Tuesday Oct 22, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Staff Writer, VentureFizz
Ben Jabbawy, the founder of Privy, comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Both of his parents have been involved in the world of small business; his mother founded Internship Connection, a way to help college students find internships, and his father, an engineer, is the President at NES Technologies, a manufacturing/design firm that provides services for power supplies and circuit boards.
Ben went to Cornell, eager to get involved in the school's engineering program (influenced by his father's engineering background). At first, Jabbawy was disheartened by the lack of entrepreneurial-focused courses at the Engineering School. So he started to attend clubs organized by Cornell's business program and began reading TechCrunch and Engadget religiously. His interest in startups was piqued, and he returned to Boston and got an internship at GreatPoint Energy, founded by GreatPoint Ventures' Aaron Mandell.
When Mandell left GreatPoint Energy to start Oasys, a company that can take any type of water (including seawater!) and make it drinkable, Jabbawy joined him. As Ben explained of the experience of working at a clean-tech startup, "I learned a lot about fundraising, recruiting, tech development, sales, operations, payroll legal, you name it. It was an amazing experience."
With a taste of working in the tech world and his background in engineering, the big social media and search engine companies seemed like the next best career path for him to take. "When I left that company," Jabbawy said, "the intention was to go and get a job at Google or Foursquare. I was really interested in that world."
However, he added, "As I was doing that, I realized that I would have been thrown into an account management role or the internship program. I felt that I had some confidence to try something on my own."
Jabbawy's inborn entrepreneurial leanings kicked in and he decided he could start his own project and help small businesses at the same time.
"I had built websites for both my parents' businesses, and the one thing that stood out in my mind was that marketing for businesses that don’t sell anything online, are not e-commerce focused, is quite difficult." Jabbawy realized that many small businesses don't understand why or how to create websites and leverage social media in ways that benefit their brick and mortar retail stores, offline businesses, and even restaurants. As he saw it, there was a disconnect between how web marketers wanted marketing to work for small businesses, and what small businesses wanted to get out of marketing campaigns.
"When you do marketing in all these different channels [Facebook, Twitter, paid search, etc.], you live in a multi-channel world. What good does it do for you to know how many clicks or impressions you get, when all that matters is what is happening in your store, how much revenue you’re getting."
So the concept behind Privy began to take shape as Jabbawy started to put a team together in order to take advantage of the opportunity to help small businesses that were outside of the e-commerce world.
As he explained, "We spent six months talking to businesses, and had an idea of what a product could look like that would help them essentially attract and capture customers from different channels, including Facebook, Google, as well as their websites."
The basic premise was to show small businesses vital information on customers that they had never had access to before. "We want to track [the people who find businesses on Google, Facebook, et. al.] in the store, and leave the marketing person at that business with a relationship and understanding of a customer that they could use to bring [him or her] back."
That original, kernel idea behind Privy has evolved some since its early days. As Jabbawy explained, "A big moment for us was realizing that for marketing managers, there is no equivalent to HubSpot for the B2C, brick and mortar store."
By "understanding the analytics of the product," Privy was able to find new ways to help its customers. The team figured out "how cross-client data informs our product in a way that we can drive a thesis for how small businesses should be marketing," Jabbawy said.
"These type of businesses, have never had this amount of data on customers," he added. "They want it yet they don’t know what they would do with it. So we need to understand and provide at least a thesis or a hypothesis on how they could use the data in an easy to use way."
To start out, Privy has been laser-focused on using its product to help local businesses, what Jabbawy called his company's "sweet spot" of the middle market, like regional food chains who do a ton of marketing through social media and search engines.
As he explained, "The nice thing about what we are doing, is that the product is remaining horizontal. Whether you are a restaurant or a retailer, your goals are actually quite similar, you want to be able to build relationships with customers you own, you want to learn about them, and you want to market to them."
Jabbawy demoed the product for me, and, he truly has figured out a way to "show companies interesting data that they've never seen," as he explained. What's more, the interface is very "non-technical" in the sense that it won't seem intimidating to business owner who may not be very web-savvy.
The greatest benefit for small businesses using Privy is that it can tell the marketing managers which aspects of their campaigns actually bring in customers. As Jabbawy said, "As for in-store customers, we will tell you exactly where they are coming from, which channels are most effective."
Privy raised a $1.7 Seed Round in July from Atlas Ventures and Dave McClure's 500 Startups, as well as a whole bunch of angel investors including Mike Volpe of HubSpot, John Dais of Wildfire, Eversave's Jere Doyle, Justin Kitch, Ralph James, and more.
Privy joined the 500 Startups incubator in California, an experience that Jabbawy described as "eye-opening." Although they were tempted to stay in Silicon Valley, the company knew that Boston was the best place for it to bulid a great company focused on small business.
As he explained, "We thought about staying, but when you think about small business, look who is here: LogMeIn, Constant Contact, HubSpot, Vistaprint, etc."
"There is an amazing group of talent here that has hit incredible milestones in this world," Jabbawy added, "That’s where we wanted to be."
Privy is making a huge recruiting push and was recently selected by Turnstone as one of the "Best Young Companies to Work For".
With a ton of momentum behind them, a yearning to help small businesses, and some of the biggest buzz among up-and-coming Boston companies, Jabbawy and his Privy team appear to be on the cusp becoming another Boston success story.