Interview with Dan Norris Founder – Web Control Room
Cristian: Hi Dan, and welcome. What is your recently started business?
Dan: Hi Cristian thanks for the welcome and for interviewing me for www.entrepreneurship-interviews.com my app is a free tool called http://webcontrolroom.com. It gives small business owners and online professionals a 1 page summary of their web performance by talking to the services they are already using (Aweber / MailChimp, Google Analytics, Xero etc).
Cristian: How does it work? Do you need to have technical knowledge to use it?
Dan: No you just log in (using your Twitter / Facebook or Google account) then you have to configure the various sources you want to show charts for. Some services require a username and password and some just require you to click a button to go off to the service, log in and click a button to authorise us to display reports. This is a one off step, once they are configured you just log in as often as you like and quickly glance at your charts and you can click on the logo on the chart if you want to visit the service for more information on the stats.
Cristian: I know that I’m spending a lot of time daily checking stats across various platforms each morning, so I won’t ask you how you come up with the idea (because I hate myself not having it before you). But I will ask you how did you go from the idea to actually doing something about it? This step kills me.
Dan: Ha, yeah I had the same problem myself which is why I had the idea for the tool. I have a web design company already and we wanted to get into apps so it made sense to launch an app of our own as a way to showcase what we can do. The web app is right up our alley but the mobile app is new so it meant learning a few new technologies and forking out for a Mac for my developer!
Cristian: I know from my own experience that each time I have this “unique great idea” I shortly discover that it has already been done before. How did this work in your case?
Dan: Well I don’t really worry too much about what else has been done. I don’t think there are that many businesses that come about from truly unique ideas. I tend to think that a better approach is making incremental improvements on existing ideas of executing the same ideas differently (or both) is the way to go. I did have a quick look at what else was out there my main 2 issues with them were (1) they were paid and I’m not convinced yet that this is a big enough problem for most people to pay for so I want to look at other revenue models and (2) they focused too much on pretty charts and not enough on clearly showing increases or decreases in stats to help the business owner quickly make change to strategy. I believe with these 2 differences, this tool would be come useful to a lot more people.
Cristian: How does your typical customer looks like? Who can use your system?
Dan: Anyone with a website really but I think small business people and online professionals are the main target. I guess it makes sense for people who are already using the services we have integrated with (Mail Chimp, Google Analytics, Xero etc) or at least some of them but really it would be useful to anyone who has a website at a bare minimum because it will show you where you rank in Google and the uptime of your server even if you don’t use any of the other paid services for your business.
Cristian: How do small businesses look at the stats usually from your research? Do they have a marketing guy that looks at the stats? Or is it the owner?
Dan: We work predominantly with small business owners in my web company http://awebsitedesigner.com.au and this really depends on the owner and the stats they are looking at. For web stats people who are keen will use Analytics but for a lot of people it’s far too complicated. Just knowing whether more people are visiting this month vs last month is probably more than a lot of small business owners are getting at the moment because they don’t make the effort to learn Analytics.
A lot of small business owners also don’t know exactly where they rank in Google (it’s very common for them to search themselves and because of Google’s personalised results they have an over inflated view of where they really rank). Same with the other stats, a lot of owners probably don’t know the uptime of their server or how many people are reading their Mail Chimp emails etc however there would also be a good chunk that log into a lot of different places to get all of this info.
Cristian: What are the most important online metrics a small company should look after?
Dan: Well it probably depends on how they do business. I keep a very close eye on where I rank in Google because that’s where all of my new business comes from. Other clients do offline campaigns and want to keep an eye on website stats to see if visitors go up after certain campaigns etc. For keen content creators measures like how many people are reading your emails or your Klout score are important too to point you in the right direction with creating content and measure how effectively you are at engaging your audience and obviously financial performance is at the top of the list.
Cristian: What services are you already incorporating?
Dan: So far we have integrated with Google to show where certain keywords rank, Google Analytics to show website visitors, MailChimp and Aweber to show newsletter subscribers and campaign readers, Siteuptime.com and Pingdom.com to show server uptime, Xero for monthly revenue, feedburner for number of blog subscribers and Klout to show social media influence. We want to integrate with more but I wanted to wait to get more feedback from real users before we expanded the list so we just launched with these. We have set up a user voice page at http://webcontrolroom.uservoice.com/forums/152387-feature-suggestions that people can use to add suggestions.
Cristian: I noticed that your services are free right now, but what about the future?
Dan: I don’t believe it’s a big enough problem at this stage that people want to pay for it so I intend on making it free and figuring out an appropriate way to monetise it. The best ideas I have had so far are offering a white label version that is paid and building in smart notifications that use the data in the system to recommend external services for improving some measures – i.e. ‘google positions are down check out this SEO company’ etc. For now though I want to see what the uptake is like and see what sort of feedback we get.
Cristian: I think I also have a question about the confidentiality of the information. How secure are my stats?
Dan: The majority of sources use OAuth which has become a standard way to connect between applications in a secure fashion. With OAuth, the user gives our app access to the service so we just get the data from there directly and don’t actually save any data or any passwords in our system – it actually gets the data live when the user opens the page. This is the same thing that happens when people use social login to log into websites.
Cristian: What are the steps to use your system?
Dan: Sign in using your Google / Facebook or Twitter account if it’s your first time you will be automatically re-directed to the ‘configure sources’ area where you can click on each source that you want to include in your report. Each one will be slightly different but some will require you to click on a button to authorise the app and you will have to go off to the service, log in with your existing account and click an authorise button and then be re-directed back. Others will require you to put in access credentials or other information like the Google one asks you for your URL and keywords etc. All of them have clear instructions and from there you click on ‘Done configuring sources’ and it will show you your report page which will become the homepage for any future visits. This process is the same regardless of the device you are viewing on.
Cristian: What are the most important things for a small business: hire a SEO expert, publish more content, incoming links? I know most business owners want to be first on Google but don’t have a clue what does it take to rank good.
Dan: My advice to small business owners who want to rank in Google is start writing a blog from day 1, do as much as you can to get links to your articles and links in directories etc (and lots of other ways to get back links) then after a few years get more ambitious about chasing some high traffic keywords. In the early days it’s hard to rank against established competitors but you are better off making a start to building your authority and when you are more established you will have a good platform.
Cristian: So, what are the next features you plan to implement?
Dan: We are working on a native iPhone application at the moment. This won’t be much different to the mobile version but it will be quicker to view stats (no login each time) plus it will give us a new vehicle to market to through the app store and hopefully get some more users on board.
Cristian: I recently had an interview with a marketing agency and realized that most businesses don’t have an elevator pitch. So I have to ask, do you have one and what is it?
Dan: No I don’t, we have stairs. Seriously though I’m not much good with elevator pitches I would rather show someone our product or explain it in detail rather than giving out a canned response. But in the end this is a pretty simple product, on the website where we need a headline I have ”All your small business info, the one place, free.”
Cristian: What would be the best advice you would give a small business that is looking for better analytics on their online presence?
Dan: Don’t only rely on advice from developers or consultants when it comes to using services like web stats, email software etc. Instead talk to other small business owners and work out what they are using. If you can use the same systems as other people it makes stat comparisons and support much easier and also means you can use 3rd party tools like Web Control Room and many other great tools that are designed to work with the popular systems.
Thanks heaps for the interview and good luck with your site, I always find it very inspirational to hear from other business owners.