InnovaBuzz Episode #37 – Rob van Haaren: CoverrMe Crowdfunding Platform

RobvanHaaren

Rob van Haaren: CoverrMe Crowdfunding Platform

In this episode number 37 of the InnovaBuzz podcast,  we hear from Rob van Haaren all the way from New York City, about his experiences in innovation, crowdfunding,  solar energy and his CoverrMe crowdfunding platform.  This new initiative takes an innovative approach to crowdfunding and leveraging technology.  Read more below and listen to the interview to learn more from Rob.

Listen to the Podcast

I think a business should always revolve around the customer, shouldn’t it?

Rob van Haaren

Show Highlights

Some of the highlights of this episode include:

  • Innovation should be addressed in the education system, and not just the science / engineering, but also the economic capital and human aspects.  The Netherlands is one country that is doing that.
  • Innovation is about applying an idea or model in a way that no one else has, but most importantly it’s about doing – it’s only an idea until something is actually produced.  It’s important to get moving, then you can iterate with your customers’ input to improve on the product / system after it is launched.
  • Google Analytics is an invaluable tool to find out what visitors to your website are doing there.  It can be used to get information from hundreds of visitors of your platform without having to do in person interviews.
  • Rob emphasized the importance of the customer experience in any product or service and talks about actually going through your entire sales and onboarding process as if you were a customer – to identify what needs improvement for the customer experience.  Also, see how competitors do it and then do it better!
  • Rob proposes an interesting model for Solar Panels in crowded areas – based on the AirBnB model – Solar Panels on large communal areas (e.g. school rooftops), which are rented out to the community.  Keep watching Divvy to see how that progresses.

Keeping that connection with a customer is extremely important; the intimacy with the customer.

Robert van Haaren

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Robert’s answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Watch the interview to get the full scoop.

  • #1 thing to be more innovative – talking to customers and solve their problems.
  • Best thing for new ideas – iterating with the customers and getting their feedback to learn what needs improvement.
  • Favourite tool for innovation – Google Analytics
  • Keep project / client on track – set clear milestones and to have the discipline to keep working to them.
  • Differentiate – learn about your competitors and know what they can do. Then work with your customers to make your product or service better!

To Be a Leader

Always keep learning and surround yourself with great people!

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Rob via coverrme.com

Suggested Guest

Rob suggested I interview Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, on a future InnovaBuzz podcast.  Elon has been on our “must interview” list for some time, so now we are coming to get you, Elon, on to the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of Robert van Haaren.

Links

Full Transcript

Click to Read…

Intro:
Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 37 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation become even more innovative.

In this episode, my guest is Rob van Haaren from New York City, who has setup a new Crowdfunding platform, CoverrMe.com, that takes a novel approach to getting its audience engaged and contributing to the cause. Rob has taken his experience in innovation studies and the solar energy industry to apply ideas he’s learned in those places to the crowdfunding space. This is another fascinating story with plenty of great advice for any innovative entrepreneurs.

Let’s get into the Innovation Hive and get the Buzz from Rob van Haaren.

Interview
Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz, and I’m really excited to have here with me on today’s episode of the Innovabuzz Podcast, all the way from New York City, Rob van Haaren who, in his daytime job works for a solar energy company, but what we want to talk to him about today is his businesses that he’s launched, Divvy Power and CoverrMe.com, which is a new crowdfunding platform that we’ll learn some more about. Welcome, Rob; it’s a privilege to have you on the Innovabuzz Podcast.

Rob:
Thanks for having me, Jürgen.

Jürgen:
Now, this is the second time we’ve connected to start this podcast, so hopefully this time we’ll be better off. Last time you had just had a flood in your apartment.

Rob:
It was a disaster; two inches of flooding throughout the entire place. We spent about two and a half days cleaning all of it up.

Jürgen:
… and so, of course, we said focus on cleaning up the apartment and getting organized rather than the podcast, so we’ve reconvened, and here we are today. So, as I said, we’re going to talk about CoverrMe primarily, which is a crowdfunding platform designed for smaller, personal projects, and it’s got a unique business model, but I’ll let Rob talk about that in a few moments. Before we talk about that, though, Rob, and crowdfunding and innovation and technology that you are using there, let’s learn a little bit more about you as a person. So, when you were a child, what were your ambitions; what did you want to be when you grew up?

Rob:
That’s a good question, and it may be surprising, but I always wanted to become an archaeologist as a kid. I watched Indiana Jones and obviously that made a big impact on me. Then Jurassic Park came along, and I was even more crazy about archaeology. So, that was the initial plan, but then as I started high school, I got really interested in airplanes and flying in general, so I actually applied for the Dutch Air Force to become a fighter pilot, and got pretty far in the selection process. But in the simulator flights, I failed. I made a stupid mistake in the test, not sticking to the flight schedule as it was printed on my, what they call knee pad. And then I dropped out and I was not allowed to redo that again. So I had to find some alternatives.

Jürgen:
So, I noticed that you have a degree in innovation sciences from Eindhoven University, I was fascinated by that. So what does that involve?

Rob:
So after being dropped out of the Air Force application program, I guess, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I had a pretty broad spectrum of interests, and I visited many of the Dutch universities around the country to figure out what I wanted to do next. And one of the programs that I stumbled upon was really interesting. It involved any aspect around innovation. So the cool thing about the program was that it had both the technical side of things, which really interests me. I was pretty good and really enjoyed physics and math and chemistry in high school, but on the other hand it also talked about economics of innovations. It talked about intellectual property rights and even psychology and how people adopt ideas. So innovation sciences really seemed like a logical fit for me because what I found out was that a lot of the people that graduated from the program, they had the freedom to basically land in any different type of industry that they were interested in. So, it really was the perfect fit as I wasn’t 100% sure yet which direction I wanted to go.

Jürgen:
It does sound fascinating, and I note you mention on your LinkedIn profile about the critical human factor in the implementation of innovations, and I think that’s something that is rarely considered.

Rob:
That’s right. There’s been some amazing classes in that program that I took and it’s quite surprising. The program is pretty small. I think there were only 30 or 40 students in my class, and of those 30 or 40, I think only 15 or so eventually graduated from the program because, we had to take some really hard courses in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics, but at the same time be very good at economics and understanding how the mind works and psychology and things like that. So, I think for me personally it was a great fit, but for other people, they struggled to finish the program. And I should add, though, in the Netherlands, the criteria for passing college, your bachelor’s degree is pretty difficult. If you actually fail an exam once, you get one retry, and if you fail that again, then only in special occasions you get to retry for a third time, otherwise they basically kick you out of the program.

Jürgen:
It’s fascinating that, clearly countries like the Netherlands are aware that innovation is something that needs to be reflected in education, and it’s interesting to me that there’s actually a special course for it that combines, well in this case, the sciences – I imagine there might be some others as well, of innovation in other areas – in this case, the sciences and a little bit of engineering – but with the economics of innovation and the human aspects of it as well.

Rob:
For sure – it was really interesting, and definitely one of the classes, it was called Diffusion of Innovations, which really went in depth into how ideas spread. And obviously a lot is changing right now with the internet and how we communicate to people, not just locally, but also globally. And I think it has really given me a good framework to start understanding how business ideas work and how to really try and write up a business plan with that framework in mind.

Jürgen:
We do.

Rob:
There’s a book written by Everett M. Rogers that I would really recommend. Everett M. Rogers, it’s called Diffusion of Innovations.

Jürgen:
Okay, we’ll link to that..

Rob:
If someone’s interested in reading that ..

Jürgen:
I’ll look that one up and post a link to it. So, what is it, Diffusion of Innovation?

Rob:
Yep, Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers

Jürgen:
Alright, I’m just writing that down. So, that’s actually with innovation, you mentioned the internet and that is pretty amazing, isn’t it. Here we are in different hemispheres on opposites sides of the world; I mean, it’s a minimum of 24 hours to travel between where I am and where you are, and yet we’re speaking live on the air.

Rob:
It’s pretty impressive. To that story, I remember my grandparents telling me the story of when my mom went au pair in the U.S., she went to New Mexico when she was 17 or 18 years old. My grandparents, they actually communicated with her by just ringing her phone once and that means everything is alright, and ringing it twice would mean, something is wrong and then they would redial again so that she would pick up the phone and then actually start talking.

Jürgen:
Okay, there was a code! I remember, as I actually grew up in Australia, when I went to Germany post-graduate and in those days we wrote letters. And I remember when I first arrived in the very first letter I wrote, I think after two days or so that I was feeling a little homesick, so I probably expressed that in the letter. Then, of course, three weeks later the response to that letter arrives, and the response was, Oh you poor thing and, chin up and it’ll all be good. I remember reading that letter thinking what are they going on about, because in that three weeks I had settled in and made friends, and I was feeling pretty happy.

Rob:
There was quite a big lag in the diffusion of information there, right.

Jürgen:
That’s right.

Rob:
And now we’re talking about milliseconds.

Jürgen:
Exactly and, of course, that brings with it, which comes back to that human aspect of innovation that brings with it expectations that, people have expectations now that things will happen in milliseconds. They don’t have the patience to wait for anything.

Rob:
Exactly, sometimes Skype starts acting up, and then half the planet is upset about it.

Jürgen:
Alright, well, tell us a little bit about these crowdfunding innovations that you’ve put together and launched, because I think it’s a fascinating story in how they came about and how you thought of the idea.

Rob:
To be honest, I never had any background in programming before I started with working on some of the projects where I needed to know web development in order to succeed. So, I think the beautiful thing of the internet these days that you can learn anything for free as long as you have a screen and an internet connection.

So, basically that’s what I started doing. I still remember just following tutorials from several websites to try and learn how PHP works. These days when I mention to people that I work with PHP, they typically say, they start laughing at me and that’s like an antiquated piece of software, but I believe Facebook still runs on PHP, so I guess they keep updating the language as well. But I needed to know those programming languages in order to actually do the projects that I was working on. So, the very first website that I ever built was the website called solarjourneyusa.com, which is a project that I worked on with a fellow PhD candidate at Columbia University. So, what we wanted to do was design, fund raise for, and build a portable charging station for electric vehicles, and then take that charging station across the United States, recharge the electric car that we would bring along during the daytime while we were stationary, and then explain to people, give presentations about the synergies between solar and electric vehicles. And then in the evening hours we would, put our solar PV system back into the trailer and continue with the next leg of our trip. So, in order to create awareness about the project and to do the fundraising for it, I designed and built a website. So, I took all those tutorials and it culminated into this one website that I needed to put together. From there on, I was really happy that I finally learned how to program, and I started really getting into web development as a hobby, just because I was interested in learning how it goes. And then I started on a project called DivvyGreen.com or a company called Divvy Power. Basically the idea was, I had just moved into New York City….

Jürgen:
Oh, I just opened up that Solar Journey website, and there’s a video that auto launches. Sorry about that.

Rob:
Oh, I didn’t hear it. Sorry. So, basically the Divvy project was launched because, my fellow students and I, we were living in New York City in a shoe-box-sized apartment. We didn’t have a roof to put solar panels on, so we thought well why don’t we create a website where, for example, we could put solar panels, a larger system on a school’s rooftop and then we would chip in to pay for the system up front, and then over time make money back as the solar power system starts generating electricity. So, with that idea in mind, I started to again learn more about web development and try and learn new skills, new languages, and basically put together an MVP, a minimum viable product, and see if it got any attention.

So, we raised I believe, somewhere around $8,000 for a pilot project in the Bronx, at the Bronx Design & Construction Academy, where they wanted to raise money for a green roof integrated PV system. So, basically a green roof, but on top of that, solar panels installed that generate the electricity. So, we raised the money for that project and we thought, well, we should keep doing this. We should build out this website and see how it goes. So, then we stumbled upon a couple of rules in the securities laws in the U.S. It’s not that simple to actually let other people invest in a solar project. It actually requires pretty strict, there’s pretty strict regulations around creating securities and letting anyone invest in a project like that. So we put that on hold for a little bit, then I thought I should just use the engine that I put together, the website itself, and at least create a personal crowdfunding page called CoverrMe. And the reason we started that was because my wife and I wanted to raise money for our honeymoon. And we didn’t want to use a website that would take $5 of every $100 that we would raise, so I just built my own platform so that we could raise money from there.

Jürgen:
So that’s the start of CoverrMe.

Rob:
Exactly.

Jürgen:
And so talk us through how that worked for the wedding.

Rob:
That’s a great question. So, when I asked my now beautiful wife to marry me, we had this tradition that every year we would take all the pictures that we had and basically order a custom jigsaw puzzle out of all these pictures together. So, it’s like a collage of pictures, and then we would sit together at the end of the year, during the cold months, to finish the jigsaw puzzle. So this idea sparked the digital design of the website right now. So, when people start a project on the website, they choose a collage of images, which then initially is completely covered by a canvas. And then as people contribute to the project, they just click the canvas and the picture underneath becomes visible. So, as the project gets crowdfunded, the collage underneath becomes visible and open for the public to see. So, we wanted to use that jigsaw puzzle idea and incorporate it into the platform, and that’s how it works today.

Jürgen:
Okay, I know the business model at the moment is there’s a zero percent fee on this one, so what is the business model in terms of generating income and sustaining this long-term?

Rob:
That’s a great question. So, at the moment I don’t have any costs associated with the website aside from, some server space that I’m renting. So, initially I wanted to do this just for our honeymoon, so the website came about just from a personal need. And then my wife said, why don’t you make it available to the public and let other people raise money for their causes. Now, in order to get it started, I was thinking why would anyone create a campaign on this brand new platform if they can just do it somewhere else with the same fees, so I knew that I had to be, at least for the first couple of months or the trial period, I knew I had to start with a lower fee, and I figured why not make it free for everyone. And I came up with a couple of ways to generate revenue without actually having a platform fee in place, which is basically letting the people voluntarily donate money to the website during the checkout process to give some money to the platform for its operation and maintenance. And the visual aspect of the website design actually allows us to give those people, for example, some extra gimmicks, some extra credit or status.

So you can imagine that this is not currently the design, the way it is right now, but imagine if you have that background picture being all in gray scale, you could let the people that donate, let’s say a couple of extra dollars for the CoverrMe.com website, their circles that they place could then be displayed in color. So, it can be a very voluntary way, a friendly way of raising money on the side. And I have never really seen the website to be a way for me to generate a huge profit, I just wanted to bring free crowdfunding tool to the world and let people’s goodwill and donations help out the website in the long run. Obviously Plan B would be to, if I do see a huge increase in traffic and I’ve explored all of these different ways to generate revenue without charging a platform fee, I could perhaps increase the fees to 2% or 1%. But, that would be my last resort.

Jürgen:
Okay. And do you have any guidelines in terms of people using the platform. I mean, if businesses were looking to crowdfund an idea, for example, I mean, I would think there’d be an expectation that they would contribute to the platform cost because it’s not a charity and it’s not a personal thing.

Rob:
For sure, definitely – so currently, it’s just an MVP right now that you see online. What we want to do is create special sections for the different types of customer segments that we’ve lined out and create a full page dedicated to crowdfunding for business ideas, crowdfunding for personal travel, for honeymoons, or a lot of people these days also raise money for unexpected medical costs that they need to cover. So, we really want to add some more information to the platform. Now that we have all of the nuts and bolts in place to make the payment system work, we want to expand and actually give people guidance on how to start those campaigns.

Jürgen:
And that’s where I see a big opportunity, around the education, how to make these campaigns work. Because it’s one thing to have a platform to use and obviously, there’s a niche, novel idea that makes it different to others, not just from a cost basis but the idea of the jigsaw and that engagement that brings with it. But how do you then actually motivate people to donate to whatever cause it is, which I think you’ve got an opportunity to provide that training. And maybe that’s where some revenue can come in. But at the same time, you mentioned also that when you started exploring this, the idea of a charity raising money to provide water or clean water to some third-world country that is suffering high levels of disease and death because they haven’t got access to clean water. The idea that they’re paying 5% of the donations to a platform is really beggars belief, doesn’t it?

Rob:
That was when I first started out putting the platform together, I mean, first obviously it was the honeymoon, but then when I started looking around and finding other places, other platforms that are out there to raise money for causes like that, critical causes that involved critical medical surgeries or disasters where people need help urgently. Any extra dollar could help save lives. And what I don’t understand from some of these platforms is that they, I mean they create the categories for these specific disasters or these specific events, but then what they don’t do is at least give them a discount on the total fees that they charge from using the platform. So, I just could not understand why they still charge the full 5% or whatever they charge for those projects. I mean, that’s why I really hope that people who learn about this, that they start using CoverrMe and help out these causes, help out the people that need it most. And CoverrMe won’t charge them any platform fee on doing that crowdfunding project.

Jürgen:
Definitely, I encourage everybody listening to the podcast to go and have a look at and explore it, and if you do have a project for fund raising, and I know I’ve got some things later on in the year that I’ll be involved in, so I’ll be seriously looking at it for that as well.

Rob:
Okay, that’s awesome. And I’d love to hear any feedback that you may have, Jürgen, as well. I know you’re very experienced in putting websites together, and you’ve done this a thousand times, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it as well.

Jürgen:
I haven’t done anything to do with crowdfunding like this, but it’s certainly an interesting, novel approach. So, what do you see as the biggest trap? I mean, you’ve studied innovation – you’ve particularly studied the human aspects of it and the economic aspects. What do you think the biggest trap is that innovators encounter when they’re trying to sell new ideas?

Rob:
That’s a great question. For me, personally, I think it involves getting stuck in not iterating anymore. So, what I noticed was I worked on the website for a really long time, spent all of these hours on putting them together or complete what we call project gateway together, the five or four steps that you need to complete in order to set up a campaign. And what I, what we then do is when the website goes live, it’s in production, and we find that a lot of people actually enter the project gateway, but they don’t actually finish it. So, for me the main goal here was to put an MVP together, but very soon I realized from doing the Google analytics and other tools, I realized that a lot of people actually enter the project gateway, but perhaps it takes too much time, or it’s too difficult, or there are specific things that they don’t understand. And that connection with the customer is extremely important. So when people started projects and they waited one or two days and they didn’t finish it, I started emailing them and asking them for feedback on how can we further improve the project gateway and make sure that the next time, the next customer that arrives, that they actually finish the entire process. So, I would say that keeping that connection with a customer is extremely important; the intimacy with the customer.

Jürgen:
That’s online engagement – I mean, that’s a great point, and I think that you really struck the core of what makes a good website versus what’s just an ordinary website, because we talked earlier about the advances in technology and innovation and the human aspects of it, and I think a lot of online websites or anything online loses some of that because that engagement isn’t there and there’s no way built in to integrate that. So, you’ve, clearly done things there that build that into the crowdfunding part with the images and uncovering the images so that’s a very engaging and personalized way to do the crowdfunding. I liked the onboarding process as well.

Rob:
Definitely – and talking about the iterations, what we’re working on right now, is to actually redesign that project gateway so that people actually see their campaign page live and then they can click on the sections that they want to edit. And since a lot of people will be exploring some of the other campaigns before they actually start a new crowdfunding campaign, we figured and we talked to different visitors of the website about how they would experience that alternative way of putting a project page together. And they, from our personal interviews, they seemed to really like that idea. So, that’s what’s next on our list right now.

Jürgen:
Right, look forward to seeing that. So, what do you see as the biggest challenges in building this as a business going forward?

Rob:
Definitely – we talked about this before. Getting started and getting momentum with people using the platform. That on its own – sounds really straightforward, but it’s actually pretty difficult. And especially with something like crowdfunding, because I can ask all of my friends to, buy one of my new products if I was producing, I don’t know, cool mugs or something like that with their picture printed on it. I could sell all of that to my friends. But with crowdfunding, there really needs to be a need to do a project, the need to do a campaign before you can actually persuade one of your friends to do something like that. So, therefore, it’s a have to, you can’t really take the regular route of starting out with customers that are close to you, customers that are family, friends, and other people, because many of them may not directly have the need to raise money for a medical cause or need to raise money for a honeymoon. So, I think that was definitely a struggle for me. And that’s why I hope that these analytics will help me actually get in touch with my visitors from all over the U.S. and figure out what keeps them from completing the project development process, so that I can improve on that process and make it more user friendly.

Jürgen:
Okay. So,you mentioned U.S. Is it just U.S.-based at the moment, because I imagine with the banking and transfer of money, that might be an issue.

Rob:
That’s right. So, that’s the second big item on the to-do list is to transition from the WePay payment system to Stripe, and Stripe is available in many more countries as a project starter to use. So, with WePay, we can actually accept payments from anywhere, people with credit cards, but at the moment, WePay doesn’t allow people to start campaigns yet from everywhere. And they’ve been talking about expanding for, I think, two or three years already. But Stripe has been much faster in moving forward internationally. So, that transition is on our list as well.

Jürgen:
Alright then, I mean it’s interesting because I came across something recently where I thought that there could be an application for this platform as well, and it was small business launching a new product. And you talked about minimal viable product strategy there, and that would go down this route very much, but they were doing it from using a crowdfunding platform and getting people to actually pay what they would charge for the product before it was actually built. So, they had a description of the product, here’s what it’s going to be, here are the three levels you can get involved in the product, and we’re looking to raise, I don’t know what it was, $10,000 to get this started. So, basically people bought the product through this crowdfunding thing to the point where once the money was in place, the business knew there was enough interest there that it was worth actually doing.

Rob:
And, regarding those types of projects, or products that people want to promote, if I were in their shoes, I would be very careful about which platform they would actually use to promote their product and raise money for it. And the reason I’m saying that is because Kickstarter at the moment is very much an ecommerce store, right, there are a lot of people that are just browsing the Kickstarter web pages for cool new products that they’ve found, and these are the types of platforms where people from anywhere could buy that prototype of that product and actually help make it happen. So when I think about crowdfunding, I very much think about two circles, one circle inside another; one smaller circle inside a much, much bigger one. The smaller circle is the direct community of people around the person who starts the campaign. So, for example, this is friends and family, people perhaps you come across at school or whatever, and then there is a much, much bigger circle which are, people all over the world who could be interested in buying that product. Now, a platform like GoFundMe or a platform like CoverrMe, which are personal crowdfunding projects, they are not so much these, we don’t target necessarily the big circle, right. We only target, or we expect to get most donations or contributions from direct family members or friends or friends of friends that have shared or that have seen their friends sharing it on Facebook or something like that. So, I think that, it’s for a person starting a new campaign to promote a product, I would be very careful in selecting the right platform to do it, and I’ll be very honest with you, that may not be CoverrMe, that may not be GoFundMe, it may just be Kickstarter in that case.

Jürgen:
That’s a really good point; it’s what audience are you reaching and what audience do you need to reach and where does that audience hang out.

Rob:
Exactly – and once CoverrMe gets more momentum and gets more traffic, you might actually see that it starts making sense to raise money for these types of new product releases and other cool stuff that the outer ring of people would contribute to. But I think you really need a million visitors a month to, in order to really get traction with that. Especially in that case, obviously the 5% fees that Kickstarter charges are peanuts compared to the 100 or 1,000 extra people that will actually buy the product.

Jürgen:
If you do get that traction, you’re right.

Rob:
Exactly

Jürgen:
Alright then – this has been fascinating. I really, really like the way you’ve approached this and the plans you’ve got for the future. So, I think it’s time we moved on to our innovation round, which I call the Buzz. So, it’s designed to help our audience who are primarily innovators and leaders in their field with some tips from your experience, based on what you’ve done in putting together these three crowdfunding platforms that you’ve described to us. So, I’m going to ask a series of five questions, and hopefully you’ll give us some really insightful answers that’s going to inspire everyone and help them do something awesome.

Rob:
Excellent

Jürgen:
So, what the #1 thing you think anyone needs to do to be more innovative?

Rob:
I think it is talking to customers. Always keeping that intimacy with the customers and wanting to solve problems that they see in the most effective manner.

Jürgen:
That’s a great answer. Great advice! What’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas?

Rob:
Probably iterating, and iterating with the customers and getting their feedback. Learning about what they don’t like about the platform, yet learning about how they entered the website, which pages they visit after that, and the overall flow of users through the platform.

Jürgen:
Okay, so learning, again, the customer is the theme here, isn’t it, learning what they need and how you can improve the product to make it easier for them to use.

Rob:
Exactly, I think a business should always revolve around the customer, shouldn’t it?

Jürgen:
Yes, amazing that a lot don’t though – what’s your favorite tool or system for allowing you to be more innovative?

Rob:
Probably, Google Analytics – I love what they’ve done, just making that amazing tracking platform available for everyone to use, up to a certain level of traffic. It’s all free, and you can … If you get good at Google Analytics, you can really get a lot of insight from how the customers visit your platform and how the user flow goes on your platform. And I think that a lot of people don’t value the free tools that are out there to use, where you can effectively get information from hundreds of visitors of your platform without actually having to interview them in person, just by looking at where they click and how long they stay on certain pages and things like that.

Jürgen:
It is a pretty amazing tool, isn’t it. I think one of the big issues with Google Analytics for the general website owners is that there’s just so much there and they get overwhelmed and they don’t really understand how to use it. So, it does, as you say, it does provide mountains of data about what’s going on your website and what people are doing. But unless you’ve structured the website in a way to actually capture and understand that data, and unless you’ve set up goals and tracking mechanisms within analytics, it tends to be a little overwhelming and it tends to be hard to actually figure out what does it mean.

Rob:
For sure – I definitely agree with that. Obviously, Google has a couple of good video lessons on how to use analytics, and I would definitely recommend for listeners to follow, to take those, if they’re not familiar with them yet. And the other thing is, keep talking to fellow entrepreneurs because everyone uses their tools in a different way, and I have to say, I recently went back to the Netherlands and I spoke to one of my good friends, D.J., and he gave me so many good lessons about Google Analytics and the dashboards you can create there, and also just in general the tools that you can use online for free, especially regarding SEO search engine optimization is critical, obviously, for getting that user to your website in the first place.

Jürgen:
Alright, so, what’s the best way you think to keep a project on track?

Rob:
The best way to keep a project on track is to set milestones and to have the discipline to keep working on it. Really, that is, I believe, critical to keep going. I mean, I call myself a weak entrepreneur because I have a full-time job during the week. There’s 168 hours in the week, and there’s 40 to 60 or so, sometimes 80 that I have to work on my regular job. But by setting milestones, clear milestones and figuring out when you want and need to have things done, it really helps in keeping the momentum going on the development side.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice. And also it breaks things down, doesn’t it. It makes it more manageable.

Rob:
For sure, yep. That too.

Jürgen:
Alright, and what do you think is the #1 thing anyone can do to differentiate themselves?

Rob:
Um, the #1 thing to differentiate yourself, I guess, first of all – learn about your competitors. Learn about what your competitors do, and really explore their platforms in great detail. So, I mean this is true for crowdfunding, but it’s true for many other businesses out there, is basically create an account and go through the entire process of becoming a customer to that platform or almost becoming a customer so that you can get a full taste of what it’s like on that platform, and think about how you would like or dislike some of the things that you see. And really the rest of it is just, again, iterating with the customer on making sure that your website or platform is the best one out there, and it’s the most user-friendly of all the competitors that are in your space.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice. And I know, there’s probably another adjunct to that and that’s get some good friends or good mentors or good advisors to do that for your own platform or your own website or product and then give you feedback and say hey, this could be better or this experience wasn’t all that satisfactory; you know, you might want to think about improving that part.

Rob:
Cool.

Jürgen:
Alright, well, this has been really great. I really appreciate your time, Rob. So, what’s the future for CoverrMe and for Divvy because we parked Divvy as you have done apparently on the journey, so I’m interested to hear what the future is for that and where you’re headed.

Rob:
I’ll start out with Divvy – I’m working with a friend of mine to reinvent the business model. As I mentioned before, there are some very strict laws, securities laws, in the U.S. that prevent people from raising money on an investment basis. But we came up with a new type of business model which would actually allow that legally, which is very similar to the Airbnb business model where you’re, in our case, buying a solar panel and then renting out your solar panel to a project like on a school’s rooftop or something like that. And Divvy would act as the entity that sits in between the host of the project and the actual funders of the project. So, that’s something I’m pretty excited about, combining that crowdfunding interest that I have with my love for solar energy. And then on the CoverrMe side, like I mentioned, I’m working on those two things to improve the platform, changing the payment system, and also working on the project gateway. And hopefully … one of my good friends is getting married soon, so I’ve convinced him to start a new project on the platform to raise money for his wedding or honeymoon, and hopefully I can get some one-on-one feedback from him, from a person in my inner circle in this case.

Jürgen:
That’s great. So we might talk about Divvy in years to come in the same way as Airbnb and Uber, right. So Airbnb, the biggest hotel company in the world that doesn’t own a hotel, so Divvy could be the biggest energy company in the world that doesn’t have any energy assets.

Rob:
Exactly, that would be interesting.

Jürgen:
Alright, so finally then, what’s the #1 piece of advice you’d give to any business owner who wants to be a leader in innovation?

Rob:
Keep learning. Always keep learning, and what I really, really enjoy is those websites out there that bring people together locally, so websites like MeetUp where you can join the groups in your local area who are interested in, for example, web development or are interested in solar energy, and just meet up with those people and learn as you go from. Surround yourself with the smartest people possible, and learn everything there is to know about the industry you’re in.

Jürgen:
Great advice! And I really like that; I laughed a little bit because when I finish this, I’m heading off to do a presentation to a networking group. And at the end I’m finishing off with a quote which is Dr. Seuss, and it’s the more that you read, the more you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

Rob:
The more you learn and the more you learn that you don’t know, right?

Jürgen:
Exactly!

Rob:
It’s good to know that there are so many things out there that you don’t know yet.

Jürgen:
I think that was Einstein, wasn’t it. He said the more that I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, and the more I realize I don’t know, the more I want to learn.

Rob:
Exactly – a vicious cycle, but it’s a good one.

Jürgen:
Alright, well, where can people reach out and say thank you for sharing all this information with us?

Rob:
You can connect to us via Twitter, Facebook, or you can check out our website where we have all the links available, so that’s coverrme.com, with C-O-V-E-R-R, it’s with two Rs.

Jürgen:
That’s right, with two Rs.

Rob:
And otherwise, I think my email address is on that website as well, so you can just reach out to me by email if you have any more questions.

Jürgen:
Well, we’ll post all of those links in the show notes of the episode anyway, so people can just click through. Finally, I always ask this question at the end of the podcast. Who would you like to see me or hear me interview on a future podcast?

Rob:
Elon Musk.

Jürgen:
Oh fantastic! I’ve been trying to get him but I don’t know how to get connected to Elon; that’s the only problem. But Elon, if you’re listening to this, I would absolutely love to have you on this podcast. It would be an absolute privilege. I won’t even ask you why you say that because I think that’s a natural fit for your background with the solar energy and your project on the solar journey.

Rob:
For sure.

Jürgen:
So, you don’t have any connections to him, do you?

Rob:
No; not at the moment at least. But who knows, maybe in a near future, I do, and then I’ll highly recommend your podcast for listening and participating.

Jürgen:
Thanks very much. I appreciate that. So, thanks for sharing your time with us today, Rob. I really appreciate it. And, it’s exciting to see some new things happening and people bringing background and innovation and learning, and studies in innovation to practical application, so I really enjoyed that and I enjoyed talking to you today. So, thanks.

Rob:
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Jürgen:
All the best for the future of CoverrMe and the Divvy project and also in your career and maybe we can touch base again on the podcast in a little while to see how things are progressing.

Rob:
Thanks a lot and I’ve really been enjoying listening to your podcast, so keep up the good work.

Jürgen:
Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

Rob:
Alright

Jürgen:
Bye.

Rob:
Take care. Bye-bye.

Wrap Up:
Well I hope you enjoyed meeting Rob as much as I enjoyed interviewing him. He was very generous in sharing his business model and approach for CoverrMe.com with us and gave plenty of ideas to help other entrepreneurs.

All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/robvanhaaren, that is R-O-B-V-A-N-H-A-A-R-E-N, all lowercase, all one word, innovabiz.com.au/robvanhaaren, for all of the links and everything we spoke about in this episode .

Rob suggested I interview Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX on a future InnovaBuzz podcast. Elon, we’d love to have you on the podcast, so keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast, courtesy of Rob van Haaren!

Thank you to our listeners for being here. We’d love you to review this podcast, because reviews help us get found and your feedback helps us improve. You can do that on iTunes or Stitcher and while you’re there, please subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode.

Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.

Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!

Listen to the Podcast

Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is a transformational marketing strategist, podcaster, speaker, the chief innovator and founder of Innovabiz who partner with innovative, exceptional business coaches and consultants to enable you to acquire more leads and more business by reaching your ideal target prospects with your message, so that you will achieve growth and be able to make a difference to more ideal clients. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, as well as on Innovabiz' Twitter, Facebook, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Tales of Marketing Transformation Show and his personal Photography website.

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