SAN FRANCISCO (08/23/2000) - The Web is full of experts. There's a plethora of advisors eager to help a small business get up and running online. They all claim to have great ideas, but here's one with a difference: These people sought the Best Worst Business Idea.
Cyberspace has a lot of contenders for that title. What Web site construction company RentaWebManager.com had in mind were tales of business ideas first thought to be losers, but which actually ended up big winners.
One contestant recounted his skepticism of cable television when you could watch TV for free already. Another told of his friend's parents who sold their two McDonald's Corp. franchises in the 1950s because they didn't think the concept was going anywhere.
The winner? Beating out 4080 other entrants, John Dials emerged victorious. His idea of a terrible business idea that turned to gold was Blockbuster Video Inc.
"I did not like the name," wrote Dials. "I thought it would remain a small-time company." The contest's inspiration is the sponsoring Web site's own story. A potential investor assessed RentaWebManager.com's business plan saying, "That's the worst business concept I've ever heard." President Joseph Smith started the company anyway and decided to turn around the negative response.
RentaWebManager.com is a no-frills Web site construction company that fields out work to contractors rather than full-time employees in order to keep down overhead and service costs. Eleven contractors are signed with RentaWebManager, Smith says. Only he and Julie Crume, vice president of marketing, are full-time employees.
"We don't have to buy computers, desks, or rent office space," says Smith. "We don't spend a penny on labor until a customer comes in."In the current Internet market, this kind of frugality could have its advantages. Companies bold enough to launch online often want to keep their costs to a minimum. RentaWebManager will help a small business build a simple site from one Web page to more than 100 pages at prices ranging from $500 to $5000. Maintenance costs extra.
RentaWebManager can get your site up and running within a week to a month's time, Smith says. That's a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of dollars charged and months of work by big Internet consulting firms.
"We will not build a Web site that can't pay for itself in the time required by your business," Smith says. "We do build practical Web sites that will bring customers to your business."Of course, you get what you pay for. From looking at RentaWebManager's own site: Fancy graphics, aesthetically pleasing layouts, and savvy navigation aren't part of the package. Direct relationships between customers and the site construction team members are also out of RentaWebManager's scope. However, every customer is assigned a Web Director--right now that's either Smith or Crume--who manages the customer relationship, maintenance, and contractors for each job, Smith says.
After all, it's a small business like the ones it serves. But it does have a big imagination. The prize for submitting the Best Worst Business Idea? A Volkswagen Beetle and a year's worth of free gas.