After selling his successful start-up Stayz, Chris Sharkey was looking for another idea to get his teeth into.
He has made his next foray with Bislr, which offers small businesses a hassle-free way to build their websites.
What’s more he’s managed to raise millions of dollars, despite working on the idea for less than a year, alongside his two brothers – Mike and Peter.
He tells StartupSmart how the trio of siblings hope to go global with their idea.
What gave you the idea for the business?
In the work we were doing after Stayz, we kept running into the same problems over and over again.
I was working in an agency building sites and spent a lot of time integrating things such as blogs, analytics and email marketing. We thought that a platform that could integrate all of these things easily, without it being all so time consuming, would be worth looking into.
So when did you get started?
We got underway in March last year. We had the idea in October 2010, but we didn’t get serious about it until March.
We did about 150,000 lines of code and had seven or eight programmers working on it full-time. But all of that is meaningless unless we get sales or respond to feedback on what’s working.
How much funding did you manage to get?
It was in the millions, from investors in Australia and the US. Stayz was a big part of it – I knew from that business that we had to have a prototype ready by the time we went to investors.
They also liked the fact that I had already taken a business from scratch, grown it and sold it. We want to grow this business and launch in a big way in the US.
There’s not one big player in the US market and we want to launch a sustained marketing campaign across all fronts. We need capital to do that.
What are the key features of your offer?
The platform has multiple components that are fully integrated. You can edit a page as you see it and we’ve included things such as Google Maps and other tools that you can simply drag into the site.
One thing we noticed that many businesses’ websites had a problem with is image cropping. We’ve developed a tool that allows you to just drag an image and zoom in on it – it’s very easy.
It’s optimised to suit someone who runs a home-based business, but still looks professional. We’ve taken a lot of time to ensure everything is as easy as possible for users, even if that’s been very tricky and time-consuming for us.
What market is there for this?
Initially, we want to target small, service-based businesses. That doesn’t mean that large companies or tech savvy people won’t use it – I think they will like it as these kind of integrations normally take a lot of time and we are all very busy.
The technology is cloud-based and free for as long as you like. For $200 a year, you get more email credits and premium apps.
It’s in beta at the moment and we have around 200 people using and trialling the system. Once we’ve tested it properly, we’ll take off the beta banner.
What challenges have you faced?
We probably took on scalability earlier than most businesses, because we knew that we could hit a stalling point.
We slowed down to make sure the business could scale properly, but now we’ve done it, I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t want to have to turn people away because the site can’t grow.
There are heaps of CRMs out there that focus on their core job and put everything else that’s different back onto the user to sort out.
We’ve chosen the hard road to make it easier for the user.
What is it like working with two of your siblings?
It sounds corny, but it works well. Mike’s the visionary with the passion, I’m a bit more realistic and Peter is focused and deliberate.
Those complementary characteristics work well, I think. Investors have said that the whole family thing could be an issue if we fight and fall out, but we argue every day and it’s OK.
You have to resolve it as they are your family – you can’t get rid of them. Working with them every day is great.
Can this business go far?
We want to be big with hundreds of thousands of customers, but we aren’t in a great rush. We’ve got plenty of money to take our time and get it right, rather than launch quickly and piss off 50,000 people.
I see this as a base platform – we can eventually add things such as accountancy packages and other apps on top of it.