We spoke to Charles Thiede, co-founder of Zapnito, a platform where individuals can leverage a comprehensive network of experts and influencers. We spoke to Charles about setting up the company, working with publishers and the upside to rejection.
Tell us a bit about Zapnito.
Zapnito started in 2013. My co-founder Jon Beer (CTO) and I set out to develop an expert marketplace where individuals could access experts on-demand and subscribe to them. The idea was to return to collective intelligence and become the Amazon of experts and expertise.We realised in 2014 that we could achieve our original idea much more powerfully through the trusted brands that were being disrupted by the new entrants like us. So we pivoted around that and created a white-label SaaS platform, helping trusted brands deliver expertise and expert knowledge networks, which meant expert discovery, expert content and expert real-time access via video panels and Knowledge Feeds.
To oversimplify – think LinkedIn meets Lynda.com, but as a SaaS platform for publishers, membership organisations, consulting companies, financial services etc., created to take on new entrants and bring their clients back to their trusted brands.
How exactly do you work with traditional publishers and content-owning brands?
Because the senior team at Zapnito has nearly 100 years’ experience in publishing, content delivery and product development around content, we know the pain our clients must deal with first-hand. We work with our customers in a very high-touch way so they get the best use of the platform and can go to market quickly with new revenue generating (or lead generating) products. All of our clients are aiming to re-engage with their audiences and drive higher adoptions of their services. So they go to us as a way to do that. Instead of traditional publishers building this stuff themselves, they use Zapnito to focus on what they are great at, which is content and the curation of expertise. Our platform does one thing: brings collective expertise back to the brands through awesome and dynamic capabilities you can only find using a tool like ours.
You’ve personally worked in a few tech start-ups over the years. What would be the one piece of advice you’d pass on to anyone thinking of making the leap into that world?
This is my first time co-founding a business from scratch with co-founder capital and sweat. When bootstrapping, there is no place to hide. You don’t hide behind capital that you haven’t earned. You won’t know there is a market until you adjust your product out of survival. It is going to be a lot harder than you think. Surround yourself with amazing advisors and angels. Their capital is one thing, but their confidence, support and guidance are gold-dust if you find the right people. We’ve been super lucky with our advisors and angels. And take the “no’s” (rejections) as proof you are alive and doing something hard. Every “no” is like a battle scar that you can be proud of later. Those guys who said “no” will probably come back when you are successful and you have more leverage. We are already seeing that now.
Is there one book you’ve read that influenced the way you think about your business?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business by Ben Horowitz. If you are thinking about building a technology business, read this. If you think it’s going to be easy then read this first. Because this stuff is hard and it will test your entire being. But, also, you will very quickly be amazed by who helps you (hundreds more than you think).
whitefox is a curated network of publishing specialists. How does your own business work with freelancers and external suppliers of specialist knowledge?
We are a technology business with expertise in product development in content and publishing. Unlike a lot of cheaper SaaS companies, we provide a lot of “consulting” to get the client up and running. We apply the Salesforce.com approach to enterprise software. Growth and adoption are key for us and for our clients. But some of our clients need help well beyond this. We partner with organisations like whitefox to give our clients an alternative service. Some of our clients may go to a partner to augment their internal teams or outsource a particular need or gap. We have partners who are experts in product strategy, community management, communications and publishing specialists like whitefox. We handpick the partners we work with and sometimes those partners are also our clients and we try to pick those too!