TLabs Showcase focus on startups featuring Canada-based SiteValet.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
SiteValet lets inns, B&Bs and other accommodations businesses create and manage great websites using a very easy to use web application. We do the hosting ... everything. And we do it all for a fraction of the thousands they’d normally spend: $49.95/month and no upfront costs.
- Dave Hyndman, founder and president of SiteValet. I’ve been in the tech business for my entire 20+ year career. For the 7 years before I started SiteValet, I created and ran the Travel & Hospitality business for T4G Limited. T4G is one of Canada’s leading IT consulting firms. At T4G we did all of the web and backend software development for Tourism BC and New Brunswick Tourism. We also did software development for Fairmont, Intrawest and others. It was during this time I saw the need for SiteValet.
The rest of the team is a collection of exceptional freelancers and boutique firms:
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Andrew Forward is my lead developer. Andrew is proof of how much a sole developer can accomplish. Andrew’s also working on his Computer Science PhD at the University of Ottawa.
- Dave Shea, web design rockstar (my term, not his) and creator of CSS Zen Garden, created SiteValet’s theme framework. The framework governs the way other designers create new website themes for us.
- The awesome folks at Silverorange designed and created the entire application user interface.
I started building SiteValet in my spare time, while still employed. I managed to get SiteValet (soft) launched before raising outside money. Then I closed a small angel round of equity in December, 2009. This money will fund operations, sales and marketing through 2010.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The websites of most inns and B&Bs are terrible and they’re costing these businesses bookings and money. Fixing the problem is a long, difficult, risky and expensive undertaking.
The main issues our target customers’ current websites have include:
- Poor design. Looks and first impressions matter ... a lot!
- Incomplete and out-of-date content.
- No control.
Keeping up. I think this is the biggest issue. As a site like Tnooz demonstrates, the web is a rapidly changing world. I can’t imagine how an innkeeper is supposed to stay on top of all that’s happening, filter what is important to them and their customers, and then have the expertise or budget to implement these new things on an ongoing basis. Even if you created the perfect website today, it won’t be perfect 6 months from now!
Describe the business, core products and services?
SiteValet is a web application. Our users register, login and use the app to build and edit their website. The core product is the website for $49.95/month for everything: designs, use of the application, hosting, support.
We do offer a few premiums and additional services:
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
- Custom themes: We can build a unique custom theme for $899. Some customers find this gives them the advantages of the SiteValet platform, while ensuring the look of their site is unique to them.
- Semi-custom themes: For $299 we will tweak an existing theme for a user: we make changes to color palettes, type, and background images. The revision becomes a unique theme exclusive to that customer.
- Website QuickStart: It only take 2-3 hours to create a complete website using SiteValet, but some of our users either don’t have the time or are intimidated by that first step. For $149 we will do a best-efforts port of an existing site’s content over to a new SiteValet website.
Our target customers are the owners of inns, B&Bs, small hotels, cottage rental properties ... any fixed-roof accommodations property. Most of our prospective customers already have a website that they know they need to improve, but they’re having a hard time seeing the value in spending $3k and up on a new site. We think 90% of them would be crazy to spend thousands of dollars on a custom website development project!
We’re also getting customers that don’t have a website (there are still lots of these folks). Their current web presence is on one (or multiple) directories of some sort. In this day and age, this is simply inadequate.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes. I spoke to a number of target customers. I came away from all of those conversations confident that we were onto something. They have almost universal anxiety about their websites. They attend seminars and read stuff; it’s people telling them what they need to be doing. But nobody was offering a solution other than a laundry list of best practices that would cost about $5k to implement.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
It’s very straightforward: $49.95/month for everything. This includes designs, hosting ... everything. There are no incremental costs for pages, bandwidth, number of images.
The business model is to acquire as many of these folks as we can and keep them for a long, long time by giving them exceptional help with the web and technology in general. And the SiteValet platform will continuously evolve to keep our customers’ web presence current.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Our biggest strength is that we will continue to change and adapt and all of our customers will continuously benefit. They’re not getting a static website. An example: We could easily add the ability to add Twitter streams to our websites. As soon as we do, all of our customers have that ability. If they were on their own, each one would need to have a developer do it, and pay them a few hundred dollars for the change.
- There are some inevitable compromises when creating websites from an application like SiteValet. People will always say, “but it can’t do this and it can’t do that.” But we know it does what’s important, does it well, and will always adapt and improve.
- Our biggest opportunity to improve the existing solution is to continue to add flexibility and capabilities to the designs of the websites. Outside of our current business, we can easily extend SiteValet to tackle another business type, like restaurants. We’re focused on accommodations right now, but this will come.
- New competition in two possible places. Another advanced, modern web application focused on the same target market. There are some nice “web 2.0” website builders out there, but they’re all for generic “small business websites.” We think our focus on the specific needs of our customers is needed.
And Google. They continue to make advances in Maps/Local and continue to add more content to business listings on Google. We think it’s years before they might obviate the need for a business to have a dedicated website (if ever), but they’re certainly moving along that spectrum.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
Other than my wife and my parents, who didn’t? I’m kidding, but through this I’ve learned that there are a lot of people who will tell you what’s wrong with your idea; most of them aren’t out trying to do something themselves. You need to solicit input and ideas but at some point you need to commit and then persevere.
My single biggest conviction is that small business people like innkeepers shouldn’t have to be so concerned about their website and technology in general. Somebody needs to take this problem off their hands, manage it well for them, and not charge a small fortune.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We need a few hundred customers to break-even. I think we’ll be well beyond this number within 12 months.
TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.