The path to launching a startup or entrepreneurial endeavor – big or small – is rarely obstacle free. In the early days, all it feels like you’re doing is giving. You give your time, energy and emotions, your creativity, and later, money, mind and quite often, relationships. Some would agree that launching a business of any kind is the biggest investment of your life, which means that when the time comes to enlist help to grow further, bringing someone else into the mix can be a fraught time. When you’ve built something single-handedly, it takes strong character and a savvy business head to see the benefit of splitting all that hard work with someone else. “I don’t have an ego,” Danit Zamir tells us, “and I think that’s where some founders begin to worry about giving equity away or bringing in a partner.”
When Danit launched Bloomerent, she was the sole decision maker, running every department of the flower sharing business on her own—some of which was beyond her expertise. “Having a co-founder would allow me to divide responsibilities with someone who shares my vision which would lead to growing at a faster rate,” she says. Introduced through mutual friends, Danit joined forces with Julia Capalino and rather than offering her a senior marketing role, jumped straight to co-founder. Different factors might dictate what first hires you make as a successful entrepreneur, and for Danit, taking on a salaried role wasn’t a viable financial option. The benefit of bringing on board a co-founder is that you’re both equally invested—nobody goes to work to take home a pay check, you’re all hustling to the same degree.
WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE STARTING THE BUSINESS ALONE & BOOTSTRAPPED
Danit: It’s challenging to start any business, solo or not, because the odds are against you from the start. As a solo founder, you run every department and make every big decision without internal feedback or support. Being a non-technical founder while building an online marketplace was one of my biggest challenges from the beginning. I started Bloomerent off as a landing page with minimal functionality and matched brides, grooms and florists manually. I would speak to one bride and listen to what she was looking for, call one of our florists in her area to explain it to them, call the second bride to explain what the first event’s flowers will look like to gage interest, and then call the florist back again. I was bootstrapping and wouldn’t hire someone to build the marketplace before having a deep understanding of what it should look like and if florists and customers would use it.
HAVING LESS OR SOMETHING BIG THAN ALL OF SOMETHING SMALL
Danit: When Julia and I met, we were both starting our own companies and I wasn’t looking for a co-founder yet. It became a priority for me when it was tough to keep up with demand as the only person working on Bloomerent full-time. I knew what I wanted in a co-founder and when Julia started to consult for Bloomerent on marketing and user acquisition, we started to discuss what it would look like for her to join full time as co-founder.
The recognition of being a solo founder or starting Bloomerent wasn’t important to me. I don’t have an ego and I think that’s where some founders begin to worry about giving equity away or bringing in a partner. Having a co-founder would allow me to divide responsibilities with someone who shares my vision, which would lead to growing at a faster rate. Ultimately, I’d rather have less of something big than more of something small.
WHAT TO THINK ABOUT IN DECIDING WHETHER TO BRING ON A PARTNER OR HIRE A SENIOR TEAM MEMBER
Danit: If you’ve reached a point where you’re an established company or you already have a team in place, it makes more sense to hire a senior team member than a co-founder. For me, hiring someone for a salary wasn’t an option and I’d be asking this person to believe in my vision to the point where they’d quit their job and work on equity. Julia understood what it meant to be part of a startup and bringing her in as a co-founder as opposed to a senior team member also meant she’d wear many hats, which would be extremely helpful. I think you have to be reasonable about what you’re asking of someone and what your expectations are to decide what kind of hire makes the most sense for you.
WHY THEY STARTED THEIR PARTNERSHIP WITH A THREE-MONTH TRIAL
Danit: We both wanted to make sure we’d actually enjoy working together before taking the plunge. We knew each other but not well and our personalities are very different. It takes so much more than just having separate skillsets to make a co-founding relationship work. Knowing that it was going to be a big decision for both of us, the trial allowed us to understand each other’s work habits, see how we communicate, how we handle disagreements, and overall just see if it’s a good fit. As you now know, it was.
THE TURNING POINT WHEN JULIA CAME ON BOARD
Danit: Julia is a native New Yorker so she knew many people in the area in different industries which was very helpful. She was able to secure great partnerships for Bloomerent right away and we started to receive press from top publications, including a few TV appearances. Before she joined I hadn’t done anything on the marketing/advertising side other than post to social media and present at one wedding expo, so it was an immediate change that was big for us.
Julia: There are so many benefits to having a co-founder but division of responsibilities is the first that comes to mind. As a startup founder, you wear so many hats. In a day, I can go from negotiating a partnership, to interviewing a new employee to analyzing our analytics. Having a partner to handle half of the load allows us to focus on what we do best and makes us each more productive.
Danit: Communication is key. If we didn’t agree on something, we’d discuss our thought process before deciding, together, what the best decision to make is. We’re on the same page and working toward the same goal.
JULIA’S PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND BEFORE JOINING THE BUSINESS
I started my career at J. Crew in merchandising. It was a great foundation but I quickly realized it wasn’t the right environment for me. I truly believe if you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time – and with large corporations it benefits them to train people for very specific roles and then keep them in those roles. I decided to quit and start my first company while simultaneously consulting on marketing and user acquisition for other startups. After growing my own company, I realized that ultimately it was not something I wanted to do long term and sold it. The reality is when you work with a startup, you are constantly forced to learn new skills and take on responsibilities you might not be trained in. For instance, startups often can’t afford people who have years of experience in digital advertising, so I taught myself and then started offering my services to my existing clients. They got cheaper labor than going to an agency and I learned a new skill. So I grew my offering to startups and eventually started doing not just marketing and user acquisition but also business development. I worked closely with the travel app, Hitlist, and while I was there I tripled their revenue. I was applying to business school in 2016 when I started consulting for Danit. I wanted to go to meet a co-founder and when she pitched me on joining her I knew I had to join.
BREAKING DOWN THE COMPONENTS OF A STRONG MARKETING STRATEGY
When outlining your marketing strategy break it down into two parts: content (message and visual) and acquisition. Both are best optimized when you test and iterate but you can make assumptions depending on how well you know your user or customer.
Content and visuals can easily be tested through interviews and social media. Get a group of your core demographic together (not friends or family) and have them give you feedback on a number of different versions of your content. As for visuals you should use when marketing for your company, look at what performs the best on social media.
Regarding reach, your customers live on certain platforms, as in social platforms. At the beginning, you don’t need to be active on a daily basis on every social platform. Pick one or two and focus. The same goes for press. Find two or three press outlets you know your user reads and try and get featured by them. Acquisition can be broken down into 19 points (outlined by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares in the book Traction). Go through and focus on specific points at a time and see what works for you. Here’s a helpful link.
Small things you can do to take your marketing strategy to the next level is talk to your customer and get feedback on your current strategy. Do they follow you on social? Do they like your imagery? Do they get what you’re selling? Depending on the feedback you may need to iterate.
Julia: Our value proposition has many different layers so it took us some time to get it right and it is always evolving. We really spent a lot of time with our users and worked on the message with their feedback. For instance, we “share” flowers, but to our users, they thought that meant social sharing. Something that may seem obvious to you can confuse your users. We stay consistent across all platforms. If we change the message it is because the platform campaign is specifically targeting a kind of user.
ON SEO & PR
Julia: SEO is important because Google’s algorithm rewards you for including terms, words and questions that your users might search. We want to capture people in our search who are not just specifically searching for Bloomerent, but also searching for different kinds of centerpiece styles. Spending time putting content on your website that may not directly relate to your product or service increases your overall footprint on the internet.
We approach free press diligently. I have a CRM I update daily if I emailed someone, find a journalist who is writing about a company like ours or we get press. Many people invest in outreach sporadically and the best thing you can do is be consistent. Also, change your pitch up! We don’t pitch the same angle to every reporter. We tailor them to be relevant to the media outlet and what kind of stories we see on their landing page.
Our user acquisition funnel starts at acquisition to and ends with conversion to a paid customer. There are actions between that break down the funnel and each has a different emphasis such as marketing, user acquisition, value prop. As a startup, we’re currently focused on the top of the funnel because if we can’t get people onto our site, what is the point of building a great site? Once we have optimized the top, we move onto the next step, engaging in the search. At that point, it becomes not about how we are acquiring our customers but how they are engaging with our product.
HOW TO ASK PEOPLE FOR HELP THE RIGHT WAY
Julia: I think both male and female entrepreneurs can he afraid to ask for help but generally women are more hesitant to be pushy and direct. I go into every “ask” knowing that people want to help but they need to know what help you need before they can.
An easy way to remove the ick factor from it is to ask how you can help them. Do you have someone you can put them in contact with or do you have a skill set they can utilize? Obviously if you are asking a big CEO for help then this likely won’t work. In that instance, I think that being earnest and brief is best.
WHY YOU NEED TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH SELLING & HOW TO DO IT
Danit: Selling is something that we do in our everyday lives without realizing it. Map out what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, and why it’s going to sell. Who is your target customer? How are you making their life easier? When I’m selling to brides, grooms and event hosts versus when I’m selling to florists, I’m selling two different value props. Understand what the benefits of your business are to each person and why they should be excited about it. Try different sales tactics until you figure out which one works best for you and your business.
THE POWER OF FOLLOWING YOUR DATA
Julia: We tie everything to data. It makes it easy to decide if a decision, copy or digital campaign succeeded or failed. As a founder, or an employee of a startup, you spend so much time thinking about the problem you are solving. When you’ve made an assumption about the problem and it turns out to be wrong, it can be really hard to accept. By constantly testing with hard data, it becomes objective instead of subjective. Why continue down a road (or continue building a product) that is going nowhere?