Jewel Burks’ experience working at Google led her to co-found PartPic, a company making it easier for people to find product information by taking a picture of a part. That itself is a full time job — and one that has seen the company recognized by TechCrunch and Accenture as an enterprise disruptive technology. But even as she leads the company’s efforts in pioneering visual search technology, she also is a Google Entrepreneur-in-Residence focused on helping small businesses get found online.
I spoke with Jewel before her featured presentation during Intuit’s Quickbooks Connect stop in Atlanta. She shared how her experiences working at Google helped lead her to co-founding PartPic, and a few important things SMBs should be doing in order to build a more compelling online presence.
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Small Business Trends: Give us a little bit of your personal background.
Jewel Burks: I am originally from Nashville, Tennessee. I went to Howard University in D.C. and shortly after that moved out to California to start my career working in enterprise sales at Google for a couple years, before getting a little homesick and wanting to move back to the south. So, I moved to Atlanta a little over three years ago, and totally switched industries and began to work in parts distribution for a large industrial distributor.
And I got this idea that part search is really tough, and was very difficult for our customers. So I wanted to bring what I have learned at Google in terms of having a technological lens on everything to this multi-billion dollar industry, but pretty antiquated as it relates to technology. So that’s really how the idea for PartPic came about.
Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about what PartPic does and how it helps your customers help their customers.
Jewel Burks: PartPic is visual search for replacement parts. We’ve built computer-vision technology that can extract features from a parts image. We’re specifically focused on things like nails, bolts, screws, washers – so more industrial parts at this point. We’ll be moving into automotive and electrical later – probably next year.
We built this computer-vision technology that can, essentially from an image of a part, detect exactly what that part is down to a part number. And we are licensing that technology to distributors, manufacturers and retailers to put inside their mobile apps and on their websites. And the idea there is that people won’t have to struggle to find the parts they’re looking for. They can just have a picture of something they want to replace, and we can tell them exactly what it is.
Really, we’re just making our customers look good because their customers don’t have to struggle with finding things they need anymore.
Small Business Trends: But you also help businesses get found online.
Jewel Burks: I do have a role with Google where I help business owners leverage the power of the web. We’re understanding now that 90 percent of all purchases are researched – either researched and then take place online. And so in order for a business to be successful today, you have to have a really great web presence, and you have to know how to get people to you – whether it’s a website, your social media channels – and that takes work. It’s not just “turn it on” and hope for the best. It takes some skill and some tips that you can apply. And that’s really what my job is, to help business owners understand what they can do to grow their business, utilizing online resources.
Small Business Trends: Talk about how they’re doing that from a global perspective, and how different is it to make sure it’s easy to get found on mobile device versus just on the Web.
Jewel Burks: I mentioned that 90 percent number, and what we’re seeing now is the majority of that traffic is coming from mobile devices – so cell phones and tablets. Gone are the days where people are carrying around big, bulky laptops or just doing all their work on a desktop. People are using their mobile devices to make these same purchasing decisions. And there’s a huge aspect of local in that. So when people are in your neighborhood where your business is, you want them to be able to find you.
And while local and mobile are buzz words, they’re actually super important to the success of business these days. So, I talk about how you can make your website mobile friendly. How you can optimize for mobile so people have a really great experience when they see your site. And those are, again, super important to growing business online.
Small Business Trends: What about maybe helping people understand the difference between making your site mobile optimized versus doing a mobile app?
Jewel Burks: That’s a really great question, and I get that a lot. I’d say probably 75 percent of the time, a mobile site is fine. You don’t need to have a mobile app. The investment of building a mobile app for the average business really isn’t worth it. It depends on your business. You have to evaluate it for yourself. But typically a really clean, easy-to-use mobile site will serve the purpose for the majority of businesses.
Sometimes if you go into developing a mobile app and you’re going to spend a lot of time and money and resources on something that’s not going to have a huge step-jump in the success of your business. It takes some evaluation on what is it that you want to achieve. What do you want people to be able to do when they land on your mobile site or your app? And understanding also, there’s so much competition as it relates to app. People use a core of 10 apps typically on their phone. They might have downloaded 100, but the ones that get the daily use are a set 10. So do you want to compete with that, or do you want to give the resources to a mobile-friendly site.
Small Business Trends: You mentioned a key word, competition. Businesses are forced to compete with other folks that are trying to hit their target audience. As they begin to do the things that you teach folks, how long does it take for them to start seeing some results?
Jewel Burks: That really depends. I think a lot of people go into all of this and they think it’s going to just be an instantaneous; money’s flooding in because of these changes. But it really does take time. It takes understanding the metrics associated with each of these small changes you might make. That’s why I’m a really big advocate for analytics. Google Analytics, obviously, is great. And it helps people make more informed decisions about the changes that they’re making on their website. What’s actually making an impact and what isn’t. And so I really encourage people to follow those pieces and understanding the whole picture of what can actually impact their business over time. And understanding it is an effort that can take place over time. It’s not going to just be a one-day…
Small Business Trends: Not a Hail Mary.
Jewel Burks: Yeah.
Small Business Trends: Well, what are some of the metrics that you really key in on that they can pay attention to and track over time?
Jewel Burks: I really want people to understand, when it comes to their site, what is your call to action? What do you actually want people to do when they get to your site? Are you wanting them to purchase on your site? Are you wanting them to give you a call? Are you wanting them to come to your location? Whatever that is that you want people to do, you’re going to want to put conversion tracking against that particular call to action. And so those are the type of metrics that are going to make a difference in your business.
Site visits are great. You want to get eyes on your site so that you can view those calls to action. But the most important thing is how does this visit correlate to money in my pocket – at least that’s the most important thing to me. So you want to make sure that the call to action on your site is super clear. They don’t have to scroll through and see your bio and you’re picture before they get to the call to action. You want them to see call me now, or buy now, whatever it is, right there at the top of your site.
Small Business Trends: Is there a big difference between somebody who has an e-commerce site and optimization versus somebody who has maybe more of an offline business that they’re using their website to convert folks to come in.
Jewel Burks: There are certainly things that you can do and things you’re going to keep in mind that are going to be a little bit different from e-commerce versus more of an information site. But that key element of whatever the call to action is being very clear and above the fold, rings true across both. If you’re looking at e-commerce, there are a lot of really great templatized or helper select – like Shopify for example – that can help you in building those sites and making them really clean and easy for people to navigate.
And also things like the images you use. If you’re selling clothes online for example, that makes a big difference. You want to make sure that the images are clean and crisp and make people actually want to buy. And then as it relates to more of the offline businesses, people sometimes think well I have a brick and mortar so maybe the website isn’t as important. That’s not true. The website is the new billboard, is the new phone book. Whatever people were previously using to find businesses, that is what online is now. So you really have to make the investment in a great website as well. Even if your business is offline.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about your company – PartPic – and also some of the things that we just talked about?
Jewel Burks: Sure. So I’ll give you lots of hashtags and ats. So I can be found @jewelmelanie on social media. More information about growing your business online, you can follow @excelwithgoogle and use the hashtag #acceleratewithgoogle. And you can also follow @acceleratewithgoogle on Google+ for lots of tips and tricks. And also join the small business community, Google Small Business Community on Google+. Then for information about PartPic, you can go to partpic.com and follow @partpic on Twitter.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.