Get Big, Get Small, Get Lucky: Why EVO Media Was Ready When Opportunity Came Calling

When the customer that would transform their business came calling, the entrepreneurs behind Seattle’s EVO Media Group weren’t exactly flying high.

After a $1.5 million fundraising round and a period of rapid hiring, the three-year-old startup was confronting an intractably slow economy and a target market that wasn’t generating enough sales. EVO was forced to cut staff—again—as it looked for a way to wring more money from its flagship website-building service, DevHub.

Things were about to get better. In October, EVO got an unsolicited lead on not just a new customer, but a whole new line of business, when a major phone directory company contacted the company to ask if DevHub was available as a private-label service.

Uh, yeah, they could handle that. Less than a year later, the private-label business is the primary revenue source—about half of revenues now, and growing every month—and has EVO on the road to sustained growth and higher profit margins.

The customers in DevHub’s sweet spot now are businesses like domain registration sites or yellow pages directories, which can offer website-building services as a way to land more small- and medium-sized business customers of their own. Those bring a lot larger base all at once than DevHubs’s old method of upselling a free product to small website or blog owners.

“We’re really targeting and talking to companies that have these captured bases of probably a minimum of 5,000 small businesses,” co-founder Daniel Rust says. “But we’re flexible, as long as they have a market or a base sort of idea. Right now, we’re working on rolling out a new implementation in New Zealand with a partner that’s going to start doing franchised website building.”

Rust and his co-founder, Mark Michael, sound cautiously optimistic that they’ve hit upon a strong, sustainable business at this point. But they’re also not shying away from the difficult lessons of the past few years, offering a remarkable frankness that might serve as a warning to young entrepreneurs bewitched by tales of swift success and seven-figure checks.

Right now, they say, EVO costs about $20,000 per month to operate. Contrast that with the biggest-spending days, when the company was burning through $120,000 to $150,000 a month. But here’s the rub: All that spending and a staff of about 20 allowed EVO to crank out the … Next Page »

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