Hey, Amazon: Atlanta Startup Brings Big Data to Small Online Shops
This article first appeared on Freeenterprise.com.
Though not an ironclad rule, it could be said that the early bird tends to catch the worm in the business world—at least in the proverbial sense. This concept is best exemplified in the e-commerce realm by Amazon, which has deftly leveraged its vast troves of customer information to drive sales and engagement. By aggressively protecting its proprietary data, the Seattle wholesale giant has managed to remain the unquestioned leader in web-based retail.
Yet its dominance is under siege, as small- and medium-size businesses are increasingly collecting and analyzing the same kind of data that proved so valuable to Amazon amid a decades-long expansion. Though still in its very early stages, the democratization of the marketing analytics space is already having a profound impact on e-commerce, enabling small shops to compete against juggernauts for the first time. At the forefront of this emergent wave of disruption sits Springbot, an Atlanta, Georgia-based startup co-founded by Brooks Robinson, Joe Reger, and Allen Nance.
Seeking a piece of the fast-growing e-commerce sector, the company has pioneered a multifaceted, data-driven approach to e-commerce marketing automation and analytics that draws from a variety of data sources to provide actionable recommendations for end-users. This straightforward strategy has been particularly effective in fueling growth, argues Robinson, who established his business bona fides long before Springbot.
“Joe, Allen, and I started Springbot back in mid-2012,” Robinson says. “Prior to that, I was a co-founder of a company called Cbeyond, which was a telecommunications and I.T. services business that focused on small businesses in the United States. We started that business in 1999 and grew it to close to $500 million in revenue while I was the chief marketing officer there. We took that company public in 2005.”
Following his stint at Cbeyond, Robinson refocused his entrepreneurial ambitions at theAdvanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech. During his tenure at the university-affiliated incubator, he not only acted as a sounding board for other entrepreneurs, but also developed the idea—along with his co-founders—that would become Springbot. It was there, Robinson says, that he also gained a nuanced understanding of what kinds of tools would be most valuable to small e-commerce shops. “As an Entrepreneur in Residence, I was able to help and get immersed in the startup community here in Atlanta, which is really vibrant,” Robinson says.
“We decided to start Springbot here and it’s been a great adventure. The energy, being right on campus, and being tied in with 30 other startups—it’s really helped us attract talent and it’s given us access to customers and investors. Georgia Tech also has a program called Flashpoint, which is an accelerator program. Throughout the course of the 3-month accelerator at Flashpoint we talked to hundreds of e-commerce stores to really understand what challenges they were having with their online marketing.”
Given the sheer number of e-commerce sites, competition among e-retailers remains intense. Yet countless small businesses often make many of the same mistakes in regards to e-commerce, Robinson explains. “I think most small e-commerce stores run into this paralysis because they really don’t know what to do next from a marketing standpoint so they don’t do anything,” he says, adding, “they’re just inundated with a ton of different marketing channels.”
Many of the small and medium businesses Springbot teams with also have difficulty understanding their target market. What’s more, business owners often make critical miscalculations when it comes to customer demographics, Robinson stresses. “Maybe they have a gut instinct about their customer but they’re not truly understanding their target market or what we call the customer lifetime value—how recently people have bought and how frequently they’ve bought,” he says.
For its part, Springbot addresses these and other shared e-commerce problem areas by integrating marketing channels directly into its platform, leveraging demographic information, and monitoring marketing expenditures. It then probes this data for hidden insights so it can help clients “understand not just the revenue but actually who purchased and what they purchased so we can automate the recommendations of what marketing actions they should take next,” Robinson says.
As Springbot has continued to build a spirited following on the strength of its unique data analytics platform, it’s managed to maintain its singular focus, explains Robinson, whose drive to help small e-retailers represents a natural progression in his professional development.
“At Cbeyond we helped small businesses get access to big business tools. I’ve always felt like helping the underdog take on the big guy is kind of my role in business,” Robinson says. “Flash-forward to Springbot, we’re trying to do the same thing in the e-commerce marketing, automation, and analytics space. These small and medium e-commerce stores need help competing against the large guys like Amazon. They need to understand their customer base and they need to understand how to market to their customers to see what’s working and what’s not working from a marketing standpoint. And we think that’s our role: To leverage big data analytics and marketing automation to help them grow.”