Keren Zimmerman, Co-Founder, Netotiate, Giving The Power to E-Commerce Consumers

Keren Zimmerman is Co-founder and CRO at NetotiateSM. Netotiate (meaning “negotiate over the net”) is aiming to change the conventional rules of e-commerce by flipping the market from B2C (Business-to-Consumer) to C2B (Consumer-to-Business), giving consumers the knowledge and power to buy the products they want from the merchants of their choice at great prices, without competing with or relying on others. 

Headquartered in Newton, MA and with R&D in Tel-Aviv, Israel, Netotiate is looking to become the platform of choice for consumer-to-merchant price negotiation, overcoming the psychological and technical barriers preventing consumers from bargaining.  

Keren has been designing online consumer shopping systems for over a decade, beginning at (acquired by eBay). Prior to co-founding Netotiate, Keren was General Manager and VP Products at SmartShopper, and later VP of Web Search products at Oberon Media. She is an online consumer experience expert who delivers excellence, from concept to killer product.

We spoke to Keren about balancing motherhood with a career; the biggest challenge she has faced as an entrepreneur; and which aspects of her company keep her awake at night. 

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

KZ: Netotiate (pronounced 'ne-toh-shee-ate', meaning 'negotiate over the net') aims change the way people shop online. The idea came from an offline experience my partner had, which we decided to take it online.

There are many ways for online shoppers to find deals online, but there is no way for a consumer to choose the product, the merchant she wants to buy it from and name the price she is willing to pay without competing against or grouping with others.

For merchants, we drive targeted sales that today are lost for other merchants, without forcing them to compete for that sale. In addition, we are changing the business model from CPC (cost per click) to CPA (cost per acquisition) allowing merchants to compete with the big stores without losing money on low quality traffic.

Netotiate’s major differentiator is that it creates win-win situations for both the consumers that are looking for great deals and the merchants that are trying to keep up with the tough competition out there.

Netotiate starts out for buying products, but eventually will be used for any product or service you wish to buy or sell online. From buying digital cameras to netotiating your vacation or insurance plan online, Netotiate is on its way to becoming the next big thing in e-commerce.

TNW: What is your business model?

KZ: Netotiate is building a sustainable business model. This means that both sides - consumers and merchants - gain value. For consumers, the service is free of charge and empowers the consumer to make all choices while remaining anonymous throughout the process (up to the actual purchase). For merchants, Netotiate assists in driving sales that are currently lost to bigger stores and competing for high quality consumers without paying the high CPCs (cost per click) that drastically reducing their margins.

Netotiate’s business model is CPA. We charge a fee per purchase so the merchant only has to pay when he sells an item. The CPA fees are lower than other marketplaces, enabling the merchants to reduce the item’s prices and become more attractive to consumers.

TNW: When you built your team, what were the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

KZ: Both my partner (Amir Farhi, Netotiate CEO) and I believe that the success of the company depends on the team we build.

“It’s all about the people and everybody counts,” was our motto and mindset when we raised money and hired our team.

We believe in transparency and collaboration. Everyone knows the status of the company and the company’s roadmap and plans. We are running a start-up where we all wear multiple hats and contribute as much as we can in various fields.

We firstly look for people based on personality, but they should also be top guns in their field. We are building a team of committed, professional people with great communication skills and interpersonal relations.

TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?

KZ: Our first few customers are medium-sized stores with both offline and online representation. They have more than 100,000 unique online visitors per month, and their online store has a significant impact on their sales.

The CEOs of these sites loved the Netotiate idea and vision from the outset. We are blessed with merchants who are cooperating and working with us to better refine our product.

TNW: What is next for your company? 

KZ: This year is all about awareness and traction for Netotiate. We need to introduce our new concept to both the consumers and the merchants and we are active on both fronts. To attract consumers, we are planning massive PR, marketing campaigns and a TV roadshow. To attract merchants, we are starting with direct sales and conferences, and enabling our product plug-in in various marketplaces (such as Magento, Yahoo stores, etc.). In addition, we will continue to develop the product by adding various features that will improve our product’s user experience.

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

KZ: I encourage women to take the leap and become entrepreneurs. There is no real glass ceiling that blocks us, it’s only in our heads :).

My biggest tip is balance: You need to find the right balance that works for you between your business, kids, husband, household and keep some time for hobbies... it’s all about balance.

TNW: What is your top tip for balancing motherhood with a career?

KZ: I’m a mother of two, and I have one important rule that I’ve applied since they were born: a few hours in the afternoon are our quality time. I play with them, read to them, ride bikes, etc. There’s no TV, no emails, no phone calls... these can wait until they’re sleeping. This way I have real quality time with them, and I can get back to my laptop when they fall asleep.

TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?

KZ: I think this comes with the job. When it’s quiet, all the good ideas jump into my mind.

I can’t say there are specific aspects that keep me awake; it depends on the week. Some weeks it’s product ideas, sometimes it’s HR issues and other times it’s marketing.

I don’t think you can be an entrepreneur and sleep well :)

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

KZ: For me the biggest challenge was when we first raised funds to start the company.

The lack of clarity, the pressure around these meetings, waiting for decisions, disappointments... it was a very pressured time.

I think that once you decide to raise money, you have to take a deep breath and understand it will take time and not everyone will like your idea.

If you believe in yourself and your partner, and you believe in your idea, be patient, play the game and eventually you will find the right investor.

TNW: Do you think that attitudes towards female entrepreneurs are changing?

KZ: It’s the chicken and the egg: The more female entrepreneurs there are, the more attitudes will change. On the other hand, once attitudes change, there will be more female entrepreneurs that will take this step.

I think women have a lot to offer and bring to the table many skills that can contribute to a company’s success, yet, not many become entrepreneurs.

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style today?

KZ: I have very high standards and high expectations from my employees.

On the other hand, it’s very important for me that my employees are happy with their position, will feel fulfilled and will know they are an important part of a winning team.

There’s always room to grow and it’s up to them how far they will reach.

TNW: What is the best career or management decision you have made?

KZ: Stepping out and becoming an entrepreneur; starting my own company with a great partner. We are building a company that will do amazing things for our consumers and merchants, but also will be the best company to work for.

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