The Wonderful World of Web Business

It is an understatement to say that the internet and the world wide web have changed the way we do things. As a high school student just twenty years ago I was trying to figure out how to hook up a 56k baud modem to a phone line so I could connect to graphic-less bulletin boards and chat (of course not in real-time!) with my friends and other nerds like me. Now, my daughter stands in stunned disbelief when I tell her I saw the birth of things like Google, eBay, and Amazon; like cars, planes, and television were to my generation, for her they just are, and anything before them is dark-age stuff.

In the twenty years I’ve watched the rise of the web, one question has constantly tickled my fancy: how can it make me money? That question has caused me to experiment and fumble along as I’ve tried to squeeze out a profitable business model. I’ve had some successes, mostly with niche content sites that followed an advertising or affiliate model, but so far I haven’t hit the gold mine I’ve hoped for. I have gained a lot of real-world experience though, I hope to build on that and perhaps venture into other models as I go.

In B250 this week I had the chance to dig deeper into the many, many other ways that businesses generate revenue on the web. It was eye-opening to see some of the ways that people and companies have discovered for making money online. Honestly, it all excites me. It’s like a wild west of commercial activities, and the doors are wide open for anybody to take advantage of.

That’s one of the coolest things I’ve came to terms with this week: the old model of expensive business building is not a requirement for doing business on the web. First, it only takes about 15 bucks to get a domain and web hosting. The server I’m hosting this site on, for example, is a basic GoDaddy plan that costs me about $65 bucks a year, and I can and do put a whole bunch of websites on it.

Second, where a brick and mortar enterprise might require big expenditures in time and money for market research and feasibility studies, the internet puts so many market metrics right at your fingertips, often for free. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner, for example, gives you the online demand for any topic you can imagine, and tells you how difficult it would be to compete in that niche. It’s instantaneous and free. This week in B250 we used it to compare the niches of chess vs snowboards. We were able to determine very quickly that chess is generally a bigger market with easier competition.

Chess vs Snowboards in Google AdWords Keyword Planner

For a merchant business model, this tool would make it quick and easy to determine, for example, if selling WiFi signal boosters might be a better idea than than trying to sell 20-year-old 56k baud modems.

Of course, that was just scratching the surface of the potential research to compare business ideas, and I’m looking forward to doing more of that as I identify a potential business idea for this class. But the most exciting thing for me is what we can do after we’ve identified a niche and created a website: drive traffic to it immediately with paid advertising. That is another exciting thing I’m looking forward to learning more about in B250 since I’ve never really tried paid advertising.

I’ve loved getting my feet wet in B250 and discussing my thoughts with my classmates. There are a lot of genuinely talented and smart people taking this class, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them as we identify business ideas and push them forward over the next few weeks.