If you own a retail store and you're not selling online, you're already behind in the game. But it's not enough just to have an online store--you have to find ways to draw customers to it. That's where Madison, Wisconsin-based Flying Cart comes in.
"We don't want to be just another online store creator," founder Rishi Shah says. "We definitely want to bring our customers sales, too. That's the way they're going to stay with us." Shah says that when people start a retail website, they often forget that promoting products and bringing in the traffic is half the battle.
Before starting Flying Cart in 2007, Shah set out to create a service that would connect stores with online shoppers and recommend new items based on shoppers' previous spending habits. But as he marketed the idea to small retailers, he found that what they really needed was an easy way to create online stores.
"That's how Flying Cart was born," Shah says. "We really studied every aspect of our customers and we realized that they didn't care about the features if they weren't getting sales."
Flying Cart helps retailers bring traffic to their sites by promoting their stores on search engines like Google and on local classified ad sites like Craigslist. The company's philosophy is unorthodox but refreshingly simple--time spent creating too many bells and whistles for an online store is time taken away from making sales. Flying Cart encourages its clients to get their businesses online quickly and make up the rest as they go. Shah says the result is an online store that promotes itself.
"Within two minutes, you can have your own online store running, have your own domain name and allow your customers to pay with a credit card or PayPal," Shah says. "Get it up and running and then figure out the details later. The faster you fail, the better your next product can be. Don't waste a lot of time with a developer or a designer. Just get it out there."
But things weren't always so rosy for Shah and his partners, Brian Beerman, a college friend from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Margo Baxter, who also graduated from Wisconsin. The company suffered from its share of growing pains early on, including an online auction converter site that earned the trio an e-mail from eBay's lawyers because of its domain name. The site was later given a new generic domain name and what Shah called a scary but exciting lesson was learned.
When the redesigned version of the site launched in August of last year, 900 companies were waiting for the chance to use Flying Cart's services. Since then, the company has opened an average of 400 online stores every month and is hoping to reach 10,000 stores by the end of the year.
The next step for Flying Cart and its clients is a feature that will allow each online store to create its own network and then invite both customers and other stores to join. Member stores can also exchange links to each other's website.
"We're creating mini malls online," Shah says. "A lot of people have labeled us the MySpace of stores and shopping."