Firmology’s Meet & Greet series takes an inside look at the technology available to small business owners and entrepreneurs, straight from the founders who built them.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I come from humble beginnings. I was born in Bosnia and at age 9 I fled with my parents to Germany because of the Bosnian Civil War that started in 1992. We fled and were homeless for a few weeks before we received aid from the German government (shelter and refugee status). My family spent 6 years in Germany before being forced to leave (due to Dayton Accords) Germany and either go back or go further. My parents decided to go to America and we received permanent status here. Today, I’m a proud U.S. Citizen and am glad to be here.
My whole life has always been a challenge of odds (perhaps another story for another day). My first dream was to become a professional soccer play and I came close a few times. I became an All-American in Junior College and 2 time national champion with soccer.
Since my high school days, I started creating websites which led me to have a second heavy interest (other than soccer) which became a way to make money. I started a company called Web.Co Design first which created over 100 websites through my high school and college days. I continued to pursue this with another company called Zima Studios which became pretty successful in 2007-2009. While growing Zima Studios, I decided to start doing my own project and partnering up with people. My first real startup was Chitown Deals, one of the first deal sites in the nation in 2009. 8 months later I sold it to Tippr, one of the leading deal sites (at that time).
I decided to give the social commerce / deal space another shot and I partnered up with Lou Morales and we started Dealster. We grew Dealster to over 200,000+ subscribers and 10,000 merchants over time. In 18 months time we sold to a company out of the southeast called Half Off Depot. HOD was well-funded and had an awesome track record in the Southeast. We built a valuable tech platform for merchants that allowed for easy scaling and HOD now operates that platform which serves over 5MM consumers and tens of thousands of merchants.
While spending a year working with HOD I soon realized a bigger calling and the startup bug hit me again. I saw that while HOD and many other companies were solving one piece of a bigger problem for small businesses, there was a bigger issue at hand.
What does your company do and what problem does it solve for businesses?
Our problem is simple to understand. Not every business owner knows marketing or is tech savvy. Also, most small business owners don’t have the time to learn and become good marketers and they don’t have budgets to hire experts.
That’s where Optyn comes in. Simply put, we want to build a marketing (automation) platform for the marketing and technology challenged. We want to break down the barrier of “a competitive advantage” and that things are just too hard to do. It might seem vague but the goal is to create a platform that learns about the small business and “spits” out intuitive suggestions/and recommendations for the small business owner, where they just approve, and we take care of the rest.
Again something along the line of marketing recommendation platform with a spice of automation (sorry I’m hungry.). :)
How did you come up with the idea for your company?
I think most entrepreneurs don’t just get ideas; they experience actual problems. I owned a coffee shop with a partner in Chicago and we experienced the same (even though we are not as challenged). Also, my experience with small business owners led me to this. It’s one of those things that I think I and my team were meant to solve. I guess, you can say, the right place at the right time, or wrong place at the wrong time (the Startup theory that most fail). :)
Ultimately we said let’s focus on building a platform that helps merchants acquire and engage customers and the first aspect of that is to get an opt-in (one of the most important aspects for a small business), hence the name Optyn.
We are big on what we call a Reachable Audience (and have written posts about it like here: The Most Important Metric for Small Businesses: Reachable Audience
What makes your company different from your competitors?
- Our philosophy. Our philosophy around marketing + technology is that neither should be a barrier to providing a product. We have a long way to go to prove this out but just because the end-user lacks one or the other (or both) it shouldn’t hinder him from benefiting from that product.
- The fact that we are focusing on people who aren’t using the product or aren’t doing any marketing. Perhaps this can lead to our downfall but we are essentially building a product for people that have never done or (very little) marketing. We are working backwards by building really one of the simplest marketing solutions (email marketing for now) that allows customers to create a campaign in less than 2 minutes. Now we are starting to work backwards
What are the most important considerations businesses should have when choosing technology to help them power their business?
I think this is part of the problem. Those who know will evaluate technologies that fit them. The problem for those that don’t know, there’s always a learning curve and an investment(time/resources) curve that’s part of it. That’s essentially what we are trying to solve for small business owners and remove that friction that comes with choosing or knowing which product to choose or which method of marketing to pursue (email marketing, social media, SEO, etc).
What other companies or entrepreneurs within the technology space do you admire and think businesses should know about?
There’s quite a few. I love what the 37signals team (Editor’s Note: now known as Basecamp) has done over the years. Being part of the social commerce space, I have high admiration for Andrew on turning one simple concept into a frenzy. There are a lot of smaller less known entrepreneurs that give me high hopes like Justyn Howard of SproutSocial, Matt Howard and Eric Martell (from EatStreet), Logan LaHive of Belly, and of course my partners in crime Lou Morales, and Gaurav Gaglani (both who are successful individuals).
Anything else Firmology readers and business owners should know? News? Upcoming features? Special deals?
2013 was a building and validating year for us. We believe that 2014 will be a big year when it comes to distribution and spreading the word of our product and mission. We’ll either be known as one of the top upcoming startups out of Chicago or we’ll crash in style.
Firmology Readers: Let’s hear your thoughts!
1) Have a question or comment about Optyn? Drop Alen a note in the comments below.
2) Who would you like to see on Firmology’s Meet & Greet series? Are there other questions we should be asking? Are any of the questions above unclear or could be asked in a better way? Let us know in the comments below or email us at [email protected]
If you’re the founder of a tech company focused on helping businesses and would like to be featured on Firmology’s Meet & Greet series, please email us at [email protected] with the subject line: Meet & Greet Submission.