Lessons Learned From An E-Commerce Adventure

It is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all; and even more important to learn from your mistakes.

That is what I keep telling myself after having invested the time and cash equivalent to a Harvard MBA in an e-commerce start-up that has stalled and is winding down. Not a happy prospect in light of all the media pre-occupation with e-commerce success stories and the young millionaires watching their IPOs rocket into cyberspace. But the headlines ignore the more frequent stories of new e-commerce businesses that do not hit the stock market jackpot. Many of them either settle into a low-key niche or exhaust their resources and fold.

This is the story of an Internet venture that did not make the headlines, but offers some useful insights for entrepreneurs evaluating their own initiatives. The lessons learned are applicable to your own new venture or to an investment in someone else’s.

In mid-1998 we launched a new company called nxtNet (www.nxtnet.com) with the slogan … “taking you to the next level on the Internet”.

My partner and I both had prior successful entrepreneurial experience in computer products and wanted to start a new venture together. We decided to develop a business that would catch the next wave of e-commerce services for mid-sized companies seeking to do business on the Internet. After long discussions, searches for a unique service offering, and many draft business plans, we developed a market strategy and then chose Intershop Communications as our software development platform. This product had the advantages of being suitable for single or multiple online storefronts, and offered a flexible, economic and comprehensive solution. We committed to the product, staffing, facilities and equipment to start training and development immediately. The two of us provided the time and cash required to get started.

By October 1998, we had an initial product with application as an online storefront for an associated computer business. At the same time, we realized that the application had wide appeal to other computer dealers and could be sold as a multi-user database service and e-commerce resource. We had developed a consolidated catalogue of 85,000 computer products from multiple distributor product databases that allowed rapid search and comparison for product information, pricing, and current sources. Users could access the catalogue from the Internet and find a product by manufacturer, category, and part number, key word or price range and immediately see the alternate sources and prices with links to more technical information, preferred dealer pricing and actual stock levels. Additional features allowed the catalogue to be customized so that any computer reseller could present the database as his own online storefront. This option offered all the search and product information features to his customers, but showed only retail pricing and enabled the online ordering process.

The product offering quickly received positive feedback and strong indications of support from all the participants – resellers, distributors, and manufacturers. It was a comprehensive, powerful, and effective tool for buying and selling at all levels within the Canadian computer distribution channel. Resellers recognized the value in an online resource to save time and effort. Distributors and manufacturers saw the opportunity to promote their products, and major publishers in the industry wanted to offer complementary online services to their subscribers and advertisers. How could we fail with all this enthusiasm and support?

While the potential for success clearly existed, everybody had the same questions and reservations – “Who is there now?” “How many are using it?” and “I don’t want to pay until it’s bigger”.

Reasonable objections we thought, so we added features and content for free. We promoted the product with free trials and low cost subscriptions for reseller access. Then we coaxed, persuaded, sold hard, and made deals. The “contra” became the standard for obtaining press coverage, free ads, mailing lists and promotion in exchange for free participation and future consideration. Activity on the Web site and catalogue grew to 3000 visitors per month with over 800 subscribers and the distributor list increased from three to twelve.

But revenue remained near zero as most reseller subscribers declined to pay for the service. Reasons were “it should be free – let the advertisers pay”, “I don’t use it enough”, “there are lower cost options”, or “we built our own solution”. The audience did not grow fast enough even after we offered it for free, to satisfy the advertisers and content providers. Without persistent and conspicuous sales and marketing efforts, all the participants quickly lost interest. Meanwhile the costs of database maintenance, ongoing development, site hosting, Internet access, sales, marketing, and administration were increasing.

Clearly the old entrepreneurial model of controlling costs and growing revenue was not going to apply. We had to realign our profile to show how zero revenue and high initial costs could still lead to significant investment returns like other well-known Internet ventures. So from early 1999 we started an aggressive search for financing, estimating our requirements at $500,000 to $1,500,000 over the next two years before achieving positive cash flow. More business plans, spreadsheets, and glossy presentations to demonstrate future valuations up to $20 million, even $40 million.

We knocked on many doors, from banks to government agencies, from angel investors to venture capital, from stock promoters to business consultants, and again received lots of encouragement, but no financing. So the founding partners were faced with a continuing cash drain, no relief in sight, and the limits of their own resources rapidly approaching. It was time to put the project on hold. Strategic partners or investors might still be developed to proceed with the project, but the ongoing expenditures were stopped in late 1999.

So what are the lessons learned? We already knew that nothing ventured, nothing gained. We now also knew that big successes in the new economy require big investments. Entrepreneurs may start small, but large investments will be required from new sources to achieve significant success. And no one will put significant money into a venture unless it is the only remaining requirement.

The concept, product, development, marketing and staffing all have to be in place before an investor will provide the final ingredient – his cash. Exceptions are likely only where the management team has already succeeded in the same arena, or the investor himself can deliver the missing elements, such as customers or management skills. No investor is going to take the chance that the entrepreneur with a good concept or product will also be able to deliver the required management and marketing skills to succeed, after he has the cash.

Next time we will know better. And there are side benefits from this expensive learning experience. I can now admit that with the knowledge gained through our association with Intershop Communications, I was confident enough to make an investment in their stock on the German Neue Markt at 65 Euros last year. It went over 400 Euros last month and is still rising with their rapid growth and the prospect of a NASDAQ listing this year. Almost enough to recover my investment in nxtNet.

So the most important lesson is that education in the new economy is essential, and not free, but it can lead to success outside the original plan. Learn, be aware, and be aggressively opportunistic.

Understanding the Boundary Between Education and Literacy

The Title is self-explanatory. Let’s clear our concepts first;

What is Literacy?

Literacy is the ability to read, write and express ourselves. The key to literacy is reading development, a progression of skills that begins with the ability to understand spoken words and decode written words, and culminates in the deep understanding of text.

What is Education?

I define Education as the capability to use the ability to express ourselves. This is one line definition of education. Education is the application of literacy, not just the literacy.

A person can’t say that “I am educated because I know how to read, write and express myself.”

Coming to my point, Are we really getting educated or just literate? People pursuing great degrees are still left unemployed. Students with great minds and talents are unemployed and maximum number of unemployment can be seen in engineering. Why is this? The answer to all these questions is THEY ARE JUST LITERATE, NOT EDUCATED.

They lack skills because they just know to express themselves but they don’t know how to express, why to express and what to express. Education involves whole methodology of applying skills, to foster development and exploring new ideas.

Now, coming to India’s education system, I believe that India is focussing on its academics but not in proper manner. Children here are characterized on the basis of their grades, marks and how much they know, not on their talent, skills and how much they discover the undiscovered. The children who have knowledge are intelligent but the children who discover and explore knowledge are called to be wise and genius.

Taking an example, Albert Einstein found no profit and interest in knowing history and learning those dates, left one of the best schools by giving fake medical certificate of nervous breakdown and started discovering the undiscovered, exploring the unexplored and fostering the science and technology not for anyone else but for himself, for getting inner satisfaction and peace. He is one of the best scientists who brought a new look to the era of science.

The people in India who are extremely talented and skillful, leave the country for getting better jobs and opportunities in foreign cities. Why this happens? What is the reason? What makes people and talents of India to leave such a wonderful country? Is this because of outer fantasies, glories or fame? No, the answer is, India lacks in its education system which makes Indian talents to settle outside.

India is a democratic developing country. India is developing constantly in its academics but in wrong way. We are just getting LITERATE, not EDUCATED.

Leaving a question for you;

Are you just literate or educated?

Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy

Asian Walnut wood flooring is one of the most unique hardwood species available in the market today. Often referred to as Acacia, this walnut hard wood floor is harvested obviously in Asia. Asian Walnut wood floors have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Although Oak is still the # 1 seller in wood flooring, exotic species such as Asian Walnut and Brazilian Cherry have made long strides towards becoming main stream wood flooring choices. If you are looking for a very distinct floor that is considered a center piece for your room or home, Asian Walnut hardwood flooring is definitely worth considering. There are several things you need to know when considering the exotic Asian, Acacia Walnut species of floors.

Most Asian Walnut floors are offered with a factory finish. Factory finished means the factory has applied multiple, protective coats of either polyurethane, aluminum oxide, or a combination of both. These finishes protect the floor from minor scratches and wear. Of course any wood floor can be scratched, but the current factory finishes are much better than 20 years ago. The best option is to find an Acacia wood floor with either an aluminum oxide or combination of aluminum oxide and polyurethane finish. If you buy unfinished, Asian Walnut wood flooring it will have to have the protective finish applied after installation in your home. This type of in home finish is not very comparable to a factory finish as a installer can not duplicate the heat and pressure to the boards the same as a manufacturing process in a factory.

Asian Walnut is usually available in 3 colors or stains. Natural is the most common color. Actually, natural is unidentified but has a protective finish. The natural Asian Walnut boards will have a wide variety of color ranges from dark to light. The darker colors will be slightly more predominant though. Another color commonly sold is Cinnamon or sometimes called Cherry. This color has slight, red hues to give a classy, ​​semi formal look. Cinnamon is a very rich, deep stain. The final color you may find is a stain sometimes called Smoke or Toffee. Smoke stained, Asian Walnut floors have a very similar appearance to another species, Black Walnut. The stain is not actually black or extremely dark, but does have a defect, darker hue than the other colors you will find. A Smoke stain, Asian Walnut is a nice alternative to it’s cousin, Black Walnut as the Asian version may be priced slightly less.

A tip to remember when getting samples of Asian Walnut hardwood flooring is to ask for two samples. Asian Walnut, or Acacia wood has substantially different characteristics between every board. Two samples will give you a much better idea of ​​what the floor is going to look like. Another hint is once you have decided to go with a specific color or dealer, buy one box first. When you get the box, loose lay it out in an area of ​​your home to make sure you like the color and style. You may or may not be able to send the box back to the dealer, but, your initial investment will be much less than if you had purchased the entire job. If for some reason you do not like the Acacia hardwood floor, you are only out about $ 100 or so instead of thousands.

A few design and construction notes to consider are the characteristics of Asian Walnut wood flooring. Almost always, Asian Walnut is a 3/4 “solid board which is designed for a nail down installation. The Asian species of Walnut wood flooring also has a distinct grain pattern. Large swirls and a loose grain structure give Asian Walnut one of the most Unique looks of any wood species sold today. This unique grain pattern works very well in large rooms and areas. Another characteristic of Asian Walnut, or Acaica hardwood flooring is the board lengths typically are not longer than about 4 feet. A tall growing tree, so the boards tend to be slightly shorter than traditional walnut trees. A final note on Asian, Acacia Walnut properties is that that it rates very highly on the Janka Scale coming in around 2,300 The Janka scale is a measurement used to Determine the hardness of a hardwood species. The higher the number, the harder the wood At 2,300, Asian Walnut is much harder than common Oaks which are around 1,300 or so. As a reminder, any hardwood floor can be bent, sc Ratched, scuffed etc, however, the harder the wood, the tougher it is.

Article Marketing

In the present time, people are doing business with the use of internet. Perhaps, you are one of the many people who are interested in jumping in that bandwagon. Nowadays, competition among businesses has grown bigger; That's why a business owner like you should search for and try some exceptional yet cost effective internet marketing strategies. These marketing strategies can enhance and develop your business identity over the World Wide Web.

There are plenty of marketing strategies that you can use. The opportunities are endless, but you have to pick one that best compliments your business. One marketing strategy that has proven to be cost effective and highly efficient is article marketing. What is more, you can make it more special by adding in search engine optimization.

Search engine optimization is such a unique tool, and one that can be a competitive web marketing strategy. It mainly focuses on getting your website a higher search engine ranking. It does this by funneling traffic to your site by making it show up quickly when a person does an internet search for your niche.

When it comes to a global perspective, search engine optimization can be a benefit to you. What you have to do is to select keywords or key phrases to target potential clients. The search engine optimization will guarantee that your company will be found. Search engine optimization can help reach your potential clients from anywhere in the world.

Another benefit of an article marketing with SEO campaign is that it can increase the number of visitors to your website with the help of the targeted keywords or phrases. The people who visit your website can turn into potential clients; This is what SEO does. This is the only web marketing campaign that can drive traffic to your website. As more people visit your website, the chances of you getting some sales increases. SEO can increase your website's visibility in search engines.

Article marketing with the use of SEO is one amazing marketing strategy. You can get a high return on investment and you can increase the volume of sales and profit. This is one marketing strategy that you should look forward to doing, because it is very cost effective. You do not have to invest large sums of money. You can just bring in a minimum amount of investment, and you get to have a maximum exposure in return.

Your company can succeed in the web economy with the help of search engine optimization. Just remember that you need to come up with articles that people would enjoy reading. You can entice potential clients with the use of your articles. Make sure that you have an article with excellent content. An article marketing strategy is one great tool that will not go away and will be used for a long period of time. It is one effective way of informing your potential clients about your products or services.