My List Is Here: Amanda Colpoys
The former BBC exec on free advice and finding new forms of revenue
Tell us what your business does:
My List Is Here is an online wish list service and shopping portal, designed to make shopping for Christmas, birthdays and other occasions simple. It’s been created as a space where people can create and share both gift lists (including bespoke lists for weddings and new babies, with items listed as either ‘must have’ or ‘nice to have’) and lists of items they’d like to buy for themselves.
The wish list element is supplemented by a shopping area, comprising of desirable products and separate search and browse sections. These are intended to inspire, but can also be used independently of the wish list service for day-to-day shopping.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I come from a large family so Christmas shopping was always a massive task when I was growing up and it struck me that, for many people, the toughest part of Christmas shopping is knowing what to get everyone. Given the amount of time and money we spend on Christmas, the whole process would be so much easier if people had more of an idea of what to get their friends and family.
With online shopping now so commonplace – as well as the rise of social networks, with people sharing and communicating in different ways – the time seemed right to provide a wish list service like My List Is Here.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Hearing everyone from family and friends to work colleagues moan about having to do their Christmas shopping was enough to persuade me that there must be a market for this kind of service. Once the idea had taken shape I discussed it with all sorts of people and women in particular thought it would be an absolute God-send.
Other wish lists are popular but they are usually restricted to one store. We differ from other sites by allowing people to browse and choose items from more than 300 stores, both offline and online. When you add in the social element of sharing wish lists it becomes a very modern and effective way of shopping.
What were you doing before starting up?
Before starting, I spent nine years working at the BBC. Towards the end of that time I’d become somewhat disillusioned and the career prospects seemed poor. When the opportunity came to take voluntary redundancy it was the perfect chance for a fresh start.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Having worked in TV, I had always aspired to work as a self-employed freelancer. However, I’d never really envisaged setting up a business – and certainly not one in this sector.
I did love the idea of being my own boss though and was enormously attracted to the freedom, independence and autonomy that it offers.
What planning did you do before you started up?
In the very early stages I sought the advice of a colleague who had the kind of technical knowledge that would be required to set up a website this complex. I wanted to know firstly whether it was physically possible to create what I had in mind and also what the rough costs might be.
Having established that it was both viable and affordable, I then started putting together a business plan and I found the Business Link website extremely helpful in doing this. I also sought the advice of a counsellor at the East London Small Business Centre – a free service offered by my local borough to support start-ups.
The main revenue stream will come from affiliate marketing (we earn commission for sending business to the stores whose products are featured on the site) so, as this was an area I knew nothing about, I also made contact with an advertising agency. They were able to advise me on how it worked and confirm that my proposal would be attractive to the kind of merchants I hoped to be affiliated with.
How did you raise the money?
I was fortunate in this respect as, having taken redundancy, I had a chunk of cash that I was able to invest myself. My father was also convinced of the business’ potential so he too was willing to invest.
I was also able to negotiate with the company building the website, and agreed that any shortfall in what we were able to pay them could be made up with share holdings.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I don’t want to jinx myself but in some ways the setting up of the business has been the easy bit. The real challenge is yet to come – spreading the word and getting people to use the site.
Where is your business based?
As an online business that doesn’t currently require staff (all contractors have worked on a freelance basis), it makes sense to be based at home. So far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this and it’s suited me well. Not having to travel to and from work every day gives me 10 extra hours a week – which makes a big difference to my lifestyle.
I’ve also enjoyed little things, like being able to go to the supermarket on a Monday morning when it’s quiet instead of a Saturday morning when it’s heaving! Being able to manage my time independently without being constrained by 9-5 hours is very liberating.
How have you promoted your business?
The concept of a wish list service genuinely seems to appeal to people – but it’s not something they would think to go looking for. It was therefore of utmost importance to promote it and ensure that people found out about it.
I chose the PR route rather than advertising – it is more cost-effective and I believe carries much more weight. The social aspect is a key part of the site, so social networks will play a large role in raising awareness too.
How much do you charge?
Our revenue at this point is generated through affiliate marketing, so we don’t actually charge anyone for the service – it’s free to anyone that uses it.
What has your growth been like?
As the website has only been live for a few weeks, there is no turnover as of yet. However, I expect to start to turn a profit by early 2012.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
Starting a business is stressful – there’s no doubt about it! The biggest impact has been financial and it’s been necessary to live very frugally. This has meant cutting down on social events and holidays – which impacts my partner as well as me.
I think dealing with the finances has been the toughest element. The project is very ambitious given the budget, and trying to do everything I wanted on the money available has been very challenging.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Discovering the concept of affiliate marketing was a real breakthrough. Up until that point the business was going to be on a much smaller scale and I expected it to take several years to become established and turn a profit.
Discovering that money could be made via affiliate marketing from the start meant I could be much more ambitious with the concept.
What would you do differently?
My only real regret so far is that the site wasn’t ready to launch a month earlier. I’d have started the site build sooner.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t spend a penny before you’ve written a business plan – it costs you nothing and will force you to answer some tough questions which will help you decide if your idea is really viable.
Leave money for a marketing budget – no matter how good your product or service, word of mouth alone won’t be enough to get it off the ground.
And look for free advice – whether from Business Link, your local council, or HMRC – there are all sorts of outlets offering free advice, information and courses on every element of setting up a business.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I’d like to have fully developed the website – my business plan outlines several more phases of development which will enable the site to be more social and contain much more editorial content and advice. Not entirely sure of an exit plan just yet though!