Sramana Mitra: What was the sweet sauce in your digital marketing offering?
Paula Tompkins: I like to call it the next best thing to a sales call at a fraction of the cost. If you look at the shopping process for a car, as an example, you want to see how the vehicle looks, you want to read all the specs and features and you want to compare that vehicle to other vehicles. Then you want to find out where to purchase that vehicle, very much like what people do today.
What we did in that case is we replicated that process and put it online so you could see all the features of the vehicle and experience it. For example, one of the clever things we did is you could put your skis through the trunk into the front of the car and then you could place the people in the car. Then the dog would have to get in the car. When you put him in, he would bark. It was like a little game. That was to show the fact that even though it was a small car, it had lots of capacity and you could put a lot of suitcases in it.
We had all the competitive comparisons. We had the lease versus buy calculator. Think about all of that content and that functionality on that diskette. That was the sweet spot. It was an entire sales proposition in a diskette.
Sramana Mitra: How has that business evolved? It started in 1985. You hit the million dollar mark within two years. These are all pre-Internet days. How did the business evolve over the years?
Paula Tompkins: The first thing that we did was we continued to grow. We did not just have B2C activity but a tremendous amount of B2B activity where a sales force would actually either hand the diskette in a nice package to their prospective customer or load it on a laptop. Those were the early days of the Grid and other laptops.
Then around 1991, we hit a recession. It was the first big recession I experienced as a business owner. What we ended up doing is our products and services were considered nice to have rather than mission critical. That kind of expenditure could be eliminated. As a result of that recession, I decided to move the company more into the realm of connectivity and integration to the home office computers. We were looking at building a software platform called Sales Accelerator, which allowed a sales force that would be out in the field to be able to sit in front of a customer, pull down information from the home office computer, and actually walk the customer through a selling proposition and a whole range of activities on their personal computer. That was in the early 90s.
We started building that product in 1992. We launched our first Sales Accelerator capable programs for the newspaper industry. They were very involved in selling classified ads to local businesses. We worked with a lot of the major newspaper companies. Then in 1995, our Ford client asked us to put them on the Internet. We were probably one of the very first companies in 1995 to build out websites for a major company like Ford. That was our first foray into the Internet. At that point, I decided to focus on the internet.
I spun off the other product at that time to a group of employees that were involved. Then I ended up rebuilding the product. It’s called SiteBuilder. I have two patents on it. We started building that in the 1999 timeframe. Up to that point, it was very difficult to build anything on the Internet because the tools and systems were very raw. It was a lot of brute force. That platform has evolved today and is in wide use as we speak.