First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Simon Vielma : All of my family, friends, and co-workers are doing just fine. So far no one close to me has gotten the virus. Thanks for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Bidwise
Simon Vielma : I am originally from Venezuela and came to the U.S at the age of 17 to study. After I graduated from college, I went to grad school in Boston and ended up leaving school to start a technology company in China. That company wasn’t successful, but I learned a lot from the experience about what it takes to build a successful technology company.
After China, I came back to the U.S and started experimenting with affiliate marketing. I built a site that helped people from Venezuela buy amazon gift cards which were in high demand back then due to a crazy government subsidy. That site started making $40,000 per month in amazon affiliate commissions, but I knew that subsidy wasn’t going to last very long so I was eager to pivot to something else where I could perhaps use my experience as an affiliate marketer.
While experimenting with different ideas, I met my co-founder and business partner Oscar Mederos online. I was impressed with his technical abilities. He’s one of those engineers with a curious mind. One that actually gets interested in understanding the business side of things as well. We worked on concepts; such as, social-shopping, then price-comparison, but we saw the biggest potential in building an ad platform for middle-market online stores to get the traffic they need to sell online. So that’s what we are doing at Bidwise.
How does Bidwise innovate?
Simon Vielma : I think our approach to innovation starts with design. We give design a lot of thought. To give you an example. We’re currently re-designing the number of steps that it takes for a business to create an advertising campaign on Bidwise. It used to be 3 simple steps, but even that seemed two steps too long for us, so the new campaign creation wizard will allow you to create an effective ad campaign on Bidwise in just one step. That’s just one example of how we apply design to drive innovation.
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Simon Vielma : It’s funny because a lot of the radical changes that companies are now trying to make to adapt to this pandemic: (remote work, distributed hiring, working asynchronously) are all inherent in our business. We built Bidwise to operate this way from the very beginning because we believed in the effectiveness and benefits of this format. Business-wise, It’s no secret that online shopping has been a big beneficiary of the lockdowns. As people adapt their buying habits and more commerce is shifted online, businesses like ours are benefiting so I am carefully optimistic.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices and what are the Lessons Learned?
Simon Vielma : The typical startup that you read about in the news goes through several rounds of fundraising before they get to profitability. I raised about half a million dollars from friends, family, and a group of investors to start that company that I just mentioned failed, but the main reason why we failed is because I thought that once we built the product and began gaining traction, we were going to be able to raise more money because that’s how it’s done in silicon valley right? Well that’s not how it works in real life. Half a million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but if you hire a few engineers and your payroll cost is $30k/month, you only have 10 months before you start running out of money again. It didn’t matter that we built a really good product, by the time it got out, we were running out of money in the midst of a financial crisis.
So the most valuable lesson I learned was: don’t stake the success of your project on your ability to find financing later on because you are betting your future on factors that you can’t control. Instead, start developing a business model very early, test it, adapt it, and hire slow. You only need a renegade team of a few people willing to make the initial sacrifices and go through the excruciating pains that involve building a company for the long term. Startups aren’t for people who need instant gratification.
We got really scared. My business partner and I have been talking for a long time about how this zero interest rate policy from the federal reserve has created another huge bubble. So when COVID-19 hit, we said so here it is. COVID-19 is going to be the pin that will prick this bubble. We run a tight ship so it’s not like we had a lot of room to cut expenses, but we did temporarily lower some of our salaries until we had more visibility into our future revenue and profitability. We also went into full gear and worked like hell to expand the platform beyond e-commerce. We added a few new verticals; such as, financial services, insurance, home services, auto, and jobs. So we diversified our revenue sources which is great. The lesson we learned is that sometimes it takes a crisis to make your company stronger.
How do you Deal with Stress and Anxiety, how do you Project yourself and Bidwise in the Future ?
Simon Vielma : I’d be lying if I told you that this isn’t a big issue for me. The way I deal with it is I try to remove as much uncertainty as I can from the picture. Spending time with family also helps me decompress.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Simon Vielma : We compete for advertising budgets with the online ad giants: Google Ads and Facebook, as well as with smaller companies such as Criteo, and The Trade Desk. As long as we focus on what’s really important, which is to provide a service to our customers that is effective in helping them generate sales and grow their businesses, I think there is room for us in the marketplace.
Your Final Thoughts
Simon Vielma : I am optimistic about our future, but as I said above I am carefully optimistic because I believe that things will get way worse before they get better. So we have to focus on what matters most. Building great products that helps our customers.