Learning’s of a raw web entrepreneur, from big business to business owner
This is my attempt to outloine some of the mitakes made and lessons learnt whilst moving from the corporate arena to internet stat-up. Foodari is a cooking and recipe social network based in the UK where users create a vitual kitchen and online cookery book.
I always believed that leaving the comfort blanket of corporate life would be the difficult part of setting up my own business and going it alone – how wrong I was. Of the challenges that we have faced during our first year of trading walking out of the doors of the 7 story, central London office block, saying goodbye to the directorship and salary was the easiest part of all. This is my attempt to explain through our experiences where entrepreneurs, especially those that come from a big business background, should focus their attention and therefore hopefully avoid some of the commonly made mistakes.
My journey into the world of web start-ups commenced at the end of May 2007, I had an idea to build a new web experience for food lovers, the ultimate experience for foodies using the net. I wanted to build on my passion for food; my love of cooking; my interest in food provenance and marry it with a background of information provision through digital publishing to create a wholly new way of looking at cooking - recipes in particular. And so www.foodari.com was borne – the ultimate web experience for foodies.
We set the business up, my brother and I, and started to explore what the vision was and how we would realise it. Neither of us brought technical expertise so we had to identify how the product would be built. Having gone through a number of meetings with web developers large and small, UK based, near shore and far shore we decided to have it built in Bulgaria.
Why Bulgaria? Well the drivers were clear, cost and technical skill (and the English owner of the business did a marvellous sales job!). Retrospectively we still feel that it was the correct decision. We had moments of heartache and frustration where the laptop was nearly ejected from a variety of windows but we got a great product built at very good value.
And here is the first piece of advice - when starting up your business identify what the crucial steps are to get it to market, give each step a sign off date and don’t let them slip. Any day of slippage in the development process will be multiplied by the time the product gets to market. Don’t allow it to happen, believe in your gut feelings and back yourself, listen to excuses but create solutions for them.
Regardless of who is building your site it is crucial to get to know them, even more so if you are having it built in a foreign country with a different culture, work ethic, humour and expectations. During my first visit to Bulgaria I unearthed so many assumptions that were incorrect and could have been detrimental to the project as a whole. For example I assumed that our Bulgarian developers would know what supermarkets were, why there is an organic movement, the importance of locally produced food and how sociologic problems such as obesity are affecting us all, all incorrect.
The development process took 7 months from the first storyboards being written to when we felt confident to shout from the rooftops about it. How did this happen? We knew that our advantage over the larger publishers was our agility, our speed of reaction and so why did it take twice as long as we had hoped to get the 1st version to market. We fell into the trap of not knowing when something is good enough and when it needs to be pixel perfect. What we have learnt is that if you are truly designing a service where you want your customers to be integral to any development, so they truly shape future progress then get it to them early. It goes back to your planning stage of identifying the different building blocks that will ultimately make up your site, realise them as you go along. We all want the whole web world to descend on our new invention on the day that it goes live but the reality is that they don’t, they come over time through hard graft.
The final piece of advice for the development stage is to remind yourself it is a business not a hobby. If it is not a business then don’t try and force it to be, it won’t work, leave it as a hobby. Focus on cost and revenue, how much of each and where it is coming from. Half the revenue and double the amount of time it will take for you to generate it, know your worst case scenario and double this – is it sustainable? It’s never too late to get out.
The first iteration of Foodari went live in January 2008 and has doubled its traffic month on month thus far. My next article will be examining the process and steps to go through once you have reached the end of development and you want to launch to the world.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Parker is Managing Director and CEO of Foodari. Foodari is creating the ultimate web experience for foodies. Food lovers join to create their virtual kitchen, online cookery and participate in food focused social networking. It is building a powerful database of peer reviewed recipes so users can identify quickly and easily what they want to cook.
There are many exciting developments to come form Foodari over the coming months as it strives to meet the needs of its users. Check it out at http://www.foodari.com Making the transition from corporate life to small business start-up can be difficult. Jonathan Parker offers advice on this process from leanings through his experiences.