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The first of four winners in our new Concept to Reality Contest is eziCONEX, a software-as-a-service company that makes affordable mobile web development possible for anyone.
Peter Fossick has always been a creator. Perennially building one thing or another — from furniture to web applications — he discovered the internet in the early 90s and was quickly consumed with its potential to change the way we live.
Years of working with mobile and web solutions, interface design, and more culminated in the founding of eziCONEX at the end of 2011.
Based in England for now, and about to hit the world stage, eziCONEX is the “mobile web made easy for small business.” The goal: to give regular people — even those with zero tech savvy — the ability to create internet content, e-commerce applications and robust marketing strategies for their businesses, all on a phone.
Technically software-as-a-service for the cloud, eziCONEX makes all of its functionality available in a simple browser and is built to be both approachable and intuitive. Fossick’s team recently got its “freemium” service up and running — making the whole platform available for $6.50 a month. But the company prides itself on making all of these solutions affordable — not just for mom and pop operations in the developed world, but also for bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers in India and China.
The idea for eziCONEX came to Fossick several years ago when he was working creating web solutions and services. When the recession hit, he started getting a lot of work requests from small business owners to build branded websites and eStores. But again and again clients were unable to afford the standard fees. They wanted SEO and social network marketing, but this was beyond their grasp, no matter how passionate they were about starting their businesses. Without the money and tech knowledge, they stood no chance at gaining traction.
“Companies like WordPress and Shopify do a pretty good job of providing affordable solutions to some people,” Fossick says. “But there were so many more people who didn’t even have the skills to take advantage of those tools.”
He saw this sizable gap in the market and decided to do something about it — with a little help from some friends and HTML5.
“The idea literally started around a kitchen table,” he says. “I was visiting a friend of mine who is a jack of all trades — owns his own successful IT business — and we thought, what if we could do something for this whole raft of people who are being marginalized?”
The core of the idea was that small business owners needed to be able to do everything web-related in one place: build a website, bake in e-commerce, create a mobile app and market via social channels all at once. To make this possible, eziCONEX sucks in information from the networks that most regular people use, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Using this information, it becomes easy to build a personal and business profile. Building on from there is even easier.
“Basically, if you can write a sentence in a word document, you can use the EziCONEX platform,” Fossick says. “There’s no coding, no messing around with templates or databases or all this usual stuff.”
To get the idea off the ground, Fossick knew he’d have to be as passionate and dedicated as the entrepreneurs he’s trying to serve. So he sold his house.
“I wanted to put the money to use in a good way — to fill some need that is out there — you don’t see enough social enterprise in the enterprise startup scene,” he says.
Fossick is so committed to providing eziCONEX’s services at an economical level that he even envisions opening up parts of it to an open source community of developers. Down the line, he wants to see 10 million users who feel like they have an honest to goodness stake in the company and what it should become. It’s software that’s about empowering entrepreneurs even on a very small, local scale.
“We’re talking about ‘glocalization’ here,” says Fossick. “We want to give local, even micro-businesses access to quality tools available on a global scale. We want people to be running their businesses off their smartphones but reaching customers who may just live down the street from them, or a few villages away.”
Given trends in mobile adoption worldwide, eziCONEX may be catching the wave just in time. 1 million people who don’t have a savings account have a mobile phone, and in some places in both Africa and Asia, more people have phones than electricity. In fact, of the 4 billion mobile phones in use around the world, 75% are in developing countries. This is a huge market to be tapped, and it’s only going to grow faster.
“We did a lot of research into SMPs in Africa, and only 8% of the businesses we surveyed even had access to a network server,” Fossick says. “Mobile is going to change all of this. More and more people are going to grasp this model.”
The eziCONEX team decided on Drupal as their platform so that it would be easy to transition across borders. The company is very much so envisioned as a global entity with mass appeal — it started that way from the very beginning.
“After that talk around the kitchen table, I spent several months plotting out the strategy in broad brushstrokes,” Fossick says. “I went to India and Hong Kong and spoke with small business owners, people who own street businesses, and what they wanted in terms of web and mobile capabilities. It was amazing how sophisticated they were about what they wanted and their personal business ecosystems.”
What became clear during these conversations is that people wanted a service that was secure and that they could trust. Fossick determined that the best way to do that would be to tap into local recommendation networks and word of mouth. When people hear about software from someone they trust, they are much more likely to adopt it themselves. As a result, one of the key priorities was to bake recommendation and testimonial tools into the eziCONEX interface.
After these trips, Fossick spent about 6 weeks developing the brand. After that, coding and testing went lightning fast with help from a couple brilliant in-house developers and contract workers in India and Eastern Europe. The product is now ready to start onboarding thousands of users at a time.
“It’s been a labor of love, really,” says Fossick. “We’re now at a point where all we need to grow is some seed funding and maybe a few more people with rapid growth startup experience.”
He’s already met with a few prospective investors in California, and says he plans to make the rounds again now that the product is up to snuff. He says he can see the team bootstrapping itself until it breaks even.
When asked where he sees the company in five years, Fossick has an easy answer.
“I want a community of over a million small businesses using a robust infrastructure across China, India and Africa, tapping into local developer who know their markets,” he says. “I want someone growing their own fruit in a small village to be able to sell their goods at a better price via mobile phone just a few miles away. I love connecting these dots. I can’t wait to bring this to life.”
Peter Fossick started his first business when he was 22 making specialized furniture pieces. After teaching art at the Glasgow School of Art, he got his master’s in computing and started working in web development and design. You can follow him at @Peter_Fossick.
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