Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Just because a town already has a coffee shop!

There is a theory that the best way to come up with a brilliant idea is to have lots and lots of ideas and one (or more of them) will prove to be a winner. When it comes to ideas for Web Sites and Online Applications this approach seems to come pretty naturally to me. Please don't get me wrong, this is not to say I have necessarily got that 'winning idea', what I mean is that I do have lots of ideas! However, many of them very quickly evaporate under closer scrutiny, normally because of a dawning realisation that in actuality, no one would really be that interested!

The ideas that get passed this initial stage are then often "brought down to earth with a bump" when investigation uncovers that someone else has already done the same thing! But here's the rub and the question that under such circumstances we should all perhaps be asking ourselves. "Just because it already exists somewhere else and in another form, does it follow that there still isn't a need and that you might not be able to do it better?" When I find myself in the "Oh hell someone else has already done it" situation, my colleague Tom often responds with "Just because a town already has a coffee shop, doesn't mean there isn't room for another one". And of course he is right.

I now refuse to be put off because my idea is not completely new. I can still make it different, because I will have my own unique ideas about how it can be done, Clearly you need to 'pick you opportunities' - but you may be surprised by how many businesses there still are out there waiting to be created. Still not convinced? A friend of mine (along with his sons) set up an online store selling iPhone and iPod accessories only a couple of years ago. I couldn't see it working, surely the market was already saturated? I heard yesterday that they are taking up to 1,000 orders per day! And Good Luck to them.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Five fundamentals for devising your own profit making Internet Application

In the same way that everyone supposedly has a book in them or is likely to achieve 15 minutes of fame, does everyone have a web application, or at least a good idea for a web site or online service in them? My definitive answer to that questions is "probably".

I have devised a range of Internet Applications, some of which are already up and running and a lot more which I hope to launch over the coming months and years. As part of the process I have tried to distil the absolute key elements that underpin someone's ability to devise their own Internet Application.

1) Be passionate about what the applications does! If you don't love what the site is about, how can you possibly expect other people to appreciate it.

2) Really understand the environment in which the application functions. Just because you have an interesting angle for a site about quantum physics (for example), if you are not immersed in the subject matter yourself, you are unlikely to be able to really deliver for those people who live and breath quantum physics.

3) Clearly define how the application is going to make money and then forget about it - at least in the short term. I have seen a significant number of businesses fail because the focus was on making money, rather than delivering value to the customer. Concentrate on providing an outstanding experience for your users - the commercials will then start to fall into place.

4) Keep it as simple as possible. There are so many applications out there, if your target audience can't start using the site immediately (and getting immediate benefit) they will move on to something else.

5) Find a way that the application makes the users feel good about themselves, possibly through acknowledgement, reward or achievement. You need your application to be talked about (viral) and users will do that mostly when it reflects well on themselves.

Friday, 14 January 2011

If you don't start somewhere, it will never happen

This blog is a significant part of a wider online presence I am looking to build over the coming months and years. Other elements of this initiative include the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Formspring. For those of you who don't know, Formspring is a site that enables anyone to ask you a question.

The second question I received on Formspring really went to the heart of what I am trying to do. Put simply the question was "Why bother?"* A very good and perfectly reasonable question. I thought my response might be worth sharing;

"Basically I am not for one moment suggesting 'build it and they will come'. I know that simply is not true. There has to be some level of promotional activity. Probably quite substantial and sustained, starting virally through friends and family and then marketing to a wider audience. Again I recognise than any such activity has to be underpinned by quality content that delivers real value.

"However, all that said, I also believe that 'If you don't start somewhere, it will never happen'. At this stage it is equally important for me to get a feel of what having an online presence is like and what it takes to maintain. Perhaps until I start to get it right and deliver that 'value', it may be better not to have too many followers?

"One thing for sure is that I am not going to lose any sleep about whether anyone is listening to me, at least not in the short term".

* The actual question was "What is the point of putting such effort into creating an online presence if you don't have any followers?"

Monday, 10 January 2011

How did we get here?

Looking back is something I want to start avoiding as quickly as possible. However, in order to give future blogs more relevance it is probably important to offer some insight into the past.

My background, and that of my business partner Tom Cook, is Sales. We first met in 1994 when I recruited Tom into a business development role in the Document Image Processing market. A year later we set up Internet Intelligence Ltd which we hoped was going to becoming a leading force in Web development and design. For a range of reasons this did not happen and I went to work for a US based organisation selling Sales Force Effectiveness software in 1996. Tom continued with Internet Intelligence for over 10 years, providing a range of Internet services to a significant number of clients, without ever really achieving the necessary critical mass.

In 2003, Tom and I joined forces once again to form Loyaltynet Ltd (which eventually took over the Internet Intelligence business). A third member of the team was Simon Bazley, who as our Development Director did an exceptional job for the best part of six years. Loyaltynet initially focused on Web based sales incentive programmes, particularly helping our clients to achieve increased sales through their partner organisations. These customers included the likes of Virgin Atlantic, Fujitsu Siemens and Cables & Wireless.

During the late 1990s / early 2000s, I had ran my own Sales Effectiveness Consultancy called Streatley Consulting. These services were based on my experience gained in high value software sales in such areas as Workflow, Customer Relationship Management and Cash Payment Systems. In order to broaden the Loyaltynet offering, we added these 'Sales Effectiveness' services to the Loyaltynet portfolio, gaining clients including Sabre Travel Network, Intergraph and Bombardier.

As previously discussed, my great desire was always to return to creating and developing Internet businesses. To this end, Loyaltynet was reorganised in 2010, so that we had two core areas of focus - Sales Effectiveness Services and Internet Business Development. So I guess that's where the story begins.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Looking back (quickly).

During the mid 1990s I invited a number of friends to a 'Domain Name Buying' party. We each came up with a list of desirable domain names and agreed that if they were available, anyone who liked a name could buy a share. The process went on for over four hours and included a significant quantity of alcohol. There is no doubt that in part the process took so long because we were connected to the Internet via a conventional telephone line (many years before broadband), but the real time consuming element was simply that all the names we came up with were already taken. We thought it would be easy - but it wasn't!

That idea that it would be 'easy' was, at least in part, the reason that I never got any of my early Internet ideas "across the line". Why I thought that the basics of '10% Inspiration and 90% Perspiration' did not apply in the same way to Internet ventures, as it does any other type of work, I don't know. Other than perhaps that I saw what seemed to be 1,000s of people becoming overnight .com millionaires and I (mistakenly) assumed it had just fallen into their laps. So when I realised it was going to be tough I went back to my original career in sales. With a young family and large mortgage it was not an unreasonable decision. However, I never forgot the 'buzz' I felt when I was devising different Internet applications and businesses.

In 2010 I started again - this time a little wiser, a lot older and determined not to give up as easily second time around.