While Big Tech Chases the Elusive Small Business Market, a Startup in Ohio Has Already Quietly Cornered it
Pamela Springer will never forget the way she and her college basketball team choked in the final four tournament years ago. They showed up ready to play, but got overwhelmed by the media frenzy of the event, she says. Now, she approaches everything she does “expecting to win,” she says.
That’s important when you’re running a tech startup in Columbus, Ohio, and the industry you’ve worked in for years is suddenly overrun with tech giants vying for a piece of the action. Startups in Ohio often feel like underdogs–the expectation of success isn’t natural.
The ironic thing is, Springer’s company Manta is coming from a position of strength. The company has a network of websites supporting 89 million businesses, 1.5 million of which have claimed their profiles. Thirty thousand of them pay to use advanced features.
Manta is Springer’s startup. The company had been providing homepages for startups–and operating at a healthy profit thanks to the targeted ads on its pages–since the early days of Web 2.0. But it wasn’t until this year that the company took on a $44 million round of financing to really crank on the revenue.
Next month, the company will reveal the fruits of that investment, Springer says.
But first–how it got here. Manta has made greater inroads with small business owners than its peers for a simple reason: The company started by selling ads against a large directory of small businesses that it had purchased and posted online. That directory is now up to 89 million listings, 29 million of which are US-based. One and a half million of those small business owners have claimed their profile and updated it for free; Springer expects that number to hit 2.5 million by the end of the year. The distribution of profiles coincides with the distribution of small businesses in the US, from plumbers to lawyers to shop owners to accountants and lawyers. The company also allows those businesses to list products and descriptions.
It’s easy distribution because all sign-ups are incoming–Manta’s consumer-facing profile pages receive 30 million monthly uniques, six million of which are mobile and drive direct phone calls to businesses.
Business owners sign up to claim their pages because they already exist, so Manta is not knocking on any doors. Selling to small business owners has been a pain point for any company chasing the local dollar–Groupon, Patch, ReachLocal, YellowPages, Hubspot, even Foursquare and Yelp, have tried to build out salesforces in this way. Because of the costs required to sign up small business owners as customers, Manta’s competitors often sell them owners on expensive packages. Manta’s services include premium business listings which boost SEO of one’s page for $9.99 a month as well as analytics reports. As many as 3000 small business owners per day sign up for free accounts and 30,000 of its users currently pay for additional services.
Next month Manta will unveil a new suite of products that make its service into a sort of High Table or Quora for local businesses. Currently its message boards, called Manta Connect, are one of its most popular and sticky features. Business owners use them to discuss anything from service providers to marketing techniques. The company is building a community for small business owners, who Springer says do not use LinkedIn. The features will include an activity stream of discussions and updates from peer businesses, as well as promotional tools for social media outlets.
At 125 employees, Manta is one of Columbus’s biggest startups. The company is among comScore’s top five business and finance-related websites. And with a bevy of new products on the horizon, it aims to dominate local markets across the country–Silicon Valley and NYC be damned.
[Image via 33corridor]