[Executive Edge] The CEO of not one, but two, tech companies
Sean Si is a serial entrepreneur, the co-founder and CEO of both SEO Hacker, a business that provides search engine optimization services to companies around the world, and a new venture called Qeryz.
Sean founded Qeryz based on the challenges he faced in growing SEO Hacker. “One thing that bothered me when it comes to having a service-oriented business is that it’s so hard to scale up,” he said.
“Picture this: Whenever we [put] on board a new client or two, we’ll need to hire at least one more writer. If that client is bigger than what we usually get, sometimes the needle goes up a little bit further and we’ll need to hire more people,” Si explained.
“Since we have a promote-from-within culture, we’re going to have to go through the hustle and bustle of knowing who we can promote soon in order to handle the bigger workload – and then hire some more,” Si said, adding that all entrepreneurs know that people are the most important asset to any business.
According to Si, scaling up this way entails a ton of effort, thought, and money. In contrast, the SaaS (Software as a Service) business model is much easier to grow. “Instead of hiring more people, you will need to buy more space and process memory from cloud servers,” he said.
“You will need to acquire and integrate nitty-gritty analytics tools, you will need to use behavior-based emailers, and so on and so forth. It’s a totally different ballgame. But it’s a measurable, calculable, and solvable ballgame – unlike when you’re dealing with people,” Si said.
A business born out of frustration
Though Si had been wanting to create an SaaS business for some time, the idea for Qeryz did not come about until he was trying to collect data about an SEO summit. He wanted to know what professional backgrounds the attendees had, how they felt about the summit, and whether they would attend the next annual version of the event.
“At the time, there was no other tool than Qualaroo to help me collect this data. The frustrating thing is, it costs a whopping $79 a month just to be able to collect the data I need. $79 a month is not at all a fair price for the functionality that their tool offers,” Si said.
“Within that frustration, the idea of creating a much cheaper, fairer alternative for people like me, flew off,” Si said. “That was the exact moment Qeryz was born.”
Since Qeryz was created out of Si’s own frustrations, his target market is people like him.
“Entrepreneurs, digital marketers, SEO professionals, bloggers – anyone and everyone who is interested to know their website’s customer insights,” he shared.
He is reaching out to his target demographic through YouTube as well as through other forms of content marketing. “Other things we’ve done so far is form partnerships with well-known blogs to run Qeryz on their site, optimize our target keywords, share our stuff on Facebook, and submit guest posts on other blogs and news sites,” Si detailed.
Such outreach is never easy, especially with an unfamiliar product, as Si explained. “It’s not really easy evangelizing people toward a tool that is generally foreign to them and is not a main necessity for their site.”
Si kept their attention through the one word that tends to keep everyone’s attention - free.
“Telling these bloggers and companies that the tool is free and they could use it to gather user insights for their own interests keeps them listening,” he said. It only helps when the actual data that Qeryz collects is able to provide companies with actionable steps that drive conversions and sales.
Still, even as an SaaS company, Qeryz has a lot of growing pains. “I’d be lying if I told you it was hard. It’s not,” Si said. “It’s very hard.”
“Starting up Qeryz is much like being ... pregnant with a baby for a lack of a better analogy,” Si began. “The labor pains begin when I started funding the product development. Then features will have to be piled on top of one another. Process memory allocation, bandwidth, and site speed will have to be optimized.”
Si continued, “And even until today, bugs in the tool are continuously encountered. These things will go on and on until we reach the right product or market fit and at last arrive at return on investment (ROI).”
CEO times two
Given that Si remains CEO of SEO Hacker and now Qeryz, he has had to find ways to incentivize his employees to be more devoted to their work.
With Qeryz, for example, Si gave his Qeryz team a stake in the company.
“To make sure they’re going to take ownership, I gave them a significant amount of equity – which is pretty much unheard of since I’m the one solely funding the project and managing everything outside of product development such as marketing strategy, accounting, business development, partnerships, analytics, and the list goes on,” Si said.
It also helps that SEO Hacker is more or less self-sustaining, and Si is able to focus mostly on big picture issues.
“Today I’m able to focus on just a handful of things such as accounts management, legal, partnerships, marketing strategy, and business development,” he said. “Everything else on operations is handled by the SEO Hacker team.”
With SEO Hacker on autopilot, Si is able to direct more of his attention to competing with Qualaroo, which has more than $5 million.
“While Qeryz is nowhere even close to $10,000 in funding. The only way we can beat them is to make our product absolutely easy to use with a fair price. Two simple things that can go a long, long way,” Si said.
In addition to banking on Qeryz’s price, Si believes that his company can win over more customers based on the value that it can provide, including everything from gathering actionable user insights on-the-go, converting users from visitors into paying customers, and directing visitors to a specific page you want them to see.
“If it can do these things and do it well, it’ll go on to market itself and spread out over the web,” Si reflected.
Based on his experience in developing Qeryz, Si hopes that more Filipino entrepreneurs will consider an SaaS business. “It’s an extremely scalable business without the hassle of needing a lot of manpower. Plus, you get to transact with the entire internet as your market - if they like your product,” Si argued. – Rappler.com
Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz is also the chief content officer at ZipMatch, a tech company backed by Ideaspace Foundation, Hatchd Digital, IMJ Investment Partners, and 500 Startups. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz