Online marketing is a necessity for all businesses. Big companies like Lululemon realize its importance and allocate major budgets to hire 5-10 people to take care of social media alone! A huge chunk of small business’s are under 5 employees TOTAL – as you can see, it’s not as easy for them to cover this field. With limited resources and people, you hire for the crucial things that a company needs to stay alive. Since online marketing doesn’t quite make the cut, it’s tough to justify hiring someone for it over something like Sales or Finance. The last feature of the year focuses on filling the void and making it dead easy for a small business to market online. Meet Spokal.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and how it got started.
Spokal automates online marketing for businesses with less than five employees. Spokal gives them guidance and tools they need to market themselves online in as little as 2 hours a week.
We believe that small businesses that are good at what they do shouldn’t also have to be online marketing experts to succeed. So we’re leveling the playing field for small businesses by automating the online marketing process and making it fun and effective for small business owners.
Our CEO and Co-founder Chris worked for fortune 500 companies for 10 years automating manual processes with technology, but grew tired of the corporate life and traded in his briefcase for a backpack and travelled the world for 2 years. He landed in Vancouver, and after a much needed break, was ready to sink his teeth into something again.
Having grown up with a familiar that runs small businesses, he wanted to go back to his roots. He was interested in buying a local website design shop that focused on helping small businesses, and that’s when he discovered how hard it was for small businesses to market themselves online. He knew there were tools like Hubspot and Pardot for bigger guys, but at the time there wasn’t anything for him to offer potential clients – he know how many resources the big guys have, and realized it was unfair that small business owners couldn’t compete because they don’t have access to the same resources.
So, given his strong technical background and knowledge of the online space, he thought of building a solution. As Chris explored the idea, he realized that this would allow him to help small businesses on a larger scale than he could with a single design shop, and that’s what when Spokal was born.
2. What makes you unique from other SEO and online marketing tools for small businesses?
There are a lot of great solutions online for small businesses. However, the majority of them focus on one aspect of the online marketing process. After chatting with small businesses, we realized they didn’t want “one more tool to do one more thing really well.” The online world is already too confusing – they wanted one place where they could do everything they needed to do to market their business online to get more customers, including the guidance to figure out what they needed to do.
That’s our vision for Spokal. We want to be a complete step-by-step solution for businesses with less than five employees to market themselves online. We’re focused on helping businesses attract potential customers and convert them into clients over time.
Even more importantly, we’re exclusively focused on microbusinesses – which are businesses with less than five employees. Why? Because we believe that it’s not fair that bigger businesses have the resources to hire more people and get more done. Our focus allows us to customize Spokal for these businesses. Everything from the language we use to the steps with walk a business through is dependent on their size – our goal is to make it fun and effective for them to market themselves online.
Small businesses don’t have a lot of time, and it’s too hard to keep up with the online trends. So instead of learning what the online marketing data means, Spokal interprets it into action items. The coolest part about what we’re doing with Spokal is that Spokal will learn what works for each business over time, and provide personalized recommendations and feedback based on the results that business is achieving. Our vision is to make sure that when someone uses Spokal, we maximize their time and effort to get customers online, so they can focus on what they do best – their business.
3. Your team underwent a recent rebranding, can you speak to what you might do differently now than before and also, what’s 2013 looking like for Spokal?
The new branding was a simple decision – people loved the concept and what we were doing, but no one was in love with the name. Plus, after trying to pronounce “netlek” in a room full of people and getting a lot of funny looks (it sounds like something that’s not PG), we realized we had to change our name.
2013 is a really exciting year for Spokal. We’ve been operating in a closed beta since the fall 2012 with some small businesses to understand what they like and what we needed to improve. Their feedback has been invaluable. We’ve made a lot of improvements, and will continue to do so over the next year. We’re now at a point where we’re ready to open the doors and give more businesses the chance to use Spokal.
As of January 2013, we’re opening the doors and allowing small businesses with less than five employees to sign up online and start using Spokal. We can’t tell you how excited and nervous we are to see Spokal come to life and start to have a real impact on businesses – it’s one of the most rewarding things about what we do.
4. What kind of challenges has your team had to face and how have you mitigated them?
There are an endless set of challenges we face on a daily basis. The biggest thing we’re learning as a team is how to make the best use of our time – there are only 24 hours a day, no matter how well you use them – and although burning the midnight oil is good sometimes, if you burn the candle at both ends too often you become less creative and less productive.
BC has the highest number of small businesses in Canada – 98% of companies here are small businesses in compared to 95% Canada wide. After farmers, small business owners are the most respected people among Canadians.
Yet, it’s really hard for small businesses to succeed – many state their biggest challenge is finding customers. While there’s a huge opportunity to solve this problem with online marketing, getting customers online is too hard because the landscape changes too fast for the average microbusiness to keep up.
This is unfair. We believe that people that are good at what they do should be able to succeed without being online marketing experts, so we built Spokal. Most small businesses owners we know love to talk about their business – Spokal now gives them the ability to do this and build personal relationships with people at a scale that can support their business and make it financially sustainable. It gives business owners the chance to focus on what they’re really good at, and continue to be experts in that field. And it gives everyone in Vancouver the chance to work with businesses that are run by experts who are focused on doing what they do best.
There’s a huge trend in 2013 and beyond for corporations to be more human because as a whole, we’re tired of dealing with faceless corporations. But even though big businesses are becoming more human, the best part about small businesses, and their biggest asset, is that they are human!
We’re moving back to the days when you want to know who you work with, and who works with you. The concept of “shake hands with the person who makes your food” is diffusing to all aspects of live. And Spokal is helping that trend, primarily in North America, and eventually around the world. Because at the end of the day, we believe in people and giving everyone the chance to make a living doing what they’re really good at.
6. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Stay focused. There’s a lot of exciting “opportunities” that present themselves on a daily basis, and the hard job is to understand which ones will help you realize your vision faster, and which ones will take you off course. I used to think this was easy.
Now I realize that’s not the case. When you’re an entrepreneur, you see opportunity in many things. Dismissing the obvious “non-opportunities” is easy, but it becomes difficult when something ‘could work.’
The key to remember, or what is helping us, is to realize that sometimes you need to let go of a good idea/feature/partnerships to achieve a great one.
*End of interview*
The Spokal team is zoning in on a big opportunity that has been overlooked by a lot of major companies. They have a super motivated and exuberant team that always makes a splash wherever they go. One of their past team members is even a Vancity Buzz writer! Remember the guy spreading all those Luongo rumours? Keep your eyes peeled for Spokal as they have big plans for 2013 – some of them might involve a date with David Chilton and the rest of the dragons.
Stay in touch @pauldavidescu
*Vancity Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs or startups that are making Vancouver a better place. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send firstname.lastname@example.org an email explaining why*