Startups and small businesses are the engine of job creation. In the U.S., companies less than five years old created 44 million jobs over the last three decades and, over that time, accounted for all net new jobs created in the U.S. — just ask the White House. Of course, you’d think from reading TechCrunch that all small businesses raise big funding from venture capital. Nope. The majority don’t raise any kind of venture money or angel investment — most small business owners probably don’t even know any venture capitalists.
Owning a small business is tough. Carissa Reiniger has been working in small business development for over seven years and says she’s seen countless entrepreneurs and small business owners run into what she calls the “cash flow catch 22″: If I had more money, they say, I could make more time — and vice versa. What’s more, the large majority of startups and small businesses that fail, she believes, don’t hit the deadpool because their ideas were terrible, but instead because their owners’ health declined, or their spouses were fed up with them working 80 hours a week, or they didn’t have the stamina or resources to push on.
That’s why Carissa founded Silver Lining — to help small business owners make enough money so that they can keep doing what they love. To help jack up the success rates of SMBs, she and her team created “The SLAP”, or the Silver Lining Action PLan.
The company takes small businesses with revenues between $100,000 and $2 million, analyzes their business models to find out how best to help them grow, constructs plans to help business owners achieve those goals, and then actually assists them in achieving those goals. Carissa calls it the “Weight Watchers for small businesses.” The idea is that most small business owners are really way too busy to think about the big picture, how to add supplemental revenue streams, or make their business (and themselves) healthier. The founder tells us that a surprising number of small businesses owners she’s worked with can’t tell her what their current revenues are or even whether or not they’re in the red.
It may sound unbelievable, but while the tech industry throws around a lot of venture capital and talks about revenue models and gamification, the rest of the small business community is just trying to get their storefront opened for business. The term “user acquisition” doesn’t come out of their mouth too frequently.
So Carissa and team built an online tool, an easy-to-use, semi-SaaS product called SLAPcenter, which gives SMBs information, resources, and support to build ideal business goals and execute them. SLAPcenter includes a live video avatar, and a series of questions to build your SLAP, coursing through a work-at-your-own-pace automated process that helps business owners get crackin’. On top of that, users can watch videos about certain steps in the process, view and edit templates, and view comparisons to get a sense of how others have built and are executing their own SLAP plans, etc.
Of course, the world today doesn’t need one more fully automated, devoid-of-humanity process. And the largest disconnect for SMBs is between setting plans and actually executing on those plans. Many business owners know how to set intelligent goals for their businesses, but following through? Not so easy. There falls the shadow, as T.S. Eliot would say.
So Silver Lining has trained “SLAP Experts”, which will be doing the small business equivalent of this — in other words, working with small businesses to help them through the process. Hand holding, you might say. These SLAP experts can go to SLAP University, where Silver Lining charges $12,000 to get certified as an expert. Then, Silver Lining gives 75 percent of all sales generated from users upgrading to premium. (So far, they’ve trained 17 experts.)
The pricing starts at $99 a month, then there’s a SLAP group at $500 a month, where SLAP experts form a support group and can be contacted by customers in that way, or, scaling up from there, they can pay to meet with them once every week, or at the highest level, pay to work exclusively with SLAP experts, have them become admins, and actually help them implement their plans.
So far, Silver Lining has been seeing about 50 percent of customers upgrading from the lowest plan, so Carissa tells us that she thinks this will work out to be sustainable both for SLAP experts looking to pay for SLAP University, and for Silver Lining itself. And most importantly, it’s not so exorbitantly expensive that SMBs can’t afford it. While she says that if a SMB is bringing in $100,000 in revenues they can afford the service, she said that Silver Lining is meant to help small business owners grow their businesses — not hamstring them by taking too much money. It really is a mission that they care about, as Silver Lining exclusively hires for their hosting, web development, HR, and PR all from other startups or SMBs.
It’s a very cool idea, and extremely useful for small business owners. From my perspective, SMBs need the combo of automated support and actual human-being-enabled customer service. Salesforce.com has become a giant by doing this so successfully. Silver Lining has found a smart way to combine the two, while presumably breaking even.
Silver Lining is a great complement to On Deck Capital, which helps connect SMBs with loans, and the capital they need to stay on their feet — as well as Enloop, a startup that wants to help you create a business plan, run financial projections, and give you an honest score that keeps entrepreneurs and their lofty ambitions in check. (In a good way.) And I’d throw InDinero in there, too.
The more resources out there like these, the better. Small businesses are essential to the current (and future) success of our economy, and intelligent, web-based tools that help them maximize the little capital they have, measure their growth against realistic, actionable goals (Silver Lining focuses on a one-year time frame) and then execute, are key to evolving the industry as a whole.
For more, check out the SLAP Center here, or there’s more in the video below: