Tank (Withtank.com) is a very cool South African start-up with a remarkable sitebuilding tool offering entrepreneurs and creatively inclined web users a way to get a website without much of the costs usually associated with doing so. Alan Alston, one of the founders, chatted with Mark about his dream to keep the Web simple and easy, how it’s maxing out his credit card and what cool features and partners he plans adding in the near future.
Mark: How did you come up with the concept for Tank (www.withtank.com)?
Alan: It’s not as much as a concept as it was one of those ‘scratching your own itch’ things: we were annoyed by the way one builds websites, and wanted a better way to do things.
Mark: How are you financing the initiative?
Alan: We’ve bootstrapped all the way: been living on maxed-out credit cards and bond accounts for some time now.
Mark: Your revenue comes only form user upgrades?
Alan: We do custom design and build too, to boost our income and to focus our efforts. The following sites are all examples of us designing and building ‘custom skins’ for specific clients, hooked up to our app:
* Golf Data – www.golfdata.co.za
* Adato – www.adato.co.za
* Whatiftheworld – www.whatiftheworld.com
Mark: What % of your users upgrade for extra services & tools?
Alan: Our conversion rate is much higher than we expected: more than that would be telling!
Mark: Any new features planned for the new future?
Alan: Our features are loosely tied to simplistic data-types: so far we’ve deployed pages (for pages), posts (for blogs/journals) and photos (for galleries/albums). We are playing with a new 4th data-type called
‘pods’: “the list of things you’ve always wanted in a list of things”. We’ll be using that to enable showcases, profile sections, support and FAQ sections: that type of thing. There is talk about the 5th data-type too: ‘products’ – and I’m sure you can imagine that would entail.
Mark: You have an ethos. Very Fast Company of you! Tell us more.
Alan: The simplicity-aspect of what we do has cottoned on, and struck a chord with many people. Think about it from the end-user point of view: server specs are Greek to them. Hosting sounds like trouble. Installing and customising a web application on a shared server, just in order to ‘manage content’? Forget about it. They want their web presence to offer the same simplicity and utility as email; it just works.
I reckon our ethos has been central to what we are trying to do: changing the love-hate relationship many people have had with their websites.
Mark: Mainstream hosting companies are also launching sitebuilders. How will this affect your business model?
Alan: True, we have seen hosting companies playing in this field: what I haven’t seen are the sites they are building – have you? I think any hosting company would fare better if they rather consider partnering with us as opposed to attempting to enter the sitebuilder market ‘on their own’. We have quite interesting ‘partner technology’ that we’re keen to try out should the right partner approach us.
Besides that I think it’s a question of positioning: hosting companies traditionally deal with developers (as hosting isn’t that consumer friendly). We deal directly with end-users so I think there is a lot more empathy for the user when it comes to our offering.
We try and understand the market from a designer point-of-view, and choose to work with and enable designers as opposed to trying to displace them from the market. Again it boils down to positioning: we give designers ‘skins’ (or ‘frameworks’) to build sites with: tapping into the ‘design is a process’ notion, other sitebuilders offer ‘themes’ and attempt to establish the ‘design is a choice’ notion.
Mark: I noticed that you only offer Google Analytics (a free service) to upgraded users. Do you think it’s wise when people really would want to see what kind of traffic the micro-site generates before they push money into it?
Alan: I think this might be a chicken-and-egg argument – we find our users choose to upgrade to their own domain before marketing and measuring their sites. Either way: it’s relevant feedback and something we’ll look at addressing.
Mark: You have a showcase on your site and the Tank built sites you feature are pretty impressive. Is targeting creative part of your unique selling proposition?
Alan: I think that just happened along the way, and we’ve found ourselves gearing up towards the more creative user. I think that’s a good thing on two levels: we enable them to build better sites for themselves, and they are always keen to help a friend to with his or her own site.
Mark: Some of your users won’t have the tools to create a really stunning site (like the ones in your showcase). Do you think it could be a future service offering where you create sites using Withthank.com on their behalf?
Alan: Instead of offering this as a service ourselves we are finding many designers are ‘picking up our app and running with it’: using our content-management system and their design ethos to roll out sites for their clients. It’s a win-win situation: we are enabling designers to build sites for their client base without the usual headaches involved in building and managing a website. They get to focus on design: their clients get to focus on content, and we do the heavy lifting in the background.
For instance: www.hawkeyes.co.za and www.cafemax.co.za were designed and built by one designer, www.pieterhugo.com, www.tique.co.za, www.oliverkruger.co.za and www.ulricaknutsdotter.com were designed and built by another, and www.blackadamhere.com by another.
We’d much rather be focusing on enabling and nurturing these ‘power-users’ further than trying to compete with them in the design realm.
Mark: What’s the best thing of working on an app like Tank?
Alan: Getting feedback like this:
“I have been searching for a CMS like this for years – as a web designer I’m always being asked to implement some sort of CMS in most of my client’s sites and I have been struggling to find a good solution. A lot of the sites I do don’t warrant a full blown CMS just the basic features offered by Tank. Implementing something like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal is usually overkill for me, and confuses the hell out of clients.”
Mark on Tank. Check it out!
Thanks again for the opportunity – I enjoyed the interview.
Till next time,
Comments are closed.