Growth, How I did it

Buck’s night rant leads to shopping reviews

Michelle Hammond /

start-up-profile-tony-edIt’s safe to say most men aren’t thinking about business on the night of their buck’s party. But the idea for eStoreReview, founded by Tony Wan and Edward Chan, was set in motion on the way home from Wan’s buck’s night.

 

Based in Melbourne, eStoreReview is a website where people can find real reviews of online stores and share their personal shopping experience with the community.

 

The business was founded in March this year. Wan and Chan talk to StartupSmart about buck’s nights, mobile phones and the importance of picking a good business partner.

 

What’s your background and what niche did you identify?

 

It all started with Tony wanting to purchase a non-major branded mobile phone. The phone was not readily available online but he did find several online stores that sold the product.

 

Unfortunately, the store he picked was relatively small and wasn’t situated in Australia. The website looked fairly legitimate but there is always uncertainty surrounding the service, warranty and reliability of the store.

 

Tony searched the web for advice on the store but couldn’t find anything.

 

He did find many websites which reviewed products, but nothing for where people could share their online shopping experience.

 

Taking the risk, he bought the phone. He was lucky that he got the phone but he did have some complaints about the service.

 

One month after the purchase, on the way home from Tony’s buck’s night, Tony was ranting to me about his shopping experience.

 

Tony asked me to help develop a website where people can share their online shopping experiences. Tony said he would be the first person to put in his two cents’ worth.

 

I thought it would be a good idea and suggested to create this together. I have a developer background, and have set up many websites for others before.

 

Tony, being a business analyst, didn’t have the same experiences but was able to bring a different view to the table.

 

On the back of the conversation on the way home from a party, eStoreReview was born.

 

How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?

 

Currently, the business is funded by our full-time salaries. The costs were relatively low as the design and development were mostly performed in-house.

 

The only real costs were with website registrations, web hosting, and general administration with obtaining an ABN.

 

While we continue our full-time jobs, we do not foresee a problem funding the website. However, finding time and energy is one of our biggest challenges.

 

How many staff do you have?

 

Just the two of us.

 

How do you promote the business?

 

Currently we promote via word-of-mouth, Facebook, organic search (SEO) and Google Adwords.

 

We are in the mist of determining other marketing techniques, but have found that the costs involved are relatively high.

 

As such, we determine which method will target a particular problem and provide us with the most cost-to-benefit ratio.

 

A good example is that we found many people we engaged forgot the website name and URL. To tackle this, we have created business cards to remind people of our website.

 

We tried to design the card to be noticeable and memorable without being over the top. By using this simple promotion technique, we did notice an increase in the number of people coming to the site after our conversations.

 

What’s your point/s of difference?

 

While we were conceptualising and developing the website, we identified several issues people raised against reviews websites in general. These were:

  • That reviews can be biased due to affiliations with the manufacturer.
  • That reviews are fictitious and cannot be trusted.
  • That people only submit reviews if they had an extremely good or bad experience, but would never submit a review if they had satisfactory services. This would lead to unrealistic and skewered results.

To tackle these issues and to make us stand out in the market, we:

  • Have a system which eliminates fake reviews and is impartial in the submission of reviews.
  • Provide rewards to promote users to provide positive, negative and everything in between.

    We found that a simple reward can encourage some people to be more open with their comments and share their online shopping experiences.

  • Understand that rewards may not be for everyone, where some people may criticise the integrity of reviews.

    Instead, we are developing an option where users can donate their points to a charity.

    Then the reviewer will be contributing to make Australia’s online shopping community safer, and contributing to Australia’s less fortunate.

    We are finalising a few more details with this option and it should be available on our website shortly.

What are your revenue projections for 2012/2013?

 

We are not expecting any revenue in 2012/2013.

 

At the moment we are focused on building a community around eStoreReview, making the site useful, and hopefully enhancing the online shopping experience for someone in the community.

 

Further down the track, we will need to develop a stronger revenue model to support eStoreReview.

 

At a high level, we have considered income via advertising, but at this stage we still have nothing concrete and really don’t have much of an idea when this will occur.

 

What’s the biggest risk you face?

 

The biggest risk we face is in marketing and, if not done successfully, we might see another competitor take the idea and develop a similar product.

 

With most start-up companies, we think the hardest part is in getting your name out there.

 

As we have no marketing background, we are finding it difficult to promote eStoreReview, especially with the level of funds available.

 

Initially we thought word-of-mouth would suffice and that the website would grow organically.

 

However, we quickly found out it is extremely difficult to get people to write reviews, let alone recommend the website to another friend.

 

The worst part was we couldn’t even get our close friends to write a review. We practically had to beg them before they would sign up and write a review.

 

Nevertheless, we are actively working on a marketing campaign to get more visibility, but we think this will be a challenge for the coming months.

 

We believe that once enough people know about the website and understand our product, they will begin to use it more often and embed it as a part of their online shopping habit.

 

Is there anything you would have done differently?

 

Both of us have an enthusiastic and positive personality. As such, after the initial planning we began development. We had ideas of the design and the end outcome.

 

This is great at the start, where we developed most of the website in a short time frame, but, in hindsight, we could have done two things better:

  1. Set realistic expectations so that we would not overwork ourselves to meet unrealistic deadlines and targets.
  1. Performed better planning exercises to reduce the amount of rework.

Moving forward, we hold fortnightly planning sessions to determine the next steps to develop eStoreReview and to tackle pressing issues.

 

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

 

First, you need to be passionate about what you do. Not just interest, but excessive amounts of passion; borderline obsession.

 

You need to live and breathe your business, understand your goals and stick to them. You need to be ready to make sacrifices, whether it is lifestyle, money or even time with family.

 

Second, don’t focus too much on making money. Really set the focus on solving the problem. If you can solve a real problem and provide value to the community, the rewards will follow.

 

Lastly, pick a good partner. Both of us have a good friendship, similar working patterns and respect each other greatly.

 

We both believe in the same outcomes and are willing to make the same sacrifices.

 

We both had our times where we would reconsider the business but, in the end, we would pull each other through the hardship and provide support to each other.

 

Trust your partner, support each other, and encourage each other to the next level.

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