INTERVIEW by GARY GOLDMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of ASHLEY BODI
When I was first introduced to Ashley Bodi, a fellow member of the Young Entrepreneur Council, I was told that she was “an amazing human dedicated to making a difference in the lives of entrepreneurs.” After having spoken with her, I will venture to say that Business Beware, which she co-runs with her father Robert Bodi, is set to radically (and in a cost-effective manner) facilitate the way in which small businesses operate. The concept is simple: the organization helps you collect money from clients who refuse to pay for their services by sending them a “beware letter.” If the overdue payment is not received, the business owner will consider placing them on the site as a “problem customer.” Sounds counter-intuitive in a society where the customer is king, right? Not when you consider the amount of struggling small businesses in this country, and the fact that Business Beware has had a success rate of… well, read on.
An entrepreneur sees something missing and does something to solve that problem. What was missing before Business Beware came along?
A voice for business owners. There are tons of consumer-driven websites where you can rate businesses, but no platform where business owners can voice their opinions on customers and obtain some leverage.
All right, so a place where you could talk about problematic customers.
Our mission has evolved a lot since we started. At first, Business Beware was the platform where small business owners could warn each other about these people. I quickly noticed that the bulk of complaints had to do with non-paying customers. We came up with the idea to create a “beware letter” to send these customers, stating that the business owner(s) had been trying to collect a payment and might place them on the site as a “non-paying customer” if they ignored it any longer.
Dumb question: what else was done before Business Beware came along?
Going through a collection agency that will charge clients anywhere between 20% to 50% of the money collected.
So for those annoying customers, Business Beware acts like the principal at school who might scold you or eventually fail you if you don’t deliver.
Sort of! [laughs] It’s really effective leverage. We’ve found that 96% of customers who get the letter will pay. It’s just so much easier than going to court, having to deal with litigation, yada yada yada…
96% is extremely impressive! How many people have you served so far, and how many letters have you sent?
I was going through the numbers the other day, and we have about ten to fifteen thousand members. As for the letters, at first we only sent one or two with small businesses, but big companies have recently been coming to us and saying, “We have 600 people who owe us money.” So, to answer your question… a lot.
You help clients collect money from the customer, but they don’t pay you a percentage. How do you make money?
We launched a membership program with three different annual options available. You get access to two “beware letters” for $9.99, seven “beware letters” for $19.99, and twelve “beware letters” for $29.99.
What if you happen to have a bunch more than just twelve letters to send out, like that company with the 600 non-paying customers?
You can always do a custom bulk order. And the other side of our revenue model is advertising, via the website or through the show.
I’m sure you must have plenty of success stories. You don’t have to disclose real names or information, but give me an example.
Three or four months ago, a guy from Ohio who owns a contracting business had tried to collect $10,000 from a customer for eight months. He had sent invoices, late notices, everything… His friends mentioned Business Beware, and he tried it super reluctantly. We sent out the letter, and within five days the customer called him and said he had mailed the check. That business owner could have paid $500 had he gone through a collection agency.
You’re so awesome that you’ve even created your own jargon, I believe.
Tell us exactly what a “CustoMonster” is.
I like to call it a disrespectful bully that cannot be pleased.
Tell us what a “Beware Letter” consists of.
Very simple. To the point. We’ll say that the business is trying to collect money, and that if they don’t pay, they might be filed as a “no pay customer” on the site.
Have you encountered any problems in regards to your mission or approach? I’ve spent the last five years in the U.S., and if I’ve learned anything about business, it’s that the customer is king.
Oh, sure! As with any venture, we tried to explain our concept in the very beginning and there was some criticism. But overwhelmingly, the answer we got was, “We have been waiting for something like this for years.” The only people who don’t get it are not business owners, but CustoMonsters.
And isn’t this “rating” and “beware” system what eBay and Amazon have been doing anyway?
Exactly. And by no means are we offering a service similar to Ripoff Report (web platform that allows you to report any scam, fraud, complaint, or review on any type of company, individual, service, or product.) What they will put about you in the Google search engine is terrible: “Jane Smith did this!” What we offer is professional, and definitely not about naming and shaming.
For a fairly recent business, you’ve already undergone tremendous growth. What do you have planned for 2012?
We are hoping to create a paradigm shift when it comes to believing that the customer is always right. Our goal is also to open people’s eyes to what it really takes to fund a business. People will complain about paying $4.50 for a cup of coffee, without thinking that the money is used for the utilities, the products, the labor… We want to expose that real struggle, the real side of customer service. Those are messages that we are conveying with our show: understanding how to run a family business.
And you would certainly know about that!
Absolutely. We live it everyday, so why not expose it? You know, 35% of the Fortune 500 companies are family-owned businesses. The statistics are outstanding…
You wrote an article on Forbes about “Women Entrepreneurs Succeeding in a ‘Man’s World,’” and you said, “As a woman you have to figure out what your strengths are, and prove why you deserve to be standing by the men in your field.” It feels like women shouldn’t even have to prove that they can be as good as men in the entrepreneurial field. Am I totally out of touch with reality?
It’s a 50/50 with that. I personally don’t feel like I have to prove myself: I was raised to believe that I could achieve anything that I wanted. That said, you notice the struggle when you’re in a meeting: you’ll say certain things to a roomful of ten guys who will not listen to you or just disagree. My dad could say the exact same thing and they’d be in complete agreement. It’s still a reality that you need to confront as a woman, but you can’t worry too much about what people will think of you.
I’ve gotta ask. How is it like working with your dad?
In high school, I said I would never work with Dad after college. I graduated, and ended up doing just that! Now, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We are so much alike, and know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. He knows exactly how far I can go, and vice-versa. It’s almost better, because your family trusts you.
Wait… Are there more family members involved in Business Beware?
The whole family! We pulled my sisters and my mom into it as well.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
If you want to share your stories, if you’ve been in the trenches, if you’ve got opinions, if you’re a small business having trouble collecting money from your customers, and even if you just love the idea of Business Beware, send us a message.