Small businesses are always looking for ways to save money while also trying to grow through advertising. It makes sense that an opportunity exists to marry those two imperatives, and that a company would come along to take advantage of that opportunity.
I had the chance to interview James Bender, the CEO and co-founder of Stiddle, an AI-powered digital advertising and CRM platform for small businesses. In promising to cut costs and connect businesses with audiences that convert into sales, James and his team are certainly meeting a need for small businesses, especially at a time when businesses are trying to reemerge from the pandemic with tighter margins and smaller budgets.
It’s also worth noting that James has accomplished this at eighteen years old, making him yet another impressive young entrepreneur. And like his peers that I’ve spoken to, it’s great to get the perspective of someone coming into the world of startups with fresh eyes and enthusiasm.
Mary Juetten: First some background.
James Bender: Stiddle was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area with our team in Silicon Valley and San Francisco Area. I founded Stiddle with my co-founder, Charis Zhang, in March of 2020, during the beginning of COVID-19.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Bender: Stiddle is solving the problem of accessibility and affordability of ads for small businesses to advertise and market themselves online against larger competition for a fraction of the price.
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Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Bender: Our customers consist of mom and pop shops, restaurants, retail, e-commerce, and marketing agencies.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Bender: At fifteen years old, I started a marketing agency in San Francisco, helping small, local, and online businesses with their online marketing, advertising, and website development. As I grew in size, I pivoted to working with slightly larger businesses with a larger budget. Not much later, I quickly realized many of the smaller companies I had helped grow could no longer afford my services. Due to this, I founded Stiddle as an alternative for small businesses to market and advertise themselves online with minimal technical knowledge and budget.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Bender: Our current team consists of over 20 talented software engineers, marketers, and content creators.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Bender: Yes, we have raised funding from private angel investors and VCs.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Bender: My favorite startup story is the story of Airbnb. I admire the long hours, creativity, and lack of technical knowledge Brian Chesky had when creating Airbnb. I find it incredibly motivating and creative that Brian had raised the initial funding to start Airbnb by selling Obama O’s, a cereal box.
Juetten: How do you measure success, and what is your favorite success story?
Bender: I measure success as the ability to create, grow, and maintain a sustainable level of knowledge, personal satisfaction, and the ability to make a positive impact among one’s community. My favorite success story is the story of Richard Montañez, the founder of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I find Montañez’s story to be one of the most incredible and unique success stories for two reasons: he was raised in a California migrant labor camp with ten siblings, and two, he was able to go from working as a member of the janitorial staff to an inventor of one of the most sought-after snacks.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
Bender: My biggest tip to other young entrepreneurs is that there is no better time to start than the present. If you’re looking to start a company and have an idea, just go for it, don’t procrastinate, and be the most productive you possibly can. I often suggest to young founders not to spend all their time in meetings, alternatively keep your most prioritized discussions for the morning and limit them to 15 minutes – most meetings can be compacted within this span. I suggest spending your time setting up the infrastructure for your startup, making sure you have the best product, customer service, and marketing.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Bender: The long-term vision for Stiddle is to be the absolute easiest, all-in-one advertising solution for all businesses, no matter the size or industry, automating high-scale results online at the lowest cost possible. I genuinely believe Stiddle will be the easiest way to simplify digital marketing while making online advertising accessible and affordable for all businesses.
Thank you to James for sharing his story with me. His advice about seizing the initiative rather than procrastinating is something entrepreneurs of all ages should take to heart. Also, personally I have found that during the pandemic, the notion of a quick call or chat to solve something has fallen by the wayside. Instead we all book endless Zoom or Teams meetings that are all at least thirty minutes and seem to expand to fill the full time slot. My new mantra is that meetings should be fifteen minutes also! #onwards.