How do you make money by giving something away? Just ask the subject of today's interview, Costin Tuculescu. Costin, a software engineer by education, is a serial entrepreneur whose passion lies in creating new technologies, finding solutions to technology problems, and producing new, exciting products and services. His latest venture is a full-featured web conferencing application, called AnyMeeting.com, which costs users nothing. Through bootstrapping, and eventually angel funding, Costin has grown the ad-supported business from an idea to a leading provider of online conferencing solutions, with nearly 40,000 users worldwide. With that kind of experience, you'll want to read what this young entrepreneur has to say! Enjoy the interview!
AnyMeeting.com is a great tool that offers a lot of functionality at no cost. For those of our readers who aren't familiar with the company, can you tell us a little about your business model?
Our goal is to make web conferencing as accessible as email for small businesses.Â In order for this to happen, it needs to be free and easy to use.Â AnyMeeting is ad supported, which allows us to offer such a great service completely for free.Â AnyMeeting allows small business users to easily meet with anyone in the world at anytime for free, saving them time and money.
You're competing with some well-established webinar/meeting companies. How did you know your model would be able to stand up to the competition?
As a whole, the web conferencing and webinar industry is growing at about 20% a year.Â The current economic conditions have accelerated the growth as companies have been cutting travel expenses.Â There is also a significant portion of the small business market that has never used web conferencing due to the high cost of service.Â A significant portion of our current users represent this segment.
AnyMeeting offers for free what other service providers charge thousands of dollars per year for.Â For example, if you wanted to host webinars for 200 people, it would cost approximately $4,000 per year with a provider such as GoToMeeting or WebEx.Â You can do the same webinars with AnyMeeting, completely for free.
A free service is an excellent choice for anyone, from new users and small business who want to start giving webinars and having online meetings, to the advanced user looking to cut expenses.Â While the price of web conferencing services is going down, nothing as feature rich as our service is being offered for free so, we know there is a market for our service.Â Another differentiator between us and the big service providers is that our platform doesn’t need any downloads, installs or setups for your audience. Â It’s completely browser based.
You've added close to 40,000 users since launching in 2010. How did you do that? Which advertising methods have worked well for you?
We've been very successful in our attracting new users through search engine marketing and social media. Referrals have also been a great source of growth for us.Â Our users are so pleased with AnyMeeting that they tell lots of their friends and colleagues about us.Â In a survey to our users, over 65% responded they have recommended us at least once, with 49% stating they have recommended us more than once.
We're big fans of SEO. Once you're properly optimized and come up organically in search results, you're gold, so that's why we're constantly working on it. SEM as well — Google AdWords and Microsoft Bing offer good ROI for our type of service. We're also looking to create relationships with associations that reach our target market — small businesses that are just starting out. They don't really know if it's worth paying for a webinar service, so, they are open to trying us out first.Â Reaching out to those specific verticals and online marketing have been our two main business tools that we use to grow our user base.
What has been the biggest business challenge you've had to face, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges for any start-up is building the team.Â So far, I've been very fortunate to grow the company with the right people on board.Â However, finding the talented people that have the mentality of, "okay, we have to do whatever it takes to grow the company" and who share your vision, is one of the most challenging things because you're not going to just put out an ad and find those people. It's an ongoing process of networking and reaching out to your network, going to mixers and kind of putting the word out there. It's an ongoing process to build, and continue to motivate the right team.
What three pieces of advice do you have for young entrepreneurs interested in starting their first business?
#1 — Plan out what you want to get out of this business?Â Is it going to be a lifestyle business where you make a good living to support yourself and your family, or are you going to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?Â Deciding on what you're looking to get out of it, and in what time frame, will help you set up the right goals, milestones, etc.
#2 — Surround yourself with smart people that are good at what they do and you enjoy being around.Â Since you're going to be putting in 10-12 hour days, you need to make sure that you're spending that time with the right people, all working together for one common goal — to be successful.
#3 — Work your butt off.Â For YoungEntrepreneur readers, starting your own company is your chance to get ahead of everyone else, and it takes hard work to become successful.Â Realize that this venture is going to take the next X years of your life, and that you're committed to its success.Â The only way to make that happen is to work your butt off.
How do you personally define success?
Very simply, to me, success means exceeding expectations.