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Interview with Founder of Linky & GymPrices

In the ongoing coverage of exploring new startups coming out of Australia, Today we explore an emerging entrepreneur Isaac Forman who has set up two ventures, Linky and GymPrices. Linky is an exciting venture and it got some encouragement from Fred Wilson (see the comments section).
In a recent email-based interview with Isaac, he gave insights into his venture and how he is progressing with it. This is what he has to say:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I have worked in web development for more than 10 years, and run my own company, Triplezero ( since 1998. Online ideas are a habit I can't break. I enjoy reading about them (and thinking 'I should've thought of that!'), seeing new ground being broken, or trying my own hand at online services.

• What is the name of your venture/company?
I have quite a few in progress, but two recent efforts are Linky and GymPrices.

• Please tell us about your venture/company?
Linky is essentially an extension of the well-known TinyURL. It adds to the ability to track referrals as well as traffic over time, and I'm also looking to extend it with other statistics. It's a very simple idea and has had a gradual pick-up so far, though with no marketing efforts.

GymPrices is an attempt at price comparison for the Australian gym market. The fitness industry as a whole does not advertise pricing and, while they have some legitimate reasons for doing so, I think it can remove some of the typical price-based market competition that might otherwise deliver better prices to customers. I see it as having good potential for those just wanting somewhere to run on a treadmill, but not needing trainers, classes or anything more advanced (and expensive).GymPrices can show pricing averages by state, franchise and individual gyms to give users an indication of whether they are generally paying too much or getting a good deal. It also has a basic function whereby existing customers can put up a brief review of their gym.

• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
Mostly just myself handling frontend and backend. Linky was born out of an interest in providing a basketball forum I run a way for non-HTMLers to add links to their post. Some of the development was done by a Triplezero employee, Joel.

GymPrices was an idea from a friend after we had been discussing niche opportunities in online price comparison.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
Linky was built in 1-2 days. GymPrices took a week or so to build, of an hour or so here and there late at night, but the harder work was populating the database with initial data on gym franchises (and there is still a lot to put in). Both are very modest efforts to date, mostly trying to get a feel for whether it's worth investing more time in developing either.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
None at all for either at this stage. GymPrices is generally discovered through Google while, going by the stats, Linky appears to have been picked up by a few people having noticed it within the basketball communities. I will probably look to further spread the word by plugging it on various sites I operate. In the future, Linky will only ever be something that's discovered online by spotting it in use, or by word of mouth. If GymPrices shows more potential, it may be something worth pushing harder.

• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
Nothing out of the ordinary or beyond something like Google Analytics right now. Both are low-cost efforts (personal time only) so no real return is required for me to consider them useful to someone.
GymPrices can be monitored by incoming price reports, but unfortunately, they are few and far between at this early stage. The challenge with zero marketing is that most users arrive looking for gym prices. No one searches for 'where can I tell everyone what I pay at the gym' and the gyms are not likely to be very cooperative either. The site may need to expand into a better directory or add new services to attract enough traffic to become really useful at price comparison.

I see it as being a good opportunity for smaller, non-franchise gyms especially. They could actually benefit by quietly encouraging their members to submit a price report, topping the rankings, and perhaps drawing in new customers as a result.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
For Linky, competition comes from the incumbent TinyURL while there are related ideas from and Adjix. GymPrices has no apparent competition in terms of fitness price comparison, but there are a couple of gym directories that rank well and have been around for some time, namely GoodGymGuide and GymLink.

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?

My sites are built on ColdFusion/MySQL.

• What's your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
I enjoy having an idea, building it and seeing if anyone uses it - it is low cost and low risk given that I can build these sites myself. My main challenge is losing interest and starting up the next idea before I finish the current one.
I imagine that a challenge both for myself and others would be that the population of Australia typically limits the potential customer base for any idea intended for Australians. Also, I have a gut feeling that we're not as community-oriented as the US where a lot of social/cooperative sites outside of the typical Facebook and MySpace gain a following. e.g., we don't have an equivalent to EveryBlock or Front Porch Forum, and no review sites have quite the following of Yelp or Zagat. The same goes for more highbrow or political sites (such as The Nation, Dailykos, etc.).
With our small population, it's also hard to justify the content production that would go into some online media ideas. Beyond the established media and a site like Crikey, other efforts tend to be solo blogs or amateur ventures as a result.
As for being based here, but building an idea that can scale internationally, I think the risk is not having a feel for what will appeal to those in other countries. I also believe that many ideas are hamstrung by trying to cater for everyone immediately, rather than starting with a small location or niche and building from there. For example, unless you had an unlimited advertising budget, if you wanted to tackle Trading Post in online classifieds, you'd be far better off starting with a niche and taking a wedge approach, than by going up against them on all fronts.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation and the telecom industry?
It's cheap to register a business and domain and give it a shot online. One issue however is the cost of bandwidth in Australia - it must surely limit many great ideas from taking off locally. As a result, I host a number of my clients overseas abroad due to the superior value for money that is on offer.

• 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?
Actually, never. I discuss things at the pub or trade emails with friends about ideas to get feedback on what might have legs and what's worth giving up on early.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
If you have the skills to do it yourself, don't die wondering. Give it a shot, but dip a toe in before you dive - no need to start off with expensive hosting, servers, a $20k corporate identity, etc. until you're more confident that your venture will take off. If you can't build things yourself, look to partner with someone who shares your vision and maybe work partly for equity - a level of ownership will encourage them to work harder.

Thanks, Isaac for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for the future.

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


Anonymous said…
Sorry to say, but the moment I see Adsense on the frontpage of a product website... I know the product itself isn't strong enough.

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