Interview with Phil Michaelson, Founder of KartMe, Inc.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We help people organize lists of favorite recipes, wines, books, links, designs, travel tips and more to share, use on the go, or track prices. For places, KartMe automatically puts maps and notes on your phone—great for traveling to new cities. For products like electronics, books and toys, KartMe tracks prices. We save members time and money, and help them share with friends, spouses and mom.
When did you start the business?
KartMe launched in New York City in September 2009. Since then we've received an Apple "Staff Pick", been featured in The Washington Post, and been called "really useful" by TechRadar. We now help members organize and share over 1,000 favorites each month and attract 10,000 visitors a month.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I previously worked at IBM and Dun & Bradstreet, the owner of Hoovers.com. I had the idea for KartMe while a student at Harvard Business School. The website launched about 3 months after I graduated from school.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I used to keep restaurant recommendations in an Outlook Contact, book recommendations in a draft email, and email offers in a separate spam account. KartMe offers one centralized spot for all these lists of things to eat, see, do and buy—that I can use on my computer and phone. KartMe saves me time by automatically putting maps next to restaurants on my phone. It saves me money by finding deals on electronics, toys, and books. And it's fun because I can follow my friends' lists of music, books and recipes.
What outside resources were helpful for you -- Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, etc.?
I've enjoyed attending events in Boston and New York City from the Ultra Light Startups to Webinnovators. I also like the NextNY email group in New York. I've picked up some tips and met some great people. Finally, the blogs of Steven Blank, Erics Ries, and Andrew Chen have great advice for entrepreneurs.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
KartMe serves 100,000 pages a month, is an Apple "Staff Pick", and has been featured in the Washington Post. Yet, I still run KartMe out of my home office. One tip for home office workers is to set goals that can be measured and tell employees, contractors and advisors about them. This forces accountability. Another tip for home office workers is to never bring your work email or work phone outside of the "work" area.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
KartMe loves social media. We've gained many new members through Twitter and other social networks by offering informative content and a relevant business proposition. We also think social media is great for connecting with members. KartMe often gets tips and suggestions via communications with customers on Twitter and other social networks.
Temporary labor can be a great asset to an entrepreneur. Have you ever hired temps or contractors? Would you suggest this as a strategy for new business owners?
KartMe has used contractors found via eLance and rent-a-coder. A few tips from KartMe's experience: 1) Start small 2) Make sure they've done relevant work that has attracted significant traffic and 3) Set up the contract so at least 50% of the compensation comes at the end.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Get out of your office. Test and learn as cheaply as you can before spending a dollar. Show paper and powerpoint designs to potential customers and get input before doing any spending.
KartMe sounds like a great product, Phil; I can't wait to try it. Thanks for talking with me.