John Buckman on How to be a Successful Internet Entrepreneur

John Buckman, founder and CEO of (and founder of BookMooch), gave a really interesting talk on how to be successful as an Internet entrepreneur at Loic Le Meur’s recent LeWeb08 conference in Paris. He had a lot of good, practical tips about what he sees as the ‘right’ approach to entrepreneurship.

His presentation is pretty concise and to the point. Worth watching if you have a few minutes.

Here’s a summary of his points:

Finding a good idea

  1. Start thinking of ideas. Write them down.
  2. Do nothing for 3 months (most of your ideas will be bad)
  3. Are they still good ideas? If so, pick one.
  4. Explain your idea in 15 seconds to a friend in a noisy pub over a beer. Do they stop drinking their beer to listen to you? If not, it’s probably not a good idea.

Developing Your Idea

  1. Before you do any work, write the first line of your press release.
  2. Write the first paragraph of your homepage.
  3. Make the homepage.
  4. Hunt for unique names (but don’t worry too much – it’s not that important)
  5. Don’t borrow money. Figure out how to do the idea extremely cheaply.
  6. Make a mock-up. Show it to people. Get feedback.
  7. Launch way before you’re ready. Get more feedback.
  8. Pitch it to bloggers. If no one cares, drop it.

Other notes on entrepreneurship

  • Don’t quit your day job.
  • Only quit it once you have enough money.
  • Sales people are an extremely bad idea. They’re expensive. Your product should be great enough to spread via word of mouth from a few early users to the wider world.
  • Read a lot of books about how to run a company.

How to get great press coverage for your startup

  • be really interesting
  • convince two influential bloggers to write about you
  • focus on freelancers, not staff writers (freelancers tend to have to find interesting stories; staff writers get given them by their editors)
  • become a cause that a freelancer would like to adopt
  • once a couple of people have written about you, more (often more mainstream) people will write about you
  • think of as many edgy/juicy story angles as possible to give to journalists

Product/site development

  • Use a technology like PHP that is well proven and cheap to hire developers for
  • Don’t skimp on graphics
  • Be technical (if you’re not already, learn)

GoodGym – Winners of SI Camp 2!


This weekend I was lucky enough to be part of the second Social Innovation Camp.

Like the first SI Camp back in April, the idea was to get geeks and social innovators together for an intense couple of days to work in small teams to prototype some socially-beneficial web tools.

It was a huge amount of fun and an opportunity to work on some really worthy concepts and meet loads of terrific people.

I was part of a team working on a slightly wacky idea called The Good Gym, that aimed to help connect joggers needing motivation with potentially isolated old people. Each jogger would be paired with an older person living a suitable distance away and would commit to regular runs to the older person’s house to take them a newspaper and check up on them. In return, the older person would help make sure the jogger kept to their training plan and could impart their accumulated wisdom.

After a very productive (and, unlike last year, surprisingly calm) day-and-a-half of designing, coding, video interviewing and Powerpoint wizardry, we were all set for the judging panel. Here’s our slideshow:

GoodGym SI Camp presentation

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sicamp goodgym)

The teams put together some amazing stuff over the weekend. It was incredible to see again what could be achieved in such a short time with good people and a lot of enthusiasm.

One of my personal favourites was AccessCity, but all the projects were extremely worthy and I really hope that at list some will live on beyond the weekend itself to start making an impact in the real world.

As for GoodGym, the social innovation gods must have been looking kindly upon us yesterday because we were awarded 1st prize. Great work, team!

Local Search Habits: Findings from a Yahoo Study

Greg Sterling over on Search Engine Land shared some interesting findings the other day from a Yahoo study into consumers’ behaviour when choosing local services and providers.

The numbers regarding consumers’ choice of research tools (generic search engine vs. vertical search engine vs. internet yellow pages) are particularly interesting as there’s quite a lot of variation between verticals.

The article also has some good data about the types of terms people tend to search for.

Useful reading if you’re marketing local services.

Predicting the Top-Selling Web Apps of the Future

Can Sales of Desktop Apps Predict Successful Web Apps?

Attending FOWA a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about web apps in general. With the move from desktop to web-hosted software, I’m wondering if what’s selling now in desktop versions will be a good predictor for what people will pay for in web app form? (And note that I’m talking about paying. Popularity of free apps would be a different topic entirely.)

For inspiration, have a look at Amazon UK’s current software bestseller list. Here’s how it breaks down…

This is based on a categorisation of Amazon UK’s 100 best-selling software products by units sold.

The results are no doubt skewed towards the Amazon buyer demographic. I’d guess that gamers, for example, are under-represented. Also, the average purchase price varies quite significantly by category. Education items, in particular, tend to be quite cheap, whereas operating systems and office software are rather expensive.

Anyhow, it does give an interesting idea of what currently sells in large volumes. Hidden within those categories (especially ‘Other’) is a multitude of niche products, each of which manages to sell in healthy quantities.

But Web Apps are More Than That

Of course, moving online isn’t all about who hosts your software. It’s also about easier communication and collaboration (think Facebook, for example). Top web apps won’t necessarily just be online versions of anything that existing previously in desktop form. But many will, I think, take an idea that’s worked well in the desktop era and give it a few tweaks to take advantage of the web. See Gmail, for example.

Ideas for your Next Web App

In summary, if you’re looking for inspiration to build a web app, you could do worse than finding a popular desktop app that has yet to make it to the web. to Launch UK Version of its Hyperlocal News Site

Union Flag
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mr. Siegal

According to today, hyperlocal news site has confirmed that it will be launching a UK version. They report that the UK site is currently in beta. currently powers ‘buzz maps‘ for the Washington Post that show which places are currently being mentioned most by local bloggers. No doubt they’ll be looking to set up some similar partnerships when they launch here in Britain.

Trinity Mirror Starts Geotagging Local News

Southern UK - A Year of Edits
Creative Commons License photo credit: Peter Ito

The Guardian’s Oliver Luft reported on Wednesday that the Trinity Mirror-owned Liverpool Echo has launched a map-based news service where they are geotagging news stories and allowing for postcode-based searches.

According to the article, Trinity Mirror have plans to roll this out more widely.

Trinity Mirror also have other experiments with presenting news at more focused local levels, so it will be interesting to see how they get on.

(Thanks to James Thornett for mentioning the Guardian article.)

Is there an Opportunity for Low-Cost Local SEM?

Greg Sterling has an interesting post on his Screenwerk blog on the challenges of selling SEM to small local businesses.

He argues that most small businesses don’t understand enough about SEM and all the metrics involved to evaluate an SEM service except by trying it. When they do, often the ROI is not great because several parties have to take a cut of the ad budget.

Greg goes on to suggest that SEM is probably too complex to be sold to many small businesses whose ad budgets are simply too small to get reasonable results:

It’s a disservice to sell traffic at pricing levels that are too low to deliver volume or to create unrealistic expectations with inflated claims about results. Both drive churn, which is inefficient for everyone.

I tend to agree with what Greg’s saying there, but I do wonder whether there’s an opportunity to provide low-cost templated or even fully self-service SEM services to specific verticals by providing standard sets of keywords and just varying the location that is targeted.

We could imagine a service for plumbers, say, where they would click a few checkboxes to say which, out of heating, bathroom installation, emergency call-out, etc., they provided, then select their target town and monthly budget.

That would be enough to set them up with a suitable PPC campaign with a relevant set of target keywords and monitoring tools. By automating the process, the cost could be kept low and hopefully the ROI would be more attractive.

How Low Cost SEM Compares to Alternatives

A few questions:

  • Are good SEM firms doing this anyway?
  • Is the main cost involved in small business SEM actually the cost of selling to these small businesses in the first place (rather than setting up and managing the campaigns?)
  • Would this even just be more or less equivalent to vertical directory sites buying traffic and selling it on?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mandiber

UK Advertising Industry Statistics

This data has been out for a few months now, but for anyone whose business depends on advertising, it’s worth a second look.

It’s from the World Advertising Research Center’s Advertising Statistics Yearbook 2008.

UK Advertising Expenditure at current prices, 2007

Total advertising
£ millions
% change
Press 7,716 -1.6%
Television 4,671 2.3%
Internet 3,026 39.5%
Direct Mail 2,171 -6.5%
Outdoor & Transport 1,058 4.6%
Radio 534 3.4%
Cinema 207 10.1%
TOTAL 19,384 4.2%

Note: Figures are inclusive of production costs.

Given the current economic climate, no doubt most of these numbers will be seeing a substantial dip next time around.