I’m always on the lookout for cool startups. Partly because I’m addicted to new Web properties, but also because I think there’s a lot to be learned from their stories. One startup that’s grabbed my attention over the past few months has been Knowem.com, a site designed by Michael Streko and Barry Wise to thwart social media identify theft.
More and more I’ve been stumbling across stores like this one from StartupNation that shows just how important a tool like knowem can be to a small business owner in protecting their online brand. To find out more about it, I decided to contact Michael Streko, a small business owner who now spends his days helping other small business owners.
Hey, Michael! Mandatory business question out of the way: How did knowem.com come to be and why is it important?
KnowEm.com was a spin off of a site that I owned called CheckUsernames.com. Late February  a similar site closed its doors, so myself and my partner Barry Wise saw it as an opportunity to open a similar service. We made some improvements on the original concept and launched. The idea was simple, giving people a way to see if their brand, user name or company name was available across 120 popular social media sites. Almost instantly, we started to get requests for a service that would actually register your name on all of the sites. So the idea for KnowEm was born.
Despite the economy, you left your day job to focus on knowem.com. How did you know it was time to do that? How did you prepare for the transition?
It was a classic Hail Mary play and launched totally out of pocket. I already had established Web properties that were bringing me in enough revenue that I was still able to support my family, but I had a feeling inside that this would be a hit. So, I just went for it.
Is it true 24/7 is the new 9/5? How many people are associated with knowem today?
Yes. With running a .com startup in this economy, that’s how you have to treat it. We started off as a team of three: Myself, Barry & a friend of ours; Rick. Since then we have grown to employ an additional six people and are currently in the process of hiring two more.
There is no customer support group and we don’t have a sales team, so we needed to be sure to handle every situation with care. When we get a phone call about customer support people still find it funny that they are speaking to one of the owners. Its things like that that keep our customers happy and make them return customers. I have been known to answer support emails at 2:30 am on a Tuesday.
Let’s talk a bit about how the Web has changed the game for small business owners. How have you used the Internet and social media to get the word out about your startup? It seems like I’m constantly hearing about knowem.
We started off with a press release from PRWeb that was picked up by Fox News, The Washington Post, CNET and some other mainstream news sites. From there, we basically pushed hard onto Twitter with @knowem. We looked for people on Twitter that we thought would benefit from a service like knowem and we reached out to them. Once they saw the service, they were impressed and retweeted the site URL to their friends. It snowballed from there. Twitter seems to be the largest way to get your business to the masses right now. Don’t be afraid to communicate with people on the site.
We also heavily used LinkedIn to find businesses that would be interested in our services.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a SMB owner?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that you’ll get back from your business what you put into it. You’re tired and don’t feel like working – you might miss a deal or opportunity. Don’t feel like putting in that extra hour at night because your favorite TV show is on? Get TiVo
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a new SMB owner?
Definitely managing employees. I have always been employed by others and never had to sit on the other side of the table and actually manage people myself. We had some kinks in our team at the very beginning, but we were able to work them all out. To be fair, I was probably partially to blame for them. This was all new to me, but things are running smooth now.
What’s the most satisfying thing about running your own business?
The fact that I am home when my son wakes up and here when he goes to bed – I used to spend four hours a day (two each way) commuting into NYC. My family has always been my top priority and everything I have done in my career I have had them in mind and wanted to give them the best life possible.
How can other small business owners benefit from what knowem.com offers?
Security and branding. We will make sure that your name is not misrepresented on a large list of social media sites and also introduce you to social media and Web 2.0 related sites that you might not have known existed. It’s about creating a consistent brand and then managing it across the Web.
Any advice to aspiring SMB owners who may be hesitant to jump? What type of businesses should people be focusing on right now?
I won’t lie – jumping was tough and made me nervous as hell. But I had a hustle in me that would not let me fail. The cushy paycheck and health insurance kept me from doing so for a while. But I wanted more – no one gets rich working for someone else.
As for a type of business someone should be focusing on, it depends. What are you trying to reach and is there a need for it? Use your judgment and run with it.
Thanks so much, Michael. Some awesome words of advice and wisdom from someone who’s been there. If you haven’t checked out knowem.com give it a look. It’s one of the best online reputation management tools available to small business owners on the Web.