Since its founding in 2007, Mono Solutions has been all about giving SMBs a complete package — from website building, to helping with online visibility, to engaging with customers, to doing business online.
With the company’s recent launch of its new white-label site builder Mono V5, Street Fight recently caught up with the company’s CEO Louise Lachmann to talk about how Mono has evolved, the differences between SMB services in the U.S. and Europe, and what these solutions mean to SMBs here and abroad.
Tell me a little about how Mono Solutions has evolved and how what you’re doing makes you different from others in the industry?
We originally launched with a DIY website builder, thinking we could solve the problem for small businesses because we had this really great tool to build a website. What we quickly realized was even though you have the best tools in the world to build websites, that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem for small businesses. It’s not about how easy it is to use the tool, so it’s not necessarily tech-savviness barriers that are in place, it’s also about understanding what their needs would be and what their world looks like.
Today 97 percent of local searches happen online. it’s indisputable that businesses have to be online — they just don’t necessarily have the time to do that. What we realized was we needed to partner up with large companies already catering for the needs of small businesses.
Traditionally, if you look back five to seven years ago, this was mainly in the directory industry — they traditionally owned the budgets of the small businesses. In 2010 we partnered with Yellow Pages Australia, and since then we have extended our offering and where we really stand out is DIY is probably a great way for a small business to get started. They know they need a website, they go in and sign up and suddenly realize they need to fill out SEO tags, they need good copy optimized for search engines, they need to put video up, they have to do all the social integrations and if you look at the lumascape of small business today it’s super-complex to navigate and understand how to do a really good job. And that’s why these partners we work with they come in. They offer a Do-It-For-Me solution, as well.
Where are your key areas of strength?
You have lots of great DIY builders and DIY is a good way to get customers started, but once you move up the customer journey and start understanding the needs of a small business, you need to have some partners who can do that for them.
That is really the problem we are solving with our solution. We have an outstanding DIY builder, you can go in and build a website, but we also offer a number of tools for our partners so they can also build large-scale. We don’t just have a simple site builder, with our Version 5 we offer all the capabilities you would find in tools or software normally used in platforms like WordPress. And while WordPress is great for doing customized websites, you can’t really give the control back to the SMB. There’s that disconnect and that’s the gap we are bridging. We support the customer journey from very simply getting started and maybe just solving a simple “I want to be visible online” to “I want to actually engage with my customers and do business with them online.” That full customer journey all the way to ecommerce. That’s one very important issue that factors in that space.
You’re based in Denmark, but have been expanding in the U.S. What is the biggest difference between the way businesses approach local digital marketing in Europe as opposed to in the U.S.?
In terms of local, the U.S. is maybe five years ahead of where we are in Europe. For us going into the U.S. with a very advanced new-generation website offering, we can go in and replace more old template systems with a very good value proposition in the U.S., but we can also learn a lot that will help us with the partners we have in Europe.
From a product perspective it’s more about how the markets are different. For us it’s always been important to have a user-centric approach. We come from an agency background, so always having SMB at the inner core of everything we do is super-important. We are proud of the partners we work with today. We have really large brands. We host more than 300,000 sites with the partners. It’s still very much in remembering the small business epicenter which is important to us. That is something that when we come to the U.S. we bring that and we get really great feedback.
It seems that a lot of companies start with serving verticals within the hyperlocal/local space (payments/listings/booking etc.), and then feel obligated to bolt on additional services and solutions — to be a kind of all-in-one solution for small business owners’ tech needs. A number of bigger players like Square, GoDaddy, and others have been working on this more horizontal approach. Are you looking to build out that way, or are you planning to piece together a network with channel partners?
No, in the U.S. we have a strict channel model. That’s very important to us. We don’t go in and compete with our partners that’s not our strategy at all. All our partners that work with us can be rest assured we will not go out and try to steal their customers afterwards.
Also everything is 100 percent white label. That’s why we know we have a small payoff saying it’s the best kept secret in the world that’s how it is when you working a white label. We are not appearing anywhere – only in B2B conferences and events and people know us in the local media circles.
Do these kinds horizontal pushes point to a coming consolidation in the industry?
I think about that all the time. If you look at it right now some of the industries we are working with and traditionally been working with, a lot of them are struggling, going out of business, as you see new businesses coming in and have much more to offer. There are many challenges these different segments are facing.
We see different things working with different kinds of partners. The telcos we are working with, — and in the past two years we have quite a few — the reason why they want to go out and offer online services to their customers is because historically they used to own the coverage. For them going out and bundling phone subscriptions, mobile subscriptions, a website with that, or a domain and email, they want to put more glue onto their customers so they don’t change to the next mobile provider. That’s their incentive for going into business.
If you look at the Yellow Pages and directories, their reason is because over time more and more the phone books will go out so they are looking to replace the business. If we look at it from the perspective of MasterCard, they are looking not because they want to be a website company, they want to own the transaction. They all have their reasons to go in.
Do you think that the fragmentation of services reflects a broad market, or do you think that a few players will “win?”
It’s hard to say, because there are so many other factors coming into play. Who will actually manage to professionalize this industry? I think it’s a little more muddy and now emerging because also in terms of different conferences and different partners we work with I can see there’s some overlapping.
I think the one that will win this game is the one that really, really wants to be on the small business side and wants to understand that need. You can’t be a DIY provider, you can’t be a Do-It-For-Me provider. I think you need to understand there’s a DIY space, there’s a Do-It-For-Me space and now the SMB wants to take more and more control there will be the Do-It-With-Me space. You need find a way to cater for that need and the whole customer experience. you can’t just look at it from the product you have available. That’s what it takes to win. I’m very much looking forward to see who is going to win, I don’t think necessarily one big player will win.
What is the hardest part about building tech solutions for small businesses?
The hardest part about building it is you then have to go out and and get it to them. Acknowledging the fact now that DIY doesn’t work and the need to partner up to get it out there.
Obviously we control that last piece and for us as a company that is our biggest challenge. In terms of staying true to the small business — we have in Denmark, we have a direct offering where we do go out and have direct customer contacts, we get a lot of feedback, and we use it as a way to demo and make sure we are absolutely understanding the needs, because working with the partners in building software can sometimes make the information a little bit blurred. If we get feedback from partners in terms what the SMBs needs are it may be colored a little bit.
Otherwise, building software for small businesses is a great need: they know they need to have it, but they don’t necessarily want to use it. That sometimes is the really big challenge. That’s why we solved it with our go-to-market model.
Liz Taurasi is a Street Fight contributor.