Editor’s note: RTP Beat is a regular feature on Thursdays.One lesson to be learned from the rapid growth and success of Broadwick is that there is no age limit on entrepreneurs.
Ryan Allis has been a user of computers and teacher since an early age, went to work at age 17, wrote a book, started his own company as a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, and is now chief executive officer of Broadwick.
He partnered with Aaron Houghton, whom he met appropriately enough through an entrepreneurship group at UNC, and their e-mail newsletter firm is growing as fast as kudzu. The firm has nearly 560 customers, including two of the Fortune 500.
Local Tech Wire asked Allis for some insight into his business and advice he would give to others who dream of launching their own business:
What was your background before Broadwick?
I came to Chapel Hill in the Fall of 2002 to start my freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I am an incoming junior economics major. I began at age 11, helping persons in my community on the west coast of Florida learn how to use their computers. From there I got into web design and web marketing in high school. At 17 during my senior year of high school, I worked with a early stage company in the nutraceuticals industry and helped build its sales from zero to one million dollars in sales over fourteen months, which I ended up writing a book about called “Zero to One Million”.
In the Fall of 2002 I incorporated my web design and web marketing firm Virante, Inc. and met Aaron Houghton, my current partner in Broadwick, through the Carolina Entrepreneurship Club at UNC.
Through Aaron’s company Preation, Inc., Aaron had developed a basic
web-based email newsletter software product that a few of his web design clients utilized.
While at the health company in high school, we used a desktop-based mailer that would send out our newsletter to our 50,000 subscribers. The difficulty was that it would tie up a computer for 24 hours to send the message and it had no subscription management or bounce-back handling. When Aaron showed me his web-based email newsletter software, I immediately saw the advantages it could offer. It would take care of unsubscribes and bounces for you, make it very easy to create professional newsletters, and give you advanced reporting on opens, click-throughs, and forwards.
Over the next nine months we decided to spin out the software into another company that would be built to commercialize and improve on the software and target SMB clients. In July 2003 we incorporated Broadwick through Hutchison & Mason, PLLC. I’ve taken the past year off from UNC to build the company.
What’s the “secret sauce” that makes Broadwick appealing?
1. An easy to use product
2. Aggressive marketing and very good positioning in the marketplace
through large partners
3. Very reasonable prices and top quality support
What is the cost of using your service?
The cost is based on the number of subscribers a user has. It ranges from $9.95 per month for up to 500 subscribers to $959 per month for up to 250,000 subscribers.
How are you funded?
We were funded through an initial investment from a friend as well as through an SBA loan. We’ve mainly grown organically through sales.
How did you win two Fortune 500 customers? Can you identify both and how they are using your service?
Our two Fortune 500 customers are International Paper and Super 8 Motels (Cendant). Super 8 has 29,000 subscribers and uses it to send out update newsletters to its hotel guests. They are currently doing an initial test with their Buena Vista location. International Paper has 10,000 subscribers and uses the software internally to communicate with their sales and spec representatives as well as send monthly updates and specials to their top customers.
You increased employee count to 11 – from what number?
We started with two persons, myself and my partner Aaron. Today, we have a CEO, CTO, VP of Business Development, Lead Developer, Director of Marketing, Director of Customer Service, Systems Administrator, Web Designer, Marketing Intern, and a Development Intern. Our eleventh person, a second developer, will start in August.
What makes Broadwick a survivor of the tech bust and positioned for success?
We were organically funded and bootstrapped. We, by necessity, had to focus on earning revenue right from the beginning. We focused, at least initially, on maximizing earnings and not market share. We kept costs down and juggled multiple roles ourselves. We used low-cost strategies that helped us position ourselves in the market such as search engine optimization and an affiliate CPA program.
What’s the meaning of the Broadwick name?
None whatsoever, but there is a story of how we came up with it. In March ’03 we began to think-up options. We would brainstorm for two or three hours, writing down every possibility and every combination. We did this three or four times and came up with perhaps 600 options. We then ran this list against the USPTO database and the domain registry database. We ended up with about 70 possibilities. We narrowed it down to Broadwick, Sentelis, and Calprion – and ended up agreeing on Broadwick.
What future enhancements and/or other products might we see from
We’ll be adding surveying in August and soon to come are an autoresponder, list segmentation, dynamic content, and an Enterprise version.
Your advice to other executives at tech startups on how to survive and grow would be?
1. Evaluate the market well because if you’re not offering what the market wants you’re going to spend three years of your life for nothing but a good lesson. Build your technology from a customer-centric standpoint.
2. Sometimes it’s not so much about how unique or better your technology is. This is only part of it. Just as important is how well positioned in the marketplace you are. Customers don’t always go to the best product in the market, they go to the one they know about and to the one that their buddy Joe recommended to them.
3. Build the best team you can, have a vision and communicate it, and commend more than you criticize.
4. If you’re a early-stage tech company looking to build a company to $1 million or more in sales, I’d very much recommend picking up a copy of “Zero to One Million”.