Mar 01

Bargain Hunt For Tech Amid The Wreck Of Russia’s Economy

Editor’s Note: Jeni Mayorskaya is an entrepreneur working in product management and business development with tech companies in the USA, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Russia and Europe; Kirill Belov is an angel investor, mentor and managing partner in Impulse VC based in Moscow.

Over the last 6 months, Russia’s image as a lucrative investment target has been wrecked along with all of its economic markers.

If you, like a lot of international companies, had been planning to expand in Russia and hunt for Russian users to build proper business relationships here yesterday, as of today you’d barely think twice about removing all the news of war and the collapse of the ruble from your feed. Perhaps you’re rethinking your go-to-market strategy, leaning towards China or Europe instead (if you’re from the USA and can even conduct business with your prospects).

Well, we believe  that this is, in fact, the best time to enter the Russian market.

Decreasing Costs Of User Acquisition

Every crisis turns into economic growth eventually. Leveraging the current economic downturn to finish with the highest user base, or simply following the “buy low” rule, could lead you taking it all at the end.

For one thing, investments in online marketing are in local currency and you’re paying only half of the previous prices because of the exchange rate slide alone.

Another piece of good news is that most Russian companies will decrease advertising spending to save in this tough period and you can get the best inventory on the market with almost no competition.

More Russians Are Coming Online

The Russian population is still about 150 million, with internet penetration of 57% on average (growing rapidly in the regions away from the dominant urban centers). We believe mobile internet domination will come in the next two years, so you have a chance to get nearly 120 million connected users on the new economic wave.


Source: FOM, 2014

Most Russian Tech Startups Don’t Compete Globally

The lack of revenue and investment means local development is contracting. According to our analysis, purchasing capacity will drop 75% in the coming months, which will cause a wave of bankruptcy and MA deals as companies struggle to survive (e-commerce has taken its first punch already, a teasing one for now, but the serious blow is coming).

These factors will bring about the ideal circumstances for a foreigner to enter the market with new business models and products which could flourish in the current economic situation (sharing economy, savings, security etc.).

The online market in Russia is still young and unsaturated. Global products gain more and more local users if they’re localized properly. And globalization itself still has an impact. This can’t be turned around in one moment.

If you bring a better product to the target audience the demand will come. For example, we use Slack, GitHub, Dropbox, LinkedIn and Duolingo not because we don’t have local analogs – we actually do – but because foreign products are crafted so well that it’s financially and emotionally costly to switch to anything else.

To give you some context, lets recall the super-ambitious initiative of the government-held Rostelecom to launch a patriotic search engine, Sputnik, almost a year ago — with annual costs of nearly $20 million by some estimates. After months of effort from the team (read: money and propaganda), Sputnik accounts for about 850 thousand total visits per month, compared to 1.5 billion for Yandex (which holds 62% of the market) and 644 million for Google.

Bargain Hunting For Talent

Lay-offs of up to 30% are expected, and so international companies can have the huge advantage of being boss to the best minds in the market.

You also can think about hiring developers in Russia as well. It might sound crazybut since a lot of ambitious start-ups will fold in the coming months with no sources of revenue or investment, the brightest minds will be available and you can get the best engineers for the price of $18-25 thousand per-year.

Lyft, for instance, is already out headhunting, proposing stock options, relocation and other perks.

Chinese Companies Are Moving First 

China is a big brother to Russia not because of the Communist unity of the past, but simply because it’s close enough and Russia’s geography is immense. Even in Russia, half of the country doesn’t really know that if you go to its Eastern provinces you can barely see any Russian products — everything is imported from China and these territories are in fact more Chinese than Russian as the Slavic population thins out. This, and the similar mentality of both nations, have resulted in Chinese apps and handsets flooding the market across Russia.

China’s presence continues to grow dramatically. Huawei now competes with Cisco to control state purchases. Dolphin Browser (a Chinese mobile browser backed by Sequoia Capital) for Android grew fast, reaching 12 million users within a couple of years and with no marketing efforts. Dolphin’s management has the right idea, increasing its local presence and scaling its success in user acquisition and monetization of 150 million users in Russia now.

Moreover, AliExpress is opening its first pick-up point in Russia. And its pricing is winning the hearts of Russia’s regional populations through pricing.

China’s trendy Xiaomi hasn’t blinked either, declaring its intention to enter the market this year. Xiaomi could become a market leader pretty easily since last year the sector overachiever, British low-cost brand Fly (Meridian Telecom Group), overtook Nokia and Apple in Q1 and then almost got Samsung in Q4.

Sources: Evroset Retail Chain, GFK.


Svyaznoy Retail Chain reports the sales of devices cheaper than 5 000 RUR ($75) have increased from 20% in 2012 to 33% in 2013 and reached 42% in 2014. We believe this share will spike to 55% in 2015.

A lot of low-cost smartphones and feature phones are illegally imported from Asia (we call it the “gray” market), but you can leverage this disruption by dealing with the exporters on pre-installs of your app.

The Competition May Be Coming?

Yes, it’s crazy here and you might be banned from the country, but usually what you hear is just media overreaction. For now, there are no major precedents for tech businesses being kicked out for political reasons.

The level of risk of expulsion you face depends on the type of the business you run, though, and we’d recommend you do some market research in advance and apply some common sense too. For instance, you might agree that it does not sound like a brilliant idea to launch a new political media outlet for Russians.

However, a team of ex-Lenta (a leading online media operation shut down over a content policy issue) employees entered the market three months ago with a brand new outlet, Meduza, focusing on social-political news and Russian reportage (they have an English version too). Today they reach 1.3mln readers monthly and this is by far the fastest growth in the industry in Russia so far.

Lower Regulatory Barriers To Entry Than Other Emerging Markets

You don’t have to receive certification for your software in Russia, as you do in China or some other emerging markets.

In Russia, enter the market with an offering, which is comparable to local pricing or even cheaper (if not for free). The goal must not be to monetize the audience straight away but to gain market share and become a strong influencer, ready to be the first to start monetizing the wave of recovery.

Having this country in your pocket will definitely add to your company’s valuation.

Then, think of the industry you’re playing in carefully. Some of them have quite high barriers and demand a lot of long-term investments. “Long-term” is a tricky word in Russia; we don’t have such a thing really. Just keep this in mind.

If you’re Palantir, (or not, but your revenue also comes from state purchases) be ready to find a strong local partner with strong GR skills (read: a lot of banya and vodka-based activities).

And you can buy intellectual rights, patents and teams for small sums ($100,00 to $3 milion) in Russia. It’s not always an acqui-hire from the local point of view, and both sides of the deal will be happy.

Featured Image: Anton Novoselov/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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Feb 28

No inventory? No problem! Dropshipping offers retail without storage

Tapiture, a Pinterest competitor, doesn’t just show you stuff you might like. In many cases, it lets you buy that stuff as well.

Aside from some branded merchandise though, Tapiture doesn’t keep any inventory on hand at its Venice, California, headquarters. Instead, it functions as a virtual storefront.

Amazon and eBay have been doing the same thing for years, of course, but startups like Tapiture are also taking advantage of this no-investory arrangement, which is made possible through dropshipping.

“We’re big believers in the dropshipping model,” says John Ellis, CEO of Tapiture. “We think it’s the way of the future.”

See also: ‘Physical cookie’ could help malls fight back against Amazon

In a traditional brick-and-mortar retail model, a storefront can only sell what it stocks on its shelves. The Internet has allowed websites to offer nearly limitless inventory, but most — including Amazon — still use physical warehouses to stock their goods. Even eBay merchants often find themselves filling their basements, garages and — eventually — warehouse or storage space with their inventory.

Dropshipping, however, turns online retailers into mostly marketers. If you can create an audience, you can put products in front of them and make margins of up to 20% on the stuff you sell without having to spend a lot up front or risk getting stuck with unsold inventory.

That, at least, is the promise.

Michael Main, who runs the website Main Performance PC, says he tried to build a business around dropshipping by working with warehouse companies that offer a range of products to resell.

He found that approach too competitive. “They really only sell products that are found all over the web, anyway,” he says. “They’re all just competing with one another.”

These days, Main mostly sells gaming PCs and “cockpits” (chairs designed for gaming) that his company manufactures, though he dropships a small percentage of items from other vendors.

Andrew Youderian started a business in 2008 that sold radio equipment for vehicles. Despite having no prior interest in the category, Youderian saw a niche in the market and created a business based on dropshipping the items. He later co-authored The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping.

Youderian says dropshipping isn’t for everyone. “It’s harder than retailing your own product,” he says. “By definition you’re selling something that someone else created. You’ve got to add value somewhere.”

Usually, that means becoming an expert in a field and providing content that will draw people to your site.

In 2010, for instance, Jesse Craven began selling garden equipment on Like Youderain, he wasn’t hugely interested in the segment, but saw a marketing opportunity and built a site, spent lots of money on advertising and hired a blogger full-time to pump out content.

“I saw an emerging marketplace where the companies that were presently involved were not [web savvy],” he says. “We wanted to take proven business concepts and apply them.”

When Craven started HydroGalaxy, it was 100% based on dropshipping. By 2011, though, he started phasing that out. Now, with millions in revenues, only 35% of HyrdoGalaxy’s sales come from goods shipped directly from its 13,000 square-foot warehouse in Burbank, California.

Craven says the main reason dropshipping doesn’t really work for him now is that the charges of $5 per item eat into his margins. Still, he would recommend dropshipping to someone who was starting a similar business.

“I would try it first, because your financial exposure is limited,” he says.

There are a couple of ways to get started with dropshipping. If you know the industry well enough, you can arrange to do business with suppliers. “A number of suppliers will dropship for you if you call and ask,” Youderian says. For such vendors, it’s more attractive to sell things in bulk — say 1,000 units per order — than one at time.

For their troubles, the suppliers charge per order. The $5 fee that Craven cited is about average, though the fee varies greatly. “If you’re selling pool tables, it’s going to be more,” Youderian says.

An alternative is to use dropshipping middle-men like Doba, which charges businesses a monthly fee of $69 and up to resell items ranging from perfumes to electronics to knives.

If you’re able to make a business out of it, Youderian says there’s a big upside: It pretty much runs itself.

“I was able to take four to five months off at a time and the business ran fine without me,” he says. “The suppliers do all the work.”

On the other hand, the margins can be brutal, especially if you pour money into advertising. You also face endless competition. In Youderian’s illustration, if you make your own mountain bikes, then no one can undercut you because you have a unique product. If you dropship mountain bikes, though, you’re trying to vie with lots of other people who have access to the same inventory.

That’s why the guy who wrote the book on dropshipping appears to be tapping out. Says Youderian: “My next business will probably not be a dropshipping business.”

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Feb 27

CMO Today: Crackle Bails on the NewFronts

Here’s your morning roundup of the biggest marketing, advertising and media  industry news and happenings. Send tips, suggestions and complaints to

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SNAP, CRACKLE!: A staggering 33 companies are participating in this year’s NewFronts, the digital world’s response to the television upfronts. Set up by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the NewFronts have become the bazaar in which digital players–from YouTube to Yahoo to BuzzFeed–nudge marketers to shift TV budgets to newer channels. But things have gotten so crowded that now there is some backlash. Crackle, Sony’s online video service, is pulling out of this year’s NewFronts, CMO Today reports. The reason? It thinks its content is more akin to television programming–and will therefore move its presentation to a week where it’ll be alongside cable channels. Crackle has shows like “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” programming that buyers acknowledge is “premium.”

NET, NEUTRAL: You could forgive media executives for tuning out the debate over “net neutrality,” which can sound arcane and technical, with talk of “blocking” and “nondiscrimination” and “peering.” But the truth is they should be paying close attention. In a world where traditional TV is on the decline and bandwidth-hungry online video services are proliferating–from Netflix to Amazon to Sony to HBO to CBS–the question of how involved the government should be in policing Web traffic has never been more critical. Now, the Federal Communications Commisson is finally having its say. The agency on Thursday voted to regulate Internet services as it would a public utility, The Wall Street Journal reports. That will effectively bar companies like Comcast and Verizon from blocking Web traffic or forcing content owners to pay for better service. As WSJ notes, the 3-2 ruling was heralded by advocates for helping to foster a free and open Internet, and a level playing field for Web companies, while some providers derided the decision as antiquated.

WALKING AHEAD: It’s not all bad news in cable TV land. Amid a weak ad market, AMC Networks says its ad revenue jumped 24% in the fourth quarter, to $255 million, CMO Today reports. It helps to have one of the most buzzy shows on TV right now: “The Walking Dead.” But AMC Networks, which runs AMC, IFC and other channels, has also benefited from an affluent audience–a group marketers are eager to target. “This audience profile makes the network especially attractive to advertisers, and we look forward to taking more advantage of this opportunity in the coming upfront,” said Chief Executive Josh Sapan. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, AMC carries three of the top five most-watched shows. The network did lose one of its marquee shows in “Breaking Bad,” but its spin-off “Better Call Saul” made its debute with the biggest premiere in cable history among adults 18 to 49.

ALL IN: Part of the reason Amazon was willing to pay a steep $1 billion for Twitch was that the video game-streaming website commands a massive young and male audience–a demographic advertisers are dying to reach. Now Twitch, which draws 100 million monthly users who watch mostly online action games, is investing in poker, WSJ reports. Twitch says some poker channels have amassed more than one million views. For the diehard poker fan, you can see why. Broadcasters narrate their hands to their viewers, discussing strategy along the way. Viewers see advertising in the stream–or they can pay to subscribe and get rid of the ads. Twitch and the broadcaster typically split both revenue streams 50-50. The question will be whether advertisers are going to buy in.


- A debate over the color of a dress became a viral sensation Thursday night, and publishers aggregating the story inexplicably generated millions of pageviews in a matter of hours [BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Gawker]

- Budweiser is among brands getting product placement in Netflix’s “House of Cards” [Ad Age]

- The International Olympic Committee is considering loosening athlete endorsement restrictions surrounding the Olympics [WSJ]

- Google will allow search ads in the Play store [CMO Today]

- People ran ads on its Snapchat Discover page for Victoria’s Secret TV special [Ad Age]

- The Daily News is looking into the possibility of a sale [WSJ, Capital New York]

- American Express fights back against industry viewability standards [AdExchanger]

- “Empire” continues to be a ratings bonanza for Fox [Ad Age]

- Chrysler is putting its digital agency SapientNitro under review [Adweek]

- How Pinterest is trying to impress agency creatives [Digiday]

- Apple is planning a “special event” on March 9, likely surrounding the Apple Watch [CMO Today]

- Barnes Noble will hang on to its Nook business and spin off its college bookstore group [WSJ]

- E! has reached a deal with the Kardashian family to keep their show  [New York Post]

Follow us on Twitter: @wsjCMO, @digitalshields, @VranicaWSJ, @JackMarshall, @nftadena, @perlberg.

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Feb 26

Expert Insights — Willie Crawford

Internet marketing expert Willie Crawford is a veteran in every sense of the word. Willie was raised on a tobacco farm in North Carolina and he was so poor that he often had to wear his grandmother’s shoes to school. Knowing that he was destined for greatness, he obtained a scholarship for college and decided to join the Air Force. What was meant to be a brief stint, turned into a 20 year career, which saw Willie stationed all over the world.

In 1996, Willie decided to start an online business, which enabled him to retire from the Air Force in 2003. By the time he had retired, Willie had built a million dollar business part-time. He is largely considered to be one of the fathers of Internet marketing and his business portfolio includes cookbooks, over 1,000 websites, a hosting company and much more. He is still actively involved in Internet Marketing.

Willie is also a proud father, husband and grandfather and he is one of the most down to earth, humblest business people you could ever meet.


Copyright: Willie Crawford

You have an incredible story and literally rose from poverty through 20 years in the military, to Internet millionaire. How did you find the strength and motivation to keep going through the transitions in your life?

I think that coming from poverty and then having a fear that I might somehow slip back into it was a tremendous motivator. My military career, which saw me doing airdrops in many war zones, and surviving without a scratch, caused me to believe that I had some higher purpose, which wasn’t yet fulfilled.

What made you decide to go into Internet marketing?

In 1996, the U.S. government was cutting military budgets and reducing the number of people in the various military services. That caused me to ask if that was a good time to go ahead and start the business that I had always dreamed of someday owning. As I looked around, I noticed advertisements for businesses that you could run over the internet. That struck me as perfect for someone whose job was to fly a lot, and routinely travel from country to country. So, I went into internet marketing primarily because it was so portable.

Internet marketing has a bit of a bad rep in some circles. Why are some of the products seen as being “scammy”?

There are some people in business online who will sell “business opportunities” and not really care whether they work or not. This is no different than it is in the offline world. Many people who purchase products designed to teach them how to make money won’t stick with a program or methodology long enough for it to be profitable. They suffer from what we call “shiny object syndrome” and many of them do end up wasting a lot of money with nothing to show for it.

What are the three top things that you need in order to be successful in Internet Marketing?

- Focus, because there are so many distractions. As soon as you choose a niche that you plan on building a business in, you will read about something that looks faster, easier, better!

- A strong, emotional reason why you want to succeed so badly. This strong reason will keep you going when success takes longer than you have been led to believe that it would.

- Good time and people management skills. There are so many tasks that are required to build a successful Internet marketing business that one person cannot possibly do them all. So you have to learn to focus on doing the most important ones first. You also need to learn to delegate or outsource tasks that you should not personally be doing. Many people starting online businesses struggle with this one because they were employees before starting their own business and have no practical experience in being the one in charge.

You also have a range of cookbooks. What made you decide to write cookbooks?

My early mentors told me that I should build a business around something that I was passionate about because that would keep me going when things grew difficult. My grandmother started teaching me to cook when I was around seven years old, and I became a great cook, and I enjoyed sharing my recipes with others. So that seemed like the perfect niche to build an audience in, and then offer them products and services that they wanted. I started a recipe-sharing newsletter and my subscribers quickly let me know that they wanted me to write a cookbook.

Cookbooks also will always sell since people are constantly searching for new recipes that will cause family and friends to rave about their culinary skills.

How do you practically manage your businesses on a day to day basis?

I put practically all tasks and meetings on my Google Calendar, which sends me email and SMS text reminders directly to my mobile phone. I look at my calendar for a bird’s eye view of where I’m headed the next week, and the next month, and the next year. This keeps me focused on doing the things that keep me moving in the proper direction.

I use a lot of software tools to automate most routine tasks, and I outsource other routine or boring tasks. I track everything using project management software. I track my interactions with individuals using online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, so as long as I have access to a computer, I have necessary information to hand.

You managed to build wealth online first before you quit the military. When would you advise people to leave their day job and concentrate on their business?

That would depend upon factors such as how many others are depending upon them for support, how much savings they have built up, and how risk averse they are. I advise most people to make a gradual transition as I did.

In order to be successful as an Internet marketer, just as in any other job, you do need training. So, I recommend going through the training and actually becoming an expert before making the jump. As a soldier, I was trained to minimize and mitigate risk. I believe in doing that as an Internet marketer, although being an entrepreneur also means that you are more willing to take calculated risks than the average person.

What are the top three pieces of advice that you would give to business owners on how to build a successful business?

As you plan your product line, focus on the back end — things that you are going to offer to the customer after they have made the first purchase. Once you’ve made that first sale, you have no customer acquisition costs associated with subsequent sales. Subsequent sales are also much easier to make because you have already gained the customer’s trust. So, ask yourself what else the customer needs after making and using that first purchase, and offer those products and services to him.

Regardless of what business you are in, start building a database from the very start. A database of customers that you can readily contact via email, SMS text messaging or phone is a very valuable asset that allows you to market to people who know, like and trust you, over and over again.

Don’t compete on the basis of price. Trying to gain customers by having the lowest price is almost always a losing proposition. You’ll have smaller margins, and therefore can’t spend as much as your competitors on essentials such as advertising and new technologies. Instead of lowering your prices, increase your quality and then perhaps increase your prices.

Having higher prices often implies to your potential customers that you have a superior quality product.

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Feb 25

Internet Marketing: How Your Business Can Benefit With The Right Tactics

Visited: 411Not rated

by Anita Ginsburg
February 24, 2015

In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason for you business to not have an online presence. Whether you are operating a website or a social media campaign, it is essential that your business is online, no matter what service or product you provide. However, an online presence isn’t worth anything if it isn’t properly marketed. Here’s how your business can benefit with the right online marketing tactics.

Targeted Keywords and SEO

This might sound confusing to those who aren’t familiar with online marketing, but targeted keywords and search engine optimization (SEO) are crucial to a successful marketing effort. This refers to using certain words and phrases that are popularly searched for on search engines like Google, ideally paired with locales. For example, if you operated a business in New York City selling novelty shirts, you’d want to have the phrase “novelty shirts in NYC” appear frequently throughout your website or blog. This ensures that you will be the top search result when people type such a phrase into Google or Yahoo, which benefits your business by being the first company that searchers see in their results. You can find companies that can help with SEO in New York if you don’t know where to start. It’s important to understand this aspect of internet marketing.

Smart Social Media Campaigns

Any business can have a social media presence, but not every business does it wisely. While any company can blindly spam Twitter or Facebook with worthless or even obnoxious updates, smart companies use social media to promote special offers or to interact directly with their customers. By using the right tactics when it comes to social media, you will provide value to your customers, instead of just annoying them. The more you interact with your customers directly, the better your results will be.

Track Trends and Discover What’s Working

A truly good online marketing campaign doesn’t just throw darts blindly at the wall. Instead, it analyzes website data to see what is and isn’t working for your business. Smart online marketing will look at which blog posts or articles have been especially popular and profitable for your business. This will help you to do more of what is working and less of what is not.

Every business needs to have an online presence. However, an online presence is worthless if it’s not marketed and promoted wisely. By utilizing these smart tactics, your business will see an increase in online popularity, which will lead to new customers and increased profits. Don’t run your company’s website, blog or social media pages blindly. Instead, work smartly to ensure that your efforts are actually worthwhile.




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Feb 24

LocalVox and The Berry Company Invite Local Businesses to Enter the Second …


Online marketing experts, LocalVox and The Berry Company today announced an opportunity for small businesses to win nearly $50,000 in local online marketing through its second annual “Next Big SMB” contest. The leaders in online marketing and local lead generation, LocalVox and Berry, will award one national grand prize winner with a package valued at $15,000, as well as twenty additional finalist packages, valued at $1,800 per winner.

“Local businesses really struggle with the complexity and fragmentation of local online marketing,” said Trevor Sumner, co-founder and CTO of LocalVox. “Only 20% of local business websites are mobile optimized. In a world where the Internet and mobile increasingly drive local business success, we are excited to offer access to the most deserving SMBs to help fuel their growth.”

By entering the “Next Big SMB” contest, businesses will be eligible to receive a full suite of local online marketing solutions including:

  • Access to the LocalCast platform where businesses will be able to easily publish content online for things like special events, local interest stories, product and service updates, event announcements, deals and other news, all with just one click.
  • Online profile and listing optimization across the Internet to ensure accuracy, consistency and visibility within the top online directory sites and search engine rankings.
  • Social Media Management, an agency level full-service social marketing program, which includes content creation as well as reputation management. A dedicated Account Manager will create programs to boost a business’ social presence, help promote positive reviews, respond to negative ones and increase a business’ following.
  • LocalConnect and email marketing, which helps businesses find new customers as well as build loyalty with their existing customer base. Businesses can actively share and promote deals and offers to consumers interested in their products and services.

To be eligible to enter, businesses must be located within the U.S. Entrants must submit a short narrative explaining why their company deserves the “Next Big SMB” Makeover by May 1, 2015. For complete contest rules and entry details, visit Winners will be determined based on public voting. Entrants will use their social networks to garner votes, including the #NextBigSMB hashtag.

“We’re on a mission to transform lackluster marketing into attractive, effective marketing,” said Laura Cole, Berry’s Vice President, Marketing. “The ‘beauty’ LocalVox and Berry deliver via our makeover is more than skin deep – we bring effective digital solutions that generate qualified leads. We encourage all small businesses to enter by simply letting us know why they deserve the Next Big SMB Marketing Makeover.”

Winners will be announced on May 4, 2015.

ABOUT THE BERRY COMPANY: The Berry Company, LLC, is a leading provider of local online, search, video and directory solutions. Its best in class sales organization helps hundreds of thousands of businesses in 50 states market their businesses to local consumers. Berry offers its clients the latest in social, mobile and content marketing via its direct relationship with LocalVox, an industry leading digital provider. Berry is also an authorized reseller of YP.comTM. The company is a GoogleTM Qualified Company, offering Google AdWords and other solutions to its clients.

Offering exceptional service, local market expertise and a strong portfolio of solutions, Berry makes local search simple. For more information, please visit

ABOUT LOCALVOX:LocalVox is the leading local, social and mobile marketing platform that helps local businesses, franchises and multi-location brands market themselves online via the web, local SEO, social media, email, directories, deal sites, mobile – all with a single click – and track ROI across all channels to the point of sale. LocalVox has been named a top social media tool, top SEO tool, top local marketing tool and top app for small businesses by media outlets such as Wired, Forbes, Social Media Today, Techcrunch and Entrpreneur among many. LocalVox is headquartered in New York City and was founded in 2010. For more information, please visit

 CONTACT: Laura Cole The Berry Company 402-429-4353 

Copyright (C) 2015 GlobeNewswire, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Feb 23

Reinvention: How Beachwood-based Vantage Agora is leveraging its service …

BEACHWOOD, Ohio – Sudhir Achar co-founded Beachwood-based Vantage Agora Inc., as a company that helps insurance companies with back-office support services. Then as the company started growing, so did his obsession with aiming for high marks in customer service.

In just seven years, projects grew larger and more complex as the business grew to about 200 employees and expanded to the healthcare and manufacturing industries. Achar and his business partner, Harsha Chaturvedi, developed internal software to better manage jobs and a growing staff in different locations, mostly in India.

It didn’t take him long to realize that even with credentials including SSAE 16 certification, clients may have more confidence about the service they provided, but they still felt better with direct access to back-end operations. And he and his partner wanted a better system to track employee results. When they couldn’t find an off-the-shelf product to do everything they wanted, they developed their own operation’s software.

The software was developed a few years ago strictly for internal use. But clients and employees made them realize it could have mass appeal.

“Once we started using this we started seeing efficiencies. Employee morale went up because we became a transparent company. The software showed how we were processsing transactions,” Achar said. “We would tell clients these are the five people working on your project. And our clients could log into our system and get real-time updates.

“And if there was an error – we are still human beings and errors happen – the client would be notified about what we did to fix it,” Achar said. “Everything was reported.”

The more clients asked about the software, the more Vantage Agora invested in it, to the tune of $1 million. They continued to add more features, gave it the name Club VA.

“That’s when this platform became like a smartphone, because each client wanted their own applications. We started rolling it out last year.”

Today, it’s a patent-pending software product geared toward helping companies operate more efficiently. The product helps employees collaborate, measure department projects and people performance, and gives management real-time data. The product is in an in-house tool that combines various data sources and even offers a corporate social media platform.

“I like to say, In God we trust. Everybody else should document the whole process,” Achar said. “It’s important to follow procedures.”

Reshaping a company is no small feat. Here’s some more thoughts on how Achar is reinventing his service business to start selling a new product.

Q. Was there a time when you questioned your decision to move into an entirely new field?

A. No. Not really. The technology field wasn’t a new field for me or my partner Harsha Chaturvedi. Together, we have experience in developing 100-plus products in our careers. Also, the beauty of it was we were developing the Club VA platform to increase operational excellence, at our company. That’s what gave us the added jolt to build a platform of our dream.

Q. How did you validate whether or not consumers would be interested?

A. Well, the advantage we had was our own operations team was our first internal customer. Secondly, we had a handful of clients that we selected in different sectors to be our beta clients. That was our second round of validation.

Q. As the technological revolution accelerates, consumers have completely changed how they shop, and what they expect from product distributors. The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming product companies into service businesses. Why are you moving from a service industry to developing a new product?

A. Yes IoT is changing everything we do on a daily basis. We are not moving away from our service business; however, we are leveraging technology to augment our back-office service where needed. So our customers now have a trusted technology and services partner in Vantage Agora.

Q. With so many software products on the market, why did you invest so heavily in your idea?

A. Club VA is a very unique patent-pending product. Yes, there are lots of software products out there. But most are designed to address one issue. For example most of the CRM (client relationship manager) software is mainly for sales teams to manage their sales activity. There is no workflow to trigger the next department about the sales cycle. The market is flooded with a lot of point solutions. Club VA is gives leadership teams unprecedented access to information on how their company is performing against set goals. Data yields insights that lead to more informed decisions, which in turn will help companies achieve a higher level of operational excellence.

Q. Who did you turn to for feedback while developing this product?

A. We sought feedback from all sorts of people. We turned to our staff, partners, mentors, other industry experts, current clients and potential clients at trade shows. We also talked to students from the high school level to students in business schools.

Q. Do you have a mentor?

A. Yes, I look-up to a lot of people. Some are my partner companies. Some mentors are now my clients. And some are my golf partners. My mentors are local and global.

Q. What makes a leader?

A. Leaders command confidence and trust, not by demanding, but by encouraging. Even in the face of defeat, a leader will tell you to get up and keep fighting. And more often than not, failure is part of the equation. That’s OK, because great leaders know when to admit their missteps and have an equal willingness to learn from them.

Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in aiming to improve efficiencies?

A. One of the biggest lessons is giving our client what we have promised that is reliable, of high quality and at the right price.

Q. Can you offer one tip for someone who is thinking about reinvention?

A. Spend some time with a list of obstacles and begin brainstorming about ways you can reinvent your business to meet your challenges. If your industry has become saturated with competing companies or products, consider ways you can develop a niche.

With the quick changes in technology these days, you may have found your product is no longer as relevant as it once was. Brainstorm ways you can use your knowledge and expertise that you gained with your previous offerings to create something customers want or need.

If one of your obstacles is finding new customers, think about ways you can appeal to a new customer demographic. For instance, if you own a sports bar, you may want to focus on ways to make your offerings appeal to families, or women, as a way to increase revenue. While a marketing campaign aimed at a specific audience can sometimes work, you may have to add a new product or service as part of the reinvention of your strategic direction.

Similar to The Plain Dealer’s former column called “My Biggest Mistake…and How I fixed it,” I’m now interested in sharing what drives a person or company to make a drastic change that led to success. I am looking for career-changers – from millennials to retirees- and companies, from startups to major corporations, who want to share their stories. The focus: people who have drastically switched careers in the past five years and businesses that have found new ways to survive in a changing and ever-evolving marketplace. If that sounds like you, please contact me, Marcia Pledger, at (216) 470-7324 or send an email to

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Feb 22

High pressure sales tactics are outdated – Springfield News

An untimely rendezvous between our family vehicle and the vehicle of a highly intoxicated driver, although resulting in no permanent injuries, put my wife and me in the market for a new vehicle. Shortly thereafter, we visited a number of car dealerships in the Springfield area and had the pleasure of meeting many local salespeople and sales managers.

In the early 1990s, I sold new vehicles and learned quite a bit from the experience. Naturally, much about the industry and about consumers has changed since I last worked in that field. As a matter of professional curiosity, I engaged in quite a bit of small talk about car sales over the handful of weeks that we shopped.

A common theme among the salespeople and sales managers I talked to was the lingering customer perception of sales pressure in the industry. Prior to the Internet age, car sales involved high pressure tactics aimed at coercing prospective customers into making quick decisions in order to increase current sales and prevent losing the customer to a competitor who would likely employ similar tactics.

My sales training from that period involved sales managers loading our lips with phrases designed to identify and eliminate objections and create a sense of urgency like, “What can I do to earn your business today?” “I’m not sure how much longer my manager will be willing to give these away at this price.”

Sales managers were driven by statistics that implied customers who did not buy on their first visit to the lot would likely never be seen again. In a self-prophetic way, they were correct. Customers who perceive they are being pressured (in any industry) are less likely to return to shop at the business where they were pressured.

Empirical studies in marketing and sales show that customers are less likely to buy from salespeople who try to rush their decision or to create a false sense of urgency. Indeed, studies show that customers view being pressured to buy either something they do not want or something they are not fully ready to purchase as unethical behavior. Moreover, they have negative perceptions of the salesperson, the retail outlet, and by extension, the product and/or brand.

How do you increase sales without increasing perceptions of pressure? It’s important to understand that customers are much better informed thanks to the Internet. The majority of customers have already done extensive research on the Internet before approaching your business. You simply need to determine the customer’s desired benefits, match that to a product you offer that meets those benefits, and allow the customer to make the decision in their own time frame.

As for our car buying experience, we heard a lot of the old sales scripts seemingly left over as artifacts from another time. Ultimately, we purchased from a young man who didn’t necessarily have a markedly superior product or the absolute lowest price. However, he listened carefully to our needs and let us know how his product matched those needs. Then he simply let the sale come to him, on our schedule.

Ronald Clark, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing at Missouri State University, specializes in issues related to marketing and advertising. He teaches classes in consumer behavior, services marketing, advertising and promotion, personal selling, and sales management. Email:

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