“I run an internet based business - I am an internet entrepreneur” – sounds pretty cool, huh? Thanks to the huge success of a limited number of web start-ups – some of which then became huge players - over the past decade or two, web-based businesses still tend to have a glorified caché into them. In reality, though, an internet business is in most respects like any other business. It takes a lot of hard work to get it started and make it successful, even if it can also handsomely reward the entrepreneur who takes the effort and puts in the work.
In today’s world, most companies - big and small - have an internet presence. Companies of all kinds typically use the web at least for marketing or sales, customer support, or distribution of their products. Similarly, a big share of internet based companies also has a bricks-and-mortar part in their operations, for example a distribution center or a marketing and sales office. What makes internet based companies special, though, is the speed and the cost of setting them up. An internet start-up tends to be much easier and quicker to get off the ground than a traditional bricks-and-mortar company. Also, it tends to require less capital to begin with. Getting the prototype web-site set-up with the necessary functionalities and information is often relatively quick and cheap. Accordingly, while the risk of failure is certainly no less than in traditional non-web based start-ups, the cost of failure can be much lower.
Like with any other business, the success of an internet based business depends greatly on the value it brings to its potential customers. Just about all rules that apply to making a business successful also apply to internet based businesses. What is different, though, is the speed at which things may change. The business model of a web-based business is often much easier and quicker to change than that of a traditional bricks-and-mortar business.
The flexibility in adapting the business model brings opportunities for quick learning, doing things better, and growing quicker. By being eager and quick to go through several iterations in its business model, an internet based company can really find its niche and become successful in ways that are often hard to see in the early phase of the start-up. This flexibility works for competition too, though, much more so that in the bricks-and-mortar world. It is often easy for others to copy the business model of your web-based company and do what you do just about the same way as you do it. This is where your ingenuity, willingness to adjust, and ability to keep working hard on evolving your business is really put into a test – but you will prevail if you persevere and keep focusing on improving your strategy, value proposition, and operations.
When you start an internet based business – or any other kind of business – you typically start in small scale, even if you might be able to grow very quickly very soon. This way you keep your investments and risks manageable through the phase where you get things off the ground and iterate and improve your business model. Step by step, a bit at a time, you learn the ropes and start to see how best to manage your business. With a lot of hard work and some skill and luck, you can make your business profitable and achieve a good rate of growth quickly. No point in rushing it too much, though: find your pace and enjoy what you are doing - this way you will keep yourself excited about your business, which will for sure also improve your success in the medium and long term.
What kind of internet based business should you start then? The answer is something only you know – but it certainly needs to be something you enjoy and really want to do, and something that matches your skills and experience. You don’t need to know everything at the beginning, though, as long as you can and want to learn the things you need quickly enough for successfully running your business.
For ideas of various kinds of internet businesses, you might want to have a look at the business models of some of the largest and best-known of the kind. See pages 131 – 187 of this slide deck for business models of Google, Facebook, and others. On pages 113 – 114 of the same deck there is also a nice list of tips for start-up entrepreneurs. Similarly, check out a list of 15 most popular e-business websites for some more ideas.
If starting and running an internet based business is what excites you, just go do it! Find an idea that seems to be the right one for you and a potentially profitable and successful too, and start pursuing it. Don’t worry if it takes a long time to find the right idea – I was sifting through numerous different business ideas for more than a year before I found something that I really liked, and even then spent another year studying the field before really getting started. Just get busy with it, keep working on it with determination, and the rest will follow.