Today we hear from Lauris Liberts, the founder of Draugiem Group, the company behind Latvia’s most popular social network Draugiem.lv, and 16 other startups including Vendon, Mapon, Friendly Bracelets, Behappy and Startup Vitamins.
By Lauris Liberts, Co-Founder, Draugiem Group
The story begins with a small social network in the equally small country of Latvia in northern Europe. I built a niche social network solely to promote my recently launched t-shirt business. To my surprise, in just a few days the network gained more than 1,000 users and continued to grow exponentially. This was nearly 10 years ago, but the success of Draugiem.lv allowed our team to launch 16 new startups that now operate within Draugiem Group.
Our philosophy is “Ideas first, companies later,” but it’s not all fun and games. The financial crisis hit Latvia hard in 2008. Unemployment was rampant, and the GDP was falling. Considering we were only operating in one market, if that market crashed, it could have a profound impact on our business. But besides the unstable market at the time, we knew that if our business was limited to the Latvian market, we would never make it REALLY big. With a population of only 2 million, opportunities within Latvia are naturally constrained. The only opportunity for success? Export.
Our first experiment in global ecommerce was creating a platform for designing and ordering custom friendship bracelets, aptly named Friendly Bracelets. Our payment system was based in Latvia, so if someone wanted to pay, a window would pop-up with a Latvian domain and a poor user experience. On top of that, it took three minutes for one payment to process.
We quickly realized we needed to improve the checkout process and experience for our customers. 37signals, a company we really respect, was using Braintree to process payments at the time so we decided to look into the payments platform to see if their solution was a good fit for us. It was.
We chose Braintree because of its excellent customer service and support and its easy-to-understand website and policies. Our developers love the API because they find it easy to work with. Back then, in 2011, Braintree wasn't international, so we registered our company in the US so we could work with them. But now, Braintree accommodates an ever-growing list of countries, and we like to think our companies have grown together. An added bonus of Braintree is that we were able shed the “Eastern European” stereotype that came along with our unstable payment system in Latvia. Braintree gives us credibility; our customers know their money is secure since Braintree is processing the payments.
Our friendship bracelet experiment worked, but that's not exactly a million-dollar-idea. We moved on to other products, starting with ideas that we ourselves really wanted. Startup Vitamins and Behappy.me were among the next ventures, both of which offer inspiring quotes on posters. Now that we have 16 businesses within Draugiem Group, we’re thinking of how we can make the shopping process even easier for our customers, and Braintree is helping us do this. For example, we may add a registration option so repeat customers can make purchases without entering their credit card data each time.
Our current challenge is one we're happy to have. We're dealing with having to scale our businesses to accommodate the American market. So many orders! Not that we're complaining or anything.