Put out of business :(

Ok so this is mainly a post to vent my frustration and anger so please be aware this is my personal feelings and no way endorsed by linux.co.uk.

Bit of a background before i start.

I’m in the middle of setting up a venture in the Web hosting industry, and was getting helped by business link in starting this venture.

So i was talking to a potential client today, and we got on to the pricing structure of my services, i was all to happy to oblige as i haven’t yet managed to break into the market, so was hoping this would be my first client/business i will host, unfortunately said client found out about www.gbbo.co.uk and then proceeded to ask me why i couldn’t sell my services cheaper (wanted free domain etc), at current as a start-up i cant afford to offer these services and explained to the customer that it wasn’t possible at this stage, but could offer a discount on the web hosting, which the customer then turned round and said ok sorry to waste your time but i think ill go with gbbo.

i wasn’t aware of this website until today so decided to click and to my horror found out they give way the services i sell for free, and on top of that the company (business link) who is helping me set-up is actually backing this project.

This has forced me into a decision not to carry on my business venture in the web hosting market, there is no way i can compete with these guys especially backed by some pretty heavy names (google, BT), the market area i was going to be providing for was small business in and around my local area and eventually open the net to the rest of the UK, but this is now impossible for me to do, so in theory the company helping me start is the company shutting me down, i cant afford to carry on paying the fees i pay, every month when a site like gbbo exists, i have put and now lost alot of my own cash on this project, and i feel let down by my own country.

They are supposed to help start-ups like me but yet they have literally put me out of business.

Thanks to Google, Enterprise UK, e-skills.co.uk & BT (and whoever else is backing the project), i am now forced to close my business.

OberonHosting Ceased Trading on 4th of April 2010

Nathan Smith

Nathan, this is nothing new, it’s just “Google Sites” with a “Getting British Business Online” sticker on it. There are quite a number of outfits offering such a service, this may be one of the completely free ones, but there are plenty starting at $5 a month and to be honest, there isn’t a business out there who can’t afford 10x this for a website. I’ve just signed up to give you an idea of exactly what it is you’re competing against, try;


Seriously, if you find a business who’s prepared to stake their reputation on this free service, they would only be a very short term client anyway. Anyone who’s been in business for any length of time will be well aware that you get what you pay for and will hopefully look at this and laugh. (would be great for primary school kids learning about web design tho’)

The templates don’t seem to compete with Wordpress’s “free” templates and there doesn’t look to be an upgrade path … there certainly aren’t the 3000+ free plugins and 1000+ free templates that wordpress has, and Wordpress has a massive library of commercial templates and plugins for people when they come to upgrade. (so I’d be more threatened by wordpress.com in this context!)

… I went to a local “blogger’s” event recently, maybe 50 or so bloggers present … hands went up for who used what and 3 people were showing for “blogger” [google] 1-2 for random other stuff and about 40 for Wordpress. Maybe google are offering this stuff free to government agencies 'cos it’s crap and nobody is using it?

Just a thought (!)

All that aside I do sympathize, local and national government seem to have no understanding what-so-ever when it comes to the Internet and small businesses online. Indeed my personal opinion is that local tender business seems to be done via back-handers (and I’ve experienced some evidence to this effect) and as a result I try to avoid doing any business in my own country. Crazy eh?

This may not make you feel any better, but it’s brought back a memory you might at least find a little amusing, if not going a little way to explaining why our country is apparently being run by a group of technical incompetents.

Once upon a time (1999) I was invited to the Houses of Parliament to meet MP’s, apparently Tony’s new government was full of new ministers who knew nothing about the Internet and wanted to meet some of the people involved with UK ISP’s, just to get a handle on what was “up”.

It was very nice, posh venue obviously, lots of free cucumber sarnies (no joke!) , short speech or two, and even some free booze. Needless to say this was just an excuse for Tony’s cronies to say that they’d done some research and were up on what was going on, complete waste of time really.

Anyway, to pass the time I started chatting to a couple of people and came across a chap who was boasting that his company was setting up 2500 new dial-up customers per week and he’d only just started. (this was a bit before ADSL launched) I was seriously impressed and told him that I’d been selling dial-up for around six years and my record was only around 200 in one week …I asked him how many people he had working for him … which is when the rat’s odor became apparent.

“10” he said.

I did a quick double take … so who do you work for?

He named a large high street bank - the waters cleared a little.

“So” I said, “when you say you sign up 2500 new dial-up customers per week” …

“Oh yes he said, my team of 10 just do the marketing, the service is actually provided by BT …”

“Ahh…” I said, and when you say “new” customers … ?

“Oh, new to the Internet service” he said, “they’re mostly existing bank customers” …

Ok. So basically your bank did a deal with BT such that BT could sell it’s dialup business into your customer base. Nice.
Nothing like a captive audience, and we wonder why the little ISP is having such a hard time …

“So” I said, “MP’s meeting ISP’s so they can learn about Internet services, so how much do you know about ‘your’ Internet services?”

“Well” he said, “lots, after all they’re our services!”

“You mean BT’s services…?”

“Well, Ok, but they carry our brand!”

“So do you use the service yourself?”

“Yes, I got set up just last week, it’s great!”

“Ok, how did it go … ?”

“Well I had a few problems and had to call the technical support line … but it worked pretty well, they talked me through the setup and I managed to get it all going…”

“Ahh, good old BT technical support eh?”

“Yes, it’s a great feature of the service”

“Mmm, but expensive tho’?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I mean how long were you on the phone?”

“Oh, not too long … maybe 45 minutes …”

“At £1 per minute?”


“You were calling the BT Internet support line that accompanies the BT dialup service, yes?”


“Well, their standard support charge is £1 per minute”

“Eh? Don’t be silly …”

“I’m not, BT are our largest competitor and being a private commercial company, I know the competition, ‘I’ have to if I want to stay in business …”

<fx: suit makes phone call>



“You’re right, they do charge £1 per minute!”

“So, you were just charged £45 to get online with your own service - do you include that on your marketing literature?”

… Suddenly he seemed to want to be somewhere else and apparently the conversation was over.

So the moral of this story being, the people in charge don’t have a clue and are quite open to admitting it. They will then tell you they are going to research the issues by asking the people that do have a clue. Unfortunately they really have no idea about “who” they’re asking and as a result, some of the people they ask also don’t have a clue. Furthermore, they don’t actually ask, they just feed the people they were going to ask, send them on their way without asking, then just go and do whatever it was they’d already decided to do anyway.

Just to add on to the IRC chat on #linux.co.uk, the story of the local business advisor;

After giving up on doing local business, a combination of local incompetence and back-handers, I was repeatedly chased by a local business advisor who wanted to “help”. Knowing who he was likely to be and his likely level of competence I ignored him.

He continued to chase, not surprising because he can bill the local government £400 for signing me up as a client and having a meeting with me. After being accused in the past of knocking things I’d not tried, I eventually relented and agreed to a meeting.

Needless to say it was a bit of a washout. He didn’t understand my business model, didn’t really understand what the Internet was or could do, and was made redundant from his previous job because he was such an expert at what he did himself (which wasn’t run or advise other businesses).

Immediate recommendation; do a mailshot.

I explained I had done two of ~ 500 each, had put a lot of effort into it, targeted emails using Yellow pages addresses, colour prints etc, probably cost ~ £2k. Response: zero.

His response; I must’ve been doing it wrong (!) - now he could be right, however in the past I’ve been responsible for mail shots in the '00’s of '000’s and have had varying responses, so it wasn’t exactly my first time.

Anyway, he said he’d have a think and come back to me… so all I ended up with when I left the carpark was a nail in my tyre which cost me £25 to get fixed at Kwikfit.

Moving on a few months I decided to call, after spending half a day on a visit I thought I might see if he was actually going to do any work for his £400, albeit I wasn’t paying him directly. (but I do pay tax!) What do you think happened when I got through to the building?

“I’m sorry sir, that company closed down last week” … not shocked really, just pissed off that I didn’t trust my initial reaction enough to not waste my time.

Huh, now, whilst I’m definitly still learning about the technical side of computers & the internet & how all this works, from what I can gather, you own a server that has very high bandwidth access to the internet, and you want to sell the service of hosting business sites to businesses, but a government project (or something) is offering the same for free.

…bearing in mind I’m probably misunderstadning something crucial here (or more likly just have a gap in my knowledge), but have you tried selling similar services to a different audience?

  • Gaming servers?
  • Back-up storage providers?
  • Offering full control of the server to anyone with sufficient technical knowledge that has a need for one? (Like the modding group I’m in, who need a website, somewhere to store files online to send between each other, an IM service to get stuff decided quickly, a forum to post progress and have on-going discussions, and somewhere for the general public to download the final mods from, though we already have such a services.)

Or is it too late and you’ve already packed evrything up?

I haven’t packed up totally yet although me and my wife have been discussing what we could do or if we should just call it a day, im still very much 50/50 although mark and MP (mad penguin) did have a long discussion and a few ideas has been floated so still not sure what to do :slight_smile:

Mate, I wouldn’t just give up like that.

You could easily give your website a revamp and easily continue as a business. There are a lot of companies that sell things that you might sell for free. But how can you differentiate from them?

OK so gbbo.co.uk offer a free .co.uk domain name, big deal, you offer .com, .net, the lot.

They just offer a simple domain with a simple template. You can offer much more.