If you’re not familiar with Seedcamp, it’s a bit like Dragons’ Den – on steroids. A seven-day marathon of pitches and mentoring is scrutinised every inch of the way by a team of 50 investors, whose collective tech experience would make Mark Zuckerberg blush.
Many entrepreneurs would find the prospect of Seedcamp too daunting; but Simon Best, founder of BaseKit, is not one of them. Simon saw Seedcamp as a chance to refine his new venture – a company which would allow people with little or no web expertise to build their own website, without the need to hire expensive developers. A business which would generate attractive, captivating websites using templates and drag-and-drop.
Simon took his idea to Seedcamp, slogged his way through the gruelling pitches and one-on-one sessions, and won the annual competition. It remains his proudest achievement as an entrepreneur: “Seedcamp was like Dragons’ Den times a million because there were 50 investors there, but they were really helpful in mentoring us and helping us build our pitch. When we won the competition, it showed the strength of our idea and gave us real confidence for the future.”
Simon’s confidence seems well-founded. BaseKit’s CEO, Juan Lobato, estimates the business will earn up to $11m worth of investment, and believes the company will soon reach a 40% profit margin - on a $100m turnover.
The basis of BaseKit
BaseKit is certainly not Simon’s first company. Before deciding to pursue his drag-and-drop dream, he had run a firm called Progressive Internet – a more conventional web development company, aimed at small to medium-sized clients.
He claims the idea for BaseKit “came out of our own need to make websites as quickly and easily as possible, without compromising on quality. We used a very early version of BaseKit for a few of our own internal sites – this is known in the tech industry as "eating our own dog food!” The main inspiration for BaseKit was actually seeing the lack of products that met our needs as an agency, despite the web seeing astronomical growth.”
Along with his brother Richard and co-developer Richard Healy, Simon began exploring the market, and he found “a huge chasm of opportunity between simple web builders, which produced appalling results, and complex CMS platforms that a real user would never be able to get to grips with.
“BaseKit was designed to fill that gap in the market - making it possible to create great looking, modern, functional websites but with minimal complexity. Early adopters and followers of our product were very enthused about what we had to offer, and we used their feedback to shape the product.”
While they were developing the prototypes of BaseKit, Simon kept Progressive Internet going, and used the profits to fund his new project. Soon they were ready to create a technical demonstration, and take this to Seedcamp – where, as winners, they picked up €50,000 in return for a small equity stake.
With the Seedcamp success under their belts, the three BaseKit developers went back to their base in Wales and started looking for seed venture capital funding, which was eventually provided by Eden Ventures and NESTA. Early funding was primarily spent on staff to build the product, test the business model and build a marketing campaign to attract a wider audience.
Simon says BaseKit “absolutely consumed his life,” for the first few years, and he and his fellow founders “basically did everything from admin, legal and accounts to design, marketing, branding and technology. Money was always tight, but wages and office space were relatively cheap in Wales, as was IT because we use Amazon's cloud hosting platform for all our infrastructure.”
The marketing effort was particularly intense. In the first six months, Simon and his co-founders built up a loyal following on social media sites such as Twitter, and attended countless conferences to talk to experts and build a buzz around their product. “Early on we had thousands of people saying ‘Wow, BaseKit looks really cool, I can't wait to use it!’” However, he admits, it still took months of solid effort to build a paying customer base.
A bright future
Now, two years after its success at Seedcamp, the customer base is established, and the business is beginning to monetise. The technology infrastructure has been installed by a team of around 20 engineers, and the senior managers are further expanding their community of online marketers, who promote the company via internet channels such as Pay Per Click, display advertising and affiliate networks.
Furthermore, the company’s core offering is firmly established. The BaseKit website allows clients to design a site from scratch using drag-and-drop, and an array of design templates. Users can add optional extras, such as Google Maps and Twitter and Facebook feeds, at the touch of a button. Then, once the site is up and running, the client can manage everything from their browser.
BaseKit was originally aimed at web developers and design agencies, but the product is proving more popular with small firms who wish to build a website themselves, without hiring a specialist to do it for them. To serve this market, the developers have implemented some significant changes to make their product even easier.
“One of the major things we’ve done is to simplify a user’s starting point. In the past, Photoshop was a key requirement for a site, but many people have never used Photoshop, so we’ve added a range of visual themes for people to choose from instead. We now offer a choice of more than 100 design templates, our clients build things very visually, which suits most people.”
Securing some notable partnerships has also helped strengthen the company’s proposition: “Although we’re still in a growth stage, we’ve built partnerships with several major web hosting companies, and we’re planning to roll out more in the near future.”
The company has established local offices in Spain, and is set to open a new base in Sao Paulo next month, to capitalise on the ever-growing South American market. Further offices are set to follow in Germany, Mexico and France, as the company works towards a monthly target of 10,000 subscribers by the end of the year.
Simon believes that, as a cloud computing company, BaseKit is well-placed to capitalise on the ever-increasing migration towards hosted services, and claims his company removes the pain barrier when it comes to issues like setting up servers and mastering HTML. The big boys are also showing interest with some high profile recognition already secured.
“We've talked to some of the giants of the web world, from Google to Twitter to Adobe, and all have been hugely impressed with what we're doing. We’ve also been awarded MacWorld's 5 star award and editor's choice, which is obviously encouraging.
“It’s a fairly crowded market, there are lots of simple web builders around, but we see BaseKit as a second-generation of web builder. We’re based on drag-and-drop, what-you-see-is-what-you-get technology – all you really need is a knowledge of Microsoft Office to use it.
“Ultimately, we think BaseKit will eventually replace traditional hosting for small business websites, and we’re working towards that goal.”