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Virtually possible

Paul Furber
By Paul Furber
Johannesburg, 19 Apr 2013
Keith Jones, Intellatec, say it's ridiculous to build things yourself in this day and age. Photography: Karolina Komendera
Keith Jones, Intellatec, say it's ridiculous to build things yourself in this day and age. Photography: Karolina Komendera

Think Web start-up and the picture that comes to mind is some kind of new Web service, perhaps a 'Facebook killer', but with pictures of cats making its money (hopefully) through paid subscriptions. But more traditional businesses, especially smaller ones, have been boosted by the democratising power of the Internet almost as long as there has been viable e-commerce. Today, there are enormously powerful resources available to the lone owner who wants to play for big stakes.

Keith Jones has two such businesses and he says the rules of starting an online company are completely different from a traditional business.

I have a company, a design, a Web site, and I'm up and trading, and I haven't spoken to anyone face-to-face yet.

"You don't choose a company name and then go and register it. The world has shifted. You choose a name based on what you can secure because that's where your brand equity is. I ended up going to a Web site called Brandings.com. I found the name Intellatec and bought the brand name - good, single-word domain names are getting scarce, so I now have the .com, the .co.za and the .co.uk all registered."

He then went to 99designs.com and put up $1 000 for a Web site design. Designers then competed for his business.

"I got 44 entries, chose six of those and said I would guarantee the money. I narrowed it down to two designers, who submitted 20-odd designs to me and I chose a winner. So that was $1 000, the domain was $2 000 and I'm putting the content together now. Then I went to LinkedIn and opened that group so no one else could claim it."

Jones runs his office backend and e-mail through Google Business and does his accounting through Palladium, which is a local service that is free for small businesses. When Intellatec launches, it will be offering enterprise software products and services with what will surely be an enviable operating margin.

"I have a company, a design, a Web site, and I'm up and trading, and I haven't spoken to anyone face-to-face yet," says Jones. "The physical office used to be your primary presence. Now it's your digital footprint instead. I can compete with the big guys head-to-head. It sounds simple, but you do need to spend many hours trawling through stuff to find the right guys and to figure out how to do things properly."

I would advise any SME to build as little as possible and to spend as little as possible.

The Intellatec exercise took a few months. But Jones has another business, the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, which took just three weeks to set up.

"I have this whiskey business and I spoke to someone who spent a fortune on their back-office and trading Web site. They challenged me to do better, so I did - actually, my wife did. We spent a grand total of R4 200 and it took her three weeks to put together a full e-commerce trading site with newsletters, memberships, full online stock control and payments. We can do credit cards and PayPal.

"I don't want people, offices or overheads. I want to do R50 000 and bank R49 000 of it. And today you can. It's obscene to try to build things yourself in this day and age. I would advise any SME to build as little as possible and to spend as little as possible. Spend money on the right things: a strong domain and a strong Web presence."