As a savvy digital strategist and marketer, Carissa Ganelli’s clients have included: Merrill Lynch, Kraft, Delta, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, IBM, NASCAR, Tanqueray and Guinness (to name a few). Her previous lives at DIGITAS and other agencies allowed her to generate some serious know-how. Yet, it’s her natural ability to solve problems, build teams, produce results, and slay dragons of all shapes and sizes, that has fueled her ability to launch her own venture, LightningBuy.
Launched from CTech IncUBator, a partnership of Connecticut Innovations and the University of Bridgeport, LightningBuy allows consumers to purchase items directly from ads, without being redirected to an app or mobile site. The single click mobile checkout system makes buying from a phone as easy as purchasing an iTunes song.
As a part of our Startup Roadshow spotlight of Bridgeport and Fairfield, we asked Carissa to share her story, and what it’s been like starting LightningBuy in the nascent startup culture of Connecticut’s largest city.
Your idea is helping both online consumers, through no stress buying, and merchants, by increasing sales. What are the trends in mobile that you see, and what does the evolution for LightningBuy look like?
Consumers have embraced mobile devices for all sorts of activities like nothing ever before. It took 13 years for television to have 50 million users. 3.5 years for Facebook. But only 2.75 years for mobile phones. 76% of email is checked first on a phone. Yet, companies are slow to embrace these consumer trends. Only 72% of the top 100 Internet retailers even have a mobile website.
LightningBuy’s evolution involves being at the intersection of consumer behavior trends and eCommerce companies’ migration to mobile. Consumers are ahead while retailers are behind, so LightningBuy bridges that gap.
LightningBuy reports conversion rates that are double in comparison to desktop/laptop rates. Are you surprised by this and how do you keep your product out in front?
Not at all surprised. Anything that removes friction in any type of transaction results in higher conversion rates. Desktop sites have so much more “real estate” by virtue of screen size that the architects had the luxury of including multiple choices, options, versions, etc. On mobile, specifically smartphones, the screen size is a fraction of that of desktop so the content and features must also be less. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most mobile sites are just shrunken down versions of desktop sites that don’t take into consideration the very different behavior of the mobile customer vs. the desktop customer. For example, desktop customers browse while mobile customers are focused on task completion. Likewise, desktop customers consume content versus mobile customers that are looking to be entertained. There’s a big difference.
You’ve been pretty vocal about ensuring other entrepreneurs take a critical look at investor engagements before accepting other people’s money. What advice can you offer to a new entrepreneur who might look before they leap, and regret it later on?
Entrepreneurs need to think long and hard about what the “cost” is of the money they will get from investors. In your personal life, would you rather borrow money from a rich uncle, credit union, bank, or loan shark? There are pros and cons to each type of personal lender and it’s the same for investors in your company. The variables in deciding to take outside money for your venture go beyond valuation and should include other factors like control, board size, reporting, board seats, participating preferred, liquidation preferences, Even something as small as whether the investors expect your company to pay the FedEx bills can be indicative of an investor who will nickel and dime you to death and lose sight of the larger issues inherent in a startup.
You have said that you “took a wrong turn at corporate life.” Do you ever stop to think about how far you’ve come in almost four years since this adventure began? And, would you ever consider going back to working for someone else?
First, without my corporate experience, I would never have been able to start a software platform company. I learned critical skills, acquired domain expertise, built a network, and found lifelong mentors all of which were integral to starting LightningBuy. There’s no shortage of good ideas; it’s all about the execution. Without the solid training ground of some of the largest companies in the world at which I’ve had the good fortune to work such as Time Inc, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Digitas, there might still only be the idea of LightningBuy.
It is shocking sometimes to look back over the past 3 years and think, “I was a marketer and digital strategist and I built a software platform company.” Who would’ve guessed that could happen?
Of course I would work for someone else. I’d even go back to Corporate America for the right opportunity. The thing that drives most entrepreneurs is the desire for change. You can have that working for someone else or in a corporate job. One of the best jobs I ever had was as the VP for new initiatives. I used to call it the VP of Lost Causes because no one else in the organization could make these blue sky projects work. The CEO turned to me because he knew I could make them work and if I couldn’t then no one could. That was an awesome job.
What has it been like for you to launch a startup in Bridgeport, and in Connecticut? What advice can you offer supporters of entrepreneurs, and the entrepreneurs who are just about to take the plunge?
Launching in Connecticut was a no-brainer. 4 of 5 of the founding team all live here. We are invested in our communities, have kids in the schools, and we had no desire to schlep to Manhattan. Connecticut has been really, really good to us in terms of funding. We got a CCAT grant, CT Next voucher, and funding from the DECD Small Business Express program. Connecticut is very pro-startup. Janis Collins and Patty Meagher from the Stamford Innovation Center, along with Sheila Hummel and Casey Pickett at DECD were instrumental in helping us get where we are today.
Bridgeport too has been a good experience for us. Being associated with the University of Bridgeport in their incubator was a good decision. We got great office space for a bargain price. Being part of the incubator also got us access to free consultations and discounted rates from service professionals such as legal and accounting. Dr. Gad Selig who runs the incubator rolled out the red carpet for us and gave us access to recruiting fairs at the university. Dr. Tarek Sobh and Dr. Ausif Mahmood provided access to engineering and computer science students which is crucial for a tech startup. The city of Bridgeport in centrally accessible and an easy commute for the whole team. We’ve been happy in Bridgeport.