CK Net: Christopher Kelly

Chris Kelly started his new fantastic new business while studying medicine at Cambridge. We find out how

How do you run a highly successful internet marketing company with, a predicted turnover well into the millions, no full-time staff, no office and while studying for a medicine degree at Cambridge? The answer: you are Christopher Kelly, founder of CK Net and winner of the Startups Awards best online business for 2005.

Kelly, 22, has been creating websites since he was a teenager.

His first site, launched when he was 14, was, a funny and playful site where users can translate sentences into various regional dialects.

“It is a bit of fun really” chuckles Kelly. “Although I have had a few complaints from some of parts of the country.

“Most, however, don’t mind laughing at themselves – particularly Brummies. They are big fans of their translator.”

The site became very popular with users and advertisers alike and Kelly used the cash to found his current business CK Net.

“The internet was doing very well in those days and I was able to build up quite a bit of cash,” he says.

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Kelly registered CK Net in August 2003 to provide ‘search engine marketing’ for businesses that want to sell their products online.

CK Net buys keywords for it clients and produces online adverts which are picked up by search engines. When users click on the advertisements, CK Net pays for the click. However, when the user buys the product, part of the proceeds go to them.

Kelly makes contact with businesses through agencies and affiliate networks online as well as through direct approaches to clients, the ratio is about 80:20 to the former.

Sometimes CK Net receives a bounty from each sale made, other times Kelly is asked to manage an online spending budget for a business.

He makes bids for words throughout the day via his laptop or mobile phone. Kelly has a number of automated systems that enable him to keep track of how much he is spending and how much he has managed to bring in.

“One day I would like to make the whole process completely automated,” he pronounces. However, he later he admits that this is unlikely ever to happen – computers don’t run the world, their programmers might do though.

Because all of his business is online and via automated systems he has no use for an office and can control his business from wherever he is in the world.

“I was in Indonesia and there was only one internet café where we were so I was just running the business from my phone. They had great GPRS coverage,” he says.

Kelly is currently studying for a medicine degree. For most students this would be taxing enough, but to be running a business at the same time seems to be remarkably demanding.

“I don’t have much time I suppose,” he says. “I am fortunate that it is quite an academic course and so I get a lot of afternoons off.

“It must be a larger step if you are already working and then you decide that you want to set up a business.

“It is easier if you have the back-up of a student loan and a university.”

However, it has not been all plain sailing for Kelly. Not long after CK Net began he found himself in dire straits and his business nearly went under.

Kelly has been working closely with a mobile phone supplier that he had been marketing and buying clicks for. However, then the firm went into liquidation and Kelly was left with losses of around £35,000.

“It very nearly brought the company down, it was very close, ” he says.

However, Kelly bounced back and was able to get on to a run that he has maintained to this day; he predicts that next year’s turnover will be at least £2m.

The company only has two employees, including Kelly, and needless to say their future looks bright.

Competition is also not a major concern, although there are companies that provide a similar service to CK Net, the market is huge and growing.

For many, the world of keywords and search engine marketing is a relatively unknown, but one that will become evermore significant as buying online becomes the norm.

Kelly was delighted to win his award from Startups: “It was brilliant, I was quite shocked to be honest. We are not the biggest of companies so I didn’t expect it.

“It was a really good day out and it was great to meet all the other people who had entered.”


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