The social web is a great forum for finding information instantly. It's funny how so many businesses don't harness it, or how many business owners don't know how to do harness it. A conversation I had last night reminded me of how necessary it is to solve this problem.
A friend of mine is moving houses, so I asked if anyone knew any moving companies in the Bay Area. Someone on Twitter suggested that her father's company would be a good choice for getting the job done. She said that he is very old school, though, and "not on the web, like he should be." She sent me a link to Yelp and said, "This is the Yelp page I made for him."
I told her that there is a company out there that makes web sites immediately for restaurants that are not on the web and that maybe that would be a good market for this app to get into. Imagine not having to make a Yelp page for your father. Instead, he just signs up for an app that makes his web site for him using the cloud and beautiful design. She asked what that app was called. I told her it was called Appetas, and the idea behind it is brilliant. There are millions of small restaurants out there who don't even have a YELP page. And they need to be able to compete with consumers like me who are on the go, using a mobile phone and looking to select something for dinner each night.
With Appetas, any restaurant owner can instantly create a beautiful web site and be on the web, visible, and searchable, for any hungry patron to find. We sat down with the founder and CEO of Appetas, Keller Smith, and this is what he told us about his solution after his Demo Day for the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure, powered by TechStars.
Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
We don’t spend a lot of time making guesses about revenue. As Brad Feld said, the only think you know about your startup’s revenue predictions is that they’ll be wrong. Early stage companies generally don’t know what model will work the best, and stepping on the gas too early can drive the bus into a ditch.
We focus our efforts on rapid, data-driven experiments to validate potential business models before investing a lot of time and money. We’re a SAAS business targeting SMB customers so we concentrate on acquiring customers in scalable repeatable ways. Data driven experimentation allows us to try out many approaches, get data on what’s working, and iterate. There’s plenty to learn from established business, but we’ve realized that every business will have its own path to success. The quicker we can iterate our business, the sooner we’ll get to a point where it makes sense to step on the gas.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
We’re firm believers that highly effective marketing and sales efforts come from collaboration with the product development team. Technical team members bring creative and scientific thinking to building a business. We’ve found this can lead to lots of benefits such as…
- Data-driven decisions with tools like Mixpanel or KISSmetrics,
- Qualified lead acquisition through automated methods,
- Personalized marketing for individual customers through generating a customized chart or preview of the product/service,
- Higher conversions by improving usability and visual design,
- Greater retention and satisfaction with drip campaigns based on individual customer usage.
All of these methods require marketing and sales to work together with product development. Achieving the best possible success for the business is a team effort!
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
At Appetas, we strive to make marketing a business online achievable by anyone with 5 minutes a day. We focus on restaurants because the explosion of consumer services has made it impossible for them to keep up. Restaurants care dearly about how they’re represented online, but they’re overwhelmed – they’re busy running a restaurant! Our vision is get a restaurant online in all of these forums automatically and empower them to reach their customers everywhere through a single channel.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
My co-founder and I are entrepreneurs because we’re inspired by changing the world in a direct and tangible way. Our motivation come from creating a business and product that impacts and inspires people and becomes something they want to use every day.
We want Appetas to be a place of unconventional thinkers where anyone with creativity and an ability to execute can thrive. A startup’s biggest advantage is the ability to “do more faster” than the other guys, and that’s core to our company culture.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
Microsoft has helped us phenomenally through the guidance of the Microsoft Azure Accelerator. The three month program of intensive mentorship brought us from a “cool product” to a real business. We easily got 18 months of value out of the 3 month program. Of course, both co-founders cut our teeth at Microsoft, and we got invaluable professional skills and experience from our years in Office and SkyDrive.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
Microsoft can be an invaluable resource to entrepreneurs in many ways. The Bizspark program gets you going for free with all the software you need. Azure is an excellent platform to scale a cloud service, and the team is keenly focused on helping startups succeed. Finally, the Microsoft Accelerator program provides the signage to the startup freeway so you can step the gas.
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
Appetas helps restaurant owners get everything they need online in seconds, starting with their website. Our app can generate a website for any restaurant in the world in seconds, making building a website a snap for restaurant owners. Our application is powered by Django, PostgreSQL, and blob storage.
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
Our service is built on Django and Azure's Django/Python support has been fantastic. Using the Python Azure API, Azure provided an easy way to serve our customers' content on a rock solid platform.
How did you get excited about Azure?
We compared Azure with the other cloud services available and were impressed with the great support, documentation, and ease of setting up new services.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Azure gave us cross-platform support, data redundancy and backups, and an attractive pricing model compared to its competitors.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Use what you already know and build your solution on a platform that lets you get out the door as quickly as possible. This lets you test your assumptions quickly and either validate your business model or pivot.
Keller Smith speaking at the Microsoft Accelerator demo day.