Cathie Anderson: Webconnex now thrives in niche it resisted

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 - 7:39 am

Eric Knopf listened. Well, eventually, he listened.

For several years, more than 200 nonprofits and businesses called upon Knopf to provide the electronic tools needed to succeed in the online world. The only thing he wouldn't do was e-commerce.

At least that's what he told Calvary Chapel and the Not for Sale Campaign when they asked him to create a way to manage online giving.

"It just gets so nerdy and so technical, and so we said, 'We can't help you,' " Knopf said. "They continued to look for other solutions, but they came back and said, 'Can you think about building something for us?' "

Knopf surrendered in 2008. He created the software, bought server space, obtained security certificates and handled other aspects of e-commerce that can burden small businesses.

"The two organizations started using this little piece of software, and in the first couple of months they raised about $100,000 through it," he said.

The young entrepreneur, then 26, knew he had something special.

The application's popularity grew by word of mouth to the point where Knopf needed to focus on it full time. He handed over the reins on his Web branding firm, Vision Launchers, to an occasional collaborator, Russell Breton. Knopf then began nurturing the new venture, dubbed Webconnex.

The two businesses share an office suite, pingpong table and hammock on Sacramento's Capitol Mall.

Today, more than 2,000 companies and nonprofits – including Toyota, Gap, Fleet Feet, The Salvation Army – have processed more than $100 million in transactions on Webconnex.

You can watch contributions flow in at webconnex.com.

Lost in translation

Webconnex started with online giving. Then Knopf showed it to John Russell, a Southern California mentor, who asked: "Couldn't we use this for someone who was paying for a conference? Paying for a camp? Signing up for a ticket?"

Russell, an experienced event manager, thought promoters would love Webconnex. Yet it did not take off until 2010, the year Knopf finally realized that conference organizers and race promoters don't speak the same language.

Originally, he used one general Webconnex registration form but then began experimenting with custom formats. He created RegFox for conferences, ticketspice for online ticketing, GivingFuel for online donations and RedPodium for race entries.

"When we talk about (conferences or retreats), we talk about registration fees, attendees, name badges …, " he said. "People who are doing conferences and retreats are different than the people doing ticketing for Star Trek conventions, blues festivals, pingpong tournaments, zombie conferences. … On ticketing, we talk about bar codes. We talk about scanners. When they hear that, they get it."

Webconnex experienced hockey stick growth, doubling in size each year from 2010-2012, Knopf said. Next year, he expects his client list to grow by 80 percent.

Using a secret weapon

Over at Fleet Feet Sports, race directors Kim Parrino and Chad Worthen keep the retailer's name on runners' lips by organizing varied events.

Over the course of a year, the Free Holiday Classic, the Shamrock'n Half Marathon, Let's ROC (Run for Ovarian Cancer) and other events bring thousands of potential customers into the store for race packet pick-up.

The customers' first contact, however, will be their online registration. Parrino said she's tried Active.com and other online companies, but she prefers Webconnex's RedPodium. It's not simply because the price is right ($19 a month, plus 89 cents a registrant).

"Webconnex gives us a lot more autonomy in terms of what we can do in making changes," she said. "We can put in coupons or special offers from our sponsors, and if I have an issue or glitch that I can't figure out, I can call Webconnex up and get automatic help."

Unlike many online registration companies, the race entrants' info and payments go directly to event organizers. The promoters then pay Webconnex.

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Read more articles by Cathie Anderson





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