He Did Start the Bonfyre – A Lesson for Small BusinessesImagine, sitting around a crackling bonfire enjoying a warm conversation with other small business owners. Before long, you’re making connections and getting ideas to grow your business. You’re fired up!

That’s the experience that co-founders Mark Sawyier and Chris Dornfeld wanted to create. But instead of lighting a match, they ignited the private online communication platform, Bonfyre. It helps businesses to better connect and engage with their employees. Through this technology, people share information and collaborate more. Camaraderie thrives. That leads to greater productivity and improved retention.

Getting Started

Like many entrepreneurs, the path to success didn’t start with one big idea like Bonfyre. It was an evolution of events that over time built toward success.

“Growing up, I always had entrepreneurial proclivities,” Sawyier said. “But while in college I saw a number of my peers start a business. I thought I could do that too.”

So Sawyier started MovingOffCampus.com, a website for college students to find an apartment. At its peak, the business was helping nearly one million students a year find an apartment.

One of the keys to his early success was search engine marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising. That’s what prompted Sawyier to take the next step—offer those skills as services to businesses looking to drive revenue through digital marketing. The result was his next business, Decantery.com.

“As we grew our client base, the goal from the beginning was to build a great team that could also work on creating new products,” Sawyier said. “Bonfyre was our first new product which we launched in 2012.”

Now the focus is changing the way employees engage with their employer. In addition to corporations, he also works with small businesses that take advantage of the real-time communication that Bonfyre offers, especially when their staff is part-time or in different locations.

Challenges and Solutions

As the business was evolving, Sawyier faced a number of challenges. Many of them are familiar to those faced by other small businesses. Here are his thoughts on some of these common issues:

  • Expanding the business. Ask where you want to be in six months or a year. Next, identify what you believe is the path that will get you there. Then look for the smallest possible test that you can run. You want it to give you enough information to invest more in that same test. For example, say you want to drive more traffic to your website using search-engine advertising. Start on a small scale and increase the buy if the results confirm your path.
  • Hiring new staff. Take the time to write a job description so you understand what you’re looking for. For every person you hire, interview multiple candidates. Use a multistage selection process that includes a resume, a questionnaire, a phone interview and then an in-person interview. It makes the best use of your time and helps to make sure your expectations are aligned.
  • Marketing using digital media. Your most important digital asset is your website. Be sure you identify what action you want visitors to take. For example, do you want them to come in to your store, call you, fill out a form, or buy online? Align your design to that goal. Search engine advertising helps you measure if you’re reaching it. It is the most transparent and direct application of dollars to an outcome in terms of revenue.

What’s next for Sawyier? Besides stoking Bonfyre, he offers one other insight for small business owners borrowing on this aphorism:

“Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Progress is progress,” he said. “Define what success is for your small business. Determine how you’ll measure it, then run with the smallest test toward that goal.”

It’s about taking steady steps that evolve into long-term success.

Are you a small business looking to get inspired? Try listening to the story of Bonfyre.


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