“Make something people want” – Paul Graham’s best piece of advice to any start-up …and not at all where we started out ourselves.
A few years ago I had set up and was running an advertising agency. Press ads were still flavour of the day so I had a simple idea – wouldn’t it be great if you could take out a small classified ad but then point people to a web link where you could show lots more information and pics. To do it you’d need to be able to create a mini-website instantaneously ideally using Microsoft Word (because hey everyone knows Word right?)
My friend, business partner and technical genius Simon Nugent thought it was an interesting concept and, for fun, had a working prototype up and running in a few days. And so PAX.MD (the MD stood for my domain) was born into this world. What happened to the idea? It bombed – firstly the people still taking out press ads were old and weren’t interested in the internet and secondly they couldn’t put together a Word document to save their lives.
OK so that didn’t work. But we did have a piece of software that would allow us to make mini-websites quickly – and if you can make them quickly you can make them cheaply. So who would “want” and more importantly pay for a mini-website? Well like everything in life there was only one way to find out …pick up the phone and start trying to sell.
And who did we call? Small businesses who had placed an ad in their local newspaper that week. For starters they were by definition paying to market themselves and we could see if they had a website or not. Hi Mr Plumber I see you have an ad in today’s paper and you don’t have a website – we can have you up and running by tomorrow for just €99+VAT. And that’s how we got our first few hundred customers. The only problem was we ran out of prospects – the papers won’t like us saying it but after a few months we had run out of people to call – all of the customers were repeats.
Which led us onto our next big question … what % of small businesses In Ireland have websites and what % of those who don’t actually want one? Neither question has ever been answered satisfactorily – there is no central repository of website information so for starters no-one actually knows how many active websites are out there.
Last week, The Amarach consulting Second UPC Report on Ireland’s Digital Future was published http://www.upc.ie/pdf/UPC_2014_report.pdf – using the CSO statistics it said there were 188,000 Irish SME enterprises and that 25% of these (or 47,000) did not have a website or homepage. This also suggests there are 141,000 Irish business websites out there.
And so you are left wondering what has this got to do with PAX AD and our own start-up story? Paul Graham suggested to start-ups to move and fail quickly – what you start doing is in all likelihood not what you will end up doing … and so it is with us… the next chapter in our start-up story is about to begin – for answers to all of the above questions and our next big initiative watch this space…
P.S. Paul Graham’s brilliant essays can be found here http://paulgraham.com/articles.html – I would recommend them all to anyone thinking of starting-up anything
Written by Teddy Daly. For more information visit http://www.paxad.ie.
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