Andrew Elliot is a self-confessed serial entrepreneur and, he readily admits, one who has ‘failed’ often. The founder of ArticleBuff – an online marketplace and resource site for writers – has previously started many other online ventures that have either spluttered to a halt or sold off at fire-sale prices, but he chooses to view those experiences positively.
“I do not see those past ventures as (true) failures,” states Andrew. “I use them to understand what I did wrong, and how I can better myself as a businessman and entrepreneur.”
Learning From Failure
In fact, the inspiration for ArticleBuff stemmed from a previous failure. One of Andrew’s ventures was an automobile blog, and he was looking for someone who could contribute an article or two to the blog. He found a self-proclaimed US-based freelance automotive enthusiast on a popular online freelance job-matching site, and agreed on a fee and key deliverables. When the deadline arrived, however, he found that the quality of work was simply not up to par.
So Andrew thought – what if he could have seen the writing before he paid up? “But I didn’t stop there and began thinking about a contest style format where I could choose from a range of entries, provide feedback and choose the one that best suits what I needed.”
“I later learned that this was called crowdsourcing.”
The idea for ArticleBuff was thus born, and funnily enough it began like how most ventures are rumored to start – on a napkin. “Clichéd, I know,” Andrew laughs. “However clichéd it may be, we have created a business that helps solve a problem for employers and writers.”
Sourcing For Writing Talent
Like most good ideas, the concept for ArticleBuff is inherently simple. Writers search for projects on the site that employers put up and submit their work, employers pick from the submissions and decide which one they will pay for. It’s crowdsourcing of writing talent like what CrowdSPRING is for creative ideas and Phokki is for digital art.
ArticleBuff‘s unique selling point is compelling – it alleviates the risk involved with normal freelance sites by allowing the user to preview a range of work submitted by talented writers before deciding on which to award the prize money to. As for its revenue model, it simply charges employers a nominal one-time fee to post a project. No commissions are taken. “It is absolutely free for writers to join and enter a project.”
“We target two types of users; writers and employers. The writers can be anybody, from well-established blog writers who want guest blog post work to non-established freelancers looking to make a little extra money,” Andrew explains. “On the employer end we are looking for blog owners who need something written as well as website owners who just need a piece of copy written or a full-blown press release.”
Andrew admits that signups on the site has been low to date, but in his defence, he says that they’ve only recently announced their public beta and has just begun their marketing.
Users Come First
To grow the site, ArticleBuff is already looking at improvements to its user interface and graphics. It is also looking to add a forum at a later date.
“For the most part, however, we just want to keep to the needs of our users first and provide a great environment for employers and writers to get work done.” In fact, Andrew says the biggest lesson he’s learnt throughout his entire career as an entrepreneur is that the user comes first, no matter what. “That’s why I love sites like UserVoice because the potential to listen to your users is amazing.”
Andrew declares that ArticleBuff‘s greatest achievement has been that they’ve not had outside venture capitalists or angel investors throwing money at them, and that’s how they want it to be.
“We want to be able to call the shots without having to answer to investors because, to be honest, investors don’t always do what’s best for the user like we want to. We understand and respect investors to the utmost, however it was just not for us. We personally wanted to be able to always make sure the user came first, which we felt would be in jeopardy if we took on investors.”
The ArticleBuff team is a collage of different cultures and backgrounds, with coders based in Michigan and Vietnam while Andrew himself is based in Orange County, California. “By using freelancers and family connections we were able to keep costs down in a project that would have otherwise cost twice to three times as much.” The startup is currently self-funded with money from Andrew and some of his friends. He is unwilling to disclose the actual amount funded, except to say it totals less than US$500,000.
Views on Entrepreneurship
One lesson he’s learnt, Andrew says, is that when building a business it’s critical to work at solving a problem or illicit such a strong feeling from a person that they are willing to purchase your product, instead of focusing solely on money. It’s something Andrew learnt from MJ DeMarco, the former founder and CEO of Limos.com and current owner of Fastlanetomillions.com, and he urges anyone wanting to create a business online to think similarly.
“I view entrepreneurship as a way to ultimately give back to the community,” says Andrew. “The way I want to do this is by providing services and products that solve a problem or a need; the money is just a nice bonus.”
It’s also about passion, he adds, as he wouldn’t be just as happy if he just slogged away at a normal job. “The challenge of creating something out of nothing is a huge draw and coupled with the will to succeed can only mean this isn’t going to be my first Internet startup,” Andrew predicts.