You need dreamers to make a company go through four rounds of funding and yet maintain the same energy of a startup. David Rusenko, founder and CEO of Weebly, is planning to make Weebly4 (W4), a complete mobile and web suite for the entrepreneur, a worldwide hit. The product allows the entrepreneur to take control of the business, with features like e-commerce, search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing.
Weebly has over 40 million businesses that have created websites, 1.5 million of which are from India. Numbers apart, W4 has been built after studying millions of queries from entrepreneurs. It has been created for the entrepreneur who wants to sell globally and locally. David, along with his co-founders, Chris Fanini and Dan Veltri, wants to change the way people build websites. The business has been able to raise $36 million in four rounds.
When he is not putting long hours into Weebly, at the San Francisco office, David travels around the world and is also a stunt driver. His current fantasy is to travel to space as a space tourist on the Virgin Galactic space line. YourStory caught up with him recently and here are some excerpts from the interview:
1. You started at a time when the Lehman crisis hit the world. How did you manage to make it through that?
DR: When we started back in 2007 the idea was to make website-building fun and take away the notion that websites were built by professionals. Most websites, back in 2005, when the idea was born, were just like word documents. At the time the dotcom hangover was just about getting over and people laughed at us when we said we will help people build websites. They were happy to back something like MySpace. However, I must say that the crisis, which began in 2008, did not stop us from making our business go cash-positive. At the time, a lot of small businesses used our platform to build businesses. I always maintained that a technology business is about the product and we achieved scale based on the merit of the product. We don’t have a sales team even today. Financial discipline was the key to our success. This continues to be the reason why we have helped 40 million businesses.
2. Was it the small businesses that gave you the word-of-mouth needed for the initial growth?
DR:The first set of users were creative folks like photographers and artists. There were many local businesses and freelancers. This community is large the world over. But that’s how we evolved from being a website provider to a platform that understands the entire business of the local business.
3. Is that what Weebly4 is?
DR: It allows the entrepreneur to build a website with mobile functionality along with e-commerce and marketing functionalities. The platform allows the entrepreneur to track inventory, sales and shoppers loyalty. It has customer relationship management functionality too. Most of our competition offer some functionalities. But they do not integrate it like how we have on our platform. We have PayPal that becomes a payment platform for our businesses to connect with their customers or other businesses. The Indian market has many entrepreneurs and it is an important region for us. We believe Indian entrepreneurs want to take their businesses global and want maintain a strong local presence. Our strategy in emerging markets is too add a local flavour to the platform as we build scale. Small business have the same problem around the world, which is having a good CRM funtionality and the ability to build an e-commerce platform. We have sold that need based on the understanding of small businesses work across the world. In India we could go with local payment partner, but that is in the near future.
4. What is your view on the startup ecosystem the world over and in other regions?
DR: In Silicon Valley, it is all about ‘go big or explode’. This is a problem that has cropped up the world over. I think there are only two problems to the whole thing: the first is that entrepreneurs have to figure out the product-market fit. Ninety-five percent of the entrepreneurs do not get this. People go after building huge sales teams and, before you know it, there is no focus on the product. A successful product is about getting people to use it and become loyal customers for the long term. The second thing is you need a good team to back your ideas and win the market.
5. How should the entrepreneur marry his thoughts with those of his investors and senior management?
DR: You need to say ‘no’ and you need to know what is important for your business and what is not important. It is better to break ties early than make it worse later on. We have been lucky in that we had great investors. The first time I fired somebody I had to throw up in the bathroom and muster some courage to tell that person that he is out. As a leader you need to engage and have conversations. The investors never tell you ‘no’, but they will put it in a way that means they are saying no. A good leader listens to conversations and understands what works in these conversations. As an entrepreneur my advice to others is to have financial discipline and focus on monetisation. Product-market fit and the team are the two things that an entrepreneur should focus on.