Online Business Tips: The Importance of Building a Great Product

Today’s post is the latest installment of our Q&A Series – short interviews with talented, experienced, and successful entrepreneurs who are on the front lines of running online businesses.

school cmsMy guest is Michael W. Kearns, CEO of – a school CMS website that Mike and his business partner  Jake Johnson developed.

I think you’ll like this discussion. Michael shares some great insights.

Here’s our discussion:

B5: Tell me about what is all about.
Michael: is a web platform that empowers K-12 schools with easy website management and design using our flexible content editor. Multiple content authors can add photos, documents, video and podcasts all in one place using our file browser. integrates with hundreds of online services for social media, blogs, calendars, slide-shows and more.

B5: How long have you been in business?

Michael: The first version of was designed and developed in 2007-09. We got our first customer in year one – the North Kansas City School District, where we completed 21 elementary school websites.

B5: Tell me about the marketplace. What is the size of the industry? Who are you competing with?
Michael: The industry is multi-billion. Huge. We think there will be a resurgence in education and wanted to have a product positioned in the large space, but in it’s own niche. The marketplace is filled with old ideas and tired solutions.

We wanted to accomplish three things with our company – allow schools to communicate effectively with their core constituents (parents, students, and the community), giving the parents, students, and community of sense of pride with a well-designed site, and extend Turnkey School in an unlimited way through an extensible widget system.,,, are big players in the market, but have been around for many years and focus on many school needs. We feel that their solutions are too broad, complicated, and pricey. Our site is setup and designed to allow a school to have a website up a running in one week. We are working to shorten that to a few days or hours.

B5: Without giving away the secret sauce, what’s your competitive advantage?
Michael: In a word: process.

Our extensive research indicates that most school websites (75%) are developed by the staff of the school or the students at the school. While this is a great learning experience for the kids, it comes at a huge cost for the following reasons:

  • Maintenance is an after-thought
  • Drastic changes from year-to-year from each class placing their “mark”
  • Always in development
  • Inconsistent communication
  • Kids could learn web development from other projects

We understand that the goal of many schools is to communicate well and look good while doing it, so that very fact has shaped and formed our offering.

We’ve simplified the process of maintaining a school website and turned it into a fun activity that is simple and swift. We allow schools to leverage their investment in web servers and network bandwidth by publishing changes from back to their web systems. Then, the content and management of the domain are still in the control of the district.

B5: Let’s talk about marketing and customer acquisition. Tell me about your marketing mix. How do you get customers?
Michael: A couple of ways. First is forging tight bonds through networking and proving your service or product. That first testimonial is worth every ounce of sweat-effort you put into it. Our relationship with North Kansas City School District, which is seen as a district leader in technology, has helped with opportunities in meeting other district administrators around the state of Missouri.

We are constantly updating our tactics on how to communicate with new and potential customers. We have a blog where we post items about our websites or education trends. In 2011, we’ll send an informative email blast from our list of educational decision-makers.

B5: Why have you chosen this strategy?
Michael: There’s a huge opportunity to be in this space, but we needed to differentiate We worked with North Kansas School District for many other projects and saw, first hand, the business problems they face. Many other school website companies do not focus on the core design and the school mascot of the site, but instead focus on mountains of extras, whether they are used or not. We focus on the identity of each school and the top headers.

B5: What tips can you share with our readers about traffic acquisition?
Michael: Build a great product and people will tell others. Word-of-mouth marketing is very powerful. Offer your product, if you can, in a freemium model so customers can test drive it first. Differentiate. Study the space you are in and perform SWOT analysis to determine where your offering lands on the grid. Use this exercise as a tool to find where the niches lie. Purposely make your offering land in the niche, then tell people about it.

B5: How much conversion testing do you do? What can you tell us about it? Any tips for our readers?
Michael: The best tip I can provide is that we use event tracking in Google Analytics to find out which areas of functionality on our TurnkeySchool websites are being used and which ones are not.  Event tracking can be invoked via JavaScript so any mouse event can be tracked.  We do this obsessively and our design is driven by results.

What are you thoughts on Michael’s company and his ideas? Got any reactions? Let’s discuss in the comment section below.

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