Three years ago, Easy2 Technologies was known as Easy2.com.
Founded by John Bukovnik as an Internet business-to-consumer site, the venture was geared toward providing to consumers Flash-based multimedia presentations that illustrated everything from how to install a ceiling fan to how to correctly perform a golf swing.
“The concept we came up with was a family of Web sites all under the umbrella name of Easy2,” says Bukovnik in his company’s small office near the campus of Case Western Reserve University.
The overhead lights are off to reduce the eye strain that comes from staring at a computer monitor for long hours, and the view through the fourth floor window reveals a nasty late spring storm that’s dumping snow on Cleveland at a rapid pace.
“We had about 100 different Easy2 domains,” he says. “The Easy2 site would have been the main portal, with each of the niche sites being a community-type site where we would offer the most impactful multimedia instruction available on the Web.”
The revenue streams were supposed to come from advertising and sponsorship of content.
“We put together a business plan and received funding a little over two years ago to pursue this business plan and set out doing our first site, which was the home improvement module in January of 2000,” Bukovnik recalls. “We built up a library of almost 100 home improvement tutorials covering everything from hanging drywall to installing a ceiling fan.”
The content was well on its way, but the once-sunny Internet skies had started to cloud. By March 2000, the storm arrived in full fury.
“In the spring of 2000, the Internet bubble started to burst in a number of respects,” says Bukovnik. “The marketplace was too full of sites that needed advertising and sponsorship revenues to survive. The venture capital dollars for business models pursuing a B2C strategy began to dry up.”
It was a story seen across the fledgling industry.
“The primary roadblocks were we couldn’t get our revenue streams to materialize,” he says. “Without the VC dollars, we couldn’t devote nearly enough marketing dollars to get people to the site. So we had a library of 100 home improvement tutorials, minimal traffic coming to our Web site, and a VC market that wanted nothing to do with B2C companies that were primarily requiring ad revenues and sponsorships to survive.”
Things appeared bleak.
Bukovnik had quit his job as director of interactive media for a major advertising agency. He spent seven months of full-time work researching and developing the concept. He went through a rigorous six-week process of presentations and interviews to land his initial funding from Capital One Partners.
And now, just as he was getting started, the entire market was crumbling around him. Internet companies were failing at an alarming rate. Investors panicked and fled the market.
“I knew there was an opportunity here, and I was very passionate about it,” he says. “The Internet bust was extremely frustrating. I still felt users wanted the information and that there was a market need for it, but a business couldn’t survive on ad revenues.”
Easy2 was on the verge of being consumed by the storm.
“It wasn’t just me anymore,” says Bukovnik. “I had employees, advisers and investors. We had to be intelligent and logical and work quickly because the original investment money was dwindling and we needed to generate revenue.”
The situation was a difficult one for any business owner who put in the sweat equity to get a venture off the ground and didn’t want to see it simply fall apart.
“My original baby needed (to be ) overhauled,” he recalls. “My primary goal was to create a successful business, and the original concept didn’t work. The questions you ask yourself at that point are, ‘What do I do?’ and ‘What do I have to change?'”
The answer was evident in the firm’s sales efforts. Many companies that turned down advertising deals on the Easy2 site had indicated they would be interested in licensing the content for their own sites.
“We fought that urge for a little while because we wanted to stick to our dream of business-to-consumer content,” says Bukovnik. “But by mid-summer of 2000, we were at the point that we had to change something and had to change it dramatically if we wanted to survive.
“So we went back to some of the same people and struck content deals. In the summer of 2000, we had generated our first official revenue — not by bringing people to our site, but by selling the content we had produced.”
The business had officially changed course in response to hostile market conditions that made the original concept impractical almost before it ever got rolling.
“At that point in time, we scrapped the business-to-consumer model entirely,” says Bukovnik. “We thought we could do both for a while. We thought licensing might support us until we could get up and running with the B2C model. But eventually, we decided it would take too many resources to do both. Once we had changed, right away people were writing us multi-thousand dollar checks just for content, and we were done. We completely took down the consumer site by early fall of 2000.”
Other revenue-generating ideas stemmed from the transformation. Some companies indicated they liked the content but preferred something specific to their products. As a result, the company started doing custom work.
“We could charge $5,000 to $10,000 for a custom module instead of $500 to $1,000 for licensing one,” says Bukovnik.
By fall of 2000, Little Tikes and Moen Inc. were on board as custom-content clients. Bukovnik found another revenue stream when Easy2 pitched the idea of Demonstravision, a multimedia presentation focused on the features of the product to help sell it. All prior presentations had been done in a post-sale environment and were aimed at aiding in installation and assembly.
“By late 2000, our product lineup was pretty firmly in place,” says Bukovnik. “We had firmly completed our transitions from a B2C to a B2B company, with the common thread between them being multimedia instruction and product demonstration. In 2001, we basically honed our pitch and hit the ground running and added companies like Skil Tools, Rubbermaid and Coleman.”
The Internet storm has passed, and only the strongest tech companies have survived.
“I’m proud of the content we’ve developed,” says Bukovnik. “The really frustrating part — and part of the attraction of starting the business to begin with — was that the entire economy at the time was designed to help us succeed. We had a good idea and the skids were greased, then the bubble burst. It was the most frustrating thing in the world trying to build a company in that environment.
“In hindsight, it was constantly fun. The successes make you overlook the valleys. I thought I was leaping into an Internet boom. I thought the issues would be rapid growth. Instead, the issues were how to transition a product and bootstrapping a business to survive.” How to reach: Easy2 Technologies, (216) 707-1988 or Easy2.com