We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Justin Hartzman”, Founder and CEO – of the Toronto – Canada based start-up “Needls.”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1- What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Along with my partners Jeremy Poriah and Michael Koral, I’m one of the co-founders of needls.com. I’m also the company’s CEO. What needls does is find and deliver targeted relationship-based sales leads in real time to our users. They choose their target keywords (they can come up with their own or choose from amongst our many suggested keywords) and the needls proprietary algorithm scours Twitter and Facebook and finds them potential new customers. Needls users are notified of these leads in real time (or in daily roundup notifications if they prefer) and can then reach out to close a sale long before anyone else is aware of the prospect. To sum it up, needls monitors social media networks and alerts you instantly when someone is looking for the kind of services or goods you can provide and allows you to easily contact these prospective clients.
2- When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
Our company was founded in 2014 when my partners and I were brainstorming ideas to grow our web development business and turned to social networks for inspiration. There on my feed I could see that someone had made a post looking for the exact kind of services we offered. With that, the idea for needls was born. We’re now just about ready to officially launch.
3- What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
Needls’ revenue comes primarily from monthly recurring licensing fees for the use of our platform. We offer three base packages dependent on our customers’ needs and usage.
4- How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
My partners and I have known each other since we were kids and have been doing business together for over a decade. I’m the company’s CEO, Michael is its CFO and Jeremy is its COO.
5- What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
While there are similar services to ours out there, none target the SME market like ours does. We’re filling the gap by offering lead generation via social media at a rate the “little guy” can afford.
6- What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
Our growth has been significant, but it’s our potential for further growth that we’re really excited about. Here are some notable milestones:
February 2014 – Minimum Viable Product created.
March 2014 – Approved by Twitter to receive unrestricted access to all real-time and historical data.
April 2014 – Beta Test – We set up a beta test to gauge the success level of needls. When we wrapped it up, 37% of the beta testers decided to stay on as paid users. We were thrilled with these results, as they were well above industry average. We ultimately gave those users ongoing free access to needls as our way of saying thank you. Such great results early on were very encouraging.
June 2014 – Launched V2 of algorithm with Semantic Search.
August 2014 – Generated a waiting list of 2000+ professionals to get first access to our service once launched.
September 2014 – Partnered with Top Reseller to prepare for launch.
November 2014 – Launched with Reseller and signed on 270+ agencies and generated $185K in revenue.
January 2015 – Lined up 3 additional sales events with Reseller and preparing for SMB launch in February 2015.
7- Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our competitors are the likes of Hoot Suite, Leadsift and Radian 6. But as mentioned before, companies like these do not cater to the SME market like we do. We have priced our service and customized our system so that it is the small business owner, independent professional and entrepreneur who primarily benefits from using needls.
8- What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Our most notable obstacles have revolved around getting the right staff on board. We have a lot of past and present experience as web developers, but for a project of this significance we had to really expand our network of programmers, marketing staff, designers, etc. We continue to look for more of these competent individuals.
9- What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
I believe a lot of outsiders don’t understand that this isn’t something anyone can just do on their own without this tool. For most of us it’s impossible to stay on top of our own timelines and feeds, let alone monitor all public posts and tweets that come in our target geo location. Needls makes it so that you don’t miss out on the many leads hidden with that clutter.
10- Why are you going to succeed?
We’ve created several major web projects before and transitioned them successfully. With each one we’ve learned a lot and we’re carrying over these lessons to needls, which will be our biggest project yet. Each of the founders has put a good portion of their own money into this project because they believe in it. Needls is going to get the full treatment of our experience and skills.
11- If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We plan to create additional revenue with needls by offering our vast data, analytics and market insight to advertising companies, market research firms and other organizations that are of interest. We’ll also be taking advantage of a tool that helps better target paid advertising in a way that allows any sized company to take their advertising dollars further. We also plan to promote complementary services, such as CRM software and accounting tools. In terms of social networks, we’re looking to expand to include LinkedIn, WordPress, discussion forums and more.
12- Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
As eluded to earlier, the concept for needls arouse from our own needs as owners of a web development company. We wanted to be more proactive and find potential clients, but found traditional methods weren’t cutting it. So while brainstorming ideas about how we could capture more clients, we began looking through social media networks for inspiration. There we came across a post that read, “Anyone know of a good local iOS developer for an incredible app I want to make?” It clicked for us right then. We could use social media to find the people who were looking for the services we had to offer. And it could work for virtually anyone. Needls was born.
13- What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
I’ve learned that it works and therefore could drastically change the way SME business is done. Yes, we had to work out some kinks and will continue to do so, but that’s only assured me that we’re creating a viable service by addressing such concerns.
14- Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Six months down the road our biggest “problem” will be finding more and better data sources. We want our users to have access to as many leads as possible, but we also want to ensure these are quality leads. So we will constantly work away at this. These same standards will be applied to the other social networks we add on.
15- What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
The benefit for our customers is more customers for themselves! That’s needls at its core. Our service finds our users potential clients and gives them the tools to reach out to them.
16- How did customers / users find out about you?
Our service is still very much new and so right now we’re in the early stages of building up our user-base. Many of our present users are part of our network of contacts while others were cultivated through initial marketing efforts. In the coming months we plan to greatly expand our marketing efforts to acquire a large user-base.
17- Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
The majority of our current users and target users are essentially the same – small business owners, entrepreneurs and independent professionals who offer a product or service and usually have less than 20 employees. Our secondary market is job seekers and ecommerce stores. For our first growth phase we’ll be focusing on acquiring users in North America.
18- Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
New users will come to us through our marketing efforts, by hearing/reading about us in the press and through word of mouth. We offer a free package so testing needls out is risk-free and therefore encourages new users to try us out. When your core function is finding leads to make people money that goes a long way towards capturing their attention.
19- What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
The reviews we’ve received so far have been great. Needls is working for its users. That’s why during our Beta test 37% of testers decided to stay on as paid users, which as mentioned earlier is well above industry average.
20- How are you going to scale?
We’re going to scale by hiring competent people in all areas and adding on new tech resources. We’re taking the time to find the best people for our team because we are very product focused. We anticipate that by year’s end our team will consist of three founders, four technical staff, one PR staff member and one business development/joint venture person.
21- What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Several of our users and others who are interested in our service would like the ability to expand to social networks beyond Facebook and Twitter. That’s something we’re looking to work on in the future.
22- Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
After we’ve established a strong foothold in North America we do plan to expand to Latin America and the European Union. That will mean intensified marketing efforts, hiring a lot more staff and further developing our system in such a way that it can meet all that demand.
23- How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We’re not placing limits on how big we can get. What we do know is that the market is huge. Presently there are about 1 million small businesses in Canada and 23 million in the US (about 17 million of these have less than 20 employees). Every single one of these businesses would benefit from a service like needls.
24- Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are constantly looking for talented people to join our fun and ever evolving company. Those interested in offering their services should visit: http://needls.com/join_us
25- Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are open to strategic partnerships and potential funding from the right partner. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
26- What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Don’t just dream it, do it. By no means is a great idea easy to come by, but it’s certainly easier than the execution. If you want to make your vision a reality be prepared to work for it.
27- Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
My team and I are prepared to work our butts off to make needls a success. We’ve enjoyed the journey so far and can’t wait to see where it takes us.