Marketing to businesses, not consumers

Some start-ups find it easier to market to other businesses than to consumers. Here are the experiences of four women who have worked in the Washington region’s business-to-business sector:

Lisa Morales-Hellebo, Shopsy

The idea for Shopsy came to founder Lisa Morales-Hellebo in a dream, and within a few months the former Wheaton resident had patented a “semantic commerce platform.” Using an algorithm, this site can create different groups of goods based on parameters – color, price, and style, for instance. For example, a user could create a $3,000 outfit from items found online, and then create a $300 version using Shopsy.

Initially Shopsy targeted consumers, but failed to get sufficient traction. After her start-up was accepted into Techstars, a Boulder, Colo.-based start-up support group, she realized it could be more useful to businesses looking to present their merchandise online. Today, Morales-Hellebo is working to revamp Shopsy to highlight its business-to-business focus — and hopes to generate more revenue by targeting retailers.


Some businesses find it easier to market to other businesses than to consumers. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win) (Khin Maung Win/AP)

Marlena Edwards, iPitchTech

D.C. native Marlena Edwards is starting a business to help other tech entrepreneurs start their own. By putting their start-up ideas on her site, founders will be able to ask for small amounts of funding from many donors in a process called crowdfunding.

IPitchTech is intended to help struggling start-ups raise capital, and Edwards’ decision to start during the economy’s slow recovery is intentional — she hopes to create jobs for entrepreneurs who haven’t found angel investors or other help.

Edwards is familiar with the challenges of starting out – several years ago, she obtained a patent for a Global Positioning System tracking device for pets and animals, but found the patent process to be very expensive. Still, she succeeding in bringing it to market with moderate success — the item was featured on QVC.

Dannia Hakki, MoKi Media

After graduating from George Washington University, D.C. native Dannia Hakki plunged into what she called New York City’s “cutthroat” public relations scene. Two years later, she found herself back in D.C. doing PR work for her father’s plastic surgery business.

“Coming from New York, I thought I’d be dealing with small beans [in D.C.] I was dealt a blow because it wasn’t that way,” Hakki said, referring to the region’s competitive public relations industry.

Within a few months, she had started her own media and public relations company with Sherry Moeller, a former Capitol File editor in chief – combining their last names, the two called the business “MoKi.” With five employees, MoKi locally represents some big-name international businesses like Belvedere and GANT Menswear. Hakki said she has never advertised for her business, instead relying entirely on client referrals.

Daria Steigman, Social Biz Smarts

D.C. resident Daria Steigman runs two businesses concurrently. She founded her first in 1989—Steigman Communications does marketing work, often for healthcare clients. A month ago, Steigman decided to launch her second business, Social Biz Smarts, which consults for companies looking to improve their social communication, both internally and externally.

For example, Social Biz Smarts might coordinate information flow from one department to the next within a business. “If your customer service people are talking to customers but they’re not sharing that information with product development, how do you allow them to talk?”

Externally, her start-up might help business leverage social media to market themselves. Steigman calls this process of coordinating information exchange “social business.”

Steigman isn’t new to the business world, but has already experienced some challenges in her startup – the hardest part, she said, is “getting people to understand what we do. As a term, ‘social business’ is relatively new.”

 

             

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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