Just because you run a business online does not give you an excuse to ignore your customers. Olark offers a tool that can help you connect with your customers, even if you cannot see them face to face. Their real-time chat tool allows you to connect with your customers via instant messenger, and installation is as easy as entering some code into your website. It’s never been easier to stay connected.

I recently spoke with Ben Congleton, the CEO of Olark, about his business and how it can help entrepreneurs.

Tell us a little about Olark.

Olark is a super easy to use live chat product that helps businesses connect with their customers and sell more online. There are people on your website right now, with Olark you can talk to them, learn more about your customers, and increase your sales. Our customers include big names like Zappos and Shopify, as well as 1000s of small ecommerce websites.

How does it work?

We focus on making live chat super simple. Customers chat with you using a simple floating box on your website. Their messages appear inside your normal chat program (i.e. iChat, Gtalk, etc). When you are not online, your customers can leave you a message, or you hide our chat box entirely, so that customers only see it when your available.

Our customers have reported huge increases in conversion rate for the customer they talk to as well as great customer service benefits. Basically, we help you build relationships with your customers, and make more money.

What inspired it?

Prior to Olark, Roland (one of my Cofounders) and I ran a webhosting company. We tried out every possible live chat solution, but nothing worked for us. They were either too bulky or required that we sit on a web-page to monitor chats. We really wanted to connect with our customers over live chat, but the products in the marketplace just didn’t work for us.

Who might benefit the most from using Olark?

Basically, if you have a website, and your trying to sell something online you should give Olark a try. It will amaze you how much you can learn by just talking to the people who are coming to your website. It will also amaze you how much your conversion rate goes up for customers that you talk to. For ecommerce sites we found that visitors who order after talking to a representative on Olark, spend on average 47% more, than those who never chat.

What separates you from the competition?

We are super easy to use. We are committed to being the easiest way to add live chat to your website.

We are incredibly customer centric. You will not find another live chat company where every employee is required to do support on top of their normal requirements. From the CEO a technical intern, every one takes a turn supporting our customers.

What are some goals you hope to accomplish over the next year or so?

We want to help more companies sell better online with live chat. Live chat is incredibly powerful when used correctly, right now the majority of our customers are small ecommerce sites and web startups, but it is still just a small fraction of the web sites online. We want to help more small businesses succeed online.

What are some lessons your own business has taught you?

There are so many. I’ll definitely try to boil down more in a future post.

Talk to your customers – whether it’s email, twitter, or live chat the better you understand your customers the more successful you will be.

Hire only the best – bringing on employees is really expensive, it will probably take 3 months before a technical employee will really understand how to work in your company. It is worth it to spend time up front making sure that person is a good fit. We try to hire our employees as contractors before making full time offers.

Take vacations – your goal should be to work towards a situation where anyone in your company can take vacation without your company catching on fire. Both because everyone need a break from time to time, and because it increases your “bus factor” — the chance your company will continue if someone gets hit by a bus.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Really appreciate your blog, good work there, lots of neat business ideas too. I think of Olark as enabling others to create new businesses online. Both by supporting new business ideas, and lowering the barrier to adding live chat to new applications. For example if you were a software development firm that did real-estate websites you could use our API to tailor Olark to be the best real-time engagement solution for Realtors. Someone could do the same for car dealers, or insurance salespeople, so many options 🙂

Any advice you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneurs that are just getting started?

Everyone always says about the same thing, have a good name, a good team, focus on customers, focus on product market fit, blah blah blah. My one nugget of advice is to focus on one thing and do it VERY well. It is easy to come up with ideas, and do them 80% of the way. Pick one idea, and stick with it, bring it to it’s conclusion before trying to expand your company’s scope. A good example, might be to focus on building say — keynote before building MS powerpoint, before building MS Office Suite. Whatever you are doing, focus on nailing it, before moving on to the next idea — as entrepreneurs we are always thinking about the next startup, make sure you spend enough time on your current startup to get to where you need to go.

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