As one of Mint.com’s first engineers and the builder of the personal finance company’s first prototype, Poornima Vijayashanker has some serious Silicon Valley credibility. “I helped Aaron [Patzer] come up with the name ‘Mint,’” says Vijayashanker. But when Mint was acquired by Intuit for $170 million in 2009, she felt that it was time to venture back into the startup world. “I felt I was young enough to take some risks,” says the 29-year-old.
The inspiration for her Palo Alto-based company, BizeeBee, came when she was doing some volunteering and technology consulting for yoga studios in the Bay Area. A devoted yoga practitioner, Vijayashanker says she “saw the same business model and the same problems” at many of the companies she worked for. The studio owners were highly focused on their classes and their students but, all too often, they lacked the back-office systems required to keep track of membership, attendance and payments. Vijayashanker felt there was a ripe market for a Web-based solution to serve instructors who wanted to move beyond sign-up sheets and $20 bills dropped in a basket near the door.
Managing Members Online
Bootstrapping her company with her earnings from Mint, Vijayashanker started BizeeBee in 2010 and now has more than 500 fitness and yoga studios, mostly in the U.S., as clients. The businesses can simply use BizeeBee to manage their membership lists, entering each student into the system and scheduling regular communication, such as email reminders about classes. Or, they can also sign up for BizeeBee’s billing application, which allows the studios to take payments online. Subscription rates range from $57 to $107 a month, plus a 4 percent transaction fee for taking payments.
Last year, Vijayashanker raised a $450,000 seed round of capital from six angel investors, including Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer, Dave McClure of 500 Startups and Richard Chen, formerly of Google. Since then, she has hired a staff of seven (most work virtually), and is growing the business by providing additional services to her members.
The company has been offering webinars to members, and is facilitating peer-to-peer events so that instructors can meet and learn from one another. BizeeBee also collects and shares the year-end data that businesses need at tax time. “We also put them in touch with bookkeepers and accountants and help them import data into QuickBooks,” she says. Additionally, users can enter their customers into the BizeeBee sytem and then sync that data with e-mail marketing providers.
Vijayashanker says that BizeeBee will eventually venture into other markets. “We could certainly go into other industries, such as writing and acting workshops,” she says. But for now, the yoga and fitness market remains a promising proving ground, as job seekers beaten down by the recession seek to look and feel good, and an aging population focuses on health and fitness.
Plus, she notes, “people continue to open these kinds of businesses because they are proven concepts. But not a lot of companies offer comprehensive solutions to brick-and-mortar businesses. We’re trying to establish ourselves as a company that’s going to help other small businesses grow.”
Donna Fenn is a business journalist and co-founder of Y.E.C. Mentors, an initiative of the Young Entrepreneur Council. She is author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success and Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business Can Become a Leader of the Pack.
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