This Entrepreneur Built a Business by Sticking to What He Knows

This Entrepreneur Built a Business by Sticking to What He Knows

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Deb Shaw is the founder and head of research for MarketsNow, an online source for financial market analysis. After working in the financial services industry for many years, he identified an unmet need for high-quality news and research. Shaw decided to address that gap in the market by creating his company.

Starting Out

Why did you start your business?

My first career out of school was working in financial services. I was an investment professional at a venture capital fund called VantagePoint Capital Partners. That’s when I first came upon the foreign exchange industry.

One of the companies that VantagePoint had invested in was a company called GAIN Capital, which was a foreign trading firm. That’s where I started to understand that the foreign exchange industry is huge, there are a lot of people interested in it, and there are a lot of people wanting to understand how foreign currencies move. Years later, I ended up working for GAIN Capital. While I was working for them, I saw a lot of the issues that the firm faced and the whole industry faced. I started to understand that a lot of people need really high-quality information relating to foreign exchange.

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Since the ‘90s, there really hasn’t been any innovation in this space. I thought there was room for a new player. After doing my stint at GAIN, I spent six months at a payment company to try and understand that aspect of the business. Shortly after that, I quit and founded MarketsNow as a resource for providing foreign exchange-related information. I felt some of the other providers that existed in the market were getting kind of dated and I felt that a lot more could be done in that area.

How did you finance the business at the start?

Almost fully from my personal savings. In this day and age, starting an online business really doesn’t cost that much because of your cash outlay. It’s really more to do with knowledge and effort. I’m also insanely lucky because my wife is a very talented software engineer who built the whole website, which would be a very significant expense. The main challenge with starting an internet business these days is giving up your income. In that sense, I’m quite lucky, because I have quite a bit of savings, having worked for the last decade.

What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?

I think that one of the big mistakes I made was that the strategy I initially had for reaching out to journalists and doing press pitches wasn’t working. What I needed to do was bring it up with some contractors I was working with. I like being the nice guy, but sometimes you just need to bring things up and speak the truth, especially when things just aren’t working. We needed to do things dramatically different to start getting traction in terms of earning backlinks and getting our name out there and getting our content syndicated. I’m happy to say that after a new strategy that is less focused on going after big media publications, but instead on smaller publications focused on foreign exchange and economics, it’s working really well.

What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?

In general, I try not to think of myself as being too smart. I find it’s helpful to be humble, because you never know in life and in business when you’re going to get knocked down. One thing I did do well was having a very clear strategy from the beginning. I said, “I’m going to put my head down, I’m going to write content, and I’m going to market this content.” Eventually, with time, I have a very strong sense that what I’m doing is useful and a lot of people find it very helpful.

Running the Business

What’s the most challenging thing about running the business?

By far, trying to stay on top of many different things. I made the very explicit decision not to have co-founders. In my case, I’m primarily responsible for promotions and publishing content and research. I naturally have to stay on top of foreign exchange as a topic and reach out to people to publish meaningful research. It’s wearing a lot of hats and managing a lot of different things for one person.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running the business?

The most rewarding thing by far is when you actually have concrete accomplishments. This morning, I was approved for Google News to start syndicating my content, which made me really happy. Last week, Interactive Brokers, which is one of the world’s largest brokerage firms, opted to syndicate my content, which made me really happy as well. Sometimes, if you’re solo and kind of trudging away at a business, things can seem hopeless. But, if you have a small win, that rebuilds your confidence and helps you look forward.

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

For me, the only way I had enough confidence to start a small business was really knowing the industry, what customers want, the need, and how to market it. Knowing an industry in and out and doing something you know, even if it’s not the most exciting thing, is probably the best advice.

The Future

What’s next for MarketsNow?

The next milestone for the company, which I’m hoping will happen in the next three-to-six months, will be hiring staff. These days, I’ve been doing most of the research and writing myself. I sure would like a lot of help in that area.

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About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing (http://www.fireworkwritingonline.com/), located in San Jose, California.

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