Changing lanes

Changing your business path mid-stream may not always be conducive to long-term success, but when it works, it can work well. By AMANDA GOME

Bob Cheng, 33, is our Entrepreneur Online this week. In 1999 at age 25, he suddenly changed direction from running a telecommunications company to starting a completely new business, EmailCash Marketing. Growth catapulted to $5.2 million in 2004-05 and is expected to be $11 million in 2006-07.

Got some questions for Bob? Email them to [email protected].

In 1999 you suddenly changed direction. Why did you change so abruptly? Was it hard to make the decision?

It wasn’t hard to make the decision. Tel Pacific’s growth requires continuously purchasing networking equipment. I wanted a “virtual business” which can grow fast without the restriction of hardware. EmailCash was the fit I wanted.

Your business model in 1999 was new: web users received marketing emails and answered surveys from businesses who wanted to contact clients by email because it was easier than telemarketing. Web users go on a membership database and agree to have products marketed to them because they get rewarded.  How has your business model changed since you launched and why?

The business was originally created as “email + cash”, getting cash for receiving advertising emails. Then in early 2000, the business then added the survey component.

In late 2000, we added the eCommerce component, and become a full online rewards program. Our model was continuously changing, and when we launched in NZ, we were trying the “virtual city” concept, so our NZ operation is called SmileCity, rather than EmailCash.

The Do Not Call Register will prevent telemarketers ringing people if their home or mobile number is on the register. What impact will this have on your business?

The Do Not Call Register will help our business grow, because marketers will have to rely on our permission more and more. We already have full permission from our members, therefore we are not affected by Do Not Call Register.

If you want to survey customers, what is the main trick to get them to respond?

You need good incentives, including direct incentives such as cash and prizes. Other incentives include convincing people that it is quicker to use online tools to save time.

What is the latest technology/online tools you are using that are helping your business?

Wiki – we are building a company information centre and efficiently sharing the knowledge.

How do you market your business online and what works?

Marketing businesses online is very easy; it just requires some good marketing sense.

Most online campaigns are fully measurable, just continue what works, and discontinue what doesn’t work.

What is your best tip to get new business customers onboard?

In our business, as long as we have a large consumer base, that’s all we need.

Large consumer bases attract more business customers. We spent millions on marketing just to make sure we continue to have a large consumer base.

Where do you get your best leads?

A good marketing campaign is about a good “mix”. We get out best result when we mix TV with radio.

When did you come to Australia?

In 1989, when I was 15.

How has your background helped you become an entrepreneur?

My father was an entrepreneur, he started his business from nothing. I was determined to be an entrepreneur when I was young.

How have you expanded your business globally?

There is no boundaries for internet businesses, as we are hosting all our global sites from Australia. And we do most of our business using emails.

For example, we do not have an office or staff in NZ, and our NZ site has just been selected the NZ site of the year.

What is the worst mistake you made expanding globally and what did you learn?

When we moved to Taiwan, we tried to save time by using the same web page format as our Australian site. But it simply doesn’t work. What works in one country may not work in others. Each country has their own style, so we re-designed the whole web site.

What is the best lesson you have learnt as a leader of people?

Do not over-promise. Always try to reduce people’s expectations, and over deliver.

What keeps you awake at night?

When the business was started, the server was very unstable, you never know when the server would crash.

I wasn’t able to sleep well in those days. But now, the hardware and software has been much more stable. There hasn’t been much worry since then.

Where do you draw your strength when things get really tough?

Constantly seeking information from the internet and from my family.

Three key elements to get people to do things online?

  1. Direct incentive – cash, prizes.
  2. To save their time – people use online tools to save time.
  3. To waste their time – people also use online to waste time, watching videos, etc…


Got some questions for Bob Cheng? Send them to [email protected].


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments