Dina Kaplan co-founded Blip.TV, a video sharing platform for independent web shows, five years ago.
In those five years, Kaplan has seen her business grow from a small niche of video bloggers who were producing original video shows to thousands of users using the site to host their own shows and upload produced videos.
The New York-based company, which shares revenue 50/50 with content producers, has scaled to 96 million video views a month and is now seeing more of its shows making more than $10,000 a quarter than ever before. In fact, Kaplan said payouts to content producers have increased 77 percent from Q1 to Q2 of this year.
In the last five years, Kaplan has learned quite a bit about what it takes to grow a business, with or without the help of funding. Here are five things she recommends to entrepreneurs.
1. Don't Try To Be All Things To All People
Kaplan said that when Blip.tv was just starting in 2005, the company went after a discrete market. “We didn't try to be all things to all people,” she said. Blip.tv targeted a group of people who were producing original shows for the web and saw an opportunity to make their experience better. They saw a problem that could be fixed. The market they chose was very small, she said, but one that they knew would grow.
2. Learn From Your Customers
Once the company identified their target market, they studied it. They spent time with key users who were producing original video for blogs. Kaplan said it was just a handful of people at that point, and they hung out with them, got beers with them, and did a lot of listening to learn exactly what they were looking for in a platform that would host their shows.
“We did a lot of listening and built tools that would make their lives easier,” Kaplan said. “As the market grew, we did more listening and adapted the platform to the needs of the producers of video content.”
3. Hire Experts
Kaplan stresses hiring as one of the most important aspects to growing your business. At the beginning, the founders are doing everything, but it's important that as you grow you hire experts in the different fields your business requires. Use your personal network, friends, cousins, a professional contact, and go to industry events and meet with people in your field.
“Hiring sets up your company to be much larger than yourself,” she said. “Give it all you got. You will benefit from good recruiting.”
She also noted that the reputation and culture of the company is important in hiring. People talk, and if your company is a good place to work and has a great environment, treats its employees well, people will hear about it, she said. One of the things that Blip.tv has done is give all of its employees free lunch every day. “Sure it costs a lot of money, but it brings our company together,” she said.
4. Engage and Connect With Your Community
Connecting with your professional community is not only important in hiring, but in doing business in general. It can generate leads, partnerships, and opportunities that you may not have known were available.
Kaplan said that some time should be spent with your “head down” focusing on the product, and a good chunk of the time should be spent with your “head up” meeting with people in your industry, communities of professionals, companies and other entrepreneurs.
“You should spend some of your time learning from other people and making connections,” Kaplan said. “Your business shouldn't exist in a vacuum.”
5. Don't Obsess Over Funding
According to Kaplan, companies often obsess on the funding, often at the expense of the product. She said business owners should focus on the product and market, and if the product is a great idea, the money will follow. She thinks focusing on building the product, especially for Internet companies, is the first step and then looking for revenue or funding should follow.
“The funding isn't the scarce resource. The scarce resource is good ideas, and more importantly, good execution,” Kaplan said.