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.

RMS Titanic Insurance Claims

It is exactly 100 years since the pride of the White Star Line, the RMS Titanic, hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank with the loss of over 1500 lives.

The centenary has prompted many insurance companies on both sides of the Atlantic to publish documents relating to the greatest maritime loss to date in relative costs, mostly showing their company’s involvement with claims payouts.

When the Titanic sank on the 15th of April 1912, the Lutine Bell was rung at Lloyd’s of London, and a very rapid claims process was begun.

A few months earlier the ships owners, the White Star Line, had instructed insurance brokers Willis Faber and Co. to find cover for the hull, cargo, contents and personal effects of the ship. Willis Faber passed the ‘slip’ to their Lloyd’s mercantile division where it was assessed and subsequently underwritten by multiple syndicates and insurance underwriters acting on behalf of members.

The Titanic’s hull was insured for total loss for $5 million or just over one million pounds sterling at the exchange rate of the time. The policy also included total loss cover for cargo at $600,000 and contents at $400,000 a value equivalent to two hundred thousand pounds.

The original broking slip passed around Lloyd’s has been lost, but was photographed and can be seen in Wright and Fayles book of 1928 called ‘A history of Lloyd’s’. It shows that seven large insurance companies took nearly forty percent of the risk between them and the other sixty percent was underwritten by over seventy individuals and Lloyd’s ‘Names’.

According to documents recently released by Willis the marine insurance policy cost White Star £7500 or $38,000 to insure the Titanic at a rate of 15 shillings per hundred. Modern day rates for cruise liners are considerably lower.

The Ship was considerably underinsured for a value of only five-eighths of its replacement cost. This was apparently because the owners thought the hull to be unsinkable and were prepared to bear the additional $3 million dollars of risk themselves.

Willis state that despite the owners belief in the vessel being unsinkable, they had trouble placing all the hull cover at Lloyd’s and some forty thousand pounds was underwritten in Germany. There was also an extremely high excess or deductible of 15% of the insured value.

Four days after the Titanic sank the US senate held a preliminary investigation at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. The surviving officers of the ship presented their evidence to the panel describing the events of the sinking and signed what is called a ‘protest’ which enable insurance claims to be paid.

Incredibly White Star were reimbursed for the loss of the hull within seven days of the sinking, presumably minus the excess, and fully paid up on cargo and contents losses within thirty days.

They were however grossly underinsured for their liability to others given the value of the people on board. Claims against the company exceeded their cover by over $1 million and whether they had private P and I accident cover for their staff liability, remains a mystery. Suffice to say that payouts to families of lost members of the crew, were paltry.

Claims for the loss of people amounted to in excess of five times what the value of the ship was worth, for those lucky ones who happened to have had life insurance policies or had taken out travellers personal accident cover. Although no disputes about loss of life occurred, families had to wait a lot longer than White Star for compensation.

The final payout for human losses has never been fully asserted as over one hundred and fifty different life of accident insurance companies were involved in cover, on both sides of the Atlantic. American companies took the bulk of the claims, due to the many rich entrepreneurs and millionaire family members who were drowned.

The total loss is estimated to be in the region of $20 million and one of the largest payouts was by the Travelers Insurance company of Hartford who paid out a life policy for over $1 million.

The sinking of the Titanic also brought about the first and only insurance claim for a car being hit by an iceberg, by a Mr William Carter who claimed five thousand dollars for his 25 horse power Renault, lost at sea.

Lingerie Shopping for Men

Lingerie shopping for men may sound really strange, although you would be surprised to know that lingerie shopping has really become a common practice for men.

Men love to shop for exquisite and sexy lingerie for their beloved. Now, this can be a really tedious task as shopping for something as intimate and complicated as lingerie is not an easy job.

Every woman is different and have different tastes. Here, it is difficult to figure out what kind of lingerie would please your loved one, as a gift. You may like her to wear something as hot as thongs but she may prefer something elegant and lacy. Here, it is extremely necessary to keep in mind what she likes and dislikes.

Buying sexy lingerie for your sweetheart can make her swoon with delight. This would be extremely romantic. Now, this does not mean that sexy lingerie is just a gift for your lover. It would be a gift for you as well. Giving lingerie to your lover would show that you really love her and care for her deeply.

Now, here are some important things you need to consider prior to purchasing lingerie for your loved one. First of all, you need to do some research on the type of lingerie available in the market and also keep in mind the person who is going to wear it. Think of the style that she usually prefers wearing and then decide on a specific style.

In case, you want to experiment on your purchase, you can consider purchasing something lacy with a stretchy mesh. This would make her love wear it.

Remember that women's sizes vary by manufacturer and material. Stretchy materials and meshes tend to fit every woman, with a slight guess.

In case you want to find out what she actually likes, you can try paying attention to her comments when watching movies or commercials. If she does point out a certain style or look, it is quite straightforward to find something similar. But make sure it is similar, try not to get carried away and chose whatever the cutest model is wearing ….

Quality need not cost the earth, as there are lots of great designs at affordable prices. You should really consider purchasing lingerie online. This would offer you privacy and also ensure you are not rushed into a buying decision. You can compare lots of different styles online, and above all, just take your time over it.

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 mergers between giant automakers of the world.

Moreover, the advancements 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 automobile sales industry experienced a cogent decline which was during the global recession, as this industry is indirectly dependent on to economic shifts in employment and spending making, it vulnerable. While demand for new and used vehicles in mature markets (e.g. 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 amongst the automobile manufacturers. Japanese automakers in particular, have initiated innovative production methods by adapting and modifying the U.S. manufacturing model, as well as utilizing the technology to elevate production and give better competition. The World Automotive industry is dynamic and capacious, accounting for approximately one in ten jobs in developed countries.

Developing countries often resort to their local automotive sector for economic growth opportunities, maybe because of the vast linkages 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 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 U.S. automakers striving for supremacy in both performance and fuel economy. The Japanese aren’t 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 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 the 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 curb 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 incentives 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 of 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 unorganised sector of Used Vehicles industry, there were no organised players to assist the consumers in buying of 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 automobile 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 organised players stepping in, the used cars market has benefited from fair deals, warranties, better retail network, credibility, transparency, easy availability of finances. These have all made buying a used car easy. Organised 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. Besides 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 decline 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 successful ultimately, linking it to overall development. With the Make in India Campaign and promotion of eco- friendly vehicles, India is expected to soon to become 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 ultimately taking the country forward.