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What I Learned from 10 Online Businesses : Page 2

Alex Genadinik shares the experiences he learned from 10 Web companies he started in the past and what happened to them.


Attempt No. 6: Personal Case Study with Terrible Branding

When starting a new site there are always questions of what is a good domain name and how to brand the company. Here is my fun personal experiment:

I tried to come up with the worst possible brand for a site, but have the actual site be useful with good content, and try to compare the results with similar well-branded.

So without further ado, I created a digestion health site called red poop and a urinary health site called red urine. I even used the same site layout (I tend to recycle the same one anyhow).

The findings were a mixed bag. Yes, everything was harder: ad click-through rate was lower, visitor skepticism was higher (no surprise with a name like that) and I had to work extra hard to achieve even meager results.

But that was also the great thing about these sites. Because I worked extra hard, I had to give it that extra 110% savvy, intelligence and creativity, which caused me to learn more and improve the overall product more. To me this has become the answer of why there are so many great companies out there with terrible names -- because the founders were the type to work extra hard and to overcome those obstacles.

Once I compensated for the terribly branded sites, visitors did not mind it too much and I achieved a very low bounce rate for the home page in the 20%-30% range (this is considered quite good). Furthermore, the sites were extremely easy and low-tech to create. And the ads on the sites were making money from the first month, as I was getting the SEO right (which is something that can't be said about most startups). Granted, the income from these sites was pretty low, but I got to about a 2% click-through rate on the ads which is not great but could be worse with sites like this.

The bad names did hurt the sites by decreasing the chance of someone posting a link to something that sounds so weird. So I think in the long run, I lose out on the "link love" as it is called in the SEO community, but these sites continue to slowly grow mostly from search engine traffic.

Another important takeaway was that the advertisement space for digestive and urinary health was not competitive. What that meant for me as the publisher was that the ad clicks were not earning much money on average when compared to other verticals like commerce or entertainment.

Attempt No. 7: Health Site Network

I took the lessons learned in SEO and advertising from the badly named brands and created a few sites in much more competitive health spaces such as:

In hindsight, I probably should have narrowed my focus and not created so many different small sites, as this is just a side project for me and every new such site dis-focused my overall effort, but I do have to admit that I have developed a personal affinity for these health sites because they may actually help someone. Plus I have fun and learn a lot when I work on them, and they tend to grow very slowly revenue.

Attempt No. 8: Brokering Models

My current interest is with what I call "brokering models" where a site just serves as a platform for bringing people together (brokering them). Facebook, Meetup.com, and even Twitter are huge brokering platforms. They have large scale and seemingly endless resources to grow. It is very difficult for new companies to catch them. Right now there is a niche brokering phenomenon happening where smaller sites are creating niche communities.

An example would be a site that brings cycling enthusiasts together in California, or a site focused on matching tutors with students in particular geographical areas. I don't know whether such sites exist, but they can typically do a much better job than the big sites as satisfying their niche audience.

I am currently working on a site that would create a stronger San Francisco women's community by helping local women find exercise buddies, create mothers groups, and stronger professional female networks.

It isn't a particularly ambitious project, which I like about it, since I do not have the resources to create big, ambitious projects, and I like that this project has a chance to help people, which is my own big motivation and gives brings me personal satisfaction as well. I am also doing something similar with Hiking San Francisco where I want to create a thriving local hiking community where I bring together people looking for others to hike with.

Attempt No. 9: Virtual Memorial -- Case Study in Lead Acquisition Patterns and Business Ethics

I once was walking in a place from which I could see a military cemetery, and I noticed one peculiar thing. There was not a single person visiting any of the thousands of graves at that moment. I thought that the people buried have loved ones who cannot visit their graves as often as they'd like, and could maybe visit a virtual online memorial page with nice comments from others.

After some research I realized that there were already many such websites that enabled people to create online memorials. They easily filled the top 10 search results for a Google search like "online memorial." I was not going to be able to compete there. Instead, very recently I started a Grief and Bereavement site that helped people cope with loss, and enable people to create a virtual memorial for lost family members or veterans.

The strategy is that there is lots of competition in the virtual memorial space. So I don't want to compete with those more established sites. Instead, I will help people who are dealing with their bereavement and grief, and let them make a memorial.

This site is still under development because I have not thought through all the ethical issues. I do not feel comfortable making money from people's death or grief. This is a sensitive space where I should help people for free. But if I do make the site completely non-profit, I won't be able to devote much time to it since I need to think about making a living.

If anyone has thoughts on this, I'd love to hear, as this is a project I'd like to pursue because it is philanthropic and I feel something that is needed and would help people.

Attempt No. 10: DontWantToWork.com

I think the name speaks for itself here, but it can be a bit misleading. The site is not for people who are lazy, but rather for people who don't want to work a regular job and are maybe entrepreneurs or have other things in mind.

The site is under development as I am looking to free up some time to work on it. I envision it doing two things: 1) Educate people on personal finance so they can make smarter decisions with the money they have and 2) Help them find partners for whatever their interests or projects may be.

Alex Genadinik is the founder of San Francisco Hiking Community and a Startup Consultancy. Please say hello and continue the conversation on this topic on Twitter @genadinik
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