Naruby Schlenker is a co-founder of Ordoro, a web application that helps small- and medium-sized ecommerce retailers manage their orders, inventory and shipping. Founded in 2010, Ordoro streamlines everything that happens after a shopper checks out on an online retailer’s website, including inventory management, drop shipping, supplier integration and the creation and printing of packing lists and shipping labels.
She holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas – Austin. Prior to launching Ordoro, she worked with Eli Lilly and Co., rotating through several finance related positions, including an assignment in her native Venezuela where she discovered her strengths in sales and marketing.
Schlenker is armed with an MBA and entrepreneurial passion, and she took the time to talk with the Rackspace Startup Program about the trials of bootstrapping her company for the first year and building a startup with no partners, no brand name and no presence in the ecommerce world. What follows are her thoughts on creating a shipping app with built-in inventory management:
How do you go about acquiring customers at Ordoro?
Customer acquisition is a never-ending question for a growing business and the answers change at every phase of the company. When we started Ordoro we needed beta customers to guide us in building out the features. We had no partners, no brand name and no presence in the ecommerce world.
We combed through forums and searched the web for potential clients and then simply cold called them. Cold calling is time intensive and with such a minimal product to demo, well, our acquisition rate was really low. We weren’t looking to solve a sales problem or to grow fast, we were looking for a handful of early adopters to dive in, give us feedback, and help us build the product.
In addition, we wanted to really validate the Ordoro idea, and for us the proof is in the pudding – would these early customers start paying us a monthly fee? We were delighted to see that our beta customers started paying us as soon as we asked them to only a couple of months after we started development. It wasn’t about the money; it was about validating that we were onto something of value that people were willing to pay for.
Once we had built out the core of Ordoro, we began approaching shopping cart platforms for partnerships. Once we got one platform on board, others began approaching us. Then our customer acquisition strategy changed to one of channel partnerships and optimizing our site for the right search terms. It is the strategy we continue to execute today but, as I said, this is a question we are always thinking about and running experiments to find new ways to drive traffic to our site, optimize our site for sign ups and then deliver best in class software which ultimately gets us to our main goal of delighting our customers. We’ve always been clear that it’s not just about acquiring customers but also about keeping those customers.
What financing avenues did you explore for your startup?
Instead of selling an idea and a power point presentation, we just got to work. It wasn’t easy to bootstrap the company the first year, but it gave us the time to build a product and have a few dozen paying customers before we even started approaching angel investors. We secured a small angel round that allowed us to hire another developer and a designer. Having the right people on the team took our product to the next level. Customers noticed, we grew and then it was time to raise more money and expand our development team.
Although we had interest from some local investors, the best fit came from Belgium. We connected through AngelList and after a few calls; they decided to make the trip to Austin to check us out. Emerge led our seed round and has since invested a follow on round in our company. We feel very fortunate to have found such great investors that have not only infused our company with capital, but have served as advisors to our team.
What lessons were learned building Ordoro?
Channel partnerships are great, but you can’t expect the channel to push your solution. We’ve experimented with spiff programs, promotions, etc. In our experience, it’s not about your partners pushing your product. It’s about the end customers pulling for it. We know we are solving a pain that is very real with a product that we take pride in. In our opinion, it’s about delighting the customers with our software and everything else falls into place.
What business challenges did you run into?
Early on it was tough to find beta customers. Cold calling is not easy, not to mention that we were “selling” a product that was half-baked. In the end, we persevered and found the customers that helped us build Ordoro.
What business wins has Ordoro achieved?
Hiring a very talented team. We had a partner visit us recently and he was extremely surprised to learn that there were only nine of us, with most being on our development team. We’ve achieved a lot with a small team, but it is an extremely talented team with the right mix of people and lots of motivation.
What were the ‘What to Do’ and ‘What Not to Do’ while building your startup?
What to Do: Take your time in hiring the right people. Surround your business with good people and good partners.
What Not to Do: Do not believe there is a magic way to grow fast. Stop looking for those quick solutions that will spur growth in the short term but take your focus away from the end goal. Growth takes time, have patience.
What was the Good, the Bad & the Ugly of establishing Ordoro?
Good – Assembling a talented team to deliver a product that we take pride in. Going to work is fun!
Bad – It’s hard to get noticed by some of the big players in the industry when you’re the new kid on the block.
Ugly – I miss traveling. Not only is my free time limited but so is the balance in my bank account…for now!
What straight up business advice would give to a startup?
Attending conferences in your industry is a great way to network and find new partnership opportunities. Don’t feel the need to spend the money to have a booth or a big marketing presence, simply go and walk the floor and network.
The Rackspace Startup Program thanks our favorite Longhorn, Naruby Schlenker, for taking time out of her busy schedule to enlighten us on hiring the right people, growing the business at the right pace and validating product value with the right customers. For more insight on hosting your startup on the Rackspace Cloud, contact the Startup Team today.