Zerrick Bynum says his Charlotte-based startup, Viddlz, meets two cravings: It offers homemade baked goods and it feeds consumers’ growing appetite for peer-to-peer e-commerce sites, like Etsy.com, the worldwide marketplace for handmade crafts and vintage goods.
Bynum, 42, founded Viddlz (rhymes with “riddles”) in fall 2011. Named after the slang term for food, “vittles,” the business is an online marketplace where people in the Charlotte area can find and order locally made artisan food, from Bananas Foster cupcakes to hand-dipped chocolate-covered truffles.
Local home bakers can market themselves via an online storefront that costs a flat fee of $30 per month. Customers pay a 3 percent transaction fee.
Bynum, who now has one full-time employee and two part-timers, says the site has a couple of hundred registered users and a half-dozen vendors (“viddlrs”).
Here are some of the principles that helped him get to the two-year mark:
Experiment, then adjust: Bynum’s institutional business credentials are impressive: Bynum has an MBA from Harvard Business School, has been the chief financial officer of a financial services firm and serves on the boards of the U.S. National Whitewater Center and YMCA’s Camp Thunderbird. But while launching Viddlz, Bynum realized that the world of startups was drastically different.
“Most business schools generally do a good job of training managers to manage and grow existing organizations, but the process of starting a company is not that,” Bynum says. “It’s really a process in discovery.”
Bynum says he had to test different strategies.
For example, the original Viddlz model involved sellers waiting in two-hour increments at a specified location, where buyers who had pre-ordered could pick up their single-serving baked goods.
That model (now “laughable,” Bynum says), failed for several reasons: First, bakers prepare batches, not single-servings. So selling only a fraction of a batch of perishables wasn’t cost-efficient.
Similarly, someone craving a single-serving of a baked good most likely won’t go to the trouble of pre-ordering and meeting someone to pick it up, Bynum says.
Now his viddlrs have a minimum batch size.
Recruit strategically: Building the consumer application required a developer. And Bynum didn’t know one.
And though he had a background in electrical engineering and a general knowledge of software architecture, Bynum wanted to know what questions to ask, what language to use when meeting with prospective developers.
So he went to local developer meet-ups. He met Viddlz’s initial developer at a group gathering about “Ruby on Rails,” a popular open-source Web application framework.
The meet-ups also helped him hedge his expectations. Charlotte’s developer climate was risk-averse, Bynum says. Many were older, more experienced, had families and couldn’t take on a startup like Viddlz as a full-time project.
But there were benefits, too, Bynum says. For instance, the designer he ultimately hired – a mother of six – perfectly understood Viddlz’s core demographic: women in their late 20s to early 40s with young children.
Look for niches: One of the most popular features on the site is the tool that allows users to search by dietary restrictions or allergies.
A recent user told Bynum she’d always had difficulty finding baked goods for her son who was allergic to corn products. Using Viddlz, she was able to connect with Diane Hughes of The Naked Tart, whose handcrafted treats fit the corn-free dietary needs. The mom served Hughes’ tarts at her son’s birthday party to much fanfare, Bynum says.
And now Bynum is working on the next big site feature: a place where people can search for lunch and dinner specials and deals at Charlotte-area restaurants.
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