TECHKNOW: Lessons from Web Alley

TECHKNOW: Lessons from Web Alley - STILL BURNING ... Conventional wisdom has it that the great entrepreneurial internet era is over. The handful of early movers who established new online brands have (just) made it, but those who followed are going out of

by RICHARD ELLIS, co-founder of onefootball.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

STILL BURNING ... Conventional wisdom has it that the great entrepreneurial internet era is over. The handful of early movers who established new online brands have (just) made it, but those who followed are going out of business at a rate of 30-plus companies a month. According to the experts, established off-line brands will now dominate the online space, leaving little room for independent start-ups.

Yet the evidence is different. Sure, some of the get-rich-quick brigade who jumped on the bandwagon in the golden days of 1999 have slunk back to their salaried jobs, never to risk their fingers again. But countless others are still out there, burning to succeed.

And great opportunities remain. Just 6% of the world is on the internet, leaving huge room for expansion. History teaches us that new inventions and industries create thousands of new businesses, and that it takes decades before the winners emerge. The speed at which today's technology moves makes it ever more difficult to identify long-term success stories. Instead of the internet, we'll soon be talking about what envangelists in the US call the evernet, where everyone will carry a mobile phone-cum-computer that is always on, giving high-speed, broadband, multi-format web access. The investment opportunities are as massive - and as risky - as ever.

PARTING SHOT One of the new skills of internet entrepreneurs is the delicate art of sacking people. But, having spent months hiring scores of people, a senior dot.com executive admitted to being terrified of delivering the bad news to his team. His task was eased when one doomed staffer walked into his office bearing a hip-flask and two glasses and poured them both a whisky, saying: 'It looks like you need this more than me.' If only it was always like that.

LONG SHOT Bullish forecasts suggested huge revenues to be made in online gambling - dollars 10 billion by 2003, according to one - and new markets to be exploited. Offshore, tax-free bookmakers sprang up, outfits like Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral poured millions into online ventures, and the demise of the high-street betting den was predicted. But the internet has proved a godsend for savvy punters. Able to study form easily, compare prices and open accounts with any of the 600 online bookmakers, they often beat the bookies. As margins are squeezed, smaller firms go out of business and the larger ones reassess strategy. Bookies are now trying to lure the 'ordinary' punter online, the bloke who nips out to put a fiver on his favourite team or horse with little thought as to its real chance of winning. They need him to make the golden forecasts come true.

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