Until mid-March, Zach Sass was the executive chef at Nashville Underground, a popular tourist spot known for its hot chicken on Music Row in Nashville. Sass, 31, had been a chef for 12 years, working all over the country and putting in 60- to 70-hour weeks. After Covid-19 forced Nashville Underground and other businesses to close, Sass found himself at home with time on his hands.
Sass also needed to figure out a way to earn a living, which is how he came to launch his first website to promote the live cooking classes he's begun teaching via videoconferencing software. He set up the site with GoDaddy, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based domain registry and web-hosting service. "I'm not savvy when it comes to computers and technology," Sass says. "I was scared not having any skills." And yet, he got his site online and has begun teaching online classes, helping people to cook using the ingredients they have on hand in their kitchens and asking for donations between $10 and $100. Much of Sass's inbound traffic comes from LinkedIn, and he recently started using Google Ads to grow the business.
Domain registries and hosts like GoDaddy, Wix, and Mailchimp have seen a bump in use since the worldwide quarantine began in March. GoDaddy has seen an 11.4 percent growth in domains Q1 over last year, with an acceleration in April, according to the company; its e-commerce platform experienced a 48 percent increase in paid subscribers in April over February. Tel Aviv-based Wix had 3.2 million people join in April, a monthly record. Mailchimp, which is based in Atlanta, began offering domains in November and saw websites publishing on its platform double in April, with a 64 percent increase in e-commerce transactions compared with the holiday season and a 107 percent increase over this time last year.
In addition to laid-off workers getting online, brick-and-mortar businesses that were slow to digitize suddenly are finding themselves in need of a website or e-commerce vertical. Cultured Books, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based pop-up bookstore specializing in multicultural titles, has been around since 2018 but with a very limited presence online. "A lot of our business is face to face," says founder Lorielle Hollaway. "We didn't have a web store." With her physical shop closed, she's had to adapt, building a site with Mailchimp and setting up a partnership to sell through Bookshop.org, a marketplace launched in January to support independent booksellers. "The website is very helpful because people who didn't even know we had the pop-up space now know about us," she says. Hollaway has also begun hosting a read-aloud series in which community leaders in her area can read books to kids over video, and she's coming up with more ways to engage book buyers online. "We're definitely trying to change our business model," Hollaway says.
"We're seeing a digitization of small business occurring right now that would've taken over a decade," says GoDaddy COO Andrew Low Ah Kee. "We're seeing it in a compressed time frame."
John Foreman, Mailchimp's chief product officer, would agree. Foreman cites internal numbers that show a 57 percent decrease in the time website customers are spending between building pages and publishing them to the world. "That is not about friction, that's about desire," Foreman says. "Small businesses are saying, 'We don't have time to just play with this. We need a website now.'"