Khalid Saleh founded Invesp in 2006 in Farmington, Michigan.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Invesp is an ecommerce conversion rate optimization company. We help ecommerce companies increase their online sales through creating highly persuasive website.
How did you come up with your business idea?
Back in 2005, I was a lead architect on one of the largest ecommerce website initiatives for a Fortune 500 company. The client invested close to 15 million dollars in its website. It was a developer's dream. We got to integrate and test all sort of different technologies into the site.
When the site finally launched, they had a major national marketing campaign to drive visitors (traffic) to the site. And although tens of thousands of visitors came to the site on its first day, the client hardly received any orders. All the technology and hours of work we put into the project did not matter because the site didn't convert visitors to customers. The website had a major conversion problem.
As I researched the issue of conversion, I discovered that our client was not a unique case. Most ecommerce websites suffer from low conversion rates. That presented an opportunity to me. If we can find a way to help ecommerce website increase their conversion rates, we can have a sustainable business that solves real business issues.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I was working for technology consulting company prior to starting Invesp. My role involved leading technical teams to implement some of the largest ecommerce website in North America for companies such as Motorola, American Express and Citrix.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
We spent the first 2 months researching the business and writing our initial business plan. Creating our first business plan was critical in defining our target market and how we should approach the business all together.
About 6 months into the business we sat down and revised the business plan completely. Our initial plan lacked real data to support it. After operating the business for few months, we had new insights and thought of new ways to approach the market. The second business plan took about 2 more months to create. And while we continued to operate the business during that period, our updated plan helped to further streamline our operations.
There are times where I wish we have time to rewrite the plan for a 3rd time but this a difficult task at this point.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers …? Would you suggest others do the same?
We did not initially hire anyone for the support roles. We relied either on our own experience and background to take care of these tasks or on family members who could provide us with advice (legal matters). As the business grew we found the need to outsource some of that work.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
The business had three partners to start. We were all good friends and believed in the idea. Each partner brought different experiences into the company which helped server our clients very well. I was focused on the technical side of things. One of my partners focused on usability aspects, and the third focused on sales and marketing.
While this model worked out the first two years of business, we eventually decided to buy one of the partners out. And for the past couple of years, we ran the business with two partners. This can be challenging at times but it is very rewarding most of the time. We are able to split the duties of running the business between the two of us and that helps push the business forward.
Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?
The company has 12 full time employees. Hiring the right talent continues to be a challenge for us. We are always looking to attract the right talent, train them and make sure they stay with us. Neither I nor my partner has human resource experience which proved to be a challenging. You might think you hired the right person and then you discover he or she is not able to function well within a team. There are also times where we had a tough time attracting talent due to the geographical location we operate in. I think the team we have right now, about 5 years into the life of the company is one of the best teams working for us. It took a lot of mistakes until we got to this point.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Starting a business can be very challenging. Many people underestimate the amount of work starting a new business requires. My advice to someone thinking of starting a similar business is to find a meaningful way to differentiate himself from other companies in the field. You have to find a good reason why clients would want to do business with you as oppose to one of our competitors.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview, Khalid. Good luck with your business.