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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Determination and Experience Leads to Launch of a Great Idea

I recently came across a website called MyCityFaces.com, which allows professional people to list their business, website, and contact information, and enables people to include their picture so you can keep up to date with where they are. I think this will be a very helpful service, as everytime I go to the salon it seems my hairstylist has moved elsewhere, and I lose track of them. Additionally, I have worked with great movers, plumbers, and painters, yet I have no clue where to reach them now that they are working at other companies. I truly think as this website gets a solid mass of users, this site and idea will be the next one to be gobbled up by Google.
I had an interview with the website owner, Dan Caplan. Here is an excerpt:

1. What was your background prior to starting MyCityFaces?
I have been an entrepreneur since a young age, but most of my adult life has been in sales and entrepreneurship. In 1991 at the age of 19 I helped start one of the now biggest indoor tanning salon chains in the US. We were called Executive Tans and I owned 2 in Denver, Co. I was employing up to 25 people While all my friends were going to college to graduate with degrees that they never used, I was learning the exciting world of business, hands on! I sold out at the old age of 26 and went on to start my own clothing company called Total Speed Racewear and Total Speed Communications(a small ISP). At the same time I started dabbling in the internet, building simple websites in '96 and '97 with Front Page. I always realized that the Internet at that early time had huge potential and that all businesses needed to be involved. After a few years with the dot com bust, I went into the car business and honed my skills in sales and management. I have been in the Exotic High-Line business ever since (11 years), running Scottsdale Lotus and Lamborghini Scottsdale.

I am not a code guy, but I understand the internet and business. I think most start ups fail today because not enough start up owners are business people. They have degrees in computer science and have a great concept but don't now how to take it past the start up stage. That is why so many VC's require a large percentage and want 'babysitters' to sit on their boards. If more of them had real life business skills, VC's would be banging on their doors instead of the other way around.

2. How did you come up with the idea for the business?

I have always been a follower of Myspace and Linkedin and together with a friend came up with combining the two with the focus on service industry professionals. We searched the internet and found that many people were advertising their skills on Myspace an Linkedin didn't have the right feel. We wanted a place were someone that is just as important in society feels comfortable posting a profile on a professional medium and be able to tell clients to go there to check them out. Linkedin is too college, white collar professional, 'who you can say you are connected to' but really not, and Myspace is more for the socializing. We wanted a free self advertising site that focused on the people that make up a business rather than the business itself. A place where someone can have one profile, so no matter where they work, clients can always find them. For instance if you have a great hairstylists that keeps moving around, you can always keep up with them. We all know how frustrating it can be when you have the perfect hairstylist only to find out they are no longer at that salon. Now you can look them up and see where they went.

We also found that the same boring service directories were nothing more than an online Yellow Pages. How many times have you went to look up a new insurance agent only to be overwhelmed at the hundreds of listings there are. With MyCityFaces.com you can put a face to the name and find some one with your same attributes and 'test drive' before you make that first call. For the people listing their profile, they will obtain a customer for life because they have been chosen by someone that shows a sincere interest in them and not just called out of the blue by a dart throwing cutomer.

We are also adamantly against the whole review site thing going on with all service directories today. Any business owner knows it is impossible to keep 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. You will unfortunately have the impossible customer who will not be happy no matter what. We all try to limit that, but one bad post can have horrible consequences on your business. Not to mention most good reviews are the business owners themselves! We have a 'recommend' section that in time will work like a score. When you are in the service industry and you recommend someone, your own reputation is on the line. People can recommend and be recommended an unlimited amount of times.

3. How was the project funded?

I have been funding it myself. Not being a computer guy, I had to pay someone to design and build the site. I work on the site 40 hours a week networking and promoting it as well as have a 60 hour a week day job.

The friend who initially came up with the concept with me, has a small single digit percentage to show my appreciation and has not been a part of it since day 2.

4. I see the project is in Beta, when do you plan to roll it out?

We plan on doing a mass roll out when we pick up some steam. We are doubling in sign ups every couple of months and are up to 750 profiles. We have been trying to stay somewhat under the radar until now. The only draw back to our concept is that we can't just buy lists of business names and addresses, we have to rely on individual people signing up.

5. How many employees do you currently have
I am the main employee although I do have a team of designers and coders, but they work for different company. As we pick up speed more help will be brought on.

6. How do you plan to make money on the site?

We have a solid monetization plan with paid banners being our main source of revenue. All of the people putting up profiles are potential paying clients. With 300+ cities, targeted banner ads with the little guy in mind will be huge. As we expand into other countries, and narrow down cities to neighborhoods, the potential will be huge.

Not to mention as we grow, we will always keep the bottom line in check. Too many start ups get funded and immediatly purchase new computers, new office furniture etc, before a dollar is even earned. My business back ground will insure we crawl, walk, run!

7. What has been the most difficult part so far about starting the business?

The most difficult part has been getting press on the site and getting Angel Investors, VC's to even give you a return email.

8. What future goals do you have for this business?

My future goals are to build this up to something big and help out the little guy along the way with a great place to advertise themselves in a classy and respectable manner. My exit strategy is to sell it in 3-5 years. I already have a concept for my next blockbuster!


Mommy Meryl said...

I love the post - what a great business idea and the interview added a wonderful human touch to it!!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Looks like a great site! Very useful and can't wait til it gets bigger! Keep up the great work!

t said...

I hope that Matt guy is still at In Vogue salon. If not, we will have to hunt him down; he gives the best salt glows.