Being one of the few female tech entrepreneurs in the UK has its benefits, according to Alicia Navarro. For one thing, you get noticed more. “People often trust you quicker too,” she says.
During its short lifespan affiliate marketing network, Skimlinks has gained an impressive number of accolades, which include winner of the A4U Awards, Startups Awards finalist and, most recently, becoming a Growing Business Young Gun.
The concept for the business evolved out of Alicia’s first company, Skimbit, a decision marketing tool. Skimlinks was launched by Alicia and co-founder Joe Stepniewski in 2008 after the recession forced them to reconsider their business strategy.
“I was about to be made bankrupt and I was unbelievably stressed, and the recession wasn’t going to make funding any easier,” recalls Alicia. “But, it was actually the best possible thing that could have happened as out of that desperation grew innovation. Skimbit now feels so long ago as it was designed as a means to an end. However, Skimlinks fills a massive void as any type of publisher who wants to make revenue from their content can use us.”
Skimlinks converts links into affiliate revenue for publishers. They add a line of Skimlinks code to their site template making it possible for links to be tracked and monetised. Publishers of platforms such as blogs, forums, content eye, and web applications can sign up.
“It gives companies fantastic analytics about what customers are spending on different sites, what people are clicking on their sites and they get really interesting feedback about the behaviours of their audiences which can be really valuable to them,” explains Alicia.
“Previously companies have made very good use of banner and text ads, but what we do is monetise the actual content. You could do it yourself, but it requires a massive human resource investment and is prone to errors, whereas Skimlinks aggregates everything.”
Alicia raised initial funds from generous friends and family, before embarking on a second round. To date Skimlinks has raised around $2m, and main investors include Sussex Place Ventures, NESTA and The Accelerator Group.
Fundraising was helped, in no small part, by managing to secure clients before the product had launched. “That was in 2008 so we were very lucky with the clients with got in those early days. I think that is my biggest success – selling the product before I had actually built it.”
At present Skimlinks is reinvesting all profits back into the business. ”I would like to reach the stage where the company is well into profitability and is making a lasting impression on the industry.”
The business now employs 27 staff and is set to move to a larger office shortly, with Alicia herself relocating to San Francisco’s notorious Silicon Valley to “aggressively market the brand”. “I think it’s a big pond with a lot of attention seeking fish, so I’ll see how it goes, but I am excited,” says Alicia. More than half of Skimlinks’ clients currently come from the US and with Alicia based in the Silicon Valley hub it seems likely that this balance will shift further in favour of the US market.
However, while the lure of The Valley is exciting, and necessary given her client base, she admits London will be a hard place to leave: “I think it‘s great to be in a city like London as you get really interesting perspectives on companies that aren’t just tech focused, which really helps ignite lots of ideas for your own business. Things are going to be very intense and cerebral in Silicon Valley and there may not be as many fresh perspectives. But perhaps I’ll be proved wrong.”
Skimlinks’ main competition includes two companies in the US that have merged together and have the backing of Google Ventures. However, Alicia is pretty confident in her UK position and sees domestic competition as less of a threat. “You really need to invest in a lot of capital and resources before you can begin to make any revenue. So, the market is snapped up and there is not going to be any new player unless you are ridiculously well-funded and I just don’t see that happening.”
Another crucial element of Skimlinks’ success is that lessons have now been learnt, says Alicia, who believes that any mistakes in judgement have been down a failure to listen to what the customers actually want. “All the ideas that we have had came about as a result of discussions with customers and I think that is a really critical lesson for any start-up.”