We talked to Michael Barg, founder of Passparto, about online marketing, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Michael Barg: I appreciate you asking. The last year has been difficult, for sure, but my family is all safe and well. We’re a close-knit group, which has helped us through. The lockdown was hard on me personally because, as an entrepreneur, there’s this constant imperative to move forward and progress things. Covid sort of put the brakes on that, and for the past few months, I’ve definitely been forced to make much shorter-term decisions, not knowing what the future held. That said, I’ve learned a lot about facing up to challenges this past year, and I’ve been inspired by the power of science and technology to solve big problems. The vaccines have been transformational.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Passparto.
Michael Barg: I’m 35 years old, and I live in Tel Aviv with my dog, Da Vinci. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, really, and I’m passionate about developing products that help people in their daily lives. I started my first business at university, where I studied Law and Accounting. I worked on a card game called Donkey there, a mosquito-repellent laundry detergent called Ladybird and later opened an Italian restaurant business in partnership with my father. The inspiration for Passparto was simply the observation that so many small businesses lacked consistent and effective marketing, especially on social media. The problem, I realized, was to do with time, money, and expertise. Small business owners are too busy running their companies to spend time on social media marketing; they typically lack the expertise to do it effectively themselves, and they often don’t have the budget to outsource the work to a professional agency. Passparto is a solution for this.
How does Passparto innovate?
Michael Barg: At its heart, Passparto is an automated social media content generation platform built specifically for small business owners. The premise is to arm them with agency-grade content, published to the right channels, at the right time, at a fraction of the cost. The innovation here is in harnessing the full power of artificial intelligence technology to generate content for users that is both personalized and contextual. We called the engine that powers this ‘Candy,’ and we like to say that she’s your copywriter, designer, and campaign scheduler in one. The best part about this technology is that it gets better with time. The more you use the platform, the better it gets to know you, and the more relevant and ultimately impactful our posts become.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Michael Barg: Well, the obvious impact was that VCs were investing less in pre-seed companies. We were lucky insofar as we already had backing from the Israel Innovation Authority, which I’m grateful to say has seen us through the hardest times. I was very determined, at the outset of the pandemic, not to let events undermine us. We persisted with our roadmap and focused on finalizing our MVP, which we will be rolling out to pre-registered users soon. No doubt Covid has slowed us down, but it didn’t derail us. Now that things are beginning to open up again, I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get back to selling our vision with the same urgency as pre-pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Michael Barg: We had enough funding to keep us running, but, of course, we’ve had to make smart hiring decisions throughout the period. The core team at Passparto is myself and our CTO, Amit Maslaton. Beyond that, we work with freelance marketing professionals and a team of interns based out of the Tamid Group, a consulting and investment corps headquartered in the US. The support we’ve received from these groups – both paid and voluntary – has been an absolute godsend, and it’s definitely taught me a lesson that greatness is in the agency of others. No doubt our success at Passparto has been a team effort.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Michael Barg: We’re still working with beta users, so CRM tools are not critically important at this stage. That said, they will be, and we have built our own internal CRM to handle customer relationships once we reach a critical mass of users.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Michael Barg: The Israeli Innovation Authority has been our chief source of funding. We received a grant from them in January 2020, and this has been our chief source of funding over the past 12 months. This has covered employee salaries, product development, marketing, and sales efforts and, as I say, has been critical to moving Passparto forward.
Your final thoughts?
Michael Barg: What a ride the last twelve months have been! It’s been so tough on everybody, but, at the end of the day, you know that the tough times make you stronger. It’s so interesting how the pandemic has been an accelerant for certain trends, the work-from-home phenomena in particular. Are we really going back to a regular office culture? A three-hour commute? Air travel across continents for a two-hour meeting? It took a pandemic for us to realize it, but so many of our old habits seem nonsensical now. I don’t think life will ever go back to ‘normal, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better things around the corner. As ever, technology will play a critical role in ushering in this new period. On a personal level, I’ve used this time to take stock of a few things. I’d like to think I have a healthier outlook on family and health. I definitely take better care of myself now than I did 12 months ago, and I am a lot more conscientious about devoting time to those around me.
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