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.

Top 6 Trends Followed by the E-Commerce Website Design Company

An e-commerce web design has its own unique character and is indeed designed to lead the online shoppers to make purchases from the site. When a business designs an e-commerce website, it needs to consider the chief principles of designing e-commerce website. An e-commerce website has to be attractive and must use the right color combination. Only a well-organized website can help you convert. The best e-commerce website design company follows the latest trends in e-commerce website designing.

If you are looking to have an online store or redesign the site, you must choose only an e-commerce website design company which follows the latest trends in web designing. Let us check out the latest 6 trends.

· Bigger background to redesign your site: When it comes to designing the website, companies are looking to incorporate video backgrounds and large images. If the background is large, the company can convey the story of the business and talk about the products and services in details. The more convincing the story sounds; the more chance of conversion is there. Buyers will be attracted towards the products and end up making purchases.

· The use of animations to engage the customers: If you want to engage the customers in the best possible manner, it is great to use attractive animations. A reliable and experienced company will use rich animations into the design to make the shopping experience enjoyable. It is only animations that can make your customers feel that you care for them.

· Cleaning off clutter: Nowadays, when it comes to creating an e-commerce website, the more focus is upon having a clean design. Among the designers, the hidden menus are extremely popular. It helps in cleaning clutter from the site and this is why it is so popular. Initially meant only for the mobile devices, now hidden menus have established their presence in the desktop design as well.

· Long scrolls: Now everyone is used to long scrolling web pages. This is all due to the coming up of mobile friendly websites. If the website features long scrolling, it will allow more of visuals, storytelling and also permit easy navigation. If the scrolling is permissible, the users will like to stay to the site for longer periods. This will promote interaction and open the door for more sales.

· The layout is responsive: More and more web designers focus on creating responsive websites featuring a responsive website design. The design of the site must be such that it is displayed well on the mobile device or any other device. Your site must be accessible from multiple devices.

· Pleasant browsing experience: Ecommerce web design companies in India focus on giving your users a pleasant browsing experience. Thus, they can shop comfortably without any delay in page loading. Professional designers include only relevant content and thus help your brand establish trust relationship with the customers.

If the e-commerce website design company follows all the latest trends in e-commerce website designing, your site is sure to succeed and gain an edge over the competitors.

Real Estate Management Fees

The property investor has decided to hire a management company to take care of their many properties. They interview several before making a decision on the company they will hire. There are many things they will be comparing, among them the real estate management fee the company charges. The investor needs to determine whether they want to pay a monthly percentage or a flat fee for the managers services.

Investors should look at more than the monthly fee they will be paying. Sometimes for a higher percentage you will receive more services. The cheaper rate of some managers does not include the extra fees charged. Find out if the advertising is included in the normal fee. Will they be charging each time they show the property to a potential client? Are their leasing fees on top of the management fees? The investor should read each companies contract to determine what is included in their real estate management fee.

A real estate management fee is charged based on a percentage of income collected with a minimum monthly base fee. Fees will often vary by the type and size of the property. Fees can be a flat rate for a single family home or 6 percent of the rental income for larger properties. Larger properties typically command a lower percentage rate (ie, 2 percent) than a single family home that may be quoted up to10 percent. Fees are negotiated on a per property basis and depend on many factors including condition, location and size of the property, etc. Leasing and other auxiliary service fees are separate and in addition to the management fee.

The investor should ask what services cost extra. They should determine if evictions are an extra fee. The contract should state how and when the fee is collected. Will the investor be billed or is it deducted from your account? On a monthly or quarterly basis? Is there a cost to prep the units for rent? And what is the typical cleaning fee on vacancies?

A management company fulfills many services for the investor. The company takes care of the daily activities of renting the property, collecting rents, accounting and monthly statements, hire contractors for services such as cleaning, groundskeepers and maintenance work as well as supervise any work. The real estate management fee the investor pays provides them with peace of mind.

The investor has interviewed several companies and found the fees are close in range with a few exceptions. They decide to further investigate each companys contract and references. By comparing all the services and getting good referrals, the investor can make an informed choice.

Interviewing the management company to determine the real estate management fee that charge is the first step to hiring a reliable company. The final cost the investor will pay the management company is determined by many things as well as the monthly fee. How well the company communicates with the investor and tenants, how they handle problems, their attention to detail in the leasing process and their ability to maintain the property in good condition all determine the investors final costs on each property.

Hiring a good management company helps the investor rent his property faster and provide preventive maintenance before problems become major repairs and expenses. The investor should look at more than the initial monthly fees when determining how much it will actually cost them if they go with the cheapest company.

What is SSL (the "little padlock")?

SSL ("Secured Socket Layer") is a protocol used to encrypt the communication between the user's browser and the web server. When SSL is active, a "little padlock" appears on the user's browser, usually in the status line at the bottom (at the top for Mac / Safari users.)

This assures the user that sensitive data (such as credit card numbers) can not be viewed by anyone "sniffing" the network connection (which is an increasing risk as more people use wireless networking).

Common web site owner questions about SSL:

How do I get the little padlock on my site?

To get the little padlock, your site must have an SSL Certificate from a Certificate Authority. Once an SSL Certificate has been purchased and installed, it provides three things:

  1. The ability to show a page in "Secure Mode", which encrypts the traffic between the browser and the server, as indicated by the "little padlock" on the user's browser.
  2. A guarantee by the issuing Certificate Authority that the domain name the certificate was issued for is indeed owned by the specific company or individual named in the certificate (visible if the user clicks on the little padlock).
  3. An assurance that the domain name the certificate was issued for is the domain name the user's browser is now on.

Once obtained, the certificate must be installed on the web server by your web host. Since your web host also has to generate an initial cypher key to obtain the certificate, very often they will offer to handle the process of obtaining the certificate for you.

My web host has a "shared certificate" that I can use. Should I?

It's still fairly common for small sites to use a shared certificate from the host. In this circumstance, when a page needs to be shown in secured mode, the user is actually sent to a domain owned by the web host, and then back to the originating domain afterwards.

A few years ago, when SSL Certificates were quite expensive (around $ 400 per year), this was real attractive for new sites just getting their feet wet in e-commerce. Today, with a number of perfectly functional SSL certificates available for under $ 100 (exclusive of installation, etc.), it is a lot less attractive. Since your user can look at the address line of his or her web browser and see that the site asking for the credit card number is not the site he or she thought they were on, the cost savings is probably not worth the risk of scaring off A sale.

What's the difference between the expensive SSL Certificates and the inexpensive ones?

Usually, mostly price. Some expensive certificates have specific functions, such as securing a number of different subdomains simultaneously (a "wildcard" certificate), but the effective differences between basic single site certificates are very slight, despite the wide range of prices:

The encryption mechanism used by all of them is the same, and most use the same key length (which is an indicator of the strength of the encryption) common to most browsers (128 bit).

Some of them ("chained root" certificates) are slightly more of a pain for your web host to install than others ("single root" certificates), but this is pretty much invisible to the site owner.

The amount of actual checking on the ownership of the domain varies wildly among sellers, with some (usually the more expensive) wanting significant documentation (like a D & B number), and others handling it with an automated phone call ("press # 123 if you 'Ve just ordered a certificate ").

Some of them offer massive monetary guarantees as to their security (we'll pay you oodles of dollars if someone cracks this code), but since it's all the same encryption mechanism, if someone comes up with a crack, all e-commerce sites will Be scrambling, and the odds of that vendor actually having enough cash to pay all of its customers their oodel is probably slim.

The fact is that you are buying the certificate to insure the safety of the user's data, and to make the user confident that his or her data is secure. For the vast majority of users, simply having the little padlock show up is all they are looking for. There are exceptions (I have a client in the bank software business, and they feel that their customers (bank officers) are looking for a specific premier name on the SSL certificate, so are happy to continue using the expensive one), but most e -commerce customers do not pick their sellers based on who issued their SSL Certificates.

My advice is to buy the cheaper one.

I have an SSL certificate – why should not I serve all my pages in "Secured" mode?

Because SSL has an overhead – more data is sent with a page that is encrypted than a page that is not. This translates to your site appearing to run slower, particularly for users who are on dial-up or other slow connections. Since this also increases the total amount of data transferred by your site, if your web host charges by transfer volume (or has an overage fee, as most do), this can increase the size of your monthly hosting bill.

The server should go into secure mode when asking a user for financial or other sensitive data (which may well be "name, address and phone number", with today's risk of identity theft), and operate in normal mode otherwise.