Friday, March 16, 2007
Interview with Dan King, CEO of ReadyTalk
Dan King is the CEO of ReadyTalk (www.readytalk.com), a Denver, Colorado firm that provides online web conferencing services. Dan spoke to us about his experience as an entrepreneur, and how he managed to bootstrap and make ReadyTalk successful.
Techrockies: Talk a little bit about ReadyTalk and what you do?
Dan King: ReadyTalk is the name of our company as it represents itself in the retail space, our legal name is Ecovate. We have ReadyTalk, which is a audio and webconferencing service we provide to businesses and organizations, and Ecovate, where we deliver technology solutions in a private label manner to service providers. That allows service providers to integrate our technology into our platform as a branded service.
Techrockies: What's your story on how you bootstrapped the business?
Dan King: I was a co-founder of Ecovate, originally, in the second quarter of 2000. We raised venture capital to raise a business that was an application infrastructure provider, providing specialized hosting and services to emerging communications ASPs. They were doing hosted unified messaging, web conferencing, and things that had data and voice elements, around voice elements that delivered themselves over VoIP over time. Our business launched at the tail end of the Dot Com period, but we were able to raise money and get the company started. About as quickly as we got going, we figured out we didn't have a sustainable business model, because of the marketplace. We agreed with our venture capitalists to not pursue our original concept of the business, and we all agreed to close down the entity. That happened in early Q2 of 2001. We then realized there was an opportunity in the web conferencing space, particularly as it related to providing wholesale services to service providers. We allowed them to differentiate themselves from what was otherwise just audio conferencing services. We tried to get funding around this new model, but didn't have too much success, because it was a bad time in this market to raise money. As easy as it was for us to raise money in Q2 of 2000, it was as difficult raising money a year later. We ended up self funding through that period, and then in early 2002 we signed a pretty significant contract with a large carrier private labeling our technology. We then made the decision to launch Readytalk, a branded service we would deliver to the customer as an integrated audio and web conferencing solution. We put some additional capital in the business the old fashioned way -- taking private loans, friends and family, which was sufficient to get the business up and running on a growth track since then. Since we launched ReadyTalk, we've had over 100 percent compound growth per year. Our growth at this point in 2007 is between 40-50% over last year, we're seeing very solid growth in our business.
Techrockies: How much of your business is in the branded ReadyTalk services versus private label?
Dan King: About 60% of the business is through ReadyTalk, the other 40% is through the channel.
Techrockies: So the ReadyTalk portion is a pretty big piece of the business?
Dan King: Yes, it always has been. We now have a run rate of 150 million minutes in total teleconferencing services on an annual basis. It's a pretty sizeable base of business at this point, with a lot of it through the channel and a lot of it direct.
Techrockies: What was the hardest part of bootstrapping the firm?
Dan King: We really were very intent on actually raising venture capital to do the business, the second time, even with the challenging experience we had in the first round. The reasons were primarily that you really have to step up to a substantial amount of personal risk to bootstrap a business. There's a persistent quality about entrepreneurs, I think it's characteristic of entrepreneurs, which is, day in and day out, to do things that feel positive in the business. You're unwilling to step back and give a broader perspective when you're in the trenches every day with a team that is working hard and when good things happen, and you tend to reinforce your conviction that your business is viable and on the right track. I'm not just talking about myself, I see this in so many people I meet in the space. It's a quality of an entrepreneur to believe that things are going to work out in the long run. In our case, they absolutely have. But, if you had taken a very critical and analytical look at the business along the line, I think you would have said we were out of our minds.
Techrockies: Was there anything in particular that enabled you to be successful?
Dan King: What we've built our business around is a talented group of people. That's part of the advantage of having built a larger company, and then had to downsize, and then going forward with just a smaller subset. We had people that work well together, and brought lots of talent to the organization. I think that in our case, having had to work through a really difficult time, made a much stronger company. It enabled us to better manage how we raise our business, and be more critical and make better decisions and staying very focused on what we have to do to have success. In a way, it ended up being a bit of a blessing to have to come through tough times. I think you get the best learning, and learn the most from that difficult environment.
Techrockies: We've heard lots of those from companies who lived through the 2000 timeframe, it seems...
Dan King: We were very intent on getting venture capital. The challenge we had was the wholesale market wasn't big enough to be interesting to the venture community. They were not ready to take the risk, and it was a difficult time anyway. Lots of venture capital companies were investigating deals, but not moving forward--there was lots of uncertainty. It was a challenge, but once we put together our products and prototypes in that timeframe, we signed a pretty significant contract with one carrier, and were structured to launch the ReadyTalk service. We knew we had a viable business to build success, as long as we were consistent and did the right thing..
Techrockies: What's next for the firm, and where do you see growth coming from?
Dan King: It's a very competitive space, but we continue to put energy into making sure the product is extremely easy to use, extremely reliable, and works on any computing platform--whether that is Linux, and Apple desktop, or a Windows desktop--and we make sure we deliver remarkable service to our customers. We have grown our business very successfully through referrals from existing customers. We have not only grown our incumbent base, but also added lots of new accounts. Our focus going forward is puttnig more investment in the technology for web seminars--we've gotten feedback from our customers that the tools in the market are insufficient in that regard. We're investing in those technology areas, and focusing on the basics--making our products easy to use, that they work all the time, and really back it well with a very good customer experience.