STARTING AND BUILDING AN ONLINE BUSINESS – THE ONLY WAY FORWARD

Serial entrepreneur Andrew Michael, CEO and co-founder of Bark.com, takes a look at his latest venture and the lessons that he has learned along the way as to how to make an online business succeed.

Starting a business is never an easy process and one that inevitably leads people to question their own sanity at some point along the journey. For some, it can be the risk of packing in the safety of an office-based 9-5 job, not knowing when the next pay cheque is coming or for others, it’s the possibility that you might end up significantly out of pocket if you’ve invested your own money into the project. Whatever the case, the path of the entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart – however it can be hugely rewarding should things as you hope.

I started my first business at 17. Still in my teens, I didn’t have the advantage of years of business experience and had to learn on my feet, quickly. My business – called Fasthosts – started as I identified a gap in the market for web hosting services. I’d always been entrepreneurial and encouraged from a young age to take risks, and it paid off.  In 2006, I sold Fasthosts for £61.5 million.

What was the secret behind Fasthosts phenomenal growth? Firstly, I was stringent with my recruitment process, determined to hire only people who shared the same passion, drive and commitment to making the business work as I did – and generally, who had skills that I lacked. Hiring people from a variety of backgrounds who fill the gaps in your knowledge enables you to focus on strategy while they get on with what they do best.

Secondly, while heeding the advice of those around you is important – after all, they will all have their areas of expertise and insight they can share – ultimately, you have to trust your gut instinct. When it comes to the direction you want to take your company, you have to be confident that you’ve got to a certain position because of your decision-making skills. That said, make sure you listen to customers – their feedback is invaluable and, at the end of the day, they are the lifeblood of any business.

Andrew Michael
Andrew Michael

Thirdly, and something I wish I’d been taught sooner, an entrepreneur needs to be nimble and flexible. Strategies and plans are important and will need to be in place, but if Plan A doesn’t work out, explore alternative avenues. Failure only comes to be if you stop, if you get up and keep going then it becomes part of the process of being successful. The most successful and very best have suffered their fair share of rejection – just look at Steve Jobs or The Beatles. Its cliché, but rings true, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. The important thing is to learn from any mistakes to ensure you do not keep repeating the same ones.

As I reflect on these lessons, I now look to my latest venture – Bark.com, an online platform that helps to connect consumers with tradespeople in their local area. Sticking true to my Fasthosts roots, Bark.com represents my fifth online only business.

The future lies in online businesses, especially in our sector. The days of people trawling through the yellow pages or popping in to local tradesman offices are becoming a thing of the past as in today’s fast-paced society; consumers simply don’t have the time.

The use of mobile is a constant consideration for us as well, we always have to be thinking ‘‘how will this convert to mobile’ as it is increasingly likely that both sellers and buyers will be looking for our services while on-the-go. Online businesses also lend themselves further to flexible working which is slowly becoming common place within UK businesses and actually improves productivity among staff. The technology is now in place and as online start-ups continue to appear, renting office space will become an expenditure burgeoning companies, whose finances are tight, could do without. Start-ups and small businesses will increasingly choose to spend their budget on training, sales & marketing and product development as that is where they will experience the biggest gains to the company. Progressively for online businesses, security will be of paramount importance. We’ve only recently seen the reputational and financial damage that can be caused by breaches of security.

As technology continues to fit around people’s busy lives, we are glad to be at the forefront of this. People want easy access, quality service and all of this done as quickly as possible; hence the huge rise in businesses and apps which are purely made for convenience. The current way of living is fast-paced and one where we most want almost instant gratification. Heeding customer feedback is one of the most crucial elements to building an online business as their feedback can help shape actions and make them feel valued which will exude a greater chance of loyalty. At Bark.com, we recognise this and these are the boxes that any emerging online businesses now should look to be ticking in order to be successful.

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