An attempt at web design — from University to Startup

[Read Part 1]

On this adventure to building Castle, I learnt that a great marketer is the foundation of any start-up. We were new to business and there was major competition (real estate marketing is saturated — last time I checked Google Keywords, the Top of Page Bid was $22 for “real estate website”).

In the beginning, we didn’t really pay much attention to whether we were actually able to deliver the product — we thought we could do it without problems.

So the first step was marketing the product we didn’t have. And if you have no proof of work (like us), you either pretend like you do or you simply bring price down until you find someone willing to take a chance on you (offer & demand). Therefore, we started selling custom websites for $400 when the same website, if not worse in design, was selling for $5,000 by companies like MyRealPage or Brixwork.

Meeting with Gary Wong on a rainy Sunday morning

It felt terrible to know we had to start this low and pay ourselves $11/hour divided between 3 co-founders (that was painful to calculate). Without previous work experience, it was impossible selling our services at the market price. We knew however that underpricing ourselves was a short-term tactic to create buzz in Vancouver’s real estate marketing world, and Castle certainly managed.

Additionally, a tactic we used consistently was running a program that, at night, scraped through online lists of real estate agents in Vancouver and passed out the information it found back into an Excel sheet in a structured way.

We underestimate the power of automation.

A week after we started running it, we had compiled 500 email addresses. We were already very happy about our trick (we honestly felt like hackers), but the best was yet to come…

We designed a website template of which the content changed based on whom it was sent to. For example, if we sent that website link to John Joe, the website header would display something like “Browse John Joe’s properties”.

We applied that same formula to all the other contacts we’d amassed using our web-crawling program and sent them a unique link to their website.

In other words, on a regular Monday morning, ‘Joe the Realtor’ received an email from us entitled ‘I did something for you’. When he opened it he found a bespoke website built to his name that was ready to be used.

Most people ignore the power of automation. So the majority of the people who received our email believed we put tireless hours into building a website that we were giving to them for free.

First website designed, coded and sold — for Marivic Emnace

That honestly worked out to be one of our must successful marketing tactics. We sent out the first 30 emails and within 48 hours 17 people had clicked (56% click-through) and we had received 9 replies, whereas the standard click-through rate for the creative industry is 0.7%. We closed our first two deals that day.

That gave Castle a head start.

Unsurprisingly, some of our first few clients did try to take advantage of us by asking for changes so regularly and over such a long period of time that we began losing money…

[To Be Continued in Part three]