Learning business by doing business on Facebook
Nathan Latka’s social media company, Fan Page Factory, netted nearly $9,500 in sales in April 2010, its first month. The site has more than 2,000 fans and draws more than 1,500 views a day.
Latka, a finance major from Leesburg, Va., completed his sophomore year in spring 2010, but the Facebook-based business is already his fourth entrepreneurial venture in social media.
In early 2010, Latka also shared his social media savvy with a Richmond business owner who won an online auction that Latka created. The prize was a personalized social media “makeover” in an arrangement that included putting Latka up at the winner’s home.
“I decided it would be crazy to be the first person to auction themselves off on Facebook for a week of social media training, so I went for it,” Latka said. The winning bidder offered $2,000 for three days' worth of help.
There’s “a huge market opportunity in social media”, said Latka, who, as a child entrepreneur, sold candy by the piece on the school bus.
As an experienced Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter user, Latka said he saw a need for social media consulting services and its business potential. Not that it was easy from the start. He made little money and a few mistakes early on.
His first venture, The Social Tee, sought to provide social media consulting services and sell T-shirts that advertised his client companies’ online social media outlets.
“Creating a tangible tee to promote intangible social media outlets hadn’t been done before,” Latka said.
“With everyone carrying PDAs [personal digital assistants] and the Internet being accessible everywhere, you could be sitting in a Panera [Bread] with your shirt on, and the person behind you might end up following you on Twitter, fanning you on Facebook, and subscribing to you on YouTube,” he said.
Latka said he thought it was a great concept. But ended up not doing it. “I couldn’t find a way to make the T-shirt sales profitable for me and my time,” he said. “However, I learned that what was profitable was the consulting.”
He also learned not to chase down every opportunity while trying to meet clients’ needs but to focus instead on his niche skills and specific markets.
The Social Consultant, his second company, aimed at generating recurring revenues through subscription-based consulting. Latka said it was more successful. He landed four clients, two of whom are still with him today.
Latka said he conceived the idea for his third company while finishing a run at the McComas gym one evening. He dashed back to his dorm, bought the domain thesocialbanner.com, designed the site, and had 10 sales by morning — six hours after he thought it up.
The company sold Facebook banners, Twitter, and YouTube backgrounds, and blog headers to more than 90 customers before Latka decided it was time to move on.
“My whole goal in being an entrepreneur is to create a scalable business that I can step away from — essentially something where I can make money while I sleep,” he said.
His current business, Fan Page Factory, designs customizable Facebook pages using a Facebook Markup Language (FBML) application. “With this FBML app, you can build a highly customizable page directly on your Facebook business page,” he said. Fan Page Factory sells four design packages at different levels of cost and complexity.
Launching his newest business — which doesn’t reside on the Web as a domain but is simply a Facebook fan page — “made perfect sense,” Latka said. Despite the more than 400 million Facebook users, such services are few in number, he said. As his business grew, Latka had to hire designers to help design pages and an outsourcing company to do the coding.
His social media businesses are, he said, part of a bigger career plan. Interested in politics and real estate, Latka said he is “building real relationships in fields I plan on being in 5 to 10 years down the road.
“I am learning business in a way a college could never teach — I am vested in it 110 percent: emotionally, physically, and financially,” he said.