First Clicks: the birth of online success

Unless you are a film star, a sporting sensation or a fortunate heir, the surest means to build wealth is through the establishment and growth of your own business.

Until recently, a traditional, real world ‘bricks and mortar’ venture with its money-draining need for premises, stock and staff, was the first choice (read only), way to do this

While many entrepreneurs still take this route to financial freedom, others have turned to the world’s greatest mechanism for commerce and communication – the Internet.

This book is about twenty of those people who have moved their lives upwards, sometimes stratospherically, by building a successful business online.

None of them is ‘special’. They do not have exceptional talents. They do not possess unlimited funds, far from it, as the examples of ‘bootstrap’ ventures begun sometimes on kitchen tabletops amply illustrate. Nor have they the advantage of ‘knowing the right people’, other than those they have sought out and cultivated themselves.

Their backgrounds are disparate, as are their ages – some young, while others have stood the test of time. Likewise, their businesses run the spectrum from online bra sales through to veterinary medicines, from online tailoring to dress hire – each creating an individual and very different route to financial success.

Yet one thing does bind them all together …

… an idea that they took and did something with.

As a result, each of these individuals has achieved or is moving towards, great independent wealth. Their stories should inspire you to begin the journey along your personal path to building the independent wealth that comes from the power of an idea that is acted upon.

Yet, to have an idea is the easy part. Many of us have them – good, bad, indifferent, some even great. But trapped in notebooks, files and half-remembered dreams, they are born only to never have their moment in the sun. And so, deprived of light, they wither on the vine and die. Each a sad, lost opportunity to move us from where we are to where we want and need to be.

So, as we see with these stories, it is not just to have an idea that is important but to do something with it, and going online, offers fresh new opportunities for entrepreneurs to:

Do old things in new ways such as, for instance by cutting out the middleman, as did Glasses Direct and VetUK.

Or to develop a business fast, like Anna Bance who set up Girl Meets Dress in the same week she quit her job and had her website up and running just two weeks later.

Or to get noticed for next to nothing, something that Daniel Price and Jonny Sitton of My First Years’ when their innovative use of PR involving international sports stars and ‘leaked’ stories saw their site deluged with extra traffic.

Of course, there’s always a reason why an entrepreneur set up in business, and it can be something deeply personal that is the trigger, just as it was for Julie Deane who set up in business so stop her young daughter being bullied and now has a company that turns over millions of dollars each year.

Julie is also a great example of the low cost of start-up that bootstrapped their way to success working off the kitchen table.

Others, like Tribesport, are tapping into the ability online to create international communities that collectively provide a marketplace where substantial income can be earned from advertising.

While Boginabag is all about an innovative solution to a natural problem starting out as an online business that is now starting to find its products in shops.

Using the examples of others and then following in their footsteps is one of the best ways for any would-be entrepreneur to be inspired. Let’s hope these stories inspire you and help you move forward to where you want to be.


CHAPTER 1 – A Suit That Fits

When they founded A Suit That Fits, an online tailor selling bespoke suits at ready to wear prices, Warren Bennett was an aeronautical engineering graduate David Hathiramani, a computer scientist. That was in 2005, now they have over 100 employees, including 80 tailors and admin staff in Nepal.

Nepal is a beautiful, spiritual country. Its tailors also make great suits at great prices

Which is why when Warren Bennett had a beautiful olive green woollen suit made for him there while on a volunteering trip, he immediately spotted a business opportunity.

On returning from Nepal, he and a friend and would-be partner, David Hathiramani, wasted no time in going to their local market where they showed the suit off. Within minutes of doing so, two passers by had enthusiastically placed orders for something similar.

In those few moments, almost without realising it, A Suit That Fits was born.

Buoyed by their immediate success, Warren and David set to work on their new venture. Within 24 hours they had put together a website that introduced the innovative concept of quality handmade suits at ready to wear prices, that just happened to be made by Nepalese tailors.

Unfortunately for the new entrepreneurs, there was a critical flaw. It turned out that would-be customers weren’t too enthusiastic about the idea of buying a suit unseen, and wanted the reassurance of being professionally measured and to feel the quality and nature of the fabric.

Undaunted by their first website’s failure to pull in business, the pair gambled on future success, took a bite out of David’s credit card and rented an office, so turning their original business idea from a pure online venture into a web and bricks and mortar hybrid.

That did the trick. Now able to see and feel the quality of the suits, prospective customers were – excuse the pun – suitably reassured, and business took off.

Now the entrepreneurs are selling over 550 suits each month through three city centre offices, eight part-time ‘tailor stop’ branches and a team of tailors who visit companies.

‘We opted for the online model first, because it’s extremely distributable,’ says Warren, ‘all you need in an office is a computer, an internet connection and a measuring tape.’

And though most customers visit the shops to get their first suit, the website is still the fundamental shop window for the company and customers can still order online, indeed most repeat business feeds in this way.

Now, Warren and Bennett are in the process of improving their website, tapping into their engineering and software expertise to develop a ‘style wizard’, which lets visitors browse through uncountable combinations. They’ve also added an online measuring tool that helps people get a suit that fits perfectly.

The uniqueness of their offering helps the company maintain a high ranking on Google: “I think we’re in the top four in the world for ‘suits’, says Warren.

They have now delivered over 17,000 suits to customers who, delighted with their quality product at a fantastic price, spread the word among friends, all helping push traffic their way. ‘We get half of our new customers on the back of their being told by one of their friends where they bought their suit from,’ says Warren.

And while the success of A Suit That Fits has led to me-too companies, Warren isn’t worried by their presence. In fact, he believes the emergence of more online tailors could actually stimulate the market by familiarising more and more people with the option of buying quality hand made garments via the Internet.

Of course, success for Warren and David is also a bonus for the Nepalese, as some 70 tailors and 10 support staff are employed and paid over 50% more than local tailoring rates.

‘That ensures our workers are well-treated, and we attract and retain the very best of Nepalese tailoring,’ says Warren.

It just goes to show once again that ideas can come from anywhere, even the roof of the world.


Following in Warren and David’s footsteps

  1. While many modern businesses operate an exclusively online model, don’t forget that you can create a hybrid venture like Warren and David, with an online presence encouraging shop visits initially, but then taking over subsequent ordering.
  2. Do a good job for your customers and they’ll tell their family, friends and colleagues. So, with A Suit That Fits, offering quality items at a competitive price and also having an interesting story to tell – ‘my suit comes from Nepal you know’ – it’s hardly surprising that customer referrals are a major marketing channel for these clothing entrepreneurs. Learn the lesson, and whatever your business model, look to find a formalised way of capturing the referrals, and don’t leave it to chance.
  3. Once they’d had the idea, the pair didn’t waste any time in doing something about. Be like them. If you think you’ve seen an opportunity, do something about it and take the first action needed to see if it will work.