American small businesses need digital tools to compete

By Paul Serra

The 21st century is the entrepreneur’s era. Digital technology, online media and data science are at the core of free and nearly free business tools that help small companies find and engage with new customers and streamline operations. But while many entrepreneurs are building successful businesses, elected officials in Washington and Nevada, such as Attorney General Aaron Ford, have set their sights on the digital platforms that provide these services for being “too big.” I am concerned that policymakers do not understand that the digital platforms provide foundational support and critical momentum to small businesses, and that if the platforms are forced to change many small businesses may become less successful.

Our business is not a tech business. We started out selling sweatbands because when I was in high school, I played guitar in a band and almost always mimicked my rock ‘n’ roll idols by wearing a sweatband on stage. I realized that sweatbands could be a cool way for bands to help build their brand. Today, we design and manufacture sweatbands, headbands and other sports apparel and accessories.  

Breaking into retail is not easy for new businesses. There is fierce competition from established brands such as Nike that have brand recognition and well-funded distribution channels. It is tough to get a small company’s product into big sporting goods stores.

Fortunately, the digital revolution gave small companies the ability to bypass traditional retail and reach customers directly. With e-commerce, social media advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and online advertising from Google, small businesses can tell their unique stories to the right audiences at the right time. Google Analytics helps us better understand our customers, what they are looking for and how they found us. This is all critical data.

Low-cost digital tools allow us to stay lean and nimble, and with only a few people on our team we are able to sell nationwide through sites like Amazon and Walmart, and to sell internationally. We are certainly not unique. A recent study found that 85 percent of small businesses attribute a significant portion of their success to effective deployment of digital business tools.

Small businesses work hard to use digital tools intelligently and carefully and to use sophisticated analytics that our platform partners provide – and that are way too complex for us to do by ourselves. Plus we don’t have the time for it. We use data to make smarter purchasing decisions and to develop new products. As a small company our biggest risk is expensive mistakes, so we make small investments and study the data carefully before making larger investments.

With all the benefits of large digital platforms, the negative narrative taking hold in the media and with some politicians is perplexing. I understand some of the platforms are very large and manage extraordinary amounts of data, and they have their faults for sure. But these companies are helping thousands of Nevada small businesses compete and succeed.

Everyone at our company works hard and contributes to our success. But without digital technology and platforms our brand would not be as innovative, as global or as successful. I hope Attorney General Ford and other elected officials will take the time to learn how these technologies and platforms work with small businesses — and before forcing technology companies to change, I hope they protect small businesses from becoming collateral damage.  

 Paul Serra is an entrepreneur and the cofounder of Suddora.com, a sporting goods accessory company headquartered in Las Vegas.