Starting an Online Community
Interview with OfficeArrow Cofounder Mike Lewis
Mike Lewis helps office professionals connect, learn and buy supplies through his online community, OfficeArrow.
Mike Lewis and his partners started OfficeArrow, a website, geared to providing office professionals with everything they need to be successful.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
OfficeArrow is the world's first online collaborative community developed specifically for Office Professionals by Office Professionals. OfficeArrow helps members to do their jobs better, faster and with more satisfaction by allowing them to tap into a group of trusted friends and business associates while learning best practices from industry experts and each other. Simply, OfficeArrow enhances productivity.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
For the past 12 years, I have served as CEO of ILD Telecommunications, a profitable $100 million company that I co-founded in 1996. ILD specializes in back office support services, including payment processing, outsourced services and conferencing solutions. Prior to starting ILD, I was involved in several entrepreneurial enterprises, including a private equity firm, Triad Capital Partners, and two successful telecommunications companies.
Where did you get the startup money?
In addition to my own personal investment, a group of long-time friends and business partners have contributed to the startup of the company.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
OfficeArrow is a first-mover in an underserved niche. We are the only site that truly combines the collaborative aspect of business with commerce in an online community setting exclusively for Office Professionals. We've developed this trusted destination where busy office professionals can ask questions and get answers, network, collaborate and make informed purchasing decisions.
DeskDemon.com would be considered our closest competitor. They target administrative professionals and post-static content. Unlike DeskDemon, OfficeArrow facilitates the office professionals' entire decision-making process from question and discussion to identification, comparison and finally purchase of office products and services. OfficeArrow's audience is also much wider than just the administrative professional - it includes not only executive assistants, office managers and administrative assistants, but also small business owners, with content and conversations geared toward every business professional.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
The strong relationship formed between our site and our member community has far exceeded my initial expectations. Every day, reading the articles and seeing the collaboration among the members further proves the need for OfficeArrow. On several occasions in fact, I've found the member articles and collaboration teaching me more about what goes on in the workplace.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
In retrospect, I probably would have started the project with an in-house development team with a vested interest in the success of the business, instead of relying on outside developers. While it seemed logical to outsource at first, we quickly realized that we'd be best served long-term by bringing the project in-house.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Over the course of the past year, we've assembled a talented team of individuals who passionately and effectively represent our member profile. This team understands the member's needs because they've experienced the job functions firsthand, and therefore every article written, every widget developed and every product promoted is done so with the core needs of the OfficeArrow member in mind.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
I'd encourage them to make sure they fully understand the needs of their target community and focus on recruiting the best talent available.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Mike. Good luck with OfficeArrrow!
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