Entrepreneur Narratives: How [Alicia Navarro, Skimlinks] Did It

By Editor July 1, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is a new Q&A series from StartUp Beat that features entrepreneurs who have successfully guided their startups (or multiple startups) to maturity. It is a complement to StartUp Beat’s coverage of early-stage startups and an effort to provide further insight into the experiences of tech entrepreneurs.

Alicia Navarro, SkimlinksSkimlinks co-founder and CEO Alicia Navarro is one of the few female tech entrepreneurs in London, having launched Skimbit.com in Australia before heading over to Europe to immerse herself in the world of tech startups, where she adapted her business quickly to launch Skimlinks.com.

Alicia’s vision for Skimlinks is to see online publishers rewarded for the role they play in informing purchase decisions, by removing the technical and administrative complexities that hamper would-be affiliates. This, she believes, will help evolve affiliate marketing into a mainstream ubiquitous revenue model.

Alicia worked for over 10 years in internet applications, designing and launching mobile and internet-based applications in Australia and the UK. She has a Bachelor of Information Technology and the University Medal for Computing Sciences from the University of Technology, Sydney.

SUB: What was your first entrepreneurial venture?

Navarro: My first entrepreneurial venture involved a foray into the beauty industry, manufacturing and selling lip gloss! In Australia, where I grew up, there’s an initiative called Young Achievers, where high school students get together and go through a life cycle of a business. We came up with the idea for a lip gloss range for men and women, and I became the managing director of Pout Lip Gloss. Within six months, we’d made a 320 percent profit, and we won Venture of the Year in the program. I was hooked.

SUB: What prompted you to start Skimlinks? What was the inspiration for the company?

Navarro: Skimlinks was actually born from an entirely different business. I had started Skimbit—a social decision-making tool back in 2006, but it wasn’t getting the traction we had hoped for. In the course of conversations with my customers, I had identified a need for an automated revenue stream for online publishers wasn’t being met by the market. We had actually built a technology internally to monetize the content on our own site, and we realized it was a great product that we were in a good position to offer to other online publishers. The financial crisis was underway—it was the perfect incentive we needed to make a massive change and move quickly. We pivoted, and launched Skimlinks in late 2008.

SUB: Was there a point at which you knew Skimlinks would hit it big?

Navarro: It’s dangerous to assume you’ve ever hit it big, but there was a moment when I thought we had a viable business on our hands—during the first year, when we quickly started getting amazing traction with big-name clients.

SUB: Was there a “tipping point” (for lack of a better term) when Skimlinks really picked up steam and where it started growing exponentially?

Navarro: Opening an office in the USA this year was a big moment for us. It has really changed how we were perceived in the US market, and it’s coincided with a great amount of growth and traction we’re seeing now.

SUB: What were the first steps you took to establishing Skimlinks?

Navarro: Skimlinks was the easy bit – that was just a pivot. The biggest challenge was starting a business (Skimbit) in the first place. I had to make a conscious change in my career; like turning down permanent jobs to take up flexible contract work, and I curtailed my lifestyle so I could afford to run a business at the same time as working. Eventually I gave up my job entirely – that was a big step!

SUB: If you had it to do over again, what would the first concrete step to establishing Skimlinks have been?

Navarro: If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently, but there is one thing I’d definitely do again: getting myself involved in the startup community. Building a company is a stressful and lonely process, and being involved in a supportive community makes a world of difference to your sanity. It was one of the best things I did.

SUB: What were the most significant obstacles to growing Skimlinks to maturity?

Navarro: Growing the team has been one of the biggest challenges. Every time we’ve had a significant expansion, it’s necessitated a change in how the company is run. So, going from seven team members, and then growing again from 15 was a pretty significant change, and each point of growth came with its own challenges, within the leadership, our processes, and our culture. I think we’ve done a good job of it, but it didn’t come without its obstacles.

SUB: What kinds of outside funding did you raise?

Navarro: We have raised equity financing from Sussex Place Ventures, NESTA, The Accelerator Group and a number of angel investors.

SUB: What was the metric/milestone that indicated to you that Skimlinks had moved past startup stage?

Navarro: Well, we hired a full time financial controller and we keep her busy, so I guess the day we hired her was that point of transition. That kind of role is a luxury that startups don’t usually invest in.

SUB: What were the most important lessons you learned about entrepreneurship while building Skimlinks?

Navarro: It never gets easy, but it never stops being fun.