We were thrilled to get a chance to talk with Margo Baxter, the founder of Flying Cart.
Margo, welcome. Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Flying Cart is a web service for creating an online store.
Users pay a low monthly fee for a fully-hosted store website and administrator account. We provide tools to customize the way the store site looks, tools to upload and edit products, tools to automatically market products online, and much more. We also offer social networking and fan club features so people can create communities around stores and products.
Where is your business located?
We are a three-person team telecommuting from Austin, Chicago, and Madison Wisconsin. I am currently located in Austin.
When did you start the business?
We officially launched it in August 2006 but have been working on it since October 2005.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Before this I did freelance web design and worked at the University of Wisconsin as a web developer. I also went to graduate school to get an MA in Art History and was training for Ironman Wisconsin (I still do that). This is my first business.
Where did you get the startup money?
We are self-funded and have bootstrapped the entire way.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Our main competitors are Yahoo! Stores, Ebay, Etsy, Big Cartel, Shopify, Volusion, Miva Merchant.
We differentiate ourselves primarily by offering lower prices, providing a simpler user interface, offering social networking features, providing built-in marketing tools, and by providing very fast and personalized customer support.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Things in the web world are constantly changing and you can't expect that your plan one day will necessarily be the direction you want to go the next day.
The way our product exists now is very different than how we envisioned it in the beginning. It takes a lot of trial and error to find out what will be successful. We have gone through many unsuccessful good ideas in the process. It's not a straight path and it's much harder than I expected.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
There are two main things I think we could have done to speed up our success. Our first step should have been to identify a niche market and develop software that directly solved a problem encountered by that market. The market we chose is so big that it was (and still is) a bit much for us to handle with a small team and budget.
The other thing to do differently would have been to remember that you have to walk before you can run. In other words, I think first we should have built a very simple but robust version of the product and established a base of users, and then added on more sophisticated features from there. Aiming for a more sophisticated solution in the beginning put us in over our heads with development and slowed things down.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Since we have a very small budget, we focus on the cheapest marketing strategies possible: word-of-mouth, referrals, virality, optimized SEO, blog postings, and press. 95% of our marketing has been online because we have found that this is the most cost-effective method. We make an effort to connect with our customers as real people so that they know we are trying to run a business just like they are. We ask for user feedback and we take their suggestions. People like it when they see their ideas implemented and when our customers are happy, they tell their friends.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Create a business to solve your own problem. If you have a certain problem, then so does someone else. It is really important to identify your niche from the beginning, and it should be something that you are passionate about. You will spend a lot of time and effort working on it, and you have to love what you are doing in order for it to be worth it.
That's great advice, Margo. Thank you tons for sharing your entrepreneurial story, and good luck in growing your business.