Rajeev Goel was in the midst of building his new startup. But he still had time to organize his daughter’s spelling bee competition. In this case, it actually doubled as a bit of market research. Goel is the founder of Our School Pages, a new content management system that helps school administrators and parents’ groups create professional Web sites that do everything from manage fundraising efforts to organize events. (Including spelling bees). We chatted with Goel, who previously worked at Microsoft, Getty Images and Sampa, about some of the challenges he’s encountered in startup land (lack of sleep) and why he’d like to have Steve Jobs on his side.
Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: Our School Pages give schools and PTAs the website of their dreams – a website that is beautiful as well as functional. Through the website, parents in the school community can now order stuff, pay for stuff, volunteer for stuff, and register for stuff — all online rather than on paper.
Inspiration hit me when: I got writer’s cramp after filling out 12 different paper forms on the first day of school, every single one of which asked for name, address, home phone, cell phone, email, and … spouse’s name, spouse’s address, spouse’s home phone, spouse’s cell phone, spouse’s email. It was painful … physically painful.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. The reason I left big-co was because I wanted to be my own boss. If I can help it, I’d prefer not to trade one boss for another. So far, I’ve been able to fund this effort on my own, and I hope I can continue that way.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Well, if I tell you that, it won’t be much of a secret, now will it? Our secret sauce is the concept of an “online packet,” which is … well, the online equivalent of a paper packet of forms. Through your website, you can add any number of pages to your online packet, and the pages can be of different types. So for example, you could add an ordering page, followed by a volunteering page, followed by a payment page, and now you’ve got a packet that your users can walk through one page at a time.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Paying a lot of money for an exhibitors booth at the Washington State PTA Convention, and doing so several months in advance. This created a very real deadline for me and forced me to build the product way quicker than I otherwise would have. Amazingly all the pieces of the product literally came together only the day before the convention.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and only time will tell which mistake turns out to be the biggest. The biggest might turn out to be that I didn’t spend enough energy doing market research before building the v1 product. Both in terms of learning about what kinds of website solutions were already in use by schools and PTAs, as well as exploring different pricing models for the product.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: I’m big into creating a gorgeous, friction-free, and pleasant user experience. So, I’d love to have Steve Jobs in my corner. Apple products are so slick it’s crazy. At the other end of the spectrum, I find shopping on Amazon.com (for tangible goods) to be a rather complex and frustrating experience. So I might have to send Jeff Bezos to the opposite corner. Sorry Mr. Bezos, sir; please don’t squash me like a bug.
Our world domination strategy starts when: I would love for every school in the country to have a fantastic website that keeps parents informed and engaged about what’s going on at the school. I also hope Our School Pages can play a role in helping to reduce the amount of paper being consumed by schools and PTAs.
Rivals should fear us because: We make Web site creation and customization easier than it’s ever been. Whenever I demo the product to potential customers for the first time, their jaws drop in amazement at the functionality being offered for such an affordable price. It’s a good feeling to know you’ve solved some very real problems for them.
We are truly unique because: I care about my customers like no other company does. I have a phone number that users can call for technical support, and I answer those phone calls myself. Users give me lots of great suggestions for new features, and I pay serious attention to each one. Most of those suggestions end up on the backlog, and I give those users an estimate of when they can expect to see their favorite feature included in the product.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Just getting the first version of the product done in time for that convention on April 29 was challenging and fairly stressful. I probably was working 80 hour weeks for several weeks in a row. On top of all that, I had already committed to a bunch of big volunteer jobs (e.g., organizing and running the Spelling Bee) at my daughter’s school during that exact same period, and I didn’t want to back out on those commitments. So, yeah, I didn’t sleep much during that time. But what I ended up with was a high quality product that I’m truly proud of and that my customers love.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: For all those “solo artists” out there who are trying to change the world and doing it alone …. cheers to you. Most experienced entrepreneurs will tell you that you must seek out a co-founder. And most of the time they’re right. Because running a startup by yourself is seriously hard work. It requires a ton of time, energy, blood, sweat, passion, cash in the bank, and skills that you don’t have. Having the right co-founder offers numerous advantages and can greatly increase the chance of success. Even so, that’s not always the right answer for everybody, and certainly the wrong co-founder is worse than none at all. You know yourself and your personality traits, and if having a co-founder doesn’t feel right to you, then don’t force it.