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Being a small business is no easy task, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. And yet, there are tens of millions of these businesses driving a significant portion of the American economy. DocStoc, a six-year-old Santa Monica startup, has spent the last two years reinventing itself to serve this market as a go-to resource and today unveiled the fruits of that labor in the form of an entirely redesigned Web product.

DocStoc 2.0, as its founder and CEO Jason Nazar calls it, offers small business owners access to documents, editorial content, instructional videos, business courses, licensing tools, and software recommendations in a single all-you-can-eat subscription.

Much of this content existed prior to today’s redesign across DocStoc’s portfolio of three Web properties, DocStoc.com, License123.com, and newly-acquired BestVendor.com. But beyond just combining them into a single portal, the product update adds intelligence through semantic search, content personalization, and an application layer.

“DocStoc has always been good at getting people to content when they know what they’re looking for,” Nazar says. “Historically, we’ve been less good about guiding someone through the process when they come to us and say, ‘Show me what I need to do – what’s coming next?”

Through today’s update, a consumer can now ask a natural language question like “I’m in the planning phase of starting a restaurant. What do I do?” DocStoc would then return resources around writing a business plan, including tips, templates, and even software recommendations. The platform would also layout which local, state, and federal licenses are required for that business category and how to complete them. Additional recommended content resources may include those around getting an SBA loan, marketing, and hiring employees, depending on the individual entrepreneur’s stated needs.

Small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs) are a notoriously difficult market to target, one many have likened to herding (low margin) cats. But DocStoc already has a massive audience consuming its content, to the tune of 38.5 million registered users and nearly 15 million monthly unique visitors. (The site has seen more than 820 million total unique visitors since launching in 2007.) Thus, the product update is about better serving these existing users and making the experience more of an essential part of starting and growing a business.

When DocStoc launched in October 2007, it was simply a place to find stock documents like lease agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and employment agreements. Users paid on a per-file basis to view and download these documents. Then the company evolved into a place to host documents for embedding into Websites. In most cases, this service was free and enabled DocStoc to spread its customer acquisition tentacles to the far reaches of the Web.

Today, DocStoc has migrated almost entirely away from its a la carte pricing model and asks users to pay a flat $20 per month for unlimited access to its 20 million documents, and more than 20,000 pieces of premium original content.

“We’re giving people a lot of value in a single package,” Nazar says. “In some ways its like a movie. The studio paid $150 million to make this masterpiece and you get access to it all for just $12. For a small business owner, DocStoc is not much different.”

DocStoc has raised just $4 million across two rounds of financing, the most recent being a 2008 Series A round – five years ago is a lifetime in startup years. Backers include Rustic Canyon Ventures, Crosscut Ventures, and individual angel investors. The company has been profitable “for the last two to three years,” according to Nazar, and is growing in both revenue and profit.

“Today’s re-launch and rebranding was a lot about taking away the confusion over what our business was four years ago,” Nazar says. “We’ve always been about helping small businesses, but now I think we’ve made that clearer than ever.”

DocStoc is not without its challengers in the SMB tools and resources category. Large companies like GoDaddy, Intuit, and even AMEX are trying to both build and buy their way into this market. But none has the volume of content or specific expertise that DocStoc has built over the last half-decade. What they do have, however, is brand credibility and billions of dollars with which to build additional awareness among their target audience.

Despite these well-heeled competitors, DocStoc should hardly be considered the underdog in this market. It’s the category leader today when it comes to small business education. The longer term question is, how big can this business grow? Nazar has built a stable and growing business than employs approximately 55 people and serves tens of millions of consumers monthly. But the company has never really hopped aboard that growth rocketship that venture-backed startups aspire to.

With entrepreneurship as popular today in America as it has ever been, there could be no better time to enter (or re-emphasize your claim to) this market. Nazar and his team have a lengthy product roadmap for where they think DocStoc can go, but today’s redesign offers the clearest picture to date of where it’s headed.

“We really want to make SMBs more successful by productizing and providing access to the tools and resources that large businesses have at their fingertips,” Nazar says. “We’re going to transform the SMB landscape.”

[Image via Thinkstock]

    1. Michael Jones
      Board Member