Startup, interrupted

Sam Beiler and Jared Neff had been drawing up growth plans for their Lancaster-based startup, but the Covid-19 pandemic dashed their forays into raising outside capital. Now, their goal is to begin generating a profit more quickly.

“That’s kind of the mindset of any startup right now,” said Beiler, co-founder and CEO of a social media advertising platform called Boostpoint. “So we’ve definitely had to make those adjustments.”

Founded in November 2018, Boostpoint offers a subscription software service that small businesses can use to manage and fine-tune their advertising on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.

The company had raised $100,000 from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a state-backed investment fund, as well as another $100,000 from private investors, Beiler said. Boostpoint was hoping to raise another $800,000 in seed funding by June, followed by a larger seed round next year with a goal of $3 million.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, is expected to dry up early-stage funding. A survey of investors by California-based venture fund 500 Startups, for example, found that a majority expect the pandemic to exert a negative (32%) or somewhat negative (36%) impact on early-stage investing. 

Boostpoint had been looking to achieve profitability within two or three years, Beiler said. Now, the goal is to turn a profit by the end of the year, and he is confident it can be done based on the company’s client base and the changes it’s making to its business.

Over the last year, Boostpoint’s software has gotten a lot of traction with roofers. Roofers are still allowed to operate during the pandemic but they are stymied in their traditional door-to-door marketing. One client was actually about to start canvassing a neighborhood when the state began initiating a series of business lockdowns

“Right now it’s like you can’t do any of that,” Beiler said. 

In response, roofing clients have been increasing their use of Boostpoint to target neighborhoods via social media, Beiler said. “It’s almost like digital door-knocking, so it keeps leads coming in.”

Other businesses also are shifting their sales pitches to new mediums, Beiler noted. Restaurants, for example, have taken to billboards to advertise their curbside pickup and delivery services.

But, he said, social-media marketing could be less expensive: $300 or $400 per month versus $1,000 per month for a billboard.

To get companies to try it — and to help those in need of a lift during the pandemic — Boostpoint is offering free use of its platform for 90 days, up from its normal free trial of 14 days. A subscription typically costs about $200 per month.

Boostpoint also has been adjusting its platform so it can better sell its service to marketing agencies, which would then use it with their clients, Beiler said. Agencies had been asking, but they had not been a priority. Now, they are a potential source of revenue.

“That’s another way that we are pivoting,” Beiler said.

The biggest challenge has been remote work for the company’s staff of five, which had been working out of the Slaymaker building in Lancaster’s West End. 

“We really had a good thing going as far as company culture, and a lot of that was because we worked out of the same office,” said Beiler, who added that he derives energy from being around people. “I really miss that.”

Not that his home is without life. He and his wife have three daughters, ages 6, 3 and 2. Beiler said he tries to make time to spend outside with his children. 

“It really does help release some of the pressure,” he said. “Life has not stopped. The things that are most important to us are the people we love and the community. That hasn’t changed.”

He also has reached out to a mentor who shared lessons from the dot-com bust of the early 2000s. The mentor counseled Beiler to avoid internalizing the pressure and not try to go it alone.

“It was a big check for me because I realized that is exactly what I am doing right now,” he said of his reaction when the advice was first given. He has since taken to reaching out to the community around him.

“So many of us, we get stuck in our day-to-day and we forget to reach out,” he said.

Nonetheless, Beiler sees this time as vital to the survival of Boostpoint.

“I feel companies that are just completely giving up and just saying, ‘Well, I’ll maybe try again in two months,’ they’re going to have a really hard time getting out of this thing and starting back up,” he said.

At Boostpoint, he added: “We don’t have much financial resources available. But we do have time and energy to put into the business. Where I’d like to see us coming out of this is finding new opportunities and being able to hit the gas pretty quickly.”

And he is not giving up on the search for seed capital. “It’s just delaying that a little bit,” Beiler said. “It’s not like investing has come to a screeching halt. There’s still some conversations happening. We haven’t stopped trying.”

— Joel Berg, editor of BizNewsPA

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