“There were plenty of times when I thought, I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to do it. I’ve had to struggle and fight, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. But I’ve got there in the end.” The Business Moment talks to the man who has built the next internet phenomenon – without giving up the day job
For the past two years, Dan Davies has invested every ounce of his time, money and passion into creating Shopatweet – a brand new website that combines social media with online shopping. After financial difficulties, sleepless nights and a non-existent social life, the 27-year-old entrepreneur can finally breathe a sigh of relief as Shopatweet is about to go live.
So what exactly is Shopatweet?
The best way to describe it, is that Shopatweet finally bridges the gap between e-commerce and social media. It incorporates all the elements of social networking – so you’ve got all your videos, blogs, and forums. You can post statuses, add friends, the usual sort of things. But it also allows businesses to have their own websites on there, so they can have their own stores, or a services page if it’s a law practice for example, and sell products, offer vouchers or put things up for auction, there’s many things they can do
At first glance, Shopatweet may not appear to be a particularly revolutionary idea – after all many of the social networking giants have been incorporating a business and retail element to their sites in the past few years. But in fact, there are a number of crucial differences. Because Shopatweet has been purposefully designed from the start with an equal emphasis on the retail side as well as the social side it is much more integrated than sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which were initially intended solely as sharing sites and have only later tried to introduce a business element.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how e-commerce needs to link with social networking and there are lots of little things these sites are trying to do, like gifts on Facebook or Chirpify on Twitter, but it’s nowhere near the same sort of thing that Shopatweet offers. For example Facebook has a very limited page for businesses and a lack of advertising spaces. Also, all of these sites basically redirect you to other websites – if you click on a Facebook ad then you’re no longer on Facebook. The problem for those sites is that to change now would require a complete remodelling of their system and they can’t do it because they’re so big! In that respect I think it’s perfect timing for Shopatweet. Another way we’re above the competition is that Shopatweet will actually tell you who’s viewed your products, not personal information like email addresses, but demographics like name, age and location, so it actually works as a marketing tool as well
The idea for Shopatweet first began to germinate about two years ago when Dan was an affiliate internet marketer posting clients’ products around the web and redirecting potential customers to their site. Convinced there must be a way to have one site that would centralise online retailers, Dan began to come up with a list of ideas of what this site should entail. In this way he identified the shortcomings of current offerings and began to create something very distinct.
Armed with an idea, but not the tools to turn it into a reality, Dan sought professional help. “At the start, not having the knowledge and the know- how of how to do something so big was really difficult. I had the idea but I needed to put it down on paper, so I went to a design company and met a guy called Lloyd Collins.” Lloyd, who already has a host of blue chip clients including BHS, TKMaxx, Lucozade and Mars Petcare, was impressed with Dan’s proposal and has even become an investor in the project. Together they worked painstakingly on the designs before getting the project to a stage where they needed to find a developer.
This was the first major stumbling block the fledgling company faced. First of all, finding a capable developer proved very tricky, and in fact many people simply said what Dan wanted to achieve was impossible. Others gave quotes of up to £2 million pounds, which on a budget Dan admits was next to zero, simply wasn’t feasible. Eventually, Dan located a company based in America who provided a cheap quote and who could at least take the project to the next level. But it also meant Dan and Lloyd would have to put in the lion’s share of the ground work.
I knew that we wouldn’t get all the way with them, and that me and Lloyd would have to put in all the design work in. So we basically put every page together, which numbered in the hundreds easily, and said exactly how we wanted it, then they did the coding side of things for us. So that’s how I kept the costs down in that respect. But it was a long hard slog, basically working till 2am every night after work, emailing back and forth to America. In fact, I’m still doing 80 hours a week at work, and then 6 or 7 hours a night at home almost every night as well!
By September 2011, the project had stagnated and Dan and Lloyd needed to find a new developer to take the project forward. Looking on Peopleperhour.com – a freelance website – Dan found Scott Knowles, who used to work on the management team for HSBC online security and more recently set up his own website development business. Dan admits the handover from America was a bit of a gamble, as if Scott was unable to do it Dan would have burnt his bridges and been left without a developer! But luckily, this was not the case as Dan reveals: “Scott really brought the site on with respect to the security and data protection. We’ve got the highest level of security now, which is essential nowadays, so Scott’s been really helpful and opened our eyes to a lot of things.”