e-Business Awards: Start-up award



Technology kick-starters

Not all online success stories are established companies adding an extra Internet layer to their business models....



Technology kick-starters

Not all online success stories are established companies adding an extra Internet layer to their business models. As these companies show, winning business initiatives can be Web-based from the start.

Aviation Briefing provides a specialist but critical service: it supplies online flight briefing information for pilots. The aim is to gather all the meteorological data that is required for a flight to a single source.

Meteorological data is provided by down-linking from the ICAO SADIS satellite distribution system via a 2.4 meter dish that is connected to a Linux server. The SADIS system receives weather updates every 30 minutes from the UK Met Office in Bracknell and Washington in the USA. This makes Aviation Briefing the first organisation to offer a composite Internet-based weather briefing service that has been approved by ICAO and the UK Met Office for aviation use.

The site went live in November 1999, with an initial cost of £20,000, and receives hits from 2,500 users per month. Aviation Briefing is working to a tight start-up business plan: targets for the end of year one targets having 1,000 paying subscribers, financial self-sufficiency and high brand recognition in the marketplace. The first target was hit within two months, and registered users are now close on 15,000. To date the service has been used by private aviators in the UK, but there are plans to tailor the system to the commercial demands of international flight operators.

Another part of the service is the delivery of short-message-system (SMS) messages to mobile phones. Wireless application protocol testing is also under way. Not only is Aviation Briefing working in the virtual, e-business space, but it is also a virtual organisation itself: the five founders are geographically remote and there is no permanent company base.

Sponsor comment

This system provides registered subscribers with access to weather information from the UK Met Office, which is updated every 30 minutes and linked to navigational data from Racal Avionics Aeronautical Services Division. The subscriber, or pilot, can call up weather information either by airport location or by nominating a route. The latest airport information, such as runway details and radio frequencies, is also available. Much of the service's attraction is its ease of use through the highly intuitive nature of the application, which was designed and written in-house. More importantly, the company has managed to find an e-business niche that is commercially viable and has very quickly generated positive cash flow.

Mondus

Mondus has developed a global, online business-to-business marketplace for small and medium-sized businesses. It is one of the first initiatives in the emerging B2B e-marketplaces sector to focus solely on SMEs.

The exploitation of Internet technologies to streamline the 'request for proposal' process sits right at the heart of Mondus. As a result, there are greater efficiencies for both buyer and supplier. Suppliers are able to achieve deeper penetration in the SME market, one that has traditionally been costly to impact successfully. Buyers too, without the clout of the big multinational organisations, are able to realise low-cost, high-quality services, and eliminate the inconvenience of identifying vendors and exploring bids.

Mondus' business model is particularly sophisticated, as demonstrated by its decision to source a partner to design the Web site. This is a complex service requirement that ordinarily demands an understanding of technical and process requirements. The Mondus facility allows SMEs to outline information on both the supplier and the buyer accounts so that the marketplace can make a reasonable judgment as to which company would be best suited to their needs.

It is a measure of the success of the site, which has received $16.7m in investment, that 150,000 people have become registered users since October1999, and have made £32m of purchases in the marketplace. Nearly 700,000 unique users per month at the last count suggests there are substantial growth prospects for the future.

Sponsor comment

Procurement and supply chain management have long been hot topics in B2B e-commerce. But in practice, streamlining traditional business processes has been mainly confined to large organisations. Mondus has made it available to small and medium-sized businesses and has more than 150,000 registered businesses, with over £32m in purchase requests. Each "request for proposal" generates an average of four to five quotations. By reducing language, currency and logistical barriers, Mondus will be well positioned internationally to offer SMEs the opportunity to do business together.

Photographic Direct

Photographic Direct is an online magazine and shop, with content including competitions, insurance, repairs and sales. The site is aimed at both amateur and professional photographers, their common feature being enthusiasm for the subject. Its goal is to become one of the cheapest online retailers in the field as well as to provide photographers with a one-stop point for the information they need.

The site is updated almost daily to include press releases, new products and prices. The shop side of the business is run with minimal holding stock, but with very reliable wholesalers and manufacturers over a tight supply chain, which means the benefit of cheap prices is passed on to the customer without compromising on service and speed of delivery. The site has an interactive design, but, recognising that a significant proportion of their customer base use relatively slow modems, good design is not at the price of slow download times.

Since launching in May, the site has had about 120 visitors per day. Company policy is to answer customer emails almost instantly. Photographic Direct believes this is central to bringing people back to the site, because it spreads knowledge by word of mouth, and its hit rates are doubling each month.

Future developments are taking shape every day. All feedback from users is captured for Photographic Direct to act upon. In this way the company has been able to grow organically, from relatively modest beginnings. It certainly proves that million pound budgets are not needed to start up in e-business.

Sponsor comment

With an initial outlay of less than £2,000 four months ago, sales revenues from this Web-based photographic retailer are doubling month-on-month. While many e-businesses concentrate on the front-end, Photographic Direct knows that order fulfilment is critical. The company's policy is to return e-mails instantly, and to react to customer suggestions. This interaction keeps the site dynamic and the responsiveness has resulted in a rising volume of regular users. The site is quick to upload, is constantly updated and its photographic products are less expensive than the competition. It is doing high-volume trading in all departments.

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