Case Study- Is your business really Internet centric?

by Amit Ranjan on April 25, 2008

Update: Readers seems to be clamouring for revealing more about the business in question; unfortunately doing that is likely to give away the identity of the person (partially if not wholly)… and I have promised not to do that. What I can say is that the business is B2C in the area of personal financial management. It is not a new service in itself, rather it facilitates an online version of what has traditionally been an offline service. The service is not technology intensive… but requires some specialised financial knowledge. Your suggestions could be directed at how personal financial advisory & management services can be scaled into a large business and whether & how the web can play a big role in this… think of any other similar examples in this space.

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This (i.e. the title) is the question I would request all web entrepreneurs to consider deeply while they are planning for their venture. The internet’s significance and hence it’s importance for different ventures is variable- for some, the web is the be-all and the end-all; for others it may represent a significant sales channel but nothing more; for some others, it may largely be a image building vehicle with no sales impact; for yet some others, the internet’s biggest role may lie in its Long Tail effect making it a not-so-significant sales channel, but something that is good to crow about in front of the media folks… there is a whole continuum. It’s possible that in the hype & hoopla surrounding the consumer internet (specially Web 2.0, social networking etc), you may end up having a disproportionate expectation of what the web can actually deliver for you. Here’s why I am saying this-

One of Webyantra’s readers wrote to me asking for advice. He runs a startup in the personal financial services domain and is trying hard to scale his business, having successfully built an initial version. He has the right academic background, he has a great team with him and he also has an initial bunch of paying customers for his service (which is proof that the basic concept works fine). His problem is to expand his business, find new customers etc. As you will find below, he has done a number of activities already. I am intentionally not naming the person, his company or his domain (though I have taken his permission to write about this and reproduce the email that he sent me).

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Hi Amit,

I have this startup called …. It’s an online platform where one can ………. from anywhere in the world. I have been pushing sales left right and centre but have no clue how to market this online. I kinda busted most of my money building it (I know its stupid but I guess am still a bit young to get away with it) and now need some direction in terms of creating buzz in the internet community.

Till now i have been scouring forums wherever there is even a slight mention of …. and putting my two bits about the company, I have also been doing crazy ass chain mails and all and putting in discounts and quasi refferal schemes. I started late with my operations last year but invested about 30,000 bucks in google adwords and rediff.com. should I put in more money there this time? What else should I look at? I don’t have too many friends blogging but would it help if they profile my site? Should i try putting it in social networking sites? Should i try the new yahoo tool for personal advertisements? Is it effective?

Till date I was not looking at VC and all but since am kinda bust and would need to look for a job to tide over my substantial loans (I literally have about another 4 months of cash), I need to drive sales this time so that i pitch and get some damn funding.

I have been reading your blog for a while and had made sure my site was 2.0 all because of you (am serious, the guys who developed the site took 4 months to do it cause they just didn’t have a good ajax guy to integrate the damn thing.). I really would be grateful if you could give me a few pointers. I am not asking you to profile my site as i am not ready with the new rules yet, I just need pointers and am desperate!

Best

…………..

This email actually shook me up because of two reasons. Firstly, because of it’s hard-hitting frankness. And secondly, because honestly, I could give him no advice. Whatever I could have suggested, has already been attempted. However I had a phone chat with him and in the end, I think he is over-relying on the internet for his business. Its possible that he can get some sales online, but I don’t think it will be very significant. The internet may get him some random users from some God Forsaken corner of the world due to the Long Tail effect, but that’s not enough. I think he should concentrate on offline channels largely. And that’s exactly what I told him. That’s my hunch, though I have no specific knowledge of his domain.

What do you feel? Can you share some advise for him on this blog? I think he could do with some. Mine has not been very helpful till now!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

john April 25, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Hi Amit,

Wat is the domain of his business… probably we can give some idea according to his business

Saurabh Garg April 25, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Hi Amit,

To be very honest, until unless we know about his business plan and his ideas, we cant really figure out if his offering makes sense on the Internet or not.

Without knowing the business and the idea, I can only say that not everything can be offered over the Internet. Internet can only be a tool, an enabler to get the users and the service provider together.

Also, since he has been spamming forums, blogs or any mention of the …, most of these would have written him off. I think all he needs is a good guy to market it over the Internet (assuming that Internet adds any value to what he is offering).

Would have loved to contribute more but cant really think of something. I have a strong hunch its something to do with money or even flowers (hint: “from anywhere in the world”).

Regards,
SG

P.S.: If it is possible, you can send in the complete email to interested people on personal emails and see if something comes out of it?

amit April 25, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Well , i’m not saying that the internet is irrelevant to him.. But I doubt that it can play a pivotal role in his venture.

I’m afraid I would not like to disclose more about him.. I promised him.

amit April 25, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Saurabh,

You are actually close… it is definitely related to personal money and its management…

Ajay April 25, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Hey Amit,

I agree with the above comments.Give us more specific information and we all are glad to help this guy.

Sharad April 25, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Hi,
well ive passively been following this blog & write this comment since i feel i could quite help our particular entrepreneur.
i work at Microsofts Online Advt division in NYC ( Search, MSN, facebook, XBox) for the past 2 years & before that was at Saatchi & Saatchi NY. I was toying with the idea of a startup offering marketing/online consulting to Indian Dot coms & this might be a perfect opportunity to test it :)

I know those interested would be reading it this far, so feel free to reach me on sharadl@microsoft.com .
I did write a blog, while i was at school in Wharton – http://adidea.blogspot.com , but thats my only web presence & much much long ago! :)

Best to everyone!

Saad Mohammed April 25, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Amit and the Other Guy,
I need more details to suggest something. I need to look at the site and understand the business before suggesting something.
Email me. And I promise to keep everything under wraps.

Good Luck

Maneel Grover April 25, 2008 at 7:03 pm

Run a contest, and post the details at various community sites

Imran Jankhwala April 26, 2008 at 5:18 am

Hi Amit,

I have to understand his business first, but I can contribute Search engine marketing would be better option for him. Affiliate Marketing he can try buy joining in various affiliate programmes such as clixgalore or click bank. I am sure he will get some quality leads by this programmes.

Arun Kohli April 26, 2008 at 6:55 am

Hi Amit,

Based on the information and its implied derivatives on the forum, it seems to be a case of enhancing web-traffic for a b2c portal operating in the SME paradigm.

Given the liquidity concerns raised by the business owner, any high-risk strategy can be ruled out on face value. I think that your assessment that the web may not be the most optimal model to create leverage is also accurate.

Are you in a position to share some information on the investment made for google/rediff(has that made any impact on the traffic/sales)? A related SEO/SEM strategy could be the best bet in terms of minimal time-to-market/investment.

Cheers

Arun

Ranjan April 26, 2008 at 10:38 am

First a clarification. Even though I have a website on personal finance, I am not the person who mailed Amit.

I have a website on personal finance and have created it more as a hobby. I have some ideas on a possible business model for which i am giving the link here: http://docs.google.com/Presentation?id=ddk9x7bw_45cgpdsbgn

I have not yet started working on this model. I would be keen on getting in touch with the emailer since I feel I have some knowledge of the domain that he’s working on!

Raxit April 29, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Amit,

i am toooo young for giving advice but here my thoughts.
(this comments is bit longer !)

First of all congrats to the person to be very frank, and congrats to you, people are sharing their thoughts and open to learn from you ! Kudos.

Second point. Its good to have mentality to develop prototype model (without VC-funding) and existing customers. [its good, he may thought to raise VC funding before development ! i personally dont favour].

There are two advice, one is even you dont want to have fund raising, prepare b-plan approach few VCs ! Intelligent VC may ask you “Real question” and as they may want to sepend money it is kind of real test and “Fact Finder”.

Second advice is try to bring someone “Proffessional sales/marketing folks into team”,
I dont want to say your current marketing people is not good. just they dont know reality. it is not always bad to raise money (Listen Raxit….!). Many people good at “boot strap” but not as good as “Scaling” , competitors [i got e-mail from one of campers that someone cloned mykavita.com !] Try to get the person who is more expert in scaling, title may be advisor, VC,sales/marketing, CEO, xyz !

Anyway amit, this is great idea. [i was thinking for something on case studies, will tell you some stuff off-line]

-Raxit
http://www.m4mum.com
http://www.mykavita.com

Prashant May 7, 2008 at 12:11 pm

this guy seems to be running something on the line of mint or Online Intuit/Quicken or something like that . his issues are real and there are fairly good number of real solution to them . He started something , something cool may be , got a good headstart but its difficult to get mass adaptation

i wrote a blog post on this sometime back he can refer to that http://tinyurl.com/39apck

if his IDEA is unique and he is Nw Savvy a good PR campaign can bring a lot of user to his service .

He cna contact CA, Auditors,Tax Consultant ,Finance Guys to help spread the word in their circle .
He can cut a deal with all the Tele calling /DSA company to sell membership.
beyond that its very specific to biz and person . ask him to contact me

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