More Than Just Facebook

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

In 1985, the first domain name, symbolics.com, was registered in the U.S. In 1994, the Internet became widely known among the general public, and the first third-party services for processing online credit card sales began to appear. In 1995, Amazon.com revolutionized the use of the Internet, doing business on the web with customer oriented online sales. Although Amazon started by selling books online, today it sells pretty much everything that can be sold on the web. Ebay.com, a popular online auction site, grew up alongside Amazon, making it possible for even those with little web savvy to do business online.

These two companies paved the way for e-commerce businesses worldwide. Their success ignited entrepreneurial spirit on the web, and prompted many copycat e-commerce web sites to spring up behind them.

In Turkey, the first Internet connection was provided in 1993, but the web didn’t become popular until the early 2000s. Perhaps this explains why companies have been slow to move away from first generation web sites and into more advanced platforms, like those incorporating e-commerce. While Turkey’s entry into e-business is relatively recent, according to some independent research Turkey ranks 16th in the number of Internet users worldwide. It is estimated that there are about 20 million active Internet users in Turkey.

The barriers to entry in e-commerce are actually quite low. Startup costs can be negligible, so entrepreneurs can launch their businesses without seed funding. You can easily register a domain for less than $9 a year, and buy hosting for less than $100. There are many open source e-commerce shopping carts you can get for free, or you can pay $150 for a more user-friendly, pre-packaged system.

The business model doesn’t need to be very complicated, either. Take, for example, the “One Day, One Deal” model started in 2004 by Woot.com, an electronics wholesaler. As its founder Matt Rutledge explains, “Woot’s main website generally offers only one discounted product each day, often a piece of computer hardware or an electronic gadget.” Unlike Amazon.com, which offers a huge variety of products all the time, Woot sells just one product at a time, at a price you can’t resist.

The barriers to entry are low, but unfortunately, according to TUIK (Türkiye Istatistik Kurumu) most entrepreneurs in Turkey don’t understand much about the Internet. Many of them don’t even have a web site. TUIK reports that only 9.4 percent of entrepreneurs who do have a web presence also accept orders online. That small percentage represents a great opportunity for willing entrepreneurs to quickly jump ahead of the pack and differentiate themselves by growing their sales with e-commerce, while their competitors stand by and watch. It also presents an incredible business opportunity for Turkey’s burgeoning web design and development community to help those entrepreneurs build the sites they’ll need to increase their sales.

If the current generation of entrepreneurs is not willing to take advantage of these opportunities, our universities today are filled with students who are about to do so. More and more I see students asking about becoming an Internet entrepreneur, and many are even starting online businesses while still in school. These are smart kids with plenty of ideas, but they want guidance and mentoring to compensate for their lack of business experience. As business leaders, we must mentor these talented new entrepreneurs — it is our responsibility.

Come to think of it, though, why shouldn’t we be taking advantage of these e-commerce opportunities ourselves? Why let the university kids have all the fun, and take all the spoils while we sit on the sidelines? The tools are already there, we have many examples of success to follow, and examples of failure to avoid, and a great web design community there to help us with the technical end of things. So let’s take commerce to the web, before someone else does it for us.

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