So, you want to start a business but have no time or money? That’s no excuse, according to Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin.
In early 2010, serial entrepreneur Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin set himself a grand entrepreneurial challenge. In seven days, he would create a new business from scratch — from concept and branding to product development and launch.
And, to make things just that bit more tricky, he would do all this with a budget of only $500. For seven days, he blogged about his adventures (and misadventures). This is what happened.
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Entrepreneurs’ Challenge: Day #2
I had six days left, four of which were business days, so it was critical that I set everything up today to allow me to focus on development and marketing.
The first thing to look at was what business structure I wanted to operate under. The best way to do this is always unique to every situation, so it’s best to ask your accountant and solicitor.
At a minimum, you should be looking at registering a business name and ABN. For more complicated structures involving companies and trusts, you should seek advice. However, if you know what you’re doing, Cleardocs can get you up and running in under an hour.
Other things to consider are trademarks, if you need to lease a post box or virtual office space, if you want a 1300 phone number and if there are any licenses you need to apply for.
For this project, I decided to operate under my existing software company, thus saving the cost of registering a business name (about $110).
Although AutoCarLog will make extensive use of SMS, I didn’t want it to be a premium service (one which the customer pays a ‘premium’ to send or receive SMS).
There had to be an incentive for my customers to send in lots of trips, and charging for each of them individually was one way to ensure that no one would use the service.
Besides, a business owner with 100 trips a week is hardly going to want to spend $100 keeping their log book up-to-date. Remember, I’m up against a $4.69 paperback here!
What about by credit card? Customers could sign-up for a period of time, have unlimited access and post unlimited trips during this time. I could also integrate the credit card gateway into the site and automate the whole process.
There are quite a few third-party services that offer such a product (eWay, PayPal and PayWay are just a few), and there are basically two ways of accepting payments.
- After clicking ‘buy’, my customer would be redirected to the credit card payment site and then redirected back to AutoCarLog.
- Customers enter their credit card details on a secure page hosted on AutoCarLog and the payment is done in the background via an API.
Both have their advantages and corresponding set of fees. I decided to go with PayWay as it allowed me the greatest flexibility, was reasonably priced and I could understand their API.
So, first thing in the morning, I went to the bank to set up the AutoCarLog trading account and made the call to PayWay. Done. $220. Contracts sent via email, I’ll have them in a few minutes.
While at the bank, I pitched my idea to the manager. She loved it! She even suggested I contact the bank’s email newsletter team as they might be interested running with the story. Just goes to show, you never know where leads might come from, so pitch your idea to everyone!
I wanted my customers to be able to update their logbooks directly from within their cars at the end of each trip, using SMS. This meant I needed a ‘gateway’, something that allowed each SMS message to be sent to a computer, processed and added to their logbook.
The easiest way is to set up an account with a third party gateway. But this can be expensive — upfront I’d be looking at over $1,000 for a six-digit number, between $100 and $500 for an eight-digit number and around $100 for a ‘standard mobile’ number. Add to that a charge per incoming message and add a monthly account fee.
Another option is to have your own SIM card and buy an SMS Modem, however, they start at $350 and go all the way up into the $1,000s. Both of these options were too expensive.
Alternatively, I could always build my own!
There are two ways to do this: firstly I could use an existing mobile phone with USB adapter and write some software on a host computer, or I could build a dedicated stand-alone modem.
I realised that the cheapest option would be to use a spare (or ‘borrowed’!) mobile handset — but alas I didn’t have a spare and I wasn’t going to cannibalise my iPhone. So, I decided to build a dedicated modem, leveraging components I previously put together for a client to update their scrolling LED displays by SMS — thus saving a heap of time.
The microprocessor, GPRS chip and circuit boards came to $172.50 and the only ongoing fee was the SIM card subscription. With that settled, I left the modem building alone until the end of the week.
Now that I’ve decided to manage my own SMS gateway, I needed a number, and not just any number. I needed a number that was memorable. I went to my whiteboard (which still had the brain-stormed words on it) and using my phone I wrote out a list of phonewords in my notebook. Here are just a few:
- 04×2 886 227 (04x AUTOCAR)
- 04×2 886 564 (04x AUTOLOG)
- 04xx 227 564 (04xx CARLOG)
- 04×5 642 665 (04x LOGBOOK)
Armed with this list, I headed to the local telco to try and register a new SIM. I handed the list over to the girl behind the counter and asked to register one of these numbers. She looked at me blankly then pointed to the list and said that these weren’t numbers, they were letters.
A quick demonstration of how a phoneword works later and I was informed I could have my 3rd choice: 0413CARLOG.
However, it was going to cost me $22!
I had not budgeted for this and I knew things were tight — but, the number was good… I asked if this could be waived, as I was on a challenge! Alas no, my challenge was not their problem.
I hesitated, then went ahead anyway, paying a one-off fee of $22 for the number plus $5 a month for the SIM card. 0413CARLOG.
If you’re going to be starting an online company, you’re going to need a domain name and some hosting. I had already registered www.autocarlog.com, so all I needed was somewhere to host it.
You can, of course, sign up for a free google pages account, but you’ll never have the flexibility and control of your own hosting — and for anything that requires databases and server-side scripting, it’s a no brainer. So for AutoCarLog I registered an additional domain with my existing host for a cost of $4.40 a month.
As I was using a credit card gateway, I needed to have an SSL certificate, which in turn needed a static IP address. $3.30 a month for the static IP, $66 per year for the SSL. Luckily, I just saved $22 from my budget, which I needed for the number registration!
After coming home I tallied up my score:
- Web hosting: $4.40
- Static IP: $3.30
- Domain name: $13
- SSL certificate: $66
- SMS modem: $172.50
- Bank account: $6.50
- SIM card: $5
- Custom number: $22
All up, I’m looking at $496.80 up front with $15.90 (bank, hosting and SIM card) due in a month. Not bad for a day’s work!
Tomorrow I’ll look at marketing, but tonight I continue on with the development.
One of Anthill Magazine’s inaugural 30under30 Award winners, Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin thrives on creating smart solutions to every-day problems. For the past decade, he has spent his time balancing the demands of a full time Naval career, a Masters in Engineering and running personal businesses.
In 2009, Eckersley-Maslin returned from duty in Iraq with a drive to storm the ‘front line’ of Australian business. In 2010, he was the subject of an international documentary, where he aspired to create the world’s smallest multinational.