We continue our (hopefully inspiring and motivational) series featuring successful self-made entrepreneurs. The first interview was with Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.
And today we are interviewing Andrew Kardon, co-founder and co-owner of JoeShopping.com, an innovative free shopping tool.
1. Please tell us a few words about yourself: what’s going on in your life?
Well, on the personal side, I’m happily married to my college sweetheart. I have two young sons who inspire and entertain me on a daily basis. Professionally, I’m the president and co-owner of JoeShopping.com, a social shopping site dedicated to saving users money. In a nutshell, we offer hot deals, coupons, comparison shopping, product reviews, shopping blogs and more, all mixed in with a very robust social network. Our elevator pitch is: Imagine if Facebook and Amazon had a baby.
2. You started making money online early: what brought you to Internet Marketing? What was your inspiration?
We launched JoeShopping in March of 2010. Before that my business partner and I ran a popular online coupons site. We started that one back in 1999, so we were in on the affiliate marketing game early. The site really took off and we sold it in 2008, using the profits to start up JoeShopping.
JoeShopping follows a similar business model, so our 10+ years of experience in affiliate marketing is still being put to good use. For JoeShopping, though, we’re really trying to embrace the best parts of social media, and with that comes all sorts of new Internet Marketing challenges and opportunities. MySpace got us initially interested, but Facebook and Twitter really opened our eyes to just how wide open the social scene really can be.
3. What monetization plans did you try in course of your online marketing career? Which turned out to be the most successful?
Back in the day we tried standard banner ads, which never really did much Other than that, we’ve mostly gone with affiliate links. For the most part, we’ve worked off of the rev share model rather than a pay-per-click one. We’ve found that if you put together strong content and try to match as closely to what users are looking for, they will click and chances are they will follow through on a purchase. We don’t want to clog the works up with tons of flashy banner ads or paid links. Instead, we want to offer our users the best possible content we can, so when they’ve done their research and they’re ready to make a purchase, they’ll click through and do so.
4. Your current project is unique and interesting? How did you come up with the idea?
We came up with the initial concept of JoeShopping years ago, well before we sold our coupon site, because we wanted to do something more with products. We had a consultant start working on a bare bones comparison shopping tool, and then MySpace came along. I loved the concept but hated the execution. It was clunky, ugly and, with all the different looks and themes, it was just utter chaos. So we said, “What if we built something like MySpace but themed it towards shopping, and made it much more accessible to users with a consistent look and feel?”
We built a very basic community at first but the hard part was getting the comparison shopping side of things working. So things sat on hold for a while while our coupon business picked up. Once we sold that site, we finally had the time to dedicate to JoeShopping. By then Facebook had jumped on the scene, so we went back to the drawing board, redesigned the whole site and thought of a slew of new community-type features to integrate.
That’s what I love most about JoeShopping: the community and shopping mesh very well together. You can ask other shoppers their opinions on products, merchants, gift suggestions, etc. You can “share” a product on someone’s page. On Facebook, you can tell a friend to go buy the new Harry Potter movie on Blu-ray. But then what? On JoeShopping, you can tell a friend to go buy the latest Harry Potter movie, and attach a product to your comment, which includes a price range and a list of stores where you can instantly buy it. The same goes for product reviews; it’s just neat to see a stream of product reviews, showing you what people are currently buying and talking about. It’s that sort of integration that, to me, truly defines the phrase “social shopping”.
5. You mentioned you had a partner. What’s the secret of a successful online partnership?
Well, every partnership is different. I met my business partner Jeff Grossman in our junior year of high school actually. We used to swap notes from Spanish and Physics class. The key is really playing to each others strengths. We come from different backgrounds. I was an English major, he was in finance. That helps makes it easy to divvy up the workload.
6. What are your plans for the future?
In the immediate future, we’re making some additions to our coupons pages that will let users get more involved and submit coupons themselves. In the next month or two we’re rolling out a unique new program related to coupons. No one’s done anything quite like it yet, but it’s a really great spin on using coupons, and it’s cleverly mixed in with a rewards program. Beyond that, we hope to work a lot closer with merchants, getting them much more involved and active on the site.
7. As an experienced and successful online marketer, what’s your advice to those who are just starting out?
I don’t want to sound cliché, but basically, be unique! Concentrate on putting out some really great original content rather than just aping everyone else’s style. You can promote and dress things up all you want but if in the end you’re not offering anything substantially unique, no one’s going to care. There are no shortcuts either. It takes time to build trust and to build a solid brand. So believe in your product, make it the best it can be and then get out there and tell the world.
8. Please list most useful high quality sites you are / were reading. What helped you succeed? What kept you motivated?
Just using various social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FourSquare not only helped with inspiration but definitely kept me motivated. Seeing how people use those sites and all the information that’s openly shared has always been a huge help. Also, Shawn Collins and Missy Ward’s Affiliate Summit trade shows have been invaluable in helping us network with merchants and other partners in the industry.