It’s not often that you come across a business which started off as a side project and within three years, has become global, being used in over 150 countries and growing exponentially month on month. This happened to be the case for Tim Kremer and Behram Khan, co-founders of Avaza, an all-in-one professional services automation tool that seamlessly combines time tracking, expense reporting, quoting and invoicing with project management.
Avaza was born out of the need to manage consulting teams efficiently and grow profitable consulting businesses.
Both founders have a background in software consulting. Kremer previously ran a consultancy, consulting to large Australian companies and Khan was head of software for Seven Media Group, which is where they met. While managing large teams of over 30 consultants, they discovered that there was a significant amount of inefficiency in collaborating on projects with teams and clients. There was no single repository for project tasks and discussions with clients, for time tracking or billing. As a result, there was a lot of duplicated data, out-of-sync customer records and painful manual administration.
“We saw the opportunity to create a single project management product that was simple to use, could run a business much more efficiently and provide the transparency to clients, integrated reporting and business insights we craved,” says Kremer.
“Avaza is a very cost effective solution and provides greater insight into business performance. It gives managers the ability to automate common business processes and gain visibility on team billable utilisation and project profitability. Avaza’s also a great tool for small businesses and freelancers, giving them the same professional interface afforded by large companies.”
Avaza is a successful global business with the past two years seeing revenue grow at approximately 10 to 15% per month, without any marketing spend. Kremer and Khan believe that by utilising marketing initiatives well, it can raise brand awareness and result in a steady flow of business leads. They share their top five tips on how to grow startups to a global scale.
1. Prioritise marketing through free channels first
“What type of marketing will get you the highest return on investment? Free marketing! It’s important to diversify by using a range of methods to ensure effective results. Research your target businesses first. Then integrate methods such as cold calling, letterbox drops and commenting on online business forums, marketplaces or directories, particularly those with high rankings.
“Make sure to respond in a timely manner with informative and relevant comments. By mentioning your product or service in comments, you can build an online presence and increase SEO. For example, within our industry there are numerous business software directories and app marketplaces. They provide a constant trickle of highly profitable customers, allowing you more leeway to spend money on paid acquisition opportunities.”
2. Ensure your paid marketing has a positive ROI
“Many startups throw large amounts of money at paid marketing such as Google AdWords and Facebook. Unfortunately these channels are very competitive. In fact, many of the bid prices for advertising will leave you losing money. These channels have been inflated by Venture Capital funded companies investing lots of money in the hopes of meeting their growth targets.
“For many keywords relevant to Avaza, the bid prices are so high that no one is making money from them. It’s an expensive branding exercise for companies with too much cash. This isn’t a good idea for most startups. With high cash burn rates, your business is also more likely to crash and burn.
“Ensure you measure where your audience is coming from through tracking click-throughs on your website and how they are converting into leads and paid customers. Google Analytics is a free and efficient tool for monitoring and analysing site traffic. This tool is handy as it is applicable to businesses of any scale. If a customer’s lifetime value is less than your cost of acquisition, run for the hills!”
3. Bootstrap if you can
“There’s a huge culture in startup circles telling startups that getting outside funding is the only way to go. Venture Capitalists want you to think this and so do many accelerators and incubators. Since they hold the vast majority of startup events, their mode of thinking is pervasive. A common experience among ‘funded’ companies is they have huge pressures to grow quickly rather than sustainably and have large time and cost overheads.
“Bootstrapping is the other option. It is the name given to companies that build their business without outside funding assistance. Start off by creating a product or service which will generate revenue and become profitable while you are building up the company’s credibility. Many successful Australian startups, like Atlassian and CampaignMonitor bootstrapped and built sustainable businesses and only considered outside funding much later when they could get a much higher return on equity than they were giving away.”
5. Think global and build global
“A lot of startups feel the need to tackle one market at a time. However, why limit yourself to just Australia? It’s a relatively small market and thinking locally may introduce design decisions that make it harder and more costly to go global later. Many of the free marketing opportunities available to you, such as software app stores will be seen by customers globally. Don’t turn those customers away.
“It’s also ideal to consider the practicalities of trading globally with your platform design. Some of these include live, instant exchange rates, invoices that can be adapted to different currencies and if relevant, displaying local time zones.”