What is your startup and what does it do?
ORBTR builds intuitive sales and marketing software that allows IT/Technology firms to capture and nurture more leads with minimal effort, and improve efficiency by unifying online and offline sales processes.
At whom is your startup aimed?
We serve primarily small to mid-size technology firms who sell business to business.
How does your startup stand out against its competitors?
It doesn’t matter how “high-tech” a company or its employees or managers are — when smaller companies need to select the right sales and marketing tools they need solutions that, one, they can afford, two, they can implement easily, and three, allow them to quickly train their staff on. A six to nine month implementation period is completely unacceptable for the IT and tech firms we serve, and so we make software that is truly the right size, scope, and price, for these types of businesses.
Where did the idea for the startup come from?
In 2006, I left my corporate job and started a small online marketing agency. Coming from a $100 million company, I didn’t realize how strapped smaller organizations really were, and how difficult it was for them to execute on meaningful digital marketing with the tools available on the market.
Fast forward four or five years and things had come a long way — we had WordPress as a viable small business content management platform, we had more evolved small business tools like MailChimp for email, Hootsuite for social media and true small business CRM platforms, but nobody was tying everything together. Sales and marketing automation had taken off big time within the enterprise sector but no one had a true small business solution. So I started helping my clients develop sales and marketing efficiencies within the tools that were available to them and in January of 2012, I gave a talk at a WordCamp about marketing automation within WordPress. That was the turning point — I saw the need, I knew the pieces and parts that needed to be built into the machine, and a few months later, the idea for ORBTR was born during a cross country road trip. We launched officially in March of 2013.
Did you have any concerns when starting your business, if so what were they?
My biggest concern was honestly that I had never been in the software development business before. Not that I personally needed to write the code, since we have the most talented developer I’ve ever known on our team. However, there were a lot of things that I had to learn “on the job” so to speak: proper versioning, bug tracking, support, dealing with the datacenter, etc. There were a lot of first time experiences early on in developing and selling this project.
What is your business background, and what got you interested in startups?
I came up as a graphic designer but over my first couple of years after college, I really transitioned full force into marketing, as that was my primary interest. I worked for an Internet security company, a toy manufacturer, and I got my MBA by going to school on nights and weekends. After about five years as a corporate marketing manager and director, I decided I needed a change. So I left to start my own agency and help small and midsize businesses with marketing. I’m not sure that my interest was ever really in startups per se — some people really get this startup bug where they sit and think about what they can start next, that wasn’t me. My interest was mainly in solving a problem that my agency clients had in optimizing their marketing ROI, and I thought that there would be a lot of other growing businesses out there with similar needs.
How did you initially raise funding for your company?
We were, and still are, 100% self-funded.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I am very proud of the way we have been able to work with our community and with other software providers to craft a really great product. Some of my favorite features in ORBTR came out of discussions with customers, and we have had a couple of customers that actually sponsored some feature development. Our association with Zapier and their product has been fantastic, and MailChimp paid for a large portion of the features we developed in ORBTR 2.9 and our new product ORBTR Torq through their integration fund, because we wanted to use their Mandrill API as the backbone for the service.
How have you kept your business relevant and engaged with your audience over the last three years?
The biggest thing we can do is listen to the feedback we get, both the good and the bad — what needs to work better, what are we missing, what do we have that our customers find most helpful? We’re always trying to make the right adjustments to get our subscribers the best value for their investment in our product.
How long has your business been in making, and who is the team behind the business?
You could say that ORBTR has been in the making ever since our agency started selling inbound marketing services in 2010 and 2011 — we had to find low-cost, time-efficient ways to make our campaigns work and sometimes the missing pieces just weren’t there in the marketplace. The building blocks for ORBTR and our new product Torq all came out of that need.
Michael Shihinski has been developing websites and WordPress plugins for my agency since 2009 — I’ve worked with a lot of developers, some really incredible developers, and I can honestly say that he’s the most talented guy I’ve ever had on the team. Greg Bond is our internal inbound marketing expert — he checks and balances me and gives me feedback and he works directly with our customers on setups and consulting projects. Trevor Heaton has helped us with our sales processes and helped us build a strong agency partnership model.
But I can’t talk about our team without mentioning my wife Michele who is my cofounder, who supported this project from the very beginning and who has been instrumental in crafting our business strategies.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge, I think, is that there are just so many places we can take this product, so many things that it could be made to do, so many things that we want to do, so many things that customers, advisors, and other folks have brought to us saying, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if ORBTR…” Whittling all that potential and all the things that we could do into an actionable product roadmap is difficult sometimes. But in the end, we have to rely on two main criteria, those being the features that make our customers the most money and the features that make us stronger as a business. They usually end up being the same things.
In the coming year, what would you like to achieve with your business?
We really love our new Torq product which has just hit the market and we would love to see that take off — email has taken a backseat in a lot of small IT and technology firms to “sexier” marketing tactics like search engine optimization and social media. Not that we don’t think those strategies are important, but the fact is that no single marketing strategy brings a higher ROI than email, some studies even go so far as to say that every dollar spent in email marketing brings $44 in ROI, on average. I’m really excited to help businesses unlock email’s potential as a huge revenue generator.
What has been your most valuable lesson so far since starting your business?
I think the biggest lesson that we learned was that the product is never smaller or more manageable than when you first launch. The instinct is always to add more features, make it perfect. But if I had to do it again, there are some things I would probably have left out of the first release and waited until customers expressed a desire for feature X or option Y instead of assuming. The first time around there was a lot that we didn’t know about rolling out a software product — I think we did a better job with the first release of ORBTR Torq, it’s smaller and more focused and I think it’s actually a better product for it.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about starting a business, what would it be?
Probably the same thing! Don’t spend your time and money trying to achieve the perfect widget — you’ll never really get there. The early adopters of your product don’t require perfection and what you really need as a business is just something that’s good enough to establish that a market is there for you in the first place. You can do something great — even revolutionary — without creating perfection. Look at the first iPhone, the first PC’s, the first automobile, the first anything really. None of it was perfect and far from in a lot of cases. You already know this, of course, but it turns out that selective amnesia is a common side effect of business ownership.