Lessons Learned

In Focus

Don't let "Easy.com, Easy.go" be your mantra. Be a survivor instead.

OK, you've got your business plan. You've figured out your funding. You're bringing good people on board. Now you're ready to really get down to the business of starting up. This is where Reynolds has seen more than her share of businesses trip up by losing their focus. "You've got to have the business plan, and you need to stick to it," she says. "Don't be all over the place. For start-ups, that's the biggest problem-most of the time, the reason you got the money, the reason you started this, was you already proved the idea was a good one."

With an e-tailing reach spanning books and toys to housewares, Amazon.com may glow like the Holy Grail of dotcom-dom, but don't do as Amazon does. "You try to offer too many things to too many people, and you're bound to diffuse your business model, your focus on quality and your focus on customers," says Defren. Amazon's rocky road toward profitability is a living testimonial to the problems of such ambitious e-tailing. It's a lesson that applies to any Web business.

Insight Interactive is well aware of what has befallen Internet companies before them. "There's a focus on what we know we can [and can't] do," Mikles says. "I heard somebody say that more companies die of indigestion than they do of starvation. They [bite off] more than they can chew."

ResourceGuide

Get started on your own money-making Web site with How to Dotcom by Robert McGarvey.
Don't let "Dotcom Overload" get you down. You can stand apart from your dotcom competitors.
Need some inspiration? We weeded out the "Spun Gold" to bring you the 100 top Web sites for small business.

Keep your start-up's head up above water by sticking to your area of expertise and knowing your niche market backward and forward. As Reynolds says, if your business is selling Barbie clothes, don't suddenly start selling matchbox cars.

Wrap It Up

A well-researched business plan. Strong financials. Seasoned management. Market focus. Does this all sound awfully familiar? Gee, you might as well be starting up a corner grocery store or pet-grooming parlor. And that's a good way to look at your new dotcom. The Web is the bricks. The Internet is the mortar. At the end of the day, business is business, whether you're selling Web services or serving up hamburgers.

So let's bid a fond adieu to such former Internet luminaries as Boo.com, Furniture.com and Pets.com. Go ahead and wave a long good-bye to loose VC pockets. Thank them for taking the tumble first so you don't have to follow the same road, and let the flames of the dotcom failures light your path to a successful Internet company.

From the Hip
Here are some closing words of wisdom from our experts and entrepreneurs:

Todd Defren: "Take the Internet out of the equation all together, and then consider whether it's still a viable plan. The Internet should be looked at as a direct-marketing channel."

Janice Reynolds: "Don't panic. A lot of these small dotcoms have been very, very smart. They found their niche market. They didn't go after the get-rich-quick model. They're still in business and making money."

David Tanguay: "You can't just build an Internet company that's a pure dotcom, portal or community. That's not going to pick up anymore. You're better off starting a company based on an old-fashioned business model, but just using the Internet to enable it and make it move faster."

Lee Mikles: "If you can see a real opportunity to do something superior, not just the same as someone else, that's what you need to build your whole business around."

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lessons Learned.

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