Biznik Connects Independent Business Owners
For our next story, we go to Seattle to meet a couple who never meant to start a business. But the husband and wife now find themselves running Biznik. It's a small though growing Web site that encourages independent business owners to share ideas, both online and in person.
NPR's Wendy Kaufman has the story of how it came about.
WENDY KAUFMAN: Dan McComb and Lara Felton think of themselves as accidental entrepreneurs.
Mr. DAN MCCOMB (Owner, Biznik): Hello.
Ms. LAURA FELTON (Owner, Biznik): Welcome to Biznik headquarters.
Mr. McCOMB: Yes. We have a huge suite of offices here. You've got the living room on the right.
KAUFMAN: Sitting in their cozy living room, Felton and McComb recounted the early days of their marriage. They were both self-employed. She was a photographer. He was a Web developer.
Ms. FELTON: You know, we both needed more business. And...
Mr. McCOMB: Lara looked at me across the table one day and said, honey, have you looked into this business networking thing? Have you ever considered it? And I thought, no. I haven't really ever considered it. So I will.
KAUFMAN: McComb went to several meetings of traditional business networking groups but found them stiff, not very helpful and often expensive. Felton felt the same. The couple thought there has to be a better way. They had just had a wedding with more 300 people, and lots of them were self-employed.
Ms. FELTON: So we sent out an email to all of them and said, all right you guys, come together. Let's talk about business. We all like each other. I'm sure we'd all want to hire each other. And I think we had maybe two dozen people come to the first meeting. And so Dan's like, you know what? I'll build a Web site in my spare time.
KAUFMAN: The year was 2005 and Biznik, the site and the business, was about to be born. The concept they envisioned was what they called radical self-promotion, but based on collaboration, not competition. Independent business owners can join the online network for free or get an enhanced membership for a small monthly charge. Anyone can post a profile, including what they do, what they can offer others, and what they need. And anyone can announce and host an event, so people can meet in person.
Ms. FELTON: Is this your first Biznik event?
Unidentified Man: Yes, it is.
Ms. FELTON: That's great. I'm Lara, co-founder.
KAUFMAN: Several dozen people gathered recently at a downtown Seattle gallery and bar. Over cocktails, they chatted, shared ideas and, yes, handed out business cards.
Annie Jacobson, who manages moves for people who can't do it on their own, was among them. She joined Biznik more than two years ago.
Ms. ANNIE JACOBSON (Member of Biznik): It was a leads system that was authentic. It was personal. Last night, I had a new client call. We're through the end of it, I said by the way, I forgot to ask, how'd you find out? Oh, I found you through Biznik.
KAUFMAN: Biznik now has about 9,000 members. It's a microscopic number compared to, say, the 225 million members of MySpace. But Biznik is growing at a small but steady rate.
For the couple who didn't set out to launch a business, it's been an interesting journey. There was the joy of discovering that they could buy the domain name, Biznik.com, for $8.95. And then there were the challenges of getting their Web site noticed. In the beginning, McComb says, new Web sites can be put into what's often called a sandbox. Only after a site demonstrates that it gets visitors does it make its appearance in a mainstream keyword search. It was seven or eight months before Biznik did that.
Mr. McCOMB: All of a sudden one day, I typed business networking into Google and, boom, there we were on like page 13 or something. But we were now out of the sandbox, and so we were very thrilled.
KAUFMAN: Today, Biznik consistently ranks in the top 10 results for business networking.
But making money on this accidental business has proved a bit more difficult. Since they didn't line up financing in advance, they relied a lot on family and friends, and on credit cards - ordinarily not a cost-effective way to finance a business.
Mr. McCOMB: You know, Lara was pretty creative with finding special offers. So we bought about $12,000 worth of server hardware on that and...
Ms. FELTON: It was a no interest rate for the first 18 months. Within 18 months, I'm sure we'll be able to pay that off.
Mr. McCOMB: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FELTON: I hope we'll be able to pay that off.
KAUFMAN: Her optimism seems well-founded. Just last week, Intuit, the software company, became the site's first major sponsor.
Dan McComb and Lara Felton say they now expect to become profitable within a few months, and after two and a half years of 60-hour weeks, hope to finally pay themselves a modest salary. But what's equally important, they say, is that they love what they're doing.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.
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