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.

Title Companies Vs Real Estate Lawyers

Is a real estate lawyer a better choice than a title company when it comes to selling your home? You can choose any one of the two but you should first be aware of the difference between real estate lawyers and title companies. Here is some information about both the entities and whose services can benefit you most.

Real estate lawyers

Real estate lawyers specialize in laws relating to real estate and make sure that your interests as a seller are met in the transaction. These lawyers can act as escrow agents as they can hold your earnest money, down payments as well as help you with the requisite documentation. These attorneys can also help you understand the legalities involved in the sale transaction, the offer made by the buyer and your rights as a seller.

An attorney can also handle a closing in case the lender’s lawyer doesn’t do that. Every real estate lawyer has two most important responsibilities.

• To advise on the documentation process of the transaction

• To represent you at a closing

Besides these two important services, an attorney also negotiates any modifications in the purchase contract that the seller wants to incorporate. Preparing the seller’s deed, another crucial aspect, is also taken care of by the attorney. The attorney you hire will also accompany you on your meeting with the client/buyer at the time of settlement. He/she will also advise you on the tax implications involved in your home or property sale.

Title companies

Title companies are insurance agencies that represent title insurance companies. Such companies insure titles to lenders and buyers by ensuring that a title is free from any encumbrance that can cause financial loss.

The title company assures the buyer that he/she can get his/her title on the home or property with no liens against it. The availability of a title on the particular home/property is made clear and vouched for by a title company. In the process, such an entity protects the rights and interests of both parties in question.

Usually, most title companies insure a closing with the help of a lawyer to fulfill certain requirements. Closings also depend on the area you are living in. Toronto natives can hire the services of a real estate lawyer for sale closings.

Keep the following things in mind when you sell your property:

Title companies can hold the down payment and close your home without additional costs. Also, there is a possibility that title companies may give you a discount on your title insurance if you had previously used their services to either refinance or buy your home or property. Lawyers can also close your home/property sale and hold your down payment but may charge an additional fee.

A lawyer can charge a higher fee to write a contract. In cases of simple transactions, this can complicate negotiations. But in most other property sale transactions, the services of a real estate lawyer can prove invaluable.

Automotive Industry at a Glance

The World Automobile Industry is enjoying the period of relatively strong growth and profits, yet there are many regions which are under the threat of uncertainty. Carmakers look for better economies, market conditions which are ideal to have a successful stay in the industry. The automotive industry has a few big players who have marked their presence globally and General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, and DC are among them. It has also been suggested that automotive industry has accelerated more, after the globalization period, due to easy accessibility & facilities among nations and migrants among giant automakers of the world.

Moreover, the advances in industrialization led to a rise in the growth and production of the Japanese and German markets, in particular. But in 2009, the global car and automotive sales industry experienced a cogent declination which was during the global recession, as this industry is indirectly dependent on economic returns in employment and spending making, it vulnerable. While demand for new and used vehicles in mature markets (eg Japan, Western Europe and the United States) fell during the economic recession, the industry flourished in the developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Boost in global trade has enabled the growth in world commercial distribution systems, which has also inflated the global competition among the automotive manufacturers. Japanese automakers in particular, have initiated innovative production methods by adapting and modifying the US manufacturing model, as well as utilizing the technology to elevate production and give better competition. The World Automotive industry is dynamic and capable, accounting for approximately one in ten jobs in developed countries.

Developing countries often resort to their local automotive sector for economic growth opportunities, possibly because of the vast links that the auto industry of the country, has to other sectors. China is by far the largest market for sales followed by Japan, India, Indonesia, and Australia. Sales figures of 2005 to 2013 indicate that sales for vehicles in China doubled during this period, while Indonesia and India also benefited. However, there was a slump in sales during this time in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Interestingly, this year competition in the truck segment has become more intense, with the three big US automakers striving for supremacy in both performance and fuel economy. The Japanese are not giving up, either, with both Toyota and Nissan launching new pickups in 2015.

India is the seventh largest producer of automobiles globally with almost an average production of 17.5 million vehicles with the auto industry's contribution amounting to 7% of the total GDP. It has been estimated that, by 2020 the country will witness the sale of more than 6 million vehicles annually. India is expected to be the fourth largest automotive market by volume in the world where, two-wheeler production has grown from 8.5 Million units annually to 15.9 Million units in the last seven years and tractor sales are expected to grow at CAGR of 8-9 %, In next five years, making India a potential market for the International Brands. As 100% Foreign Direct Investment is allowed in this Sector, India is expected to have a speedy expansion, to, soon to become the largest automobile Industry. While India is the second largest manufacturer of two-wheelers and largest of motorcycles, it is also estimated to become the 3rd largest automobile market in the world by 2016 and will account for more than 5% of global vehicle sales. As large number of products are available to consumers across various segments, providing a large variety of vehicles of all types, manufacturers aim towards customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Following the FDI policy, entry of a number of foreign players with reduced overall product lifecycle and quicker product launches have become a regular occurrence in the automotive industry of the country. Indian auto market is seen as the potential market which can dominate the Global auto industry in coming years. Moreover, giant dealers and manufacturers are inclining towards the country because of ease of financial norms as well as an environment so conducive to support in their projects.

With Narendra Modi's Make in India Campaign, the automotive industry is expected to witness quite a few changes, where 800 Cr have been allocated in the Budget to promote the Energy and Hybrid Vehicles manufacturing. This move is expected to cut down the prices making these electric and hybrid vehicles cheaper and more eco-friendly. It is also expected that this move will shrink down the carbon dioxide emissions to 1.5% till 2020. This program will subsidize the purchase of new hybrid and electric cars, as well as other vehicle types. It specifies incentives of up to 29,000 rupees for scooters and motorcycles, and up to 138,000 rupees for cars. Three-wheeled vehicles, light commercial vehicles, and buses will also be eligible for incumbents of varying amounts as well.

The used cars sector in India has emerged as one of the major industries due to its easy accessibility and lower rate of interests. But growth in used car sales are lower than new car sales as people still prefer to purchase new cars as opposed to buying used ones. A big reason of this could be the fact that there is a reduced supply of used cars, and high prices of these used cars are pushing the consumers to opt for the low priced new cars. But despite the lower growth compared to new cars segment, used car industry has been showing a fast and steady growth. According to the industry analysts, the sales of used cars are expected to boost up in the next few years.

Till last decade, consumers were involved in unorganized sector of Used vehicles industry, there were no organized players to assist the consumers in buying used vehicles, and about 60% of used vehicle sales were customer to customer where there is a trust factor. The remaining sales were managed by the local dealers. But then in 2001, Maruti came with the first company of selling used cars in 2001- Maruti True Value. Despite the automotive industry witnessed slow sales numbers in the last few quarters, the used or pre-owned car segment is growing fast, and is likely to accelerate in future. In fact in the last fiscal year, more used cars were transacted, 10% more than the new ones, according to the assessment by Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. And Honda Siel Car India Ltd. With the organized players stepping in, the used cars market has benefited from fair deals, warranties, better retail network, reliability, transparency, easy availability of finances. These have all made buying a used car easy. Organized used car showrooms provide the platform to the prospective consumers to choose cars from various brands and segments. Car makers have realized the potential of used car market and are making conscious decisions to operate in the pre-owned car sector also. Beside exhibiting multiple brands, the branded used car retailers, also offer one-stop shop for all inquiries and grievances. All the major Car dealers have now established their pre-owned car segment retail showrooms, Maruti True Value, Ford Assured, Hyundai Advantage and Toyota U Trust are some of the major used car dealers.

Constant decline in fuel prices and better financial policies in the past year are the factors that are being expected to be the reasons for the number of new buyers to be increased in the market, which declined in 2013-14. But during this period, one segment that benefited from this decision was the used vehicle market, with increased awareness, financial reforms and organized firms. Most of these used cars Buyers are younger people who prefer buying Pre-owned cars which come at lower prices and they get a good bargain for the same. Indian used vehicle market which is still, almost quarter of new vehicle market is growing at a rapid pace. The Pre-owned car sector is expected to grow by 15-18% in coming years.

Also with the rising in number of organized players have boosted the amount of confidence people are putting in buying a pre-owned car. These players not only offer a good line up of used cars but also offer finance & extensive vehicle check facility for 100% customer satisfaction.

The Automotive Industry is an important part of every economy as it is interrelated to growth of sectors of the economy. India as one of the progressing economy is resolving towards making its automobile industry more and more highly competent, linking it to overall development. With the Make in India Campaign and promotion of eco-friendly vehicles, India is expected to soon become the largest automobile industry globally. Used vehicle industry is expected huge gains with more and more people resolving to it along with the growth in the new car market. With more resources for the buyers and sellers, the automotive industry is expected to flourish meritoriously in coming future extremely taking the country forward.

Shopping For Camping Chairs

If you have purchased camp chairs before, you know that you can find them almost anywhere: discount stores, sporting goods retailers, websites, even supermarkets and drug stores. As a result, you have probably never given much thought to where you should buy your next one.

On the other hand, would not you like to find the chair you really want and feel like you got the best price without running all over town or spending a bunch of time surfing the web? Assuming you know what you want, which of these many choices will give you the best deal? Let's take a look at each of these options.

Let's start with the least reasonably sources. Without you spot something in their weekly ads or happen to see the perfect chair when you are there shopping for other things, places like pharmacies, supermarkets and office supply stores (Yep … I've seen camping chairs there!) Are not going To have what you are looking for. You may get lucky, but these retailers should not be your first choice.

Shopping for camp chairs online looks like the easiest route. You can sit in the comfort of your home and browse through different websites while keeping your other eye on the ballgame. What could be simpler?

Unfortunately, it is pretty rare to find the best camping chair prices online. Generally speaking, you will find better deals in brick-and-mortar stores. Even the discount chain websites usually do not feature their least-expensive chairs … you have to get in the car and go look for those in person. On top of all that, you will probably have to pay for shipping, and then wait to have the chair delivered.

So, shopping for a camping chair online may not be the best plan, but it can save you time in researching the different types of chairs available.

The big discount chains often seem like the obvious place to look for a camp chair. They emphasize low prices, and they will indeed beat out the other retailers much of the time.

On the other hand, there selection is not always that good. You may not find more than four or five choices, none of which may suit your needs. Remember, these stores sell everything from groceries to dresses to HD TVs, so they will only allot so much space, sometimes one aisle, to camping equipment, and only a small portion of that to chairs. Still, if you just want a cheap, basic camping chair, these are not bad places to look out.

Your best bet for finding a camp chair, however, is probably one of the sporting goods or outdoor gear chains. These retailers will give a lot more space to camping chairs … sometimes more than one aisle. This means a lot of choices, so you can find exactly what you want.

Not only that, but because these retailers know how easy it is for you to just pick up a cheap chair at a discount store, they are almost always running sales that will save you a few bucks. Finally, if you have questions about a chair, the staff at one of these stores will probably be able to answer it. That beats the heck out of a blank look and a shrug.

After reviewing these options, you should be able to find the camping chair you want with less hassle and at the price you want. Take a look at your local discount store if you already have to go there for something else. Otherwise, you will save the most time and effort by heading over to the sporting goods place. Happy shopping!