Most Start-Ups Fail

New businesses struggle generally for the first two years of their life so if your company or business is in the infant stage how can you increase its chances of survival?

We here at Web-Empire have been looking into this in the hope of aiding our customers and in doing so we have come to the conclusion that to help our customers we have to help them help their customers.

Customer feed back is essential, whether positive or negative. Giving your customers an outlet for their complaints – however annoying you find it – may well save your business. If the dissatisfied customer feels they have been listened to they are actually more likely to praise your business than a customer who thought your service or product was brilliant in the first place.

Not only this but a customer who feels they have not been listened too can do untold damage to a small or medium sized business. They will tell somewhere in the region of ten people who – being people – love passing on bad news, and so will tell several more people each. This would not seem so bad except that businesses of this size still rely most heavily on word of mouth regardless of their advertising budget.

According to Paul Graham feedback from customers is even more important than just keeping them sweet so they don’t bad mouth your company. He says that it will help you track what their needs actually are giving you the chance to adapt or learn from mistakes. He also has a few more useful tidbits for young companies or those considering starting one up.

But how can small companies manage the time and resources needed for this sort of customer service? There are many solutions, such as call centres which give the appearance of a dedicated helpline but these can be prohibitively expensive initially. But feedback forms and frequently ask question (FAQ) on your web-site may be useful as long as you actually answer respond to them.

We here at Web-Empire consider that these are indispensable on e-commerce online shops and encourage our customers to include them.

Another solution is for a company to have a profile on sites such as they even help prioritise feedback so that you can respond to the most urgent first, useful if you are getting a lot of feedback! Part of what we do here at Web-Empire is knowing about such sites and helping customers us it – we will even set profiles up for our customers if thats what they want.

Some situations may even call for a support forum for customers where they can share uses for your products or even iron out any bugs themselves!

We hope this has been useful.

From all of us here at Web-Empire

Weather and Finance

The financial system is complex and, to a certain extent, chaotic. Here at Web-Empire we feel that those doing the financial modeling failed to predict the current economic crisis (aka the “credit crunch”) due to several factors.

One of these factors is the weather and though we would like to think it no longer impacted on our wellbeing as it did in the days of old when a bad summer meant you would starve in the winter, it would appear this is not the case.

But we all sit inside offices to work and we have food from all over the world and we are not starving here in the West so how is the weather affecting business?

Any Fire Officer will tell you that businesses whose main site is affected by, say, flood or fire generally does not survive the two years afterwards. The cost of such disasters, especially for small and medium sized businesses, is catastrophic. Even if they are insured, even if they do have off-site back ups of all their information. Many businesses do not think and keep copies sometimes right next to the original or master.

Now one or two businesses being wiped out by a fire and the fact that they may go out of business two years afterwards means that the financial system can survive this. But large storms can affect whole regions or districts and a good proportion of the buildings hit will be business property. The amount of time taken up in sorting the mess out – getting the insurance company to pay out and the work done (here at web-empire our personal experience says that getting the builders in is more of an issue than getting the insurance payout). This all eats into company time; and then what if half the employees of a company have been hit personally? They will need time off to sort their own affairs out and may even be traumatised by extreme events.

Even moving to other premises is time consuming and costly to businesses, both financially and in human resources.

Floods and wild fires can be equally as devastating and often one form of extreme weather can spark off another – ie storms and floods. Gloucestershire came to a complete halt in 2007 when large regions of the UK flooded that year. Many properties flooded including the Promenade in Cheltenham that has many shops on – including the bookshop that one of our team was going to for the launch party of the last Harry Potter book. Some buildings are still under repair at the time of writing (early 2009).

Power was down in some places due to a sub-station being flooded and drinking water was contaminated for similar reasons. This meant that huge chunks of the county were relient on water shipped in from other counties in tanks they sat on the road side. Few businesses could work – health and safety meant that most catering places had to close and with no running water toilets in offices would be an issue too.

Such events would at least put strain on the local economy.

The recent snow is another example. People could not get out to shop, at least in the villages, but more importantly a lot of them could not get to work and though the internet is a marvelous thing it can not compensate for everything.

London was even brought to a grinding halt – large chunks of the Underground weren’t running, buses stopped and roads were impassable. Universities canceled lectures, schools closed, tourist attractions had few visitors and people simply could not get to work. There were more road accidents and the like.

Extreme weather also hits the insurance companies as they struggle to pay out more people in one hit than they are designed to cope with. Insurance relies on paying out say 1 in 10 people who pay insurance leaving the excess for investment. If they are suddenly paying out 9 out of 10 people then there is no excess and sometimes not enough to cover costs. This hits the financial sectors again this time from an investment side.

We here at Web-Empire feel that their may well be a more significant link between the weather and economy – just the number of businesses affected would surely have a knock on effect. Weather is also a chaotic system meaning that predicting what is going to do next is actually very difficult and the further into the future you go the more uncertain things become until preditions are worse than useless. If there is a strong link then it would mean that there is at least a chaotic factor in the financial world and that would need to be addressed in the models or at least in how the models are used.

Micro-printer Project

Here at Web-Empire this microprinter project has come to our attention and we thought it looked like the sort of thing we should be letting you all know about.

They are using reciept printers connected to the internet to print out select informations, such as your to-do list for the day to say weather forecasts (these are just two of the applications for this project that we here at Web-Empire could think of). Information that comes in small written packets is perfect.

The concept I’m sure will have many applications for both the personal and the business. This is a project still underway so if you like the sound of it then go and look at their website.

We hope this has been interesting from all of us here at Web-Empire.

The Do’s and Don’ts

As mentioned previously on Web-Empire hosting websites from a server in your bedroom or office is not the done thing and here is the promised post explaining why broadband is actually designed to be bad for hosting!

At the time broadband came about, ISPs (internet service providers) sold leased lines to people – these were always on flat-rate connectivity at rates of 64kbps (thousands of bits per second) for £1000 a month or 1024kbps for many £1000’s a month for hosting or heavy usage, and dialup at a penny or two a minute (56kbps, and still comparatively slow due to having a high latency).

They were worried that replacing dialup with a few-tens-of-pounds-a-month service that gave you 1024kps would mean they’d lose their many-thousands-a-month leased line customers

So, they focussed on making ADSL a good replacement for dialup and avoiding giving it leased-line quality

So ADSL is asymmetric, meaning it is faster one way than it is the other – 1024kbps from the world to you, but 256kbps from you to the world; one quarter the speed.

This means that it is great for people browsing the Web; sending out 200 byte requests for web pages and then getting back 100kilobyte web pages means that you need much more incoming than outgoing speed, but then if you host web sites, you can only send them out at the lower speed.

And they focussed on quantity rather than quality: ADSL gets bandwidth out of copper phone lines never designed for it, by working in a way that means the actual bandwidth you get varies depending on line conditions like the weather and so on (rain water in cracked phone cable can increase connectivity if the line was made during the 1960’s when there was a national copper shortage!)

And they made use of the fact that web browsing is bursty by getting 1024kbps of connectivity to the Internet and then using it to service ten 1024kbps ADSL connections, since everyone wouldn’t be using it at once most of the time

Whereas people doing hosting want guaranteed bandwidth and reliability, and they send more data out than they receive.

All of this means that hosting really should be done from dedicated servers in data centres or somewhere with a leased line, preferably with generators for back up power in case of a power cut and other such fail safes.

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