CHEAP 'N' CHEERFUL. The list of failed e-tailers reads like a dot.com massacre. The daily report of casualties, usually accompanied by revisionist wisdom of what can and cannot work on the net, makes uncomfortable reading. Never in business history has so much been spent so quickly by so few for such little reward.
By contrast, our decision to run on a very low burn rate is beginning to pay off. I've never believed a web site could buy its market share through expensive advertising campaigns, and our five filing cabinets are a testament to this low-burn approach. My finance director, an ex-Deloitte & Touche consultant, picked them up for pounds 50 at a bankruptcy asset sale last year, and they even threw in our fax machine for free. At the time I grumbled at this extreme frugality - we are a new-media business after all, and yet the cabinets are a disgusting brown-and-cream colour and badly dented. I was reminded by the FD that a filing cabinet is just a filing cabinet and that internet start-ups are just like any other new company.
He has a point. Before you can build a pounds 100 million business you have to build a pounds 10 million one. This can only be done by conserving your cash and organically growing your revenue. So, for those who think all dot.coms fritter their cash on inflatable pink boardrooms and chill-out zones with real turf for employees to meditate on - don't you believe it. There are plenty of us building good businesses with second-hand office furniture.
UGLY URL? Last week a smug internet journalist (why aren't there any telephone journalists or fax journalists?) suggested our web address is too long. I was wounded. It's like telling a parent they have an ugly child. I replied (just as smugly) that anyone who couldn't spell BusinessesForSale shouldn't be thinking of buying a business.
DESERT ORCHIDS. There's a misapprehension that all web sites are created equal. To those of us in the know, however, some are much more equal than others. One of the problems our sales people face is the assumption by customers that their own site - albeit parochial in form, function and traffic - is far better than any multi-listing exchange such as ours.
'I'm already on the internet ... I've got my own web site ... SmithBloggsCommercialProperty.Devon.org,' they say. How uncanny, then, that over the past few months, many of these people are beginning to come back to us. As a specialist in selling SMEs in America told me last week: 'I have given up on the idea that my web site alone can help me find new buyers and sellers. It's like putting your sign up in a desert.'