Interview With Dayana Doncheva
Describe your product or service:
“EcardForest offers online group cards that can be signed by many people and sent online.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“Our goal is to enable easy group signing no matter the distance while being environmentally friendly at the same time.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“Bootstrapped, around $30,000 USD starter capital.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“We are a team of four — a software developer, a graphic designer, a marketing executive, and me (founder, responsible for marketing and operations). We rely on freelancers that we involve on-demand.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“Driven by the pandemic and the mandatory working from home, I found myself in a situation where a dear colleague of mine was leaving the company, but we couldn’t organize a proper goodbye party and a thank you greeting card. That’s why I looked for digital solutions, and after quite a thorough research, I was still not happy with what I found. The products available were much more relevant for the US market and didn’t meet the needs of a European user, neither in the payment settings nor in the currency. Honestly, I didn’t like the available designs either. That’s when I thought I could do it better.
I have a strong background in marketing and specialize in digital. I knew the first step was to get some numbers. I quickly checked the market situation and the demand and started talking to friends to assemble a team. I was lucky enough to convince a graphic designer and a developer from my close friends’ circle that the idea was worth it.
Still, as we didn’t know if working from home would stay in place for much longer and how returning back to the office would influence the demand, we decided to launch as soon as possible with a viable yet not too shiny product and improve as we go. It was challenging as all of us were still fully employed, and we were working on EcardForest in our free time. Luckily, everything worked perfectly well, and we surpassed our revenue projections already by the end of the month. This was the proof of concept for us.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“In the beginning, we actually called the product E-GreetingCard. After one month or so, we realised that it’s a safer bet to go for a brand instead of a generic name. That’s when we had an intensive brainstorming session and came up with EcardForest. We liked the name specifically as it corresponded to our eco-friendly focus (we invest a part of the revenue in tree planting, supporting various NGOs around the globe) but also suggested a rich choice.
By the end of the second month since the launch, we started working with freelance graphic designers and creators. This was actually part of our original upscaling plan. It was intended to extend the ‘forest’ theme by positioning EcardForest as a platform for rising artists to add, upload, and sell their designs as greeting card covers.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I have a lot of hobbies and love to keep myself busy. Starting my own business was something I could imagine doing yet didn't want to push too hard to make happen yet. I didn't want to commit too much. Once the COVID pandemic hit, however, everyone at work had to reduce working hours to avoid tough financial situations for the company. I found myself having one more day off per week.
That's when I thought I could use the time to build something of my own. I was up for a challenge. Together with a software developer, we built a financial data startup. This was my first company before starting EcardForest.”
Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“We didn't encounter any major troubles.
What happened, though, was that the market got extremely crowded soon after our launch. Some additional companies decided that investing in online greeting cards is worth it as well. This inevitably led to increased marketing costs. That's how the open market works, I guess.”
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“Our customers are mainly businesses, and our ecards are predominantly used on two occasions that people celebrate in the office: birthdays and farewells.
In the beginning, we expected that Europe would be our key market. Quickly we noticed that our product sells much better in the UK than in any other European country. We started expanding afterward by activating advertising campaigns on Google and responding to the demand. As a result, we tapped into the US, Canadian, and Australian markets, which have now become key markets for us as well.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“Currently, we invest in low funnel marketing activities only. We make sure that we pick as much as possible on the available interest. We run Google and Microsoft search ads. In the future, we would consider extending to further channels and even investing in awareness activities.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“It was basically Google ads traffic.
The night we launched was a Thursday, and as planned, we prepared an advertising campaign on Google search to start right away. We were quite cautious at the beginning as we didn't want to spend too much. Luckily, we could profit from some starter credits from both Google and Microsoft, covering our first week. On the next day, at the office, there was already an occasion requiring a greeting card. Right away, I suggested organizing it, and that’s how EcardForest naturally got adopted by the team and slowly by the whole company. That helped us a lot in kickstarting the business.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Of course, we look at the cost —and specifically click prices on the search engines that we advertise with. Besides that, we keep a close eye on our impression share to make sure we capture the available traffic.
From there, we look at our conversion rate and the proportion of direct traffic as well as the repeat purchase rate. The higher those are, the more we grow and the more we can reinvest in the business.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“That's certainly Gimp — our beloved open-source illustration software.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“It surprised me what kind of a roller coaster entrepreneurship could be. And honestly, it keeps you engaged and alert all the time. It's amazing to see your business growing, but it's also crucial to define some time off for the sake of work-life balance.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“Ha, you got me there. That's quite a tricky one — specifically in the first months when the impact of each slow response to a client question might lead to decreased loyalty and cut on future purchases.
Making room in the schedule for some of your other ‘projects’ (i.e., hobbies, self-care, or even cleaning the house) is what I found to be quite effective. In my case, I even still have my day job, which I equally love and am excited about. Thus setting boundaries is what does the trick.”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“I actually get distracted very often, but that helps me strike my creativity. Training the brain to jump in and out of a task quickly has helped me be more reactive so far. Not sure if it's the most efficient way, though.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“I would say keeping an open mind and being up for a challenge is what helped me tremendously so far. Naturally, I don't know it all. Instead, I keep my eyes open to best practices/new ideas, and I experiment. Then I draw conclusions and go for the next round of new things to try.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“I will focus on my first ‘real’ job here and pretend I didn't work as a waitress, a receptionist, and a party crew member during my school and student years :D
My first job was in the central corporate communication department of the biggest chemical company in the world. It was quite a stiff setup, yet with a huge potential for me to learn. And so did I. I learned about how the corporate world works, how to run projects on my own, and how to rise in a crowd. Fighting for my work was a big thing I learned there as well.”
More on EcardForest
We were fortunate enough to hear some valuable insights during our interview with Dayana Doncheva of EcardForest that will inspire, motivate, and teach aspiring and established entrepreneurs alike.
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