I signed up for ReTargeter a few weeks ago after meeting their founder, Arjun Dev Arora, through a few mutual startup friends. They send me a weekly report that shows the number of conversions I get each week and, frankly, it’s a non-zero number. ReTargeter helps me focus my marketing dollars on traffic that has already been to my site and, since MailFinch is a relatively niche site, the majority of my traffic is people that are interested in mailing something. Read: ReTargeter has already paid for itself with MailFinch.
What is ReTargeter?
ReTargeter is an online advertising platform that allows companies to effectively solve one of their biggest problems: staying in front of their users after they’ve expressed interest. We place a few lines of code on a particular site and then show ads to people after they leave that site. [Ed. note: The cool part is that they show your ad on thousands of other sites — my friends send me screenshots, almost daily, of MailFinch being shown on Digg, Gmail, Yahoo and lots of other places.] So the use case is someone visits Nike.com (who happens to be one of our clients). They then go to Yahoo two days later and see an ad for Nike. Five days later they’re on Facebook, they see an ad for Nike. And so on and so forth. We do it in a manner that’s subtle yet is effective.
So that’s what Retargeter does, we’ve got a host of clients ranging from politicians to B-to-B companies to folks who sell stickers and rock bands as well.
How did you get started?
I was previously the Head of Business Development for Yahoo Real Estate so I spent some time in and around the internet space, particularly being at a place like Yahoo afforded me with a lot of opportunities to meet great people. I got in touch with some great angel investors post-Yahoo and started ReTargeter with their funding. They sit on the board as well, so great group of people.
Initially, I spent a lot of time developing the partnerships needed to access all the ad inventory that we now have. Then we spent time on integrating open source technology to do a lot of the back-end stuff. We’ve since graduated to a more sophisticated system that we’ll talk about later. Basically,** I got the basic pieces together and then hit the web, hit the phones and got out and started building the company**.
What tools do you use on a daily basis?
We’re almost entirely in the cloud. I use an iPhone which is perfect because a lot of our web apps actually have native applications. I have a couple of laptops, a desk phone and we use Google Apps for email and documents. For our CRM, we use Pipeline Deals and it’s great, easy to get setup and completely in the cloud. I’ve played around with Basecamp in the past but we mainly stick to email and Google Docs to handle project management. We use Twitter pretty aggressively and CoTweet is our tool on that end. Internally, we use Yammer — it’s really, really helpful for team communication. Everyone uses Tungle to setup meetings with prospect, clients and everyone else in-between.
Can you tell us a little about your back-office infrastructure?
We’re a subscription based company and everything is month-to-month so we use Recurly to handle our credit card transactions. Prior to that, we used Authorize.net to deal with this manually and, frankly, it was difficult. Recurly gives us a user dashboard, an easy way to change subscriptions and makes our lives a bit easier.
In terms of fulfillment, most everything is done manually via email. We really value our account managers to form a relationship with the client and they currently handle the process of collecting the client’s ads, updating them with weekly stats and sending the client the code for their site. We will likely move to a web-based solution where clients can FTP in and manage part of their account online.
We don’t do a lot of manual invoicing, but we use Less Accounting in the rare case that an invoice is needed. We use some proprietary stuff on the back-end to help us manage the host of ad-network and ad-exchange relationships that allow us to traffic the ads across the web. We also use MobileStorm, Flowtown and Kiss Metrics.
What steps need to happen between a new customer signing up and them going live?
This is a cool one. We do a lot of outbound stuff to bring people to our site. Email marketing, blog posts across the web, outbound sales, Facebook advertising, Google advertising, LinkedIn or Twitter — when someone gets to our site, it’s usually because they saw us somewhere and they’re interested in us. They’ll fill out a lead form and then we’ll reach out to have a conversation about their specific needs. Once we get this far, the customer will start creating their ads and sign-up online through Recurly.
At this point, the client will send us the banner ads for their campaign and we’ll send them the code that they’ll need to install on their site. Once they’ve completed the code install and we’ve uploaded the banners into our system, we’ll launch the campaign. At that point, we’ll check the customer off in our CRM system, track them in Recurly to make sure everything is legit with their credit card and then get them into our customer tracking system with is a combination of Highrise and Google Docs actually. So, that’s the flow — once they’re up and running, their account manager will keep a constant line of communication open via email.
What were some of the biggest mistakes you made in growing your business?
One thing that we didn’t really think about was how to scale the business. We’ve started to do more of this but we’ll probably need to devote even more time to figuring this out. Initially, we were just making phone calls and sending a few emails. Then we got a little more sophisticated and started sending small email blasts, writing on blogs and buying Adwords here and there. We should have been thinking about this from Day 1 — how do we build a massive company that scales.
We tried to hire slow and focused on bringing the right people in but maybe we were a little too cautious. We could have been more aggressive about bringing on folks early — lots of factors at play there but bringing them on early would have been helpful.
If someone were to start a business similar to yours what advice would you give them?
First, find all the back-end tools as soon as you can. Focus on what you’re passionate about — whether that’s building a product, focusing on sales, marketing, business development. There are an incredible amount of tools out there that deal with some of the bullshit you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and let you focus on building the product, building customer relationships and grow revenue.
Second, never underestimate the power of truly having a strong network. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing people are out there. Just willing to help and really make the right relationships and even introduce you to potential clients. For us that’s been a key factor and we’re very thankful and always hope that we can give back as much or more than people have given to us.
Finally, it’s something that I’m sure everyone hears often, but it’s all about the people and the team and hiring the right folks and building out the right culture.
What else should we know about you?
I’m just incredibly passionate about what I do and helping people really understand the power of the internet. I want to help people get the amazing things that the web affords for businesses and otherwise.
Secondly, I’m passionate about helping people and meeting interesting people doing interesting things and thinking about big ideas. Those are things that I really care about.
Lastly, I love to hustle. Nothing is built without really putting in the time and effort — really putting yourself out there, quitting your day job and going for it. That’s something that I’m very passionate about and entrepreneurship in general.
Thanks again I really appreciate the opportunity to do this. I hope this was helpful.
If you ever get a chance to speak to Arjun, do it. He knows exactly what he’s doing and, better yet, isn’t trying to keep all that good stuff to himself. A couple of thoughts:
- I love how scrappy he is. He cobbled together a few free tools and then started working the phones — this is huge. (Reminder: revenue solves everything.)
- His signup process is a little rough and he knows it. (When I first signed up, I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have gone through the process if I hadn’t talked to him personally.) If he’s able to build a successful business while the signup process is shitty, just imagine how much better this is going to get when he can grease the wheels.
- For businesses at this stage (and with similar “service” models), I like to keep a close eye on four numbers: MRR (monthly recurring revenue), Churn (as a % of MRR), COA (cost of acquisition) and LTV (lifetime value). Whether they look for more funding or organically grow this thing, these four will tell you most of what you need to know.
- If I were in his shoes, I’d start focusing on the account management piece ASAP. It’s easy for back-office costs to skyrocket when you’ve got account managers and their overhead in place. Start thinking about the ratio of account managers to paying customers — focus your efforts on increasing this ratio without decreasing the quality of service (if churn goes up, you’re probably not delivering the service you promised and/or your account manager isn’t cultivating a good relationship). Better tools and/or processes are key.