Data is the lifeblood of all online marketing. Few people understand that better than Signpost CEO Stuart Wall, a man once knee-deep in the data-driven world of finance. Wall, who'd spent two years crunching numbers at Bain & Co., ditched his unglamorous gig as an analyst to start his own business. He now sits at the helm of the city's hottest advertising startup, Signpost.
There aren't many advertising solutions for [small retail businesses] out there that allow them to advertise online [in order] to drive offline customers, says Wall. And yet, advertising is very important because [local businesses] have high fixed costs: They're paying rent and employees, so each additional customer is valuable.
Signpost, in its lone year of existence, has helped thousands of small businesses compete in the digital arena. The company creates and manages online marketing campaigns for small firms. Keeping pace with conglomerate marketing teams is a seemingly insurmountable task for a small company, but Signpost has leveled the playing field. For many reasons, it's a brilliant idea, one that Wall initially created for a class he'd taken at Harvard Business School.
He zeroed in on the following type of problem: Say you're a two-person cupcake company that needs a few more sales at your East Village shop on Monday. What do you do? How would you reach someone like me, a cupcake-eating fanatic, who lives 50 blocks away in Brooklyn?
Signpost solves the problem honing in on the needs of a small business and leveraging several online distribution platforms, such as daily deals sites or online ads, to help that business reach new customers. The cost? Not much. Signpost doesn't take a commission fee nor does it skim off the top of the price you'd pay for an online ad. Instead, the company charges $100 per month, assuming that customers will be so pleased with their Signpost marketing campaign that they'll continue to subscribe to the company's service. In the end, it's about driving customers into stores using web-based tools.
We help [small businesses] create an online presence that connects them to customers who visit offline, says Wall. We help them create campaigns, optimize them, send them out to this very fragmented distribution set, and then actually drive customers into the store. We do all the heavy lifting for [small and medium businesses] that often don't have time to negotiate or set-up multiple campaigns on their own. We believe Signpost is a long-term, sustainable, ROI-positive solution.
His dream, thus far, has panned out well both for his company and its thousands of customers: Signpost has grown to 33 markets nationwide, has 1,200 distribution partners and has plans to nearly double its team of 10 full-time employees. The company has also unleashed a sales force of 5,000 part-time employees across the country. There's a high demand for the service Wall and his team provide, which is to help companies manage the never-ending supply of online marketing platforms.
The original Signpost headquarters--the cramped bedroom of his meager Chinatown apartment--was where he and two other co-founders and three unpaid interns worked. It's really tough because you have no money, you're trying to close investors, and you're trying to run a business. You're getting pulled from all sides at once, Wall says about running a startup with less than $10,000 in the bank. You can't hire people because you can't pay them. It was tough, but I think it was the best learning experience I've ever had.
Several rounds of funding later, Signpost has matured and now is housed in a new office that has all the marks of a hot Silicon Alley startup: Cluttered tables, a couple of toys, some Ikea furniture, high ceilings, walls painted with dry-erase whiteboard paint and a decent view from their studio-space in SoHo. Wall is glad to be part of the New York tech scene and remains optimistic about the direction it's heading.
New York is growing as a tech hub. The challenge is that it's more expensive to hire people here, cost of living is higher and that translates to higher salaries, he says. Developers are particularly expensive because there are hedge funds and banks that pay higher rates than what you'd see in Silicon Valley, but I think there's a growing talent pool.
Many in Silicon Alley are focused on global markets. Not Wall. I'm most focused on local, he explains. We think it's the last great white space. Most purchases are made offline, and yet, the Internet to date hasn't been particularly effective at mediating any of those transactions. Most of the dollars spent today are still with retail local businesses that traditionally haven't been using the Internet to advertise.
As to the influence of the Internet on marketing and sales, Wall thinks that will facilitate both the aggregation of buyers and sellers. Wall is positioning his company to be the pipe that connects these two disorganized groups. We specialize in aggregating together lots and lots of small businesses, he explains. The benefit to the small business is they get access to this very fragmented publisher set.
The benefit to this fragmented group of publishers is similar: Signpost essentially aggregates them, too. The benefit for publishers is they can monetize their platform without having to develop their own sales force, so it's very cost efficient for them.