There is nothing more humbling than seeing that your gut was wrong. It changes the way you see your audience and it changes your product for the better.
Jim Belosic is known as several different things: an entrepreneur, a CEO, a trusted resource for technology and social media information, the “pancake” guy and most importantly the founder of ShortStack. ShortStack helps businesses build engaging campaigns for social, web and mobile. To date, the software company has more than 300,000 users and more than half a million campaigns have been built using ShortStack.
Belosic has been an entrepreneur since he was 22, when he started his own web and graphic design company. Nine years after he started the company, his clients started asking him if he knew how to build custom Facebook apps. At the time he had no idea, but never being one to turn down an opportunity to learn something new Belosic said, “Sure, we can do that!” He created an internal tool and one day it hit him that he had a really awesome software product — which he named ShortStack — that should be made available to the public. ShortStack was released in Beta in late 2010 and by January 2011 it was available to the world.
While Belosic was launching ShortStack and maintaining his web design company, he managed to make a name for himself in the pancake industry. A few years ago — right around the time his team was designing ShortStack — he started making creative flapjacks for his daughter and blogging about it. The blog took off, generating a book deal and TV appearances. Belosic’s pancake website can be visited here: http://www.jimspancakes.com
Today, Belosic has worked to position himself as a resource for social media, business and entrepreneurship. His entrepreneurial endeavors have all been bootstrapped and Belosic enjoys sharing his experience and lessons learned with others. Belosic has contributed to some of the top media outlets including Fast Company, Venture Beat, Mashable, The Next Web and Forbes. In 2012, Belosic was named the Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by the Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, honored as a top 20 business leader under age 40 in Reno, Nev. and named one of the city’s 100 most influential business leaders.
ShortStack has been featured and discussed by major media outlets including Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur, Fox Business, Mashable, PC World and AllFacebook.
Where did the idea for ShortStack come from?
About ten years ago I started a web design company in Reno, Nevada and a few years later, when Facebook was first becoming popular for businesses, my clients suddenly started asking if I could create custom Facebook Pages for them. I am not one to turn down a challenge so I said, Yes. And before we knew it, we had designed software that allowed us to make custom Facebook Pages without custom coding, i.e., making each Page by hand.
It made our lives a lot easier and we realized pretty quickly that we had created something that other people could benefit from. We made the software available to the public in late 2010. Eventually we transformed from a web design company to a software company that I named ShortStack. (Long story, but I wrote a book about my weekend hobby, making 3D pancakes, and it was the inspiration for the company’s name).
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day starts early! We offer online customer support and we have users all over the world so we receive questions 24 hours a day. When I wake up, the first thing I do is hop on to our customer support site and answer some users’ tickets and respond to emails. Then I help get my kids ready for school. Once the family is all squared away, I head into the office.
When I get to the office, I check in with each staff member and help whoever needs it. The afternoons tend to be a little slower and that’s when I have time to do a little more of my own work. Then it’s back home to do the normal family stuff — eat dinner, play with the kids — and then it’s back to the computer. At night I also like to catch up on my industry reading — I tend to fall down the rabbit hole of technology and catch up on my favorite blogs and eBooks. It’s definitely my replacement for television.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I explore my ideas by testing them. In my experience success is about having a thousand ideas and then finding one good one in the bunch. Of course the challenge is trying all 1000 and seeing which is best. I’ve found that delegation is critical. Having a good team that can figure out the viable ideas and see them through to the end is what has allowed my company to grow. At a certain point you just can’t do it all by yourself!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m excited about how software (marketing software in particular) is becoming more cross-platform. When we started ShortStack, we were very focused on one social outlet — Facebook. Now the trend is about focusing on campaigns instead of a single platform, giving brands the opportunity to reach fans anywhere. Being platform agnostic, as we call it, opens the doors for software companies to expand their offerings and gives businesses more opportunities with their marketing.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
It’s not really a habit, but I’m productive because I love what I do. When you’re running a startup there is never a dull moment which suits me well because I love solving problems. If I showed up to work every day just for the money, or because someone told me I had to, I would get burned out. If you find yourself setting aside hours of your day for work or daydreaming about being on the beach and working later, you’re probably not working on the right thing.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
It wasn’t a bad job, per se, because I enjoyed the work. What made it terrible was the fact that I was underappreciated. No matter how hard I worked I was never rewarded. When I would ask for some flexibility, like to go go to an appointment for an hour, I was made to feel like I was doing something “wrong.”
The funny thing is that I’d probably still be there today if I hadn’t felt like I was being nickeled and dimed. I have definitely used that experience when it comes to making decisions at my own company. I never want my employees to feel that way: I value their opinions and ideas and always listen to what they have to say.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have set bigger goals and larger expectations for my business early on. When I first started my agency my goal was just to have a competitive agency in my city. Once I achieved that, I wanted the company to be recognized on the West Coast. When my focus shifted to software and ShortStack, our market became global literally overnight and we hadn’t necessarily planned for that. I wish I would have had the “world wide” goal in the beginning but then I wouldn’t have learned the lessons that I know now. Scaling slowly has some big advantages too.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Test! We are always testing ideas. Even if we test same thing over and over again, time always moves forward so we can get different results from the same test 6 months later. I love to be surprised during testing. There is nothing more humbling than seeing that your gut was wrong. It changes the way you see your audience and it changes your product for the better.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Switching from an advertising focus to public relations focus for our marketing was a massive step. When you stop running ads they go away and provide no value. If you have articles written about you they last forever. More recently we’ve added content marketing alongside our PR strategy. Content marketing not only provides great SEO, but it helps to position us as experts or leaders in our industry. Many people who discover us through our content marketing, including guest posts, eBooks, and our blog — where most of our content originates — end up trying our product. We find that those are the best users since they already know what we’re all about from the beginning.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just one?! I fail probably once a week, maybe even once a day! I’ll make the wrong decision or go down a path that our customers don’t want because I wasn’t listening, and then I have to backtrack. Most people see the word failure and think “unrecoverable.” Instead, I see failures as mini test results. I tried something, it didn’t work, so let’s gather up what we learned and try again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
You know how they have those Mongolian Grill places where you pick what foods you want and they cook it up for you? I think it’d be great to have a pizza place like this! You choose your dough and you get to roll it to your desired thickness, then you put your own sauce on and all of your favorite ingredients and hand it off to the guy working the pizza oven to cook up for you. *copyright Jim Belosic :) Of course I know nothing of the food service industry, but I’d definitely go to a place like this.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
When I was first starting out on the project that became my current software company money was tight and I decided to put the money I had toward payroll instead of my mortgage. I ended up losing my house. My wife wasn’t too happy about that, but in the end the risk paid off.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Some of my favorites include MailChimp, Geckoboard and Mixpanel. I love everything about MailChimp as a company, they have great UI and all of their templates are mobile friendly and I have a soft spot for their founder Ben Chestnut (see #15!). Geckoboard is a cool software that promotes transparency in the office. It allows you to display whatever business metrics you want (sign ups, cancels, server up/down time, tweets, etc) in real time. We throw our stats up on a big TV screen and it’s a great way for employees to stay up-to-date on the state of the business. Mixpanel allows us to see real time data on our users and what actions they’re taking within our platform. Then we can reach out to those users with targeted emails based on the actions they’re taking.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. It’ll change how you see your product and how your users actually use it. Entrepreneurs are often way way too close to their project and think it’s perfect. But do a few user tests you’ll be shocked.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Ben Chestnut at MailChimp has been a big influence for me. We’ve been through a lot of the same stuff when it comes to our previous experiences; when I read about his company’s history I realized that MailChimp, too, began as an agency. I feel like every time I have a question, I can read Ben’s blog and he’s either had that same problem or offers some insight that is relevant to me. http://about.me/benchestnut