Damon Danielson founded Arrange.cc in Pebble Beach, California.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We started Arrange.cc because we were frustrated with how hard it is to organize phone calls and meetings with people. Research indicates that it takes 6 or 7 ping pongs to get two people to agree on a time; and when you start trying to put more people than that together you can end up spending a stupid amount of time calling/emailing to make the meeting happen. We wanted to make a solution that we would love to use.
So we made Arrange.cc to our specs. We respect our users, we treat them the way we want to be treated. Arrange.cc is free, intuitive, simple and non-invasive. We don't require you to download anything; we don't want access to your calendar or contacts; Arrange.cc is optimized for the web as well as iPhones and Blackberries – and it works well with most smart phones. Best of all it works across all of the major calendars out there. AND it's fun to use!
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I am a parallel serial entrepreneur and have founded and or CEO'd more than a dozen venture-backed companies (www.damondanielson.com). Kevin Kalajan is the co-founding CTO and has founded and CTO'd at more than a dozen startups as well as being a three time CTO at Sun Microsystem business units.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
Business plans suck. I have never met an investor or entrepreneur who read a plan after the business got funded. I do like 1 to 4 page executive summaries and 12 – 15 slide power point presentations. Any more detail then that is a waste of time, things just change too fast. As a number of famous generals have said, no battle plan lasts past the first shots fired.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
Many of the smart people I know are now spending a fair amount of time working out of their houses or out on a beach somewhere. Our company is designed to allow people to do that. Not everyone is cut out for being productive in this scenario, many people need the discipline and camaraderie of going to work every day, God bless them. Waiting as long as possible to establish an office can save you some money and sucks up less time in managing that process.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
Do I have a partner? Oh boy do I have a partner. If there is anything I have learned it is to try to surround yourself with people how are smarter than you. In this case – our CTO is just brilliant, and we have an excellent team member working with us on user interface design and art stuff. Good people can do good things and brilliant people can make crap, but to make something outstanding, you need to be in the room (or virtual space) with really smart people. Big big big deal.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
The current economy has swung the needle for the VC and angel community from GREED to FEAR. So, very few deals are getting done, particularly for early stage companies. We have bootstrapped Arrange.cc and will do our best to hold off on bringing investors in until we can find the right investor(s) for a fair valuation. The best cost structure is a structure with no costs. We are creating businesses that are EXTREMELY capital efficient and designing and building products that will require as little labor/costs to support and scale them.
With so many talented people out on the market looking for something to engage their fertile minds, now is one of the best times to start a business in the last 15 years.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
I wrestle with this every day. Everyone tells me that I need to tweet and FB and social network – and I only know what I like and don't like. And I don't like being scammed by tweeters. Developing a brand that matters to people means not scamming people, so I think that most social networking stuff for most kinds of businesses can potentially do more harm than good. And it is just so hard for a startup to break thru the unbelievable clutter out there. Now if you have the type of business that suits itself well to going viral via social media – then go for it. I just don't think many businesses fit into that mold.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Go find your own sandbox to play in (smile).
But seriously, make something that respects your customer. Don't try to make your customer behave so that they optimize your wanna-be business model. Make something that is genuinely useful and elegant.
Do not over-build your 1.0. Build something that captures the essence of what you are trying to do in an elegant manner and then launch it.
Watch what your users are doing and optimize daily to improve the product and make it more viral.
Build traction with your customers – then go raise as little money as possible. Letting investors in is like getting a record deal – it's the beginning of your troubles. Of the 300 A, B and C tier investors I have pitched various businesses to in my business life, I have met a handful that knew much about business and/or that I would want to have lunch with when the chips are down, and there always comes a time when the chips are down.
Thank you for your time and inspiration, Damon. The folks at Gaebler.com are looking forward to using Arrange.cc.