3 Greeks, 1 Startup, 200,000,000 Visits and 22 Team Members within 4 Years.
How we Created The Gadget Flow in the middle of the economic crisis and managed to generate 200M Visits, hire 22 people and get 3,000 Customers.
For those of you who have never heard of Gadget Flow before, it’s a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. On this blog post, I want to discuss how, in the middle of an economic crisis and by using no capital, we managed to develop this company and generate more than 200,000,000 visits, hire 22 people, get 3,000+ customers, and promote products as well as build long-term customer relationship with reputed companies like Creative Labs, Polaroid, and Sony.
Everything started in an apartment in 2012. Quite unlike the garage story that most startups come up with. We were a group of three friends, all aged 21 who were working on a design inspiration blog and curating content for designers and artists. We used to publish new content almost every day and the blog was generating a few thousand dollars every month just from sponsored posts and banner advertising. It was a way for us to stay creative and generate some revenue for ourselves at the same time.
Cassie Ousta, Mike Chliounakis and Evan Varsamis (Me) met in BCA college in 2009 at Athens, Greece where Mike was studying marketing while Cassie and I majored in shipping and finance. We used to meet after class almost every day to work on our blog, write new content, and find potential advertisers. One day while searching for fancy products online in order to do a roundup feature on our blog, we faced a hard time looking for unique content. That was what led to a brainstorming session to figure out a better way to discover quality products online. A couple days later, on August 15, 2012, The Gadget Flow was born.
Within a few hours everything was in place and there began our hustle for new content every day. The idea of Gadget Flow was, and still is, to simplify online product exploration by introducing fresh, new content daily. In just two days, we, as a team discovered and published more than 150 products from third parties as well as Amazon and Etsy. Each product page consisted of high quality photos, a title, a brief product description, and was finished with a “Buy Now” button that took the visitor directly to the seller’s website. After another few days we came up with our Facebook fan page, newsletter list, and Google Analytics account. Our site was slowly gaining momentum and within a week we successfully published nearly 300 products and realized that we were already able to develop more than 10,000 visits to our product pages organically. I started to work on a couple of growth hacking techniques and cross-promotion with other websites and Facebook fan pages (back in 2012, the organic reach of Facebook Fan Pages was more than 10%) and in a couple of months the website generated an incredible 100,000 visits. People loved the idea of being able to discover new curated products on a daily basis and they shared the website so that others could do the same. The Gadget Flow team started doing some affiliation with Amazon as well as added banner ads via buysellads.com and Google AdSense, all of which produced a four-figure revenue within just three months of the website going live.
The Media Agency
We were spending a couple hours every day in generating content for the Gadget Flow and Cassie and me were also working part-time in a shipping company in order to get some experience from the corporate world. Meanwhile, in early 2013, our team opened a media agency to help companies with their digital advertising goals, web development needs, and social media strategies. Mike was Head of Operations and was managing the majority of the agency’s customers. After hiring our first developer, John Antoniou, in mid-2013, we decided to start working on a redesign for the website as well as launch an app for iOS. A few months later, Gadget Flow 1.1 was launched with a redesigned, custom UI that people loved. The new design increased time on site by 60%, pageviews per user by 200%, and revenue by 140%. Realizing its potential, the site became more than just a hobby for us and we understood that we could more with it if we gave more attention. After another year, we closed our media agency and started working full-time on The Gadget Flow.
Hiring the Right People
Early 2014, our team had been trying to cope up with the website’s demanding tasks and spent weeks looking for the right people and hired their editor as well as a couple blog authors to help them generate content faster. Next, we added an iOS developer and an Android developer to the team. Cash is king and therefore you have to be careful about who you hire and why you are hiring them.
I always hired a new team member when they were “at the edge of a burn-out — I wanted to be sure that we really need one more member and weren’t just wasting our money.” This strategy was applied for every single one of our hires and today the team consists of 22 people from United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Greece, India and Philippines. As the founder and CEO, I love being on top of things. I’m still the impetus behind the UI and development of future versions, monitoring the sales department, occasionally doing customer support, and trying to keep the team synchronized on a daily basis. The key strategy to keep your team close is to do weekly meetings with every single team member and discuss about their tasks, resolve issues, enhance their workflow, and keep them posted about company goals and achievements.
Growing a startup is Challenging and We Enjoyed Every Step of the Way
This engagement with the team extended to the end user and it certainly paid off. By constantly listening to our users’ feedback, our team was able to enhance the platform, introduce their private and public Wish List feature, and, most importantly, launch sponsorship options for our customers. We began cold-calling and cold-emailing to acquire new customers and get them to feature their products on the site which eventually proved profitable. We took our 130% boosted revenue and used it to hire more developers, migrate to better servers (Wp-Engine), and use premium online services such as Slack, Podio, Campaign Monitor & others. Our next focus was on the ever-growing crowdfunding industry by using websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo and fine tune our services and platform in order to be able to promote projects as well. A few months later, our team managed to feature most of the major crowdfunding projects such as Trunkster, Jamstik, Rapide Lite 3D Printer, and many more. There was a huge opportunity for us and we grabbed it by the horns because, as a startup, you have to adapt or die. Other than crowdfunding projects, we had also partnered with Fancy, Amazon, and many third party retailers to promote their products in front of millions of potential buyers but without sacrificing the quality of the platform. According to Cassie, “the tricky part was to increase our revenue by getting more customers advertising their products on our platform but without becoming too sales-y for our users.”
Press and Media Coverage
Our first public mention was from the Greek PCMagazine and then came the US Version of PCMagazine. Hundreds of blogs organically found and featured Gadget Flow. The site and platform was mentioned on Mashable, Forbes, Huffington Post, Marie Claire, ABC News, as well as on many national and local newspapers. Our team attended the web summit held in 2014 in Dublin and were also invited to The Next Web in New York City held in November 2015 where we were named as “one of the most promising tech startups of 2016.” I also went ahead and pitched Gadget Flow in an Open Coffee Event in Athens back in 2014.
Till date, we have had the pleasure to get hundreds of notable mentions from brands such as Sony, Bang and Olufsen, Polaroid, Satechi, Creative Labs, and many more.
Entrepreneurship at the Age of 21 is Tough But Addictive
Being an entrepreneur at the age of 21 is not easy. It requires determination, planning, high self-esteem, and the will to give up many things. You can’t have it both ways; in order to be ahead of the competition you simply have to work more and do more than your competitors. Our team has sacrificed many things in order to be able to run the company and they accomplished this at a time when the odds were against them — in the middle of the economic crisis. According to Mike, “seeing hundreds of local businesses closing and people protesting for their jobs and rights is quite challenging. We were scared with what was happening in Greece but were also determined to build our brand. ” After putting in 18–19 hours a day to get things perfect, “[we] managed to build something that we are passionate about, something we believe in.”
The Gadget Flow is self-sustained and growing rapidly on a yearly basis, aiming to become the top destination to find unique high quality gifts for friends, family, and for personal use. Hundreds of consumer electronic products come out every week and Gadget Flow is the best way to stay updated with the best of them. We have some amazing features coming out this summer as well as new plans to expand our platform to the Chinese market and other emerging markets within the coming years. To add to that, we are also planning to open our first office in New York City. Hearing that, are you interested in working for Gadget Flow? Good news is We Are Hiring!