Sanjay Dalal often and very fondly quotes Peter Thiel, the first outside investor of Facebook. “You don’t have to start a company to cash in,” Dalal paraphrases Thiel. “A better option is to join a company with high growth.” Exactly what Thiel himself did in the case of Facebook. In high tech circles, that’s called eating your own dog food.
Dalal is the CEO of oGoing.com, the B2B social network for small businesses. A press release writes oGoing “provides a better and faster way to connect to professionals and businesses online. An owner or entrepreneur can immediately network with another professional, send them an email, ask them a question, and even call them from their smartphone – all within a few minutes.”
Walking the talk
What brought Dalal to making a Facebook for SMBs? He spent time working for very successful companies such as Honeywell and IBM after undergraduate and graduate studies in electrical engineering and computer science during the late 80s and early 90s. Then he struck out with a series of Silicon Valley startups from 1997 to 2007, culminating in involvement with the $3.2 billion buyout of WebEx by Cisco Systems. He then decided to leave Silicon Valley, relocating to Orange County in Southern California. That’s where we pick up the story of oGoing in 2009.
Are SMBs socially challenged?
Facebook, Twitter and other large social networks make it a challenge for SMBs to find their customers, according to Dalal. “They don’t serve the particular needs for SMBs,” he says. “oGoing provides SMBs a dedicated B2B marketing platform and network to get found, connect, promote and attract new customers. Our vision is to give every SMB a voice, share their story, products and business services and make them successful.”
However, the large social networks are not completely to blame. “So many SMBs will set up a Twitter account and then go inactive after two months,” Dalal says. “They expect so many inbound inquiries and then they get frustrated when it doesn’t happen right away.”
There is an old saying with which any Toronto Blue Jays fan should be familiar: You cannot win or lose a baseball game in the first inning. “You have to play all nine innings,” Dalal says. Overall, the mentality of sports can help SMB entrepreneurs, according to Dalal. “In football, you have four quarters—and then you could have overtime,” he says. “Learn to enjoy the journey—the journey will have many ups and downs. Realizing your vision can take five to 10 years.”
North of the border bound
Out of 10,000 oGoing members, only 200 are from Canada currently. But that 10,000 figure was reached with no marketing, according to Dalal. oGoing’s objective is to eventually have 1,000 members north of the border. oGoing’s future expansion plans in Canada will be based on localization, market demand and local partner presence.
When asked about getting venture funding to make that happen he described it as a “heavenly” prospect. To this point, Dalal has bootstrapped the network with $400,000 (USD) of his own money.
Additional funding would help roll out the service to metro areas in Canada and find local partners. This would further the overall goal of growing the oGoing B2B network to more than 100,000 quality members, according to Dalal.
A break to make it last
But he has no illusion about how hard it is to break out of the startup pack. Once, a venture capitalist showed his email inbox to Dalal. “There were 35,000 unanswered emails.” Presumably, the majority of these were business plans from entrepreneurs seeking funding. “Unless you get referred (to this VC), pretty much your chance of getting funding is akin to winning the lottery,” he says.
Come what may, Dalal’s oGoing goals remain clear: “It is our relentless focus on helping our core SMB businesses by creating for them the easiest, most innovative and engaging social network that helps them connect, share, promote and do more that makes us successful in the long term. oGoing will always be focused on creating and building value for our SMB members.”
Photo of Dalal courtesy Ogoing