You can find online reviews these days for just about anything, from restaurants to lawyers to new gadgets. But what about e-commerce shopping carts? That’s the idea behind ZippyCart, a bootstrapped Ballard startup that’s trying to transform the way people discover and learn about shopping carts and other e-commerce tools. We chatted with CEO Nick Grant, who co-founded the 12-person company with Amy Balliett in 2009, about the pains of bootstrapping and why there’s a need for an online service that reviews e-commerce tools.
Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: ZippyCart helps people find the right e-commerce software for their online business, by providing unbiased expert reviews and comparisons.
Inspiration hit us when: In 2009 we realized that the SaaS based e-commerce software industry was heating up and new competitors like CoreCommerce and BigCommerce were entering the market to take on older, more established companies like 3dcart, Volusion, and ProStores. Additionally we found that websites that reviewed e-commerce solutions were very outdated and/or biased toward one particular solution. Therefore we felt that there was a niche in the B2B marketplace not being served, so we launched ZippyCart to fill that void.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap baby! We didn’t really think our business model was right to approach a VC, but we seriously considered angel funding. However we never found the right angel investor to work with, so we decided to push forward and bootstrap the business. This was extremely tough for the first year, because we both worked a full time job, then worked on ZippyCart at night and on the weekends. Ultimately this allowed us to save enough money to confidently jump into being full time entrepreneurs, and make all of the decisions on our own without investor input.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: One of the biggest things that differentiates us from other competitors in the space is our methodology for evaluating and scoring ecommerce software solutions. We learned a lot in 2009 and 2010 through working with our team of ecommerce experts to review and score each solution, which led to us creating a more sophisticated shopping cart scoring system that better meets the needs of the visitors to ZippyCart. Our 2011 shopping cart reviews are the first to be based upon our new scoring system, and overall merchants have found it very useful. Beyond that, we don’t take any payment to rank a solution in our top ten lists. Instead, ecommerce software is ranked and scored on ZippyCart by merit alone; we don’t take any money to say one solution is better than another, because that would be a huge disservice to our visitors.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: The fact that we tried to ride things out with a hosting partner, who was not big enough to accommodate our traffic levels. We thought it was a smart idea that would save us a little money, but in the long run it caused us many headaches with too many site outages, and frustrations with poor customer service. So looking back we should have just spent the extra money from the start, so that we had a more stable site for visitors.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: While I am very impressed with all four of the entrepreneurs, I would have to pick Zuckerberg. Merchants are frequently sending social commerce related questions to ZippyCart, because many are trying to figure out if Facebook is a viable channel to try and drive additional traffic and sales for their online business. Currently it seems like the future of e-commerce on Facebook is up in the air, but I feel like it is a major focus for their company and think that there is still hope. Zuckerberg could not only lend amazing technical expertise to us at ZippyCart, he could help us make the site more social and thus expand the brand presence.
Our world domination strategy starts when: ZippyCart is the only name you can think of when it comes to ecommerce software reviews.
Rivals should fear us because: We have been working on ZippyCart for two years, and already have amazing
traction in the space, with no plans on stopping anytime soon. No other site in our space has the relationships we do with multiple PR companies representing large ecommerce businesses, and the executives at each of the ecommerce software solutions we review. Our brand is already getting recognition, so I think it would be hard for another site to try and replicate what we have created so far. We are also becoming known as the brand to trust, since we don’t take payment to rank the solutions we review, while some of our competitors do. There are also some big things in the works, that we should be announcing in the near future. All I can say for now is that is involves an acquistion of another ecommerce site.
We are truly unique because: We have fun doing what we do, which I feel allows us to put more passion into the work, and results in a superior experience for our users who truly value the service we provide to them.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Becoming profitable. We always kept our overhead low, and just kept pushing to run a lean business with a focus on turning a profit. It was extremely tough early on, as you work a ridiculous amount of hours without making much (if any) money. So it was difficult to be so persistent and committed during those rocky first months, but now it has started to pay off in 2011 and we’re really excited to see what our revenue and profit margins look like at the end of this year.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: When it comes to prioritizing, do the hardest tasks first. This is something that is still hard for us to do to this day, but I think it is ideal in terms of efficiency. Some people think that they are super productive multi-taskers, and feel that they are being extremely efficient by trying to do a few little things at once, but really most of these people are just putting off the big tasks that they dread. Focus, Focus, Focus!