Sixteen years ago, Jay Bean may not have known a thing about online marketing, but he knew what opportunity was, and he wasn’t about to ignore that quiet little knock. It was 1999. Bean had been working for a marketing software company when he realized he needed a change, so he quit his job and started his own online marketing company. Three successful companies later, he’s glad he made the leap. Bean’s latest endeavor is serving as CEO of FreshLime, a company he founded in 2014 that provides marketing automation for small businesses.
Commerce on the internet was relatively new in 1999. Why start an online marketing company?
It was kind of an accident. I started seeing value in the internet, but didn’t know what I was getting into. I’d never run a business before. There was a lot of learning and a lot of trials. My first company,
ah-ha.com, helped locally focused small businesses not only get online, but also open up the local market. We grew from a startup in 1999 to over $35 million in revenue by the end of 2002. We were acquired by Marchex in 2003, which was a public company, so we went public a year later.
From ah-ha.com to OrangeSoda and now FreshLime, what has your trajectory been like?
We started OrangeSoda at the beginning of 2007. Like ah-ha.com, we were dedicated to helping locally focused businesses get in front of local customers. Five years later we were acquired by Deluxe Corporation. We launched FreshLime in 2014, and we’re on track to see a lot of growth this year. Right now we have a staff of 12 or so, and by the end of year, we should have 1,300 to 1,500 customers and about 30 to 40 employees.
How is FreshLime different from your other companies?
When we started FreshLime, we wanted to make it less about new customer acquisition and more about customer retention. We wanted to build a solution that would help locally focused small businesses—service-based businesses—manage and engage their customer base better. For example, if you have a window cleaner or a dentist, we make it easy for them to send a reminder about an appointment, to send a thank you, to ask for referrals. It is complicated in all the work we have to do—we use a lot of predictive analytics to optimize the best times to engage—but this way we can help them get more out of their customer relationship.
What do you love most about your “accidental” career?
I love being an entrepreneur and choosing the people I work with. They’re the major reason for success in any business. I also love working with small businesses. I spend a lot of time with customers, getting to know who they are. I have a lot of knowledge of helping small businesses online. They have a lot of knowledge about what they do. I like to share and build solutions around what they care about.
What is the key to online marketing success?
You have to be willing to change; you have to adapt. What worked six months ago doesn’t mean it will work today. When people stop adapting, they stop growing. They become irrelevant, and someone else will take their place. You have to be nimble and build solutions around the fact that you don’t know what’s next, but you’ve got to be ready.