Starting an Online Marketplace
Interview with Khanh Pham, Founder of Shustir.com
After leaving Lehman Brothers, Khanh Pham started an online marketplace for entrepreneurs. Today, Shustir.com has over 15,000 members.
Talk about taking lemons and making lemonade, Khanh and Shu have founded a successful business in a difficult business environment.
Khanh, tell me about your new business.
Shustir.com is an online marketplace for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers to establish a web presence. Shustir.com provides everyone a free online storefront that enables small businesses to not only connect but sell to new customers.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
My partner Shu Kim and I started Shustir.com after the end of our careers at Lehman Brothers averaging over 12 years.
Shu has built a career around strong legal oversight and business development in the real estate industry. She served as general counsel for the firm's real estate investments in the US and Asia, and was instrumental in building Lehman's origination platform in South Korea.
I was an investment professional both as principal and fiduciary evaluating real estate transactions for Lehman Brothers Global Real Estate Group.
How did you come up with your business idea?
Shustir.com came about from our deep desire to not only start our own business but to make something that worked toward a greater purpose. When we were getting laid-off from Lehman Brothers it was a difficult time but Shu and I were lucky to never feel alone. We had a strong network of friends and family that we could tap into. We wanted to offer that same feeling of security to those with whom we felt closest based on our personal backgrounds: entrepreneurs and small businesses. This is the essence of Shustir.com.
Unquestionably, Shustir addresses a real need by tapping into the immeasurable resources of the Web, and transforming them into a powerful tool for the independent business. Shustir establishes a web presence for neighborhood businesses and entrepreneurs to diversify their cash flow beyond brick and mortar and reach new customers beyond geographic boundaries. Shustir is about making sure every entrepreneur has the chance to launch a great business.
What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, ....
We were fortunate to have strong professional relationships with industry leaders who have gone through the same challenges and who could recommend vendors that were viable and trustworthy solutions. They became our de facto advisors who were able to help us on our way.
We also partook in founder's rounds hosted by different law firms and we sat in on web-tech industry peer meetings where we were able to share our growing pains with others going through the same challenges. The advice and references we gained through these meetings were invaluable.
Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?
The idiom "good help is hard find" has proven to be very true. However we have been lucky enough to find a group of individuals who share in our vision for the company.
We found an off-site marketing director who manages our events and street team. He is able to instill our company's unique vision in his team. The street team has been an invaluable asset, as they have become our neighborhood ambassadors building long-term relationships with local businesses.
We also hired a Director of Operations who works as a jack-of-all-trades, managing everything from content curation to programming projects to partnership opportunities.
In the early days of a company individuals must be willing to wear more than one hat at a time. Specialization is for ant colonies not startups.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
Shustir embodies the movement of small business into the realm of social marketing. In the first nine months since our launch our online community has grown to over 15,000 new businesses with more joining every day. By providing a platform for small and independent companies to utilize social marketing to reach new customers we have been able to grow our user base and increase their web visibility.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
My advice is to start a business with a partner, particularly if the venture is truly visionary. I am lucky enough to have built my business with my best friend--someone who complements me in everyway. With Shu, I've been able to find a strong sounding board for my ideas and encouragement to take risks and go beyond comfort zones. It is through our partnership that I have learned that it is not all about the end result but the journey--the human relationships you build along the way with employees, vendors, and peers.
It sounds like you and Shu have created a company that will be helpful for all the entrepreneurs at Gaebler.com. Thank you!
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