Google's GYBO: When small business meets big business

Many entrepreneurs have a wide variety of complaints against big business, from the lack of customer service, to the tax breaks available to large employers, to the overall attitude they perceive.

There’s at least one small business-person who isn’t happy with Google Canada’s big campaign to help small business.

Google launched GYBO (Get Your Business On-line) back in March, noting that over a million small Canadian businesses don’t have websites.  The company has an ongoing program that offers free web services to any small business that wants some. 

Paul Chato is a former comedian (he was with "the Frantics" troupe for years) who now runs a web hosting service out of Toronto. 

Chato would have preferred if Google supported small business in Canada by giving him some business.  Instead, Yola, a San Francisco-based web hosting company, is the supplier for Google’s campaign in Canada. 

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"The issue is that this is a full Canadian effort involving the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Google Canada, RBC, and," says Chato.  "But Yola isn’t Canadian.  And hey, we do web hosting.  There’s a company in Montreal and one in Vancouver we compete with that I know of. Why didn't Google Canada evaluate our offerings for this Canadian push?"

Chato says he would have been happy to offer his company’s services for free in order to be part of the Google campaign.  

"If they had evaluated our product and it had come up wanting, I'd be okay with that also," he says.  "But no one asked us, and we're one of the better known services. And, frankly, Yola makes crappy websites compared to our product."

Chato admits his complaint may sound like a "whinge", but he just finds it ironic that such a high-profile Canadian initiative has a foreign player in a key role. "Perhaps if Google had used a search engine like Bing to find a Canadian supplier they could have avoided this issue," cracks the former funny-man. 

My perspective on the situation is this:  the merits of Chato’s complaint could be debated, but what seems clear to me is that this is a classic illustration of the uneasy relationship that often exists between small and big businesses. 

It’s a mismatch of a relationship of course – and not just because of the size difference.   Consider that most large companies love entrepreneurs.  What’s not to love?   Small business is another pool of customers, and a significant one.   We regularly see advertising campaigns from banks and telephone companies aimed at wooing small business.  

But the feeling isn’t necessarily mutual.  Many entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to have a wide variety of complaints against big business, from the lack of customer service, to the tax breaks available to large employers, to the overall attitude they perceive.

"A lot of entrepreneurs feel that big business doesn’t give them the respect they deserve," says a marketing consultant I met recently.  (She’s asked that I not identify her by name, since she doesn’t want to link her comments to some of the big clients that hire her small firm.)

"In their community, these entrepreneurs are kind of a big deal – they’re an employer, and may be well-known.  But they get the impression big companies judge them based on their size, and their value to the corporation, not their success."

This consultant says she’s done "a ton" of focus groups on the subject.  And what has become clear to her that that most entrepreneurs are highly emotionally engaged with their businesses.  They’ve put their homes on the line, and taken considerable financial risks to build a company from nothing, up to 10 or 20 or even 100 employees.  But again and again, comments in the focus groups show that those successful people often feel they’re talked-down-to by big corporations. 

"It’s not about the products and services," she clarifies.  "Because usually what small companies get from big companies is absolutely right for their needs.  It’s the interaction, and how they’re spoken to that’s the issue."

But doesn’t almost everyone have a beef with big companies?  Once upon a time I worked for Bell Canada, and it seemed no matter how fast you could get a phone installed, it was never fast enough.  Never mind that people in other countries wait weeks or months – a delay of a day was enough to provoke an angry tirade.

And so often small businesses position themselves as an alternative to big, slow-moving bureaucracies.  In some ways their own dissatisfying experiences may validate their own sales pitches. 

But back to Paul Chato and his disappointment with Google Canada.   Google’s Canadian president tells me the company went with an American web host (that has a South African founder) because a successful relationship was already in place. Google wanted to get their GYBO campaign up and running quickly. 

"We’re open to looking at other options as we move forward, and want to continue adding partners," says Chris O’Neil.  In other words, a firm like Paul Chato’s could have a shot in future. 

O’Neil’s view is that if anything, Google helps to narrow the gap between small and large companies, by offering less expensive advertising, and services such as Google Analytics.  "We help level the playing field," says O’Neil. 

Close to 50,000 small Canadian companies have taken advantage of the GYBO program, and established web-sites.  It’s one of those win-win propositions.  "Google does better when the web does better," he says. 

And O’Neil tells me that even though Google Canada’s partners on GYBO are mostly corporate giants, the list does include a small Canadian business:  Silver Lining Limited, a consulting firm that helps small businesses be more successful. Participants in Google’s program get Silver Lining’s services at a discount. 

However, its Edmonton-born founder Carissa Reiniger tells me the company isn’t actually "small", it’s "medium-sized".  And she’s recently moved the company’s head office to New York.

Whatever!   In the end I don’t blame Google for not having a 100% Canadian offering.  I give the company credit for launching what appears to be a popular, innovative and helpful program.  But I don’t blame Paul Chato either, for being peeved at not getting a call from Google at the outset.  Plus it took multiple efforts (including snail-mailing a letter to Google) for Chato to even get a response from the company.

Will Chato have a chance to be one of Google’s partners, as the GYBO program continues?  Only if Google’s much-touted informal motto of "don’t be evil" also encompasses "don’t hold grudges."