My ‘eureka moment’ happened during an e-commerce seminar in Edinburgh in the summer of 1999, at the height of the dot com boom.
Dot Com Bubble
I was working as a solicitor in private practice but had been looking for opportunities to start my own business. Investors were pouring money into internet start-ups without any caution and the opportunities seemed boundless – hence how I found myself at that e-commerce lecture.
The lecturer was speaking about digital content – how one day we would be downloading books and music and the like – and that’s when I got the idea to sell legal documents online. I knew I had a great idea and left the seminar half-way through and started jotting down my business plan straight away.
My first attempt was a solo effort, working from my spare room and set up with (very little of) my own money. I was paying a firm of local solicitors to provide the documents and relying on a friend to design the website, but things were moving at a sluggish pace and I was anxious that someone else would come up with the same idea and get to market before me.
If you don’t ask …
So I cold-called one of the biggest firms of solicitors in Scotland to see if they would be interested in a joint venture, banking on the huge wave of enthusiasm for dot coms, and within a month I had a swanky office in the centre of Edinburgh, two full-time assistants and a 6-figure capital investment.
The down side to the boom was that website designers and programmers were charging the earth and were taking on more than they could cope with. It took more than 6 months and £50,000 to get the second website up and running and although we had a very attractive shop, nobody was buying. Eventually, after 2 years, we ran out of money and had to close down.
Build it and they will come
Where we went wrong was with advertising – or rather lack thereof – and in particular search engine optimisation. We all had the naïve notion that if we built it, they would come. During this time I had started attending First Tuesday – a networking club for entrepreneurs who met on the first Tuesday of each month – and it was here that I met my now business partners, Jon and Joanne.
Third time lucky
Jon had already started up an online business selling goods to British expats. While the business itself had not been a huge commercial success, the lessons learned were invaluable. Joanne was working for a large corporate employer in Edinburgh and had the IT skills and experience we needed to build the website and our products. Together, we had everything we needed to get Clickdocs off the ground. Jon researched the market and designed the website, applying what he had learned about e-commerce from his earlier business. I drafted the legal documents and Joanne spent her evenings coding up the legal templates and working on the ‘back end’ of the website. Within a short period of time (and with very little investment) we were making sales and the business started growing exponentially.
You don’t need a huge amount of cash to start a business if you have the right people with the right skills.
Oh – and don’t give up if you think you have a great idea!