What initially began as a desire to help his friends build websites has now blossomed into a startup with a booming international presence for Doodlekit co-founder Ben Kittrell.
And it took gaining thousands of users a month to give Kittrell a wake-up call that it was time to refocus on a business he often let run itself.
“The thing with the software-as-a-service business is you can go for months without thinking about it, aside for some support,” Kittrell said. “So there have been months where it wasn’t the top thing on my mind.”
Kittrell said that Doodlekit — a self-service website builder for small businesses — launched in 2006 to alleviate the numerous requests from friends he and co-founder Heath Huffman received to design websites.
Within two years, Doodlekit was fielding support tickets from around the world, according to Kittrell. Techcrunch had published an article about the company that helped catalyze an international user base, prompting new services that catered to a global audience.
“I looked at our stats and realized that we had 10,000 people signing up a month.” – Ben Kittrell
“I looked at our stats and realized that we had 10,000 people signing up a month.”
– Ben Kittrell
They quickly configured the platform’s software to accommodate websites in 10 languages, including Spanish, Japanese, French and German. Like much of Doodlekit’s maintenance, Kittrell describes the process as something the company “put a lot of effort into once, and then didn’t really have to keep up with” after.
Although the platform was growing a small-business customer base, Kittrell said the relatively low-maintenance demands led him to spend weeks at a time focusing on other endeavours.
That was until a wakeup call about eight years later.
“During one of those periods where I wasn’t really paying attention to the business, I looked at our stats and realized that we had 10,000 people signing up a month,” Kittrell said. “I was like, ‘Maybe we should do something with that.’”
Today, 25 percent of the more than 300,000 Doodlekit-built websites — or about 75,000 sites — have been created by international clients.
That international business success not only increased Doodlekit’s revenue, but also snagged it an award from the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. In May, the chamber awarded Doodlekit the International Small Business of the Year award, which commends area businesses that have found success abroad.
“Feeding off the energy of Kansas City has been really important to me for refocusing on the business.”
– Ben Kittrell
Kittrell said that the award is in part thanks to KCSourceLink’s ScaleUp! program and Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community. ScaleUp! is an intensive four-month program that helps Kansas City area business owners take their firms past $1 million in revenue through specialized curriculum, coaching and networking.
“That’s what led me to this whole journey of learning about the business side,” Kittrell said. “I started to think more how we can take it beyond just a cool product that a lot of people are using and really make it something that’s got a bigger market share.”
Reminiscing on trying to find similar connections and resources a decade ago, Kittrell said the area entrepreneurial community has significantly changed for the better. In addition to more resources, Kittrell said that a more unified community has helped his firm grow.
“The startup community didn’t even exist for the first half of our business’s life,” he said. “We didn’t really even care where we were headquartered because within a couple years we were already in international business. But now, with this community, it’s become more important to me to establish a presence within Kansas City and learn from the community. It’s helped me find mentors and friends and peers. Feeding off the energy of Kansas City has been really important to me for refocusing on the business.”