Three of Venture for America's fellows -- Mike Wilner, Taylor Sundali and Matt Fulton -- noticed that over 50 percent of small businesses don't have a website, and of those that do, over 90 percent aren't optimized for mobile visitors. So, they started a company, Compass, to address this.
I believe that Compass is going to become a multi-million dollar business in the coming years.
"Wait," you're thinking, "a website company is a good opportunity? Isn't it 2015?" Or maybe you're asking, "How the heck do so many businesses not have websites? Isn't that the first thing you'd do nowadays?" Especially now that there are so many do-it-yourself services like Squarespace, Wix and Weebly.
Understanding the answers to these questions requires some context. I'm going to start close to home, with my 67-year-old Mom. She's an artist and she recently wanted to build a website to display her paintings and sell prints. So she called me, her (theoretically) tech-savvy 40-year-old son who's an entrepreneur and asked for my help.
What did I do?
I didn't build her a website -- I didn't want to sit there and figure out Squarespace and produce something she wouldn't like anyway.
I didn't recommend her to an agency. I knew she didn't want to spend much money and they generally cost at least $5k.
Instead, I thought to myself, "Hmm, what human beings do I know that build websites that won't rip my Mom off?"
The truth is that most independent businesspeople are in their thirties or older, and most of those people don't have the time to figure out how to build a website on their own. The proportion of people who start trying to build a website on Wix and actually finish is only 2 percent. That means 98 percent of people give it a whirl and quit. That's a lot of unbuilt websites and a lot of businesses that need them.
I could have told my Mom to go to a freelance platform like Elance, Upwork or 99designs. But these platforms require you to submit specs, vet submissions, decide on pricing, provide content, etc. It's a whole project management exercise. I would have been punting my Mom into a maw of complexity.
So how does Compass surmount these difficulties? They build customized websites for $800 -- $1,800 and have a network of highly curated freelancers (many of whom are Venture for America Fellows). They have a well-designed process to get the info they need from the business owner so that they can deliver a quality product quickly and reliably. Their freelancers are paid $40+ an hour and don't have to do all of the meta-work that makes this kind of thing painful for creatives (sell, negotiate, educate, gather content and info, etc.). Freelancers generally want as friction-free an engagement as possible. Compass smooths out the friction.
The market is enormous -- $12 billion a year is spent by small businesses on web services each year. It's not just websites, but search engine optimization, email marketing, social media, analytics and everything else a small business would want to do online.
So many companies today are saying "here are the tools, we've made it easier than ever (for you to do)!" It's easy to see why that's the approach. You can go big and keep your costs down by minimizing the services component.
But providing better tools is not going to solve this particular problem. The vast majority of small business owners want nothing to do with figuring out a website. They are neck-deep in their business trying to keep it going. If they're a caterer they're in a kitchen, shopping for supplies, sending thank-you notes, etc. If they're a landscaper they're hiring people, mowing lawns, maintaining equipment, etc. They're chiropractors, chefs, musicians, physical therapists, plumbers, contractors and everything else under the sun.
They're time-starved and trying to move things off their plate. The key isn't providing better tools; instead it's accessibility, ease, convenience, process and, above all, service.
I ran an education company that grew to become #1 in the U.S. in its category. Theoretically, our customers COULD have gone out and taxonomized all of the primary materials or found a freelance tutor, and our Instructors could have hung their own shingles and tried to attract students. But we made things accessible and easy by curating the best Instructors, packaging the materials in a digestible form and format and delivering a high-quality service. That company grew to tens in millions in revenue and still continues to grow to this day (yes, even today when educational content is theoretically 'free' online and ubiquitous. It turns out the completion rate for open online courses is only about 4 percent).
We never raised any money -- investors probably wouldn't have liked the business model anyway. Too many people involved.
There's a lesson here for entrepreneurs looking for opportunities -- it's true that technology is transforming industries and enabling unprecedented levels of both reach and access. It's getting better all of the time. But each new toolset or means of communication requires another investment on the part of businesses and individuals that may not be in position to make them. When people approach a transaction or task they don't necessarily want to equip themselves or become experts. There's a reason that headhunters still thrive even though there's LinkedIn, real estate brokers still make money even though there's Zillow, etc. If you go deep into a problem, you'll find most all of the time that there are yet more problems to be solved from the ground up. Technology can create needs even as it addresses them. Sometimes solving the base problems requires a lot of work -- which is where the opportunity lies.
Originally published on entrepreneur.com