How I Built My Business from Less Than Zero: An Interview with Tali Tarlow

Recently someone asked me what’s the easiest way to start a successful web-based business with low-risk?

My answer was not what she was expecting.

But before I tell you what I advised her, I’d like to present an interview with someone who has done just that: built a successful business in a relatively short time from zero with zero initial financial risks.

Please give a warm welcome to Tali Tarlow, a mother of four from Gush Etzion, who is the founder of Israel ScaVentures.

Naomi: Hi Tali. Welcome to My Parnasa.
Tali: Thanks for having me, Naomi

talitarlow

Tali Tarlow, Founder and Director of Israel ScaVentures

N:Tell us what your business is about in 50 words or less:
T: Israel ScaVentures (formerly known as Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts) are tour games in Jerusalem and other locations in Israel. In teams, using our Israel ScaVentures navigation packs, participants navigate their way through the area while learning and engaging with the stories, people, places and events that make it unique.

N: You are in the tourism/recreation space, which is super competitive in Israel. What made you decide to get into that business? How did you break in?
T: Israel ScaVentures kind of burst into existence, I never went through the process of trying to figure out how to build a new business, by the time I decided to make this into a real business it was already a successful and popular program. In the early years I ran my Nachlaot and Old City routes as a kind of hobby (my main focus was my speech writing business, and the Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts was a side gig).
Then one day, based on the enthusiasm of the route participants I made a decision to put together a website and facebook page – and see what happens. The day after I got the website online, I got a booking from a tour operator. His clients loved the Scavenger Hunt and told all their friends about it. I posted pics on the facebook page, and the original clients tagged themselves. All their friends commented about the fun they were having!
Within two months of building the website I needed to hire my first guide, and a month after that I hired 5 more. Today, less than 3 years after I launched that website, I have around 25 guides and 5 routes in 4 languages (not every route is in all 4 languages).
The key to the quick momentum and success was the successful product that constantly generated enthusiasm and the desire to share the experience with others both offline (word of mouth) and online (mainly facebook).

N: Wow! 25 guides? That is truly incredible! I wish that most business owners found the path forward as clear as you have. But it can’t all have been fun and games. Was there ever a moment where things were so tough you almost gave up?
T: No, there wasn’t a time that I thought that all was lost, although I have made some financial mistakes that gave me sleepless nights. Like a VAT miscalculation, which could have lost me a lot of money, and I was saved by my accountant. Or not calculating and over-investing in one peak season, which meant that I didn’t have enough cash flow for 3 months after. I hope I won’t make the same mistakes twice.
The transition to become an esek mursheh (an Israeli legal status that requires a more intensive tax reporting) brought more expenses was a very scary one and brought greater risks. But B”H the business was firm enough to withstand that.

N: Dealing with number-crunching and taxes is something that most creative entrepreneurs struggle with, just like you. You mentioned that when you started this business, you were job-hunting and had no money to invest in a new business? How did you manage to start up with no capital?
T: In the early days I did everything myself – developing the routes, printing out route material on my own home printer (my children helped me stick and staple things together) , guiding the ScaVentures, not to mention building and running the website and facebook page, marketing, administration and financial work. At a fairly early stage I hired my financial adviser, Rifka Lebowitz, but that was one of my few expenses in those days.
When I decided to upgrade my route material, the first batch of printing came to around 2000 shekels ($600), and I didn’t have that cash in hand. Luckily the printer trusted me and allowed me to delay payment until after I had earned the money to pay him, and I literally came to him after my first few Scavenger Hunts to pay him.
After the first 6 months of this, when I had a bit of money in the bank, and I saw that this business had real potential, I went to the bank to get a small loan which allowed me to translate one of my routes and later on another small loan helped me pay for branded t-shirts.

N: It sounds like you’ve been on some ScaVentures to find the resources to make this work. I admire your patience in taking things one step at a time, and waiting for the right moment to move to the next level. What role has your website and web marketing played in growing your business?

T: My website got me my first clients, it is very basically SEO’d, but I have some great links coming into it from my Bloggers’ Scavenger Hunt which I think is why it ranks high in Google searches. Most of my web marketing efforts are on Facebook, where my clients and potential clients hang out and share pics. I have accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter, both of which have brought me business. I have YouTube and Pinterest channels, both of which need to be optimised more. I am planning on working on my presence in TripAdvisor more. And of course there is Intstagram and the other social game sites…(there is no end…)

N: I was on your Bloggers’ ScaVenture Hunts in Nachlaot last year. That was a BRILLIANT bootstrapped marketing idea. One final question for you: Complete the following sentence: “If someone I cared about dearly (e.g. my sister, child, etc.) told me they were thinking of starting a business like mine, the one most important thing I would tell them would be…”

T: You have to love what you are about to do. As a business owner I spend most of my awake AND ASLEEP hours thinking about my business (yes, I dream and sometimes nightmare about it). You have to really believe in what you are doing to put up with the stress that comes with running your own business.

N: Thank you, Tali, for sharing so openly about what you’ve been through in creating your business. This interview has really gotten me thinking about bootstrapping. May you be blessed to have much hatzlacha and nachas from Israel ScaVentures!
T: Thanks Naomi!

How to Start a Successful, Low Risk Web Business

I started this article by mentioning that someone asked me this question.

Here was my answer to her:

Create a website promoting a service that you can offer.

Even if the service is not implemented on your website, I’d still call this a web-based business. For example, my translation business, which I started four years ago. Neither I nor my translators actually work through the website, but the web is the primary method through which we get clients and communicate with them.

It’s easy, relatively speaking, because you already know about that industry and that service, and understand the demand for it. All you have to do is build your website to offer it to the world – and these days anyone can build a basic website for themselves in a few days. It may not be the world’s greatest site, but it will be fine for starting out. Remember, unlike with a blog, you can make real money even with as little as 200 visitors a month.

It’s low-risk, because you will have no overheads, no investments and no need to quit your job (as much as you may want to). No storefront/office, no staff, no inventory, no design and web development, no business loans and basically almost no start-up expenses.

It’s true you might not make much money at first, but you won’t lose money either. Meanwhile, you can invest your time and energy into it at a level that is realistic for you, and grow it at pace that you can keep up with.

Now that’s true low risk and big potential.

Thanks, Tali, for being the perfect example of bootstrapping business success!

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Comments

  1. says

    I’ve just got to play devil’s advocate here. I think the reason Tali’s business approached worked was this: “…by the time I decided to make this into a real business it was already a successful and popular program.”
    She was taking a hobby and expanding it. Websites are great for this, just as you point out. Tali already had a service and already had a client (or two). Right?
    But isn’t it hard to get into a business with no capital when you are truly starting from scratch? Even if Tali didn’t spend lots of money up front, she was already cultivating clients and refining her service. And she didn’t plan it that way. (Personally, I think this is beautiful hashgacha pratis, but I’m not sure you can learn a lesson from someone else’s hashgacha pratis.)

    [Reply]

    Naomi Reply:

    Hi Rebecca,
    I think it’s good that you are point that out.
    I originally had more disclaimers in my article but removed most of them in the editing process, as I don’t like to be repetitive.
    If a person is starting from scratch in the sense of “I know nothing about this business,” then it’s going to be a lot harder to get off the ground. Surprisingly, that’s the place many people begin from in Web business. They have a good business idea and then they try implement it from scratch. Their lack of familiarity with both their industry and web marketing can be an almost overwhelming handicap.
    In addition, start up costs (e.g. $1000s for developing an ecommerce store or app) and delay in returns (e.g. it can take six months of dedicated blogging to earn your first $100) are further setbacks.
    That’s why I’m suggesting that if you start with a service that you already know how to offer in an industry that you already know how to serve, then your risks are relatively low.
    Even if I get only 200 visitors to my site, I can reasonably hope to convert one of them into a customer – and in a good service industry, a client can be worth $100-$500, or more. To earn that kind of money without spending months and a fortune in startup costs is simply not possible in any other web business model that I know of.
    For most people, this means taking either a hobby or a skill they used in a non-business environment, and then making it the center of their business.
    Does this answer your question?

    [Reply]

    Rebecca Klempner Reply:

    Sure does. ;)

    [Reply]

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