Keep it simple, keep it lean, get those first customers.
That was the advice from Paul Cooling, CEO of ubecha.com (@ubecha). He was speaking at “Entrepreneurs Anonymous,” a group of early-stage business people looking to network or glean advice from others who have been through the wringer.
The meetings were organized following the intensive Phase I Endeavour Programme (@endeavourbiz) earlier this year. Organizer, Brian Geraghty, CEO of MyMedicCentre.com, said they were an opportunity for entrepreneurs to seek advice, share tips or solve problems.
Last night’s talk was convivial and freewheeling, and presented an ease of access lacking in similar talks in larger venues.
“You’ve got to keep it as lean as you possibly can,” Cooling told the group. When he started Ubecha.com, a skills-based, fantasy sport site, he worked without pay for six months, hired interns and hired a COO who also worked for no pay in return for equity.
Asked about hiring interns for nothing, Cooling said they were recent graduates with no experience and no jobs. Now they are being paid, they have work experience and a career path.
Cooling’s project graduated to Endeavour’s Phase II last year, and he was paired with mentor Pat McDonagh, former CEO of Riverdeep, who advised, “You don’t need money. What you need to do is get traction.”
With that advice, Cooling set about building the most simple and effective website he could. However, it was built to be scalable. Offering soccer only for now, he said, “To turn on rugby is only two weeks work.” He also told the group to include “intuitive, easy-to-use apps” as part of their efforts. Gambling website, Paddy Power, now sees half its traffic come from phones, Cooling said.
Ubecha.com also gave some of its initial customers the product for free and worked hard to win co-branding arrangements with media outlets, The Irish Star newspaper and Setanta Sports television. However, recognizing your market and capturing it are different. “Getting to your consumer could be a long, hard slog and could be very, very expensive,” Cooling said, but, “If you’ve got a product, you’ve got to get it in front of people.”
Once the site is up and running, Cooling emphasized the importance of understanding the site visitors’ behavior. Different ads on Google and Facebook lead to different landing pages on his site. In one campaign, a whole range of football boots with different color schemes were used to attract users to the site. The 90% that didn’t work were dropped and the campaign continued. “It’s anal stuff, but that’s the detail you need to get in to,” Cooling said.
Regarding online advertising, he advised simple, clear messaging with one call to action. Conversion rates will be low, but measurable. From that, the cost of acquiring customers will be calculated. If you embark on an ad campaign on Google or Facebook without knowing it, “they’ll gladly spend your money,” Cooling said.
Paul Cooling was speaking at the first Entrepreneurs Anonymous meeting. It meets on the last Tuesday of every month in Farrington’s in Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Attendance is free and open to anyone interested in starting a business or networking.