Carlo Santoro had started a business, RetailCare, before deciding that he wanted to take the plunge again.
After securing various domain names Santoro sought to turn them into a viable business under the Shmarlo Digital Assets umbrella.
He talks to StartupSmart about how he’s faring.
Can you please explain what your business proposition is?
Shmarlo Digital Assets is a new company set up solely to commercialise concepts that I have been sitting on for some time.
Dating back 10 years I began purchasing and collecting domain names – www.office.com.au, www.gstcalculator.com.au www.posstore.com.au – with the intention of building them into online digital businesses in the future.
With a portfolio of more than a thousand domain names this year I have begun to launch some of those businesses.
My first project out in the marketplace is talk2car which is a cutting edge iPhone application that makes it possible to send a short message via the app to the owner of any other vehicle on or off the road that has the Talk2Car app downloaded.
Senders are identified by an ID linked to their registration plate so the privacy of both drivers is protected at all times.
It’s the first of its kind on iTunes and uses reverse communication technology – a twist on social media where users are communicating with recipients that haven’t met yet.
The financial model for the business is that we have developed a social media dashboard in the back end for corporate fleets to be able to upload their database of plates and they can then watch the real time feedback coming in.
I am also in the midst of launching the second venture from the domain portfolio www.deals4business.com.au, a B2B deals site.
The mission is to help the retailers of Australia get better rates for beneficial top tier services, for instance accounting or rebranding services to help them reinvigorate their businesses in this harder-than-it-used-to-be market.
How did you come up with the idea for it?
Like they said in The Castle, I’m an ideas man focused on digital-related business concepts.
Thoughts come to me at odd times during the day or night. I always act on my hunches and buy the relevant domain name(s) immediately.
My hunches have proven valuable as I have had plenty of offers but I have always believed that there is more value in building them into a functioning asset than just selling the names.
Talk2car has been an idea of mine for many years. I love cars and I love driving.
Driving along I wanted to talk to others so I built it. I wanted drivers to communicate with more than a look, smile or fingers.
It amazes me that this was an untapped area for communication. When you use Talk2Car it isn’t lonely on the roads any more.
Deals4business was a simple idea which stemmed from the growing trend for consumer deals sites but I just felt that retailers – particularly traditional traders with shopfronts – are up against the new wave of online-only businesses and only getting retail pricing from business services.
These prices are often well outside an SME’s price range but it’s obvious that the businesses that are investing in the future are the ones that will survive.
I knew that something needed to be done to help them get a better deal and this is it.
How has the business been funded?
Talk2car and Deals4business are entirely self-funded. Shmarlo Digital Assets is the driving company for these ideas and I’m looking to find partners, investors and exit opportunities.
How are you attempting to gain and retain customers?
I played with social media to learn how it worked. I was interested in how people engage.
I prefer organic, via the web and circulation of PR. It’s early days but so far the response to Talk2car has been very pleasing.
There is a marketing plan in place to engage once it reaches a critical mass.
I always plan everything to ensure my hunch is valid. I don’t just get excited. I validate and test.
Overall, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of starting up?
I find doing business plans and the development of the product or idea quite easy but the difficult part is actually acquiring the customers and getting traction in the marketplace without using cash to do the mass marketing that would really get things up and running a lot faster.
Not using cash makes me think more and I love that. In my main business I do a lot of thinking for others and I surround myself with thinking people.
What is the greatest threat your business faces?
The biggest threat is any number of competitors copying or expanding on what I am doing.
Talk2car is very different to what is currently available in that market niche. Eventually all ideas come down to securing the customers and growing at a pace to make the business sustainable.
What would you have done differently if you started up again?
I don’t think I would do anything differently. The important part of any tech-oriented start-up is to actually get the product to market in a working state and then get the feedback from the customers using the product to enable modifications and improvements to be made.
It’s very easy to get caught over-developing a product without it being used and tested.
This is the biggest learning curve I have experienced with business start-ups in the past but I have successfully avoided it this time around with the Shmarlo businesses.
What are your revenue projections for the coming year?
With Talk2car, anticipating the expected growth in USA, I believe the revenue would be approximately $250,000 in the first year.
With www.deals4business.com.au I am planning for $1.5 million revenue in its first year.
I really believe this is an achievable result in this market where retailers and Australian business in general really need support. Often the people that need it most can’t afford full retail price.
What are your plans and ambitions for the business?
I have a pipeline of ideas that I am hoping to launch in the coming months.
I am planning for Shmarlo Digital Assets to become a highly successful incubator over the coming years for many of the ideas I have developed.
I work on a build once and use many times philosophy, so all the trial and error goes into the first time and from then on my attention is on creation.