Earlier this week, Decide launched a new service designed to tell consumers when to buy consumer electronic devices. But it is not the only Seattle startup looking to help shoppers find the best bargains. LootTap, founded five months ago by 30-year-old entrepreneur Trevor Hall, offers a personalized online shopping service for everything from tennis shoes to toys to musical instruments.
The 2-person startup is based in the tiny hamlet of Kingston, which Hall admits is in the “far shadows of Seattle’s tech mecca.”
We chatted with Hall to find out how he came up with the idea, and hear one of the more inspirational reasons why he’s decided to bootstrap the company with his own funds.
Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: “LootTap lets you set your own price for the products you want by keeping a tight relationship with the most popular merchants and keeping a closer eye on their inventory for prices to fall. Once the prices drop to where you want, we let you know.”
Inspiration hit when: “It came originally after I built some software to help find contracting jobs I would be interested in. The software was simple, but very successful at automating my hourly hunt across countless sites, searching for the same thing over and over. My cute, little contract-hunter soon evolved to help my wife and I find deals on furnishings for a bedroom remodel we had recently wrapped up. We knew three things at the time: the furniture we wanted, that we didn’t want to pay retail prices and that we would otherwise forget to search for better prices and end up paying retail without some help. Well, we got the help and the deals.
When this story spread to my family and started helping them find stuff, the Loony Toons light bulb roared above my head, powered with a bolt of lightning. I even remember the moment as I was talking to my wife about something irrelevant to our recent bargains, and saying: ‘Why don’t I build a website and see if other people would use this thing?’ A few short months, raw fingers and blood-shot eyes later, LootTap was born. And as luck may have it, other people do like the idea.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We’ve strapped our boots on high. Before it’s inception, I always knew when I started any company that it would be founded with a simple
premise: it must be a product I love, believe in and have continued inspiration behind; but can also be organized to successfully perform on near 100 percent profit-margins. This, too, has been the financial foundation for LootTap. The product, design, implementation, operations and everything in between have been bred purely with sweat-equity.
For the things that do cost money (sadly, I haven’t concocted a method for serving web pages out of my office window yet), I have personally funded. The reason for this is simple: debt, in my opinion, is bad. Although things can’t move as fast as I would love them to, we also have absolute freedom to make critical decisions without the hovering burden of ensuring the satisfaction of our investors.
Furthermore, since this has been the basis of our financial model, I don’t have to spend the majority of my time mingling with investors trying to keep the lights on. Instead, I can attend my full attention to what actually matters to us: the customers and the product. Since we are successfully operating on a disgustingly small payable sheet, the horizon of profitability is much closer than most other newly founded, similar organizations.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Like a lot of new companies, we hold our customers on a pedestal plated in gold and polished twice daily. The service, features, design; everything down to the colors have been directed, at least in part, by direct feedback from the people who use it. I’ve always believed this is the only way a product should evolve, which continues to prove itself in our case. Beyond this less-than-revolutionary stance, there are a few other things that keep us in the position we like. First is our first-to-market position. Yes, we have competition, but nothing in the real-time, price-matching/product-discovery space. Simply, it’s still a unique service. With even mild success, or uniqeness wont last, but it’s in our court so far. Next is our revenue model. We had one out of the gate, which is a unique attribute in its own right. That aside, we are positioned as a business to be able to sustain just about anything that comes our way. When this combined with our high margins, we have a financial juggernaut powering the organization. When you bind a unique product with a strong and intelligent financial footing, it’s hard to imagine a situation where LootTap could really ever fall completely dark.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Building the site and service for our customers, not investors. Taking feedback from them very early in our development iterations has proven to be one of the most significant linchpins to our success.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Being financially secure and independent from the minute we opened the doors. Although I also consider this the most important step we took to our long-term solidity, it’s proven to be the toughest hurdle we have to keep jumping.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. Don’t get me wrong, we would love to have any of these players as our corner-men. But at the end of the day, Jeff is simply the best fit. He not only has an expansive and successful track record with starting and operating one of the most popular and profitable online entities in the world, but his concentration is focused, for the most part, on delivering good deals on products to the average consumer. To the greater extent, that’s what we do, too; which would be his ace in the hole if we had to chose.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Our focus is not world domination but rather to make the best product for the people who use it; nothing more, nothing less. Given our financial state, the size of our customer base has little impact to our overall success and gives us the flexibility to make the absolute best product we can, not the biggest database of users. I believe this is the best strategy for developing our product and business. If this translates to complete world domination, then I suppose you could say we started on that journey before the first line of code was written.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We have nothing to lose. We can survive and succeed in a space surrounded with big fish or diluted with a million small fish. We’re patient, persistent and overwhelmingly dedicated to making the best product we can.”
We are truly unique because: “Beyond our unique product, financial footing and peculiar headquarters location, our true uniqueness comes from our inability to love lolcats. I’m so, so, so sorry, but we don’t and can’t find humor in them anymore. We still love you, Cheezburger, just not your cats.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Opening the doors. Without a major financial backer, budgets were, and are, tight… really tight. Even the expense of incorporation was a tough yet necessary pill to swallow. We knew we wanted to get to market fast with a great initial product. Thus, with no salary, only 24 hours in a day and no real revenue to help along our pre-launch, simply releasing the product was a hurdle of epic proportions. This hasn’t been the only one, nor do we expect it to be our last (and honestly, we hope it doesn’t remain our hardest challenge for much longer). But getting a good product out the door quickly, on a shoestring budget and with limited resources can be one of the biggest show-stoppers an early company will face.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Always pay attention to the fire behind your original idea and make sure it only grows hotter. The only way you will succeed, really succeed, is when your passion drives you harder every day.”