VendAsta 2011 – A Year in Recap

January 3, 2012

….. and I’m back.  It’s been a while since my last post.  I took a year off blogging to try Twitter instead.  I don’t think I will stop tweeting but I find I need more words to express myself. Let’s see if I can find the time. :)

VendAsta is a software development company.  And like most true software development companies we are always thinking about what’s next.  And when you are driving forward so fast that you never have to check the rear view mirror it is easy to lose sight of how far you have come.  Glancing up at the rear view mirror it is apparent that 2011 was truly an inflection point for us.

The Early Years

Sometimes in order to understand the future you need to examine the past.  2008 was our first year of existence. We started by doing consulting work for Ritchie Brothers and  building a business plan to raise money for MyFrontSteps. MyFrontSteps was to be a social network for home owners to  get inspiration and ideas by sharing  their homes with friends and family, but most importantly to be able to find service providers (lawyers, Realtors, carpenters, painters, plumbers, etc.) that their friends had used and recommended. For service providers, MyFrontSteps would provide a free reputation management tool and a connection to customers.  

We closed an A round of financing for 3M in summer of 2008 and got to work building MyFrontSteps.   We found out early on that people didn’t want to share their home online as much as we thought they would.   However, we also discovered that there was a huge demand for reputation management.

Unfortunately for us, our funding was based on milestones and product deliverables tied to the MyFrontSteps product vision. Due to a series of complications these milestones were essentially non-negotiable. So, to make a long story short we spent the bulk of 2008, 2009 and 2010 building (burning dollars)  a product we knew we could not make work. However, we knew we had a winner on the reputation management side of MyFrontSteps, so we focused on sales, business development and software development in this area.

By mid 2010 we had developed a reputation management product that rivaled the functionality of the expensive tools for brands, but provided the additional functionality needed for local businesses, and we did it at a price point these businesses could afford.

Because we are a software development company we chose to build our service as a white label platform that media companies and publishers could use to resell reputation management software to their customers.

By the end of 2010 we signed LocalEdge ( a Hearst Company) and ZipLocal, a major Yellow Page Directory Company, to our Reputation Management platform.

2011 – The year of Sales and Integrations.

Glancing back at 2011 it is easy to see that it truly was an inflection point for us. We signed and integrated a truly humbling number of partners of the highest quality.

Product Recap:

Winter – Integration

Most of January and February of 2011 were spent integrating these partners.  We learned a lot and laid the ground work to make future integrations smooth and painless for new partners.

Spring – Sales and New Partners

In Spring we watched as our new partners found success selling reputation management to local businesses.  The success of our partners and the realization by business of the need for reputation management drove incredible demand.   Here is a partial list of customers we signed in the spring: Immersifind, which  includes our products in its  platform and whose customers include: Pinnacle, BestlocalSearch.com, Comporium/MakeitLocal.com,Directory Publishing Solutions,  IE Yellow, Southern Directory Publishing, Georgia Local Search,  and Search Local. We also signed Pioneer Newspapers ( 9 papers),   Gauss Media (with 20 media outlets), LMS Max, XL WebServices and The Social Business.

Summer – New products and Partners

There was no summer break. Demand continued to increase for our product.  We also explored new avenues and uses for our core reputation management platform.  

New Products

We developed National Brands, a way for franchises and businesses with multiple locations  to view and explore the reputation of their businesses at a national level and enable them to drill down by region and right down to a specific location, becoming the only reputation management solution to provide national brands and franchises with actionable feedback at national and location specific levels.

Our partners also indicated a need for a platform to provide Mobile Sites for their business customers.  According to the Kelsey Group only 1.25% of small and medium businesses have a website that is  mobile or mobile friendly while at the same time 50% of all local searches are being performed on a mobile device. Further, mobile users are generally looking for a subset of data: directions, hours of operation, menus, videos, photos.  So, in conjunction with DirectWest, one of our partners, we developed a mobile solution that is SEO friendly, easy for consumers to use on  mobile devices and is generated from existing partner directory data.  In this way these sites are always up to date, require no fulfilment and encourage business to purchase enhanced listings (photos and videos) from our partners.

We also continued to bring on new partners like:  Morris Digital ( Jacksonville Times Union, The Augusta Chronicle, Online Athens, Savannah Now, Lubbock Online, and the Amarillo Globe-News),  MediaNews Group (Taponix.com – 56 properties),  LocalBizNow (provides reputation management for Ford and Chysler) , PowerSports marketing, PinPoint Local, Metroland Media’s Goldbook.ca , Maine Today Digital  and Impressions Media.

Fall – It’s all about our Partners, Partners, Partners

Given our new products and rapid growth of partners we developed “Partner Central”, a one stop all access point combining resource centers for our products  and administrative access under one roof.  This allows our partners to access reputation management, national brands and mobile sites with one user name and password.  We also added sales and marketing tools to help our partners sell more products.

We also enjoyed continued growth in the area of new partners with the likes of Web.com, Cox Media Group,  and The News-Gazette.

Rounding out 2011 and heading into the new year we signed Primedia,  FreeCustomers.com, OLIVER Media, and SoVi Digital.

December shows no signs of slowing down.  We have a lot of exciting opportunities in the hopper!

Consulting

We have continued to do exciting work for a small number of companies in areas where we have industry and subject matter expertise that allows us to provide quality product and perform services at the high level. We continue to work with and  are committed to providing these services to  Ritchie Brothers, Potash Corp and DirectWest.

We love our consulting customers and it is safe to say that they love us. 2011 was a banner year working with these partners. I can’t say too much but I can tell you that we have already expanded the scope of work we will do with these partners in 2012.

New Location

2011 also saw us move into a new location.  We loved our previous location and were very concerned when we found out that we couldn’t stay when the building we were in was sold to SIAST.  We went to a lot of trouble to make sure that our new location was the perfect fit for our crew.  Having been here since October 1st we can safely say that our new location is more fantastic than we could have hoped for.

Summary

In Summary 2011 could not have been more exciting or more of a whirlwind for VendAsta. We are all looking forward to continue growing in 2012. If you think you might be a good fit or you know someone who would, please make sure to get in touch!

I want to extend a personal thank you to all involved: co-workers, customers and partners.  I look forward to working with all of you in 2012.

Brendan King, CEO 
VendAsta Technologies Inc.

Product Development and a Strong Vision

March 13, 2010

At VendAsta we have been working for the better part of a year and a half on  projects that fall under our http://www.SocialConnections.com umbrella.  VendAsta has a team of world class software developers, but building  software products from scratch is difficult. Period.   You need more than a great team and a good idea.  If a product  is to have any chance of success it must have a clear and compelling Vision and it must be needed.  It must serve some need or  solve a  problem- business or otherwise.

For various reasons both internal and external, the vision for our http://www.SocialConnection.com products  hasn’t always been clear or consistent and at end of the day this is the responsibility of the executive and leadership .  Building, sharing and articulating a company’s vision is extremely important, but is easier said than done. Initially the vision for our products were not as strong as I personally would have liked them to be.  However, in the fall of 2009 a lot of what we had learned in the preceding year started to make sense and strong visions for StepRep and Mashedin emerged.

Having a strong vision is one thing, sharing it with the world is another.  As Mashedin and StepRep come together we will redoubling our efforts to share their vision.

To this end I recently sent an email to all our StepRep beta users explaining how we started, where we have come from, and where we are going.   Also I described our vision, which is to make StepRep the premier Reputation Intelligence and Social Engagement tool for small and medium businesses.

Here is the letter:

Subject: An Open Letter to StepRep Users

From: Brendan King, CEO

Hello {insert name here},

Please let me take this opportunity to thank you for using StepRep. We have been making a lot of changes and many of you have asked “What the heck is going on?”. Some of these changes are part of a larger development cycle and results in features that don’t work as expected and/or loss of  functionality. I want to thank you for hanging in there and bearing with us. The changes are all part of a larger plan.

In order to best explain what we are trying to achieve I thought it prudent to tell you where we came from and how we got to where we are.

Originally StepRep was part of MyFrontSteps, a solution to connect home owners with home service providers (real estate agents, plumbers, carpenters, landscapers, etc.). StepRep was envisioned as a personal Reputation Alert tool (much like Google Alerts) to allow these service providers to monitor what was being said about them online. It would also
help them to build their reputation by allowing them to place the positive stories on a widget which they could promote in various places. StepRep would also be the place where these small business people would be exposed and interact with questions from potential customers. Remember the “Asks” tab?

Along the way we discovered that we vastly underestimated the need for Reputation Intelligence and social engagement tools. We have found that small and medium business have a growing appetite and tremendous demand for these tools.

Our vision and goal is to make StepRep the premier Reputation Intelligence and Social Engagement tool for small and medium businesses. We want to do much more than provide alerts for key word terms. We want StepRep to give you information you can use to make your real world business better. This is a simplistic example but, imagine your business is a restaurant and people are saying “your lunch special is awesome but your bathrooms are dirty”, we want you to know. This way you can market your lunch special and clean up your bathrooms. We also want you to help you engage your customers where they are talking. Our Social publishing tool is designed to help you take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. We intend to add Google Buzz and other places where consumers are talking. Lastly we want to make sure
your business can be found. Our business listing will help you get your business listed online in places like Google Local business center all the way down to small local directories.

To this end we have been doing a lot of work “under the hood” and some of our recent work is not complete. Again I want to reiterate my sincere apologies if these changes have inconvenienced you. I hope you will hang in there. We want StepRep to be the best Reputation Intelligence and social engagement tool available. We understand that in the short term the changes might be frustrating, especially when it is not clear how you can accomplish the tasks with which you are familiar. For instance, we are introducing automated sentiment detection (Positive, Neutral, Negative) so that you
don’t have to do all the work yourself. To do this we have had to temporarily disable your ability to set sentiment manually but your ability to assign sentiment will return very soon.

Over the 2nd quarter of 2010 you will notice many changes and improvements and we hope that you will enjoy them. If you have a feature request or are unsure about how to use our product please make suggestions or ask questions.

You may have also noticed that we have a new support system in place. Please feel free to email suggestions or questions to support@steprep.com

Thanks so much for your patience.

Brendan King

CEO

www.StepRep.com

I am looking forward to sharing the vision for our product www.Mashedin.com and hope to do that withing the next couple of weeks. Till then please feel free to check it out yourself and let us know what you think.


Web 2.0 Expo and “What have you done to make your house a home?”

April 3, 2009

 

I am out a Web 2.0 Expo with Jeff and Allan from our company, MyFrontSteps.com.  Between meetings and sessions we thought we would do a little filming. I have put together this video of us asking people the question: “What have you done to make your house a home”.   Disclaimer: before you watch it I want you to know I made it in 1 hour  with out access to some of the very best interviews.   This because a lot of our footage was shot in HD and I don’t have a way to deal with MTS files yet on my PC.
      
That said we do have Robert Scoble answering the question. We have other neat people too, like Vannessa Fox but alas many of these will have to wait until I can get the files converted from HD!
     

VendAsta wins “Most Promising New Company”

March 20, 2009

 

A lot has happened in the last few months. We have been totally engrossed  building http://www.MyFrontSteps.com and I have been neglecting my blog.  We participated in a Canadian Trade Mission, released new versions of our software, including our Alpha Homebook Product, and, I am proud to report, we won an award.
Last night we one the SIMA Award for “Most Promising New Company”.        
This award belongs to all the great people here at VendAsta – I am super proud of each and everyone of them.

Google ( Chrome + Gears + Native Client) = Web OS? and MS Pain

December 17, 2008
Google is now one step closer to sticking a knife into Microsoft and twisting it.  Google has quietly released Native Client,  and moved an incremental step closer to to the promise of a web operating system.   
               
Simply put Native Client will run code a PC can understand without having to translate everything, ergo, faster and better browser based software.  I can remember when Netscape and it’s clunky Java implementation scared the pants off of Bill in 1995 and forced Microsoft to push out it’s own scripting language- Active X.   I am sure that Native Client will be a much friendlier version of Active X.    
     
Now, if you combine Chrome, Google’s new browser with Gears, which can store web app data off line and synchronize later, AND add in Native Client I think you have something that is approaching a Web OS.  
Take that Bill.

Sneak Preview of our New “Caves and Commons” Office Space

October 2, 2008

So we just moved into our new office this week.  lots of offices, lots of common space and lots of designated scrum space.  Huge paint on white boards.  Fun people. What more could you ask for?   I have a much longer and comprehensive post coming on office space, but for now check out some of the photos here.

 


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