Story of an Aussie Entrepreneur - Mother of 4 and Owns 3 Ventures

Vishal Thursday, March 27, 2008 , , , , , , , , ,

Today we showcase a story of a woman entrepreneur, mum of 4 and 3 successful ventures under her belt, Meg Tsiamis, founder of dLook, Obits, Aussie Bloggers from Sydney, Australia.

In a candid interview with us, she explained how as a mum and an entrepreneur she is managing and juggling. This is what she has to say in her interview with us :
• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I guess I’m a bit of a late bloomer. I married at twenty and had my first child at 23. My studies were haphazard, and I finally graduated from Uni when I was 31 and launched straight into graduate studies. A glutton for punishment.

My earlier working life consisted of a range of accounting and administrative type roles. In 2000 I set up a finance brokerage which I grew until I started with the internet ventures.

Interests? Blogging I guess!

• How did you become an entrepreneur, tell us your thought process and how it began?
Quite by accident really! One night my husband was looking for a restaurant so he searched online. He accidentally misspelled the word “restaurant” and got no results. He mentioned it and I thought that was pretty crazy. So it planted the seed to build an Aussie focused directory that would cater for everyone – not just the ones who know how to spell “ophthalmologist”!

You are invloved with 3 ventures ,please tell us how did they start?
There’s dLook – that’s the main focus, Obits, Aussie Bloggers and, of course, my own blog.

During the development process for dLook, a friend of mine died. His family was not from Sydney and I wasn’t sure where to look for the funeral notice or even whether the funeral would be held in Sydney. I tried searching online and was amazed to find that a website that displayed notices from across Australia did not exist. The major daily newspapers do display funeral notices, but these only stay online for a short period of time. It ended up being over three weeks between the death and the funeral which, unfortunately, I missed. That’s when I decided that I should build a website (Obits) that would ideally help people to announce and find funerals easily.

At the beginning of 2007 I became interested in blogs and blogging. The more I wondered around the blogosphere, the more I became interested in discovering new Aussie blogs.

Late last year I approached two bloggers – Snoskred and Andrew Boyd – about the possibility of a community project for Australian bloggers which would involve a group blog and forum. Both of them were really excited about the project and it grew quickly from there.

Tell us bit more about each of them.

dLook


dLook® is an innovative Australian business directory which provides a cost effective and value packed online advertising solution. dLook accepts both free and premium listings and offers functionality rarely found together on other directories.

For advertisers dLook offers a more information page, mapping, generous keyword allowances, multiple category inclusion, up to national coverage and the ability to display discount coupons for their products and services. Additional exposure is also provided by a special purpose mobile search website (dlook.mobi) and display on Vodafone’s Compass search as well as popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN.

For consumers dLook boasts useful business reviews, a sophisticated keyword search, the ability to refine searches to postcode only and a unique QuoteMe!® feature allowing consumers to request quotes for products and services from multiple suppliers.

It’s kind of flattering to watch other, more established directories, rolling out our features.

Obits

Obits, as mentioned, displays funeral notices and obituaries. It also encompasses a directory for funeral directors and other businesses involved in the funeral industry. We’ve recently introduced a feature so that visitors can easily (and at no cost) add messages of condolence to each notice. Of course, these messages are strictly moderated.

Aussie Bloggers

Aussie Bloggers encompasses a blog and a forum that helps connect bloggers. It provides a unique space where we can chat with other bloggers, and seek and provide support. Our aim is to “empower, encourage, support and promote Aussie Bloggers and the Australian blogosphere in general”.

In three months it’s grown to over 437 members and around 19,000 messages posted.

How long did it take before each venture was up and running?
dLook took the longest – around a year. Obits took around three months, and Aussie Bloggers - from the first email to the forum launch was just over three weeks.

What market segment verticals you are targeting for?

  • dLook is targeting small to medium businesses.
  • Obits predominantly markets to funeral homes.
  • Aussie Bloggers is relevant for bloggers of any nationality.
What type of customers you are targeting?
  • dLook - any business that is looking to increase online exposure.
  • Obits – anybody looking to announce a death or funeral online, as well as those involved in the industry.
How many people are using your services?
Visitors to the websites really depend on the marketing we are doing. dLook processes up to 2.5 million searches a month, Obits has up to 55,000 visits a month and Aussie Bloggers has had over 30,000 visits this month (to 26th March).

What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
  • dLook advertises on radio, television, print as well as email and fax marketing. Additionally we have had continual online advertising through the major search engines (such as Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing) various affiliate programs and display advertising.
  • Obits has advertised on radio, in print and direct marketing, as well as online through search engine marketing.
  • Aussie Bloggers hasn’t undertaken any paid advertising, but uses social networking and services such as Entrecard.
How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are their any special mechanisms/tools are in place to monitor the progress?
With both dLook and Obits we measure the success by the number of visitors each site is attracting, and the growth in the number of paid advertisers (or notices). We don’t use any special tools – Google Analytics, standard accounting programs and spreadsheets help us monitor the progress.

What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
  • dLook derives the bulk of its income from premium listings. This is supplemented with contextual advertising (Google AdSense) and display (banner) advertising.
  • Obits derives the bulk of its income from funeral notices which are placed directly on the system by the funeral homes. It also has a premium listing service for advertisers and a small amount of (relevant) banner advertising.
  • Aussie Bloggers does not yet have a revenue model. It’s likely we may introduce a premium membership, sell merchandise or advertising or look for sponsorship at some stage this year. The site was not formed with the intention of making a profit, but we will eventually need to look at moving to a dedicated server. Funds raised will go towards covering these costs.
Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
  • dLook sees its main competitors as being Yellow Pages and TrueLocal, although there are a plethora of minor players in the market.
  • Obits does not have a significant competitor providing the same service.
What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
Google Analytics rocks! It provides so much information.
In terms of Aussie Bloggers – WordPress and Simple Machines Forum software.

What are the main technologies used? Are you using a lot of open source tool sets for this?
  • dLook – PHP, Red Hat Linux and postgreSQL (all open source)
  • Obits – PHP, Red Hat Linux and MySQL (all open source)
  • The rest is Top Secret ;)

How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city? How have you sought funding?
Not often. I went to a Sydney Stirr last year, and met (among others) Mark Rimmer and Tim Griffin from Rave About It. It was a very useful meeting because we saw a synergy between our two ventures and Rave About It went on to power our business reviews. This was a really handy alliance to make – one that’s been mutually beneficial.

You have 4 children (from 4 to 16) and a few ventures, how do you manage all this?
A lot of support – both family and paid. Now that the youngest is at school it’s a lot easier. It seems to get easier with each child, so by the time I had my youngest I was back at work in just three days. Working predominantly from home also allows a lot more flexibility.

What are your thoughts on being a women entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia especially if you are a woman?
I don’t think my experience has been much different to a man’s. Probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced has been in the funeral industry, which is to a certain extent “closed shop” and more traditional in its values.

What extra challenges are there in Australia?
Well, to start with it’s a much smaller market so the more specific your niche, the smaller the potential customer base. Without expanding overseas there is an obvious ceiling to the growth of the venture. That can be counteracted by releasing local versions abroad, and we are currently assessing those opportunities.

I’ve also heard it’s a lot harder to raise capital in Australia than overseas.

What do you think of new ventures and innovation coming out of Australia?
There is a wealth of local talent, but it’s a shame that we don’t have more local backers. Consequently, I think we lose a lot of talent overseas.

Do you think we can create a new Google in Australia?
I think we could have viable (perhaps even superior) alternatives, but it would be a huge battle for any business wanting to go head to head with Google. I think it’s fairly entrenched in most people’s
daily lives, and the more they innovate and diversify, the tighter the stranglehold.

What Government resources have you used to help your business? And have they made an impact?
We haven't utilised any Government resources.

What do you think government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
State & Federal governments have made it their business to stifle the creativity of innovative Australians. In the end it is left up to the likes of "The New Inventors" (ABC), and high risk investors (aka venture capitalists or sharks) to foster innovation in this country. Government should have a Minister for Innovation with the express mandate of encouraging innovation within VERY wide guidelines. Sure, a large percentage of what is presented ends up in the "didn't work that well" basket but the remainder is what will establish Australia as the SMART Lucky Country. Why do so many talented Aussies end up overseas, and our innovation being fostered there?


Definitely, tax incentives would help as well.

At the 2020 conference, PM Kevin Rudd is meeting with top 1000 people from different background to discuss and collaborate on the issues facing the nation. What issues would you like to raise if you are given a opportunity to attend?
Well, I actually have to wonder whether anything will be achieved at the the 2020 summit.

Do you have any advice/message for people, especially women, who want to start their venture?

Make sure that you’ve got solid financial backing – perhaps your own savings, o
r other support. The last thing you need is the distraction of financial concerns. Learn your market inside out, and then keep learning. Watch what your competitors are doing, and not doing. Adding value to your product or service and differentiating it in some way can be the make or break of your business idea.

Thanks Meg for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing
from you in future on the progress of dLook,Obits, Aussie Bloggers. All the best for future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, tech trends check this out and our coverage on interviews can be found here

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4 comments:

Meg said...

Hi Vishal

Many thanks for the interview. I've been enjoying your coverage of the Aussie web space.

Vishal Sharma said...

Meg,
Its been a great exercise doing this interview with you.
I look forward to doing more in future:)

Christine Parfitt said...

Hi Vishal,

I've enjoyed all your interviews and it's good to read one with Meg as someone I "know" online.

Scott Carpenter said...

Thanks for being interviewed Meg - your story is very inspiring!