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eTruths -- first hand advice for Internet start-ups!

by Charlie Gunningham - "putting your home on the map", Director

Turbulent Times, Vast Opportunities

Imagine what the first cars must have been like 100 years ago -- slow, needing constant servicing, working one minute, falling apart the next (...remind you of anything?). At the time London was under threat of being submerged in manure (someone had done their "horse use projections").

Some businesspeople today doubt (or are scared of?) the Internet. This might be understandable, but it is more likely a serious miscalculation. Despite the hype the Internet, and e-commerce in particular, is still in its infancy.

The Window of Opportunity

About a year ago, a fellow MBA graduate from UWA, Nick Streuli, and I came up with an idea of putting houses for sale or rent on maps of Perth on the Internet. We knew maps were the best way to go (location, location, location...). When house hunting, you really want to know exactly where the house is...near parks, schools, the beach, sports, golf courses, or whatever. We were amazed that no one had already done this. Why not? Could we be the first to do it? Could it (in fact) be done at all?

We spent months scanning the Internet (mainly benchtrending sites in the US), talking to business professors, IT and industry experts, real estate agents, potential consumers (everyone had to sign non-disclosure agreements) ...making crude sketches of possible Internet pages and generally refining the concept. The more people we spoke to, the more we realized we were onto something. We would offer visual, detailed and local content rather than the thin, text-based coverage of existing online real estate operators.

The Prototype

The first major hurdle was finding someone with the technical expertise to build a "proof of concept" website yet still keep it all secret. Fate stepped in. We were amazed to discover that, after Vancouver, Perth has more map-making expertise (called Geographical Information Systems or GIS) than anywhere in the world. We followed a few leads and employed GeoSys GIS Consultants to build our "machine".

The Launch

With the real site now being put together with full interactive Perth maps, we spent the time writing our formal business plan, showing investors our prototype and signing up real estate agents. Media and publicity for our launch was in the hands of 8M Media and Communications, and when launch day arrived we threw a party.

We couldn’t quite believe it - we had made it. There was still no interactive map-based guide to property-buying anywhere, making our website a world-first. With stories in the West and WA Business News we were assured immediate interest, and we spent a busy first month refining the map technology further and adding more features.

Early Growth

"If you think being small is a disadvantage, observe mosquitoes" (Anita Roddick, The Body Shop).

Being an Internet start-up means you can instantly swim with the big boys (, et al). They had no time to react to our new map-based concept. Our hit rate was very gratifying and we shot into the’s ratings for real estate sites at number 40 (later to climb to number 21) -- an unexpected outcome considering we only showed houses in the western suburbs and Fremantle & that most of our competition cover the whole country. However, being small means you don’t have huge budgets to throw at unexpected technical glitches and need to be highly creative with your marketing. One thing you must be is a fantastic new service-provider for your customers (in our case, our wonderful real estate agents).

In those first few weeks, we built up our number of houses in the western suburbs to be greater than any other website around. We placed small advertisements in the suburb sections of the real estate press (the first website to do this). After two weeks, we increased our map size from the initial 35 western suburbs at launch to 148 (everything from Ocean Reef down to Munster). Our agents started coming up with advertising ideas -- sharing press ads, placing our URL under their "for sale" signs and stickers on their cars.

The Future

Our map-based local content concept has many applications beyond showing real estate for sale or rent on maps.

  • Next month, we launch the Council on the Ageing’s first online searchable database. This non-profit organization chose as its preferred local provider of their "Guide to Services for Older People". Searching for accommodation, financial and legal services, health and welfare, home support, recreation, education, etc., is about to become much easier for the elderly in our community.

  • We will also offer an e-commerce service on-selling the Valuer General Office’s price data. For $30, you will be able to buy up to 110 records of actual property sales in any area (going back 5 years).

  • We will also start to open up our services to schools, restaurants, sports centres, etc., in fact, every local business you can think of.

  • We may map "down south" so Perth residents can view weekender/holiday homes there and vice versa. Franchises for Sydney, Melbourne, and beyond beckon.

The Greatest Lessons

If you’ve waded through this story, then thank you. For those of you contemplating an Internet start-up, my advice is:

  • Treat it like every other business and do your homework. Talk to as many trusted people as you can and benchmark the finest in the market. There’s a lot of advice out there, so you need to do a lot of reading and listening.

  • Plan, but don’t over plan. There is no better way to learn than to actually get out there and try out some strategies. Stick to your vision, but be prepared to be flexible in how you get there.

  • Do not expect the world to flock to your site (you have 800 million competitors and counting!), so be creative in how to get the word out. In a crowded marketplace, the best way to be noticed is to be different.
  • And maybe the greatest tip I can give is:

  • "It is never the technology, it is always the people". We have been very fortunate with our IT people. You just have to get the best. Because, believe me, even in something groundbreaking, the technology is the easy bit...
All the best. If you would like any further information on, please contact us and/or visit the website

Source: Ecommerce Centre case study, Dept of Industry & Resources

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