholaswthomas and read his blog at NicholasWayneThomas.com.

Although some discount “The Pivot” as an overused buzzword, for a startup, pivoting can mean the difference between becoming the next success story and joining the deadpool. The principles behind the pivot apply to any industry. With lean resources, fickle users and quickly changing markets, startups have the most to gain from pivoting, and the most to lose from missed opportunities.

The reasons for changing course are often varied, and there are many factors to take into consideration when making the decision. Some companies have discovered that their products need to be significantly tweaked — or even scrapped all together. Others found that they had the right products, but have marketed to the wrong audience. For some, the only thing they had right was their team.

There may be some valid criticism in the over-usage of the term. Some of what can be identified as pivoting may just be the natural evolution of the company. The technique is not new though, and many established companies look significantly different now than in their early days.

Fortunately for today’s startups, pre-existing companies provide examples of successful adaptation.

1. Yelp

When most people need recommendations for a good doctor or a good movie rental, they ask their friends. Jeremy Stoppelman started a company and asked millions.

Along with cofounder Russel Simmons, the company began in 2004 as an automated system for emailing recommendation requests to friends. Although the duo received $1 million in funding from PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, the idea fell flat with their audience.

However, users did viewed the system in a way they hadn’t expected: by writing reviews on local businesses just for fun. They decided to change course, capitalizing on the new “blue ocean strategy” of online reviews for local businesses. The original “Friendster Yellow Pages” now sees over 50 million users a month, with 17 million reviews online.

2. YouTube

Lean startup wisdom says to start small and focus on niche markets. But when you have a great team in place though, focusing on the bigger picture can be worthwhile.

Founded in 2005, YouTube began as a video dating site called "Tune In Hook Up," similar to HotOrNot.com. When the site failed to gain traction, the founders scrapped the idea, and instead focused on simply sharing videos online.

Acquired by Google for around $1.65 billion in stock, YouTube users now upload over 35 hours of video per minute.

3. PayPal

Arising from the merger between two companies specializing in financial services (X) and cryptography (Confinity), PayPal originated as a way to exchange money via Palm Pilots. Peter Thiel is credited with seeing the potential to solve a much larger problem - an easy way to transfer money online.

After securing a relationship with eBay, PayPal was soon handling over 40% of eBay transactions before being acquired by the company in 2002 for $1.5 billion. PayPal now has over 100 million active accounts, and is again bullish on the mobile strategy, expecting to process over $3 billion in mobile payments in 2011.

4. Woot

A successful pivot can begin as a simple means to an end, or as a solution to a purely internal problem.

Woot.com began in 2004 as a way for Matt Ruttledge’s 12-year-old wholesale electronics distributor to clear out unsold inventory. The result was a new model for online shopping that combined bargain hunting with scarcity and urgency, all while maintaining a sense of humor that would become a company trademark.

After establishing the framework for daily deals sites and expanding their offering, Woot was acquired by Amazon in 2010 for $110 million.

5. Flickr

A great example of a feature becoming its own product, Flickr’s roots lie in the development of an online role-playing game from gaming startup Ludicorp.

Recognizing they had developed a solution to a much larger problem, Caterina Fake and husband Stewart Butterfield decided to scrap development of the game, and focus instead on the larger potential of simplifying photo sharing on the web.

Ludicorp never actually published a game, and Flickr was purchased by Yahoo! in 2005 for an undisclosed sum.

6. Groupon

Sometimes the idea can be completely right, but the target market completely wrong.

Founded in 2006, The Point began as a platform for mobilizing groups of people towards action for various causes. Groupon was initially just one subset of another site, (even launching at groupon.thepoint.com).

The group buying aspect struck a nerve with users much more so than the social and political concept the platform. As founder Andrew Mason put it, “The Point should have been the book, and Groupon should have been the company.”

7. Shopify

Shopify is another example of a company born from solving an internal problem, but recognizing a bigger need.

In 2004, Tobias Lütke and Scott Lake needed an online shopping cart for their new snowboard business. When they found no suitable choices available, Lütke decided to write his own, and make his solution available to other small companies running into the same issue.

Shopify now hosts over 10,000 stores and is processing over $100 million in revenues.

8. Twitter

Outside pressure can go a long way in sparking truly paradigm-shifting innovation.

In 2006, podcasting startup Odeo was quickly made irrelevant after the release of iTunes and other competition. Seeing the writing on the wall, Twitter began as a side project originating from “hackathons” to identify viable new opportunities.

Twitter now has over 200 million users, with secondary market trading placing the company’s valuation around $7 billion.

9. Ignighter

Allowing your users to influence the nature of your offering can be rewarding.

Launched in 2008 as a dating site for groups, Ignighter grew modestly in the U.S., adding 50,000 users in its first year. The idea of a dating site for groups rather than individuals caught fire in India though, where the site began adding as many users in one week as they had previously added in an entire year.

In 2010, cofounder Adam Sachs made the company’s pivot official, stating, "We are an Indian dating site."

10. Intagram

At nine months old with 1.25 million users for every employee, Instagram proves that the team can sometimes be more important than the product itself.

Founder Kevin Systrom started Burbn to learn programming outside of his marketing day job, aiming to blend elements of Foursquare and Mafia Wars in a mobile HTML5 app.

After receiving funding from Baseline Ventures and Andreesen Horowitz, Systrom added cofounder Mike Krieger to the project. The duo decided to take a mobile-first strategy by scrapping the original code for a native iPhone app. The resulting feature-rich app felt cluttered, inspiring the team to remove everything except the most important features and rename the app to reflect the new use case: Instagram.

11. Turntable.fm

Although no more divergent than Twitter was to its inception at Odeo, Turntable.fm’s origin is at least equally disparate, and for the time being at least, much more mysterious.

Born out of the mobile bar code-scanning startup Stickybits, the buzz and exclusivity surrounding Turntable.fm has quickly overshadowed its parent.

What makes this pivot intriguing is not just the divergent nature of the products, or of the established players Turntable.fm is challenging, but is their team’s reluctance to talk to the press about it.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Liquidphoto

More About: business, flickr, groupon, Ignighter, instagram, List, Lists, paypal, shopify, startups, turntable.fm, twitter, woot, yelp, youtube

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July 03 2011

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