What it must be like to be the only bird that hasn’t flown South for the winter? Surely no KillerStartups reader will suffer this sad fate and miss out on the great migration of all things to mobile websites – or worse: fly off toward false tropics – thanks to astute entrepreneurs such as piJnz CEO and founder Elena English.
Mobile website builder piJnz is also a content and landing page management service. Focused on agencies (PR, design, marketing, advertising) and resellers, piJnz stands out in its flock by building original mobile websites and by providing companies with great analytics specifically tooled for the mobile universe. Set your internal compass in English’s direction as she shares her bootstrapping journey and her mobile business savvy.
How did you come up with the idea for piJnz, and how did you first go about building the company?
We’ve been in the interactive agency and development consulting business for a few years. At the end of 2010, we noticed the growing popularity of QR codes and SMS marketing, and frankly, how bad the mobile user experience was for most of those early efforts. This meant there is a need for a platform that allows you to create mobile-optimized landing pages. The first version of piJnz was fairly simple and was released in a matter of a few months. We continued to develop the product based on feedback and demand, with the focus on offering solutions for resellers and agencies to manage mobile content for multiple clients.
What distinguishes piJnz from the competition?
One main distinction is that we typically do not work with end businesses directly and instead focus on agencies and industry partners. If a small business owner wants to sign up with piJnz to create a mobile site, they can certainly do that, but this is not our target market. Catering specifically to agencies and resellers helps us develop features that work with their business process, such as a 45-day free “demo” option that comes with every site built on piJnz (which gives an agency time to demonstrate the mobile site for their client without being charged for an additional site), integration options or White Label solutions.
The other differentiating point is the flexibility of our platform. With most other mobile CMS platforms, you would start with a template (a layout and color/font combination) and try to customize it to match the branding and the desired look. This approach can be very limiting. With piJnz you can literally create any look you want with an easy drag-and-drop interface. You can even upload your creative design files straight from Photoshop and convert them into interactive mobile web pages. Our clients have created thousands of truly amazing one-of-a-kind mobile experiences using our platform.
And the last thing I’d like to mention is our new growing focus on metrics and analytics that includes both traditional as well as mobile-specific data. The lack of clear metrics has been cited as the number one reason why brands and agencies have been slow to fully embrace mobile marketing. Measuring mobile engagement requires data beyond traditional page views and unique visits, and we’ve been working to address this issue. Our new product SignalMind offers mobile campaign management, with the ability to track stats by source and view mobile-specific metrics such as phone calls or mobile coupon redemptions. We’ll continue to develop in this direction.
How did you come up with the name for your company?
Historically, carrier pigeons were used to deliver important messages across long distances. They were reliable means of communication that made the needed connection. Mobile is a very personal and powerful medium that can help build incredible customer engagement and loyalty: make the connection, and bring customers back. We thought that “pigeon” is a great analogy for what we are trying to accomplish with our product. “They always come back” was our slogan when we first started.
When do your best ideas come to you? As you’re falling asleep? Stuck in traffic? After working 16 hours? While jogging?
Probably the best concepts happen from talking to customers about their pain points. We are constantly expanding the product and adding new features, and almost all of it is based on feedback we get from customers, as well as keeping track of the latest developments in the industry.
Maybe you can share an anecdote that describes the struggles or frustrations you’ve had to work through while starting out?
One thing I did not anticipate at all was the number of people trying to hop on the mobile marketing opportunity as a way to get rich overnight. You see people who barely used email before, signing up for various “make money with mobile marketing” type schemes, and paying enormous money for some magic training course that “guarantees results using a secret method no one else knows about.” It can be rather frustrating and disappointing to see this happen all over the place, but I guess this is part of being part of a new and popular trend.
How has work on piJnz been different from work on previous projects?
Like any entrepreneur, I had started a few projects before that seemed like great ideas and failed. But this project was based on a clear need from the beginning, and we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time, so it was fairly easy to get the first beta users. The first paying customers came right after that. We’ve tried to maintain a really close relationship with our best customers and partners, which has given us a better shot at growing the feature set in the direction of what customers are willing to pay for, and not just some idea that seems right.
What drew you to startup entrepreneurship?
Just like most other startups, we saw a problem that we wanted to address. Just about any message out there could benefit from a mobile-friendly destination, and there needed to be a tool to create these mobile-friendly destinations and measure the results. For instance, you see QR codes everywhere linking to home pages of desktop sites (and therefore accomplishing nothing) instead of mobile-friendly landing pages. Since we already had an awesome team in place (talented developers), I knew that if we moved quickly we could create a great product to fit this demand. So we did it.
All time favorite or least favorite mobile websites?
Right now there are quite a few cookie-cutter solutions that allow you to produce cookie-cutter websites. Often you look at a mobile website and can tell what platform it was developed on, each mobile site looking just like hundreds of others. Boring, lazy and sub par. As we all know, in telling your story it is the little details that make all the difference. We strive for empowering our customers and resellers to be able to create one-of-a-kind mobile experiences that are not only beautiful but also very highly customizable to each business and marketing situation.
My favorite mobile website is the one that tells the story and works for its purpose, both visually and functionally.
Who or what inspires YOU?
Entrepreneurs, of course, and people who strive to live their dreams (from Richard Branson to a local musician or an artist, to people like our designer who moved to Thailand with his family and freelances over the internet). I like working out, riding my bike, playing music, and hanging out with smart and fun people.
What’s your greatest satisfaction in business life?
It is always nice to see the numbers go up, get positive feedback from customers and hear stories of their successes with our platform. Also, working with great people is very rewarding. I’ve been lucky to work with an amazing and talented team – folks who can solve problems and get things done. It feels good to tackle projects that seem impossible at first. And also – experimenting and learning every day – something you are guaranteed to be doing at a startup.
We also love facts and figures. Any specifics that highlight your growth?
We bootstrapped the company and never took any funding. In our early days, we were thinking a hip VC might give us more connections, but as the customer and partner community grew, we realized piJnz could grow organically. The piJnz Group is exactly 2 years old and currently we have 5 full-time people in the US and Eastern Europe. We’ve been growing pretty steadily and now we are profitable with customers and resellers globally, in over 15 countries.
Who’s been your biggest supporter?
My wonderful husband Jason, who is also an entrepreneur, a talented musician and one of the most creative people I know – and a great dad.
How do you picture piJnz in 5 years?
We went to the CTIA Wireless 2012 trade show and were frankly blown away by the number and variety of vendors there, and the sheer industry investment in every aspect of mobile technology. The industry we are in changes so much that it is hard to predict what will happen in the next 5 years.
Just the ability to have a mobile website is now becoming a problem of the past. One of the challenges for the next few years is improving the user’s mobile experience, which is about offering relevant and focused information users are looking for, which in turn depends on understanding consumer behavior and having access to the right mobile metrics to give you that insight.
While your desktop visitor’s context is rather predictable (at a computer), the mobile visitor could be anywhere and engaged in a variety of activities (in a store location, at home, watching TV, cooking, driving, at the office, etc). Understanding consumer context and having the ability to provide ultra-focused information relevant to that context is going to be really critical to the success of mobile marketing.
The other side of it is relevant mobile metrics. If success of a desktop campaign can be measured by visits and “thank you” page hits, mobile analytics should offer tracking of a variety of additional actions and factors. Ideally, say, if I am at a restaurant looking at their mobile site, the marketer behind should 1) know that I am inside the restaurant, 2) understand what works for consumers in my context, and 3) display the focused offers and information that drive the best results in this scenario.
Obviously, this is a big challenge, and I see piJnz working in this direction in the near future. Most importantly, I expect we will continue to concentrate our efforts on helping businesses deliver exactly what mobile users are looking for, to drive amazing conversion rates. If we do that, everything else should take care of itself. In addition, I’d like to see us involved in some form of social entrepreneurship and serving the social good.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get their business off the ground?
Be resilient and keep trying. Don’t worry about changing directions 100 times until you get it right. Don’t take it too seriously, and take time to enjoy life outside of work.
Where can our readers get a hold of you?
You can find me on LinkedIn and piJnz is on Twitter @pijnz and @signalmind, on Facebook and Google+.
Any other projects you’re working on that we should check out?
We are marketing our new mobile campaigns management module as a separate product on www.signalmind.com. SignalMind allows marketers to track mobile engagement effort by source (a mobile ad, a text message, a social media ad or a QR code) with reports that include traditional as well as mobile-specific data.
Courtesy of startup founder | piJnz