LOCAL STARTUP SEES DEMAND FOR CLASSIFIED AD SOFTWARE.By Alicia Korney, Providence Business News
Taking a considerable amount of risk, a local startup headed to a newspaper tradeshow last week, hoping to hear some positive feedback on their software system for classified ads and returned with some solid client prospects.
The trip to NEXPO paid off better than expected for Providence's Creative Circle Advertising Solutions. Held June 19 through 22 in Washington, D.C., and hosted by the Newspaper Association of America, the gathering is the largest annual newspaper technology exhibition and conference and hosted more than 200 exhibitors.
Creative Circle returned having put on about 100 demonstrations and having made two sales - one to a group of seven smaller papers and another to a single paper that is part of a much larger chain. The company expects to have its first beta-site, for a paper in Rhode Island, up and running in July.
"We went in not knowing what to expect," said Bill Ostendorf, co-founder of Creative Circle Advertising and founder and president of Creative Circle Media Consulting, which specializes in newspaper redesign. "This was absolutely a home run for us," he said, taking into account the approximately $50,000 it took to attend NEXPO.
It was barely a year ago that Ostendorf sat in on a presentation by Web expert Jay Higgins, president of Sprintout Internet Services, another fledgling company housed in downtown's Center for Design & Business run by the Rhode Island School of Design and Bryant College. Listening to Higgins speak, Ostendorf thought that Sprintout's technology, which specializes in solving archiving and production challenges for major corporations, would be a natural fit for creating a better system for placing newspaper classifieds online. The two men co-founded the advertising spinoff soon thereafter.
Ostendorf, who has more than 25 years of experience in the newspaper industry, said there are at least 25 other companies that offer online classified software. But he said most of those companies are strictly computer system vendors who are used to being business-to-business providers, not necessarily focusing on the general public that actually consumes the product.
He said many of the existing systems are confusing, offer limited features or are hard to use - leading potential advertisers to abandon the Web entry process and either pick up the phone or give up placing an ad entirely.
The software, which Ostendorf said will likely take 60 to 90 days to get up and running per paper, is called adQ. Advertisers can simply type their copy in, cut and paste from another program, or use customized drop-down menus to create the entire ad.
The program features tips for writing successful ads and offers descriptive words that can be added to text.
The software includes potential up-sells to an ad along the way and includes the ability to take credit card payment.
It also lets users upload their own photos and the system automatically prepares pictures for print production.
Ostendorf said much of what was previously available through the industry was an online version of the forms classifieds representatives fill out.
"That form didn't address people who didn't know what they wanted to say," Ostendorf said.
While designing the drop-down ad suggestions was a tedious process, he said the end results are worth it.
As an example, he said a person writing an ad for a garage sale who selected "clothing" as being among the offerings would then have the option to mention what size clothing was available. And other categories that may vary from region to region of the country - such as selling a "Cape Cod" house in New England or an "adobe"-style home in Louisiana - are also part of the program's customization.
"There were some people there who said they'd been waiting for someone to figure this out for three years," Ostendorf said, later adding: "In the end, this is good news for Rhode Island. Next week we're applying for space at the design center. This is a company that has a chance to really fill a whole in the industry."