In-depth: Andrew Michael, Founder at Bark.com

by Jessica Ramesh

Andrew Michael began his first company, Fasthosts, from his parents’ house aged 17 and went on to sell the multi-million-turnover business for £61.5 million in 2006. Since then he’s founded and built four online companies. Latest venture Bark.com is a service which links consumers to local professionals across a range of services. We caught up with Andrew to hear about trust, shareability, and why entrepreneurs need to listen to their gut instinct

Can you give us a quick introduction to Bark.com and explain the thinking behind the launch?

Bark.com is an online platform which helps to connect customers with local service professionals. We do all the legwork and make life as easy as possible for both parties. We are passionate about helping small businesses connect with customers online and felt that there weren’t any existing platforms where you could do this easily, so we were confident we could provide the solution.

How have you been able to build users’ loyalty and trust in the service?

It’s not rocket science, but listening to our customers and actively encouraging feedback from anyone who uses the website is a key part of building loyalty. We make sure to incorporate user feedback wherever appropriate – our customers are fundamental to our business, so the service needs to be moulded to fit their needs. The result is a lot of repeat custom for a variety of services, so we must be doing something right! We currently have an average Trustpilot rating in excess of 4.5, something we are extremely proud of and justification for the amount of resource we put into ensuring users have the best possible experience of Bark.com.

I would also say the breadth of industries covered on the site helps users have faith in us, as they know whether their request is for an everyday service or something far more niche, we can connect them with the right professional.

Which digital channels or platforms are you most focused on at Bark.com?

The key for us at the moment is the growth of our sellers so we go wherever they are. Naturally, we value social media channels for their ability to shape customers’ opinions and create brand identity.

We also bid on thousands of keywords on AdWords and have just started an affiliate programme to help with this. Improving our SEO is paramount to us moving forward – no one sifts through the yellow pages to find servicemen anymore, the internet is generally the first port of call.

We also make sure that with any action or process we implement, we ask ourselves ‘how will this convert to mobile?’ After all, it’s very likely that both sellers and buyers will be looking for our services while on-the-go.

What would be your three top tips for budding entrepreneurs?

While you should listen to others around you, it’s important that you ultimately trust your gut instinct. You have to be confident that you’ve got to a certain position because of your decision-making skills. It is imperative to listen to customers though, as they are essentially the lifeblood of any business and their feedback is invaluable.

Hiring a great team is essential in any venture. You need to select talented people with the right ethos and then let them get on with what they do best, that’s when you see the most positive results.

Never give up if you fail at the first hurdle. Plan A may not work but do not be afraid of plan B, C and D – many of the most successful businesses and individuals have had to endure their fair share of rejection so you’ll be in good company. But make sure you learn from any mistakes!

You’ve been involved in a number of successful start-ups. What’s the most significant lesson you’ve learned about launching an online business?

A big thing that I quickly had to learn myself was the importance of being nimble and flexible. Strategy and plans are obviously important, and are essential when you’re starting out, but being able to think and adapt on your feet is vital. Things crop up out of the blue that could be a huge opportunity or threat and if you don’t react accordingly, your business could easily fall flat in the fast-paced online business arena.

Which platforms, channels or sectors do you think digital marketers should be focusing on over the next year or so?

Following the customer and responding to their requests and demands is the most important thing and will shape which channels and platforms will prove the most crucial within our strategy. As I mentioned earlier, mobile will continue to play an increasingly large role within our practices. The cloud will also undoubtedly continue to grow, through collaborative tools like Google Drive and iCloud, so we need to make sure we stay ahead of the game.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about how you view the current state of digital marketing?

The digital marketing landscape is one that is constantly evolving, which is part of its appeal but equally why it is important not to get left behind! Google are always pushing businesses to be cleaner in how they do SEO while also monetising more and more of the search engine real estate.

Strong content is also absolutely vital and intrinsically linked to social – shareability is key to raising your profile and public awareness.

Interview by Jon Fortgang