Get – Site aims at one-stop-shop to set up a business

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Some Things Need To Change

A fairly big play to help small businesses grow fast launches today in the form of Smarta, an attempt to create a one-stop shop for setting up and growing a business. You’ll be hearing a lot about it in the press because it has a bunch of people behind it with high media profiles, namely two Dragons from the BBC’s Dragons Den TV show. But will it cut the mustard?

It will if the tenacity of CEO Sháá Wasmund is anything to go by. She made her name during the last boom as a director of travel company, and, sold to BSkyB. Most recently she has been at BrightStation Ventures, an investment vehicle, but has since extracted herself to work full time on Smarta, which has nothing to do with BrightStation.

Smarta’s private backers are Simon Woodroffe (Founder of YO! Sushi), Bebo founder Michael Birch, David Saul (Business Environment Group) and Dragons’ Den panelists Theo Paphitis (also owner of Ryman Stationery) and Deborah Meaden. There is up-front sponsor money from NatWest, RBS bank and Vodafone, as well as from law firm Mishcon de Reya and serviced office provider Business Environment, which will both be providing services to users. Smarta is due to be launched today by Minister for Digital Engagement and Parliament’s first blogger, Tom Watson MP.

Get the picture?

So, Smarta is not unlike a sexier, private sector version of Business Link, the government-backed initiative to support small businesses which has been disappointing to say the least. Word on the street tells me they spent £20m on their useless web site, much of it on management consultancies to tell them they were fulfilling their brief. Sounds like your average government department, no?

But with Smarta you will be able to do a number of practical things: Legally register a business online with almost as much ease as you would buy a domain name; actually buy domain names; use the in-built social network to promote your businesses and yourself to other entrepreneurs; watch video tutorials and interviews with entrepreneurs; read how-to editorial features for businesses; ask questions; get financial and legal advice. You can also apply for a business banking account from RBS or NatWest.

They aim to have 200,000 users by the end of 2009. Revenue will be from sponsorship/advertising and transactions (domain name sales, business planning software etc).

Apparently there is a market out there. Here’s their maths:

The 2007 UK Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report found that roughly 2.8 million people in the UK are thinking or have thought about starting up a business. Figures from the Department for Business, Enterprise Regulatory Reform also show that only c.400k business actually start up each year. So therefore roughly 2.4m million people who are thinking about starting a new business never do.

The reasons are simple: professional services and infrastructure are expensive; paperwork; hard to find other entrepreneurs to network with; lack of mentoring. Smarta aims to address all these.

Thus, if Smarta gets 1% more of the 2.4 million to start up a business, that’s 24,000 additional start-ups. If each one has an turnover of £225,028 (according to the UK Dept for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform estimate for UK private enterprises with 0-49 employees in 2007) then the figure that pops out is £5.4bn.

Of course Smarta itself isn’t going to get all that. But it might be able to hook into the market if it’s quick, and, er, smart enough.

However, although the site shows plenty of promise, a couple of things ring alarm bells for me. The site was not built in-house but by digital agency Public Zone and designed by How Splendid. That’s fine, but real tech startups control their own tech. Perhaps they’ll address this later.

The videos of entrepreneurs are good, but you can’t share/embed them. It’s on their to-do list but I do wonder why they needed to build their own video player for this. Also, events don’t have calendar feeds (also on the to-do list).

Smarta will also be hard to scale across national boundaries beyond the UK (but perhaps not impossible?).

Lastly, their biggest challenge is in not becoming Ecademy. And there are other sites out there that purport to do the same thing. Two things help them on this: Smarta is not out to be a personal cult for it’s founder, although the media profile of the backers is going to go some way to differentiating the site from similar-sounding ones. All they need to do is execute on the tech a bit better.

Assuming all the above can come together, Smarta should be a very welcome boost to the UK’s entrepreneurial scene.

  • Manoj Ranaweera

    Well done to Sháá Wasmund for launching a company to help promote entrepreneurship within the UK. Amazing line up of well known entrepreneurs should create sufficient buzz to get the initial eyeballs.

    A Limited Liability Company can be setup easily under £50 these days and it costs about the same to setup a website if you have bit of technical knowledge.

    There are so many of these type of sites out there, so it is interesting to see where they differentiate. Celebrities are obviously a big plus and the graphics are eye-catching compared to many of the stale sites out there.

    Still, I am struggling to understand what is so special with regards to what is already out there. Biggest problem is that each site attempts to generate original content, but fails to aggregate content from already established sites. This is something I would also like to address at Northern StartUp 2.0 some point in the future.

    But the bottom line is, the more we speak about entrepreneurship, the better the chance of increasing the number of startups. It is also interesting to see how effective RDA Simplification Programmes would be in the medium term.

    Readers might be interested in GEM Reports at

    Best regards

    • Ivan Trajkovic

      I surely agree with you Manoj!

  • Ste Andreassen

    “Lastly, their biggest challenge is in not becoming Ecademy.”.

    I’m sure taht with the quality backing they have, they won’t have to resort to flogging dodgy “life membership” schemes.

  • danvers

    Surely there is an opportunity here to resell the business support products of other web 2.0 companies, and get them out to a wider audience?

  • Ben Colclough

    “real tech startups control their own tech”?
    Is that really true? Seems a bizarre statement. Opens up an interesting debate? Where do you draw the line between using agencies, freelancers and hiring your own staff? Each startup needs to address its own in house skills and buy-in to fill the gaps.
    I’m interested in people’s thoughts on this one?

    • Armel Nene

      I agree that “real tech startups” control their own tech. Using freelancers or people to work on a project is different to outsourcing your technology to specialist. As simple example would be if the company lacks search technology, then they would outsource the Search development. We are a startup, ETAPIX Global, and we control every aspect of our technology. Does it make us a “real tech startup”?

  • scott

    Well seems to me as a huge affiliate advert for natwest covered up by bullshit! Why dont they just replace the homepage with a Natwest business account form! Start a business in 30 mintues!!!!

  • Mark

    I have found to be very helpful.

    Great people, excellent for building a team. Plus lots of VCs, journalists and experienced advisers are already members.

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  • Ivan Trajkovic

    Are amateurs developing Smarta??? Guys, please turn off your debug mode in Web.config!

    Server Error in ‘/’ Application.
    Cannot have multiple items selected in a DropDownList.
    Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

    Exception Details: System.Web.HttpException: Cannot have multiple items selected in a DropDownList.

    Source Error:

    Line 104:
    Line 105:
    Line 106: <label for=””>
    Line 107:
    Line 108:

    Source File: D:\inetpub\wwwroot\smarta\\www\profile\EditProfile.aspx Line: 106

    • Ivan Trajkovic

      And why .NET 2.0??? :(

  • Tom

    Great launch, great site.

    I wish Smarta well.

  • Jason Trost

    It seems like Smarta will have difficulty getting traction. A lot of the features that they offer are well-served on existing websites…Entrepreneurial networking – linkedin, facebook, company profile – Crunchbase, Younoodle, Q/A – linkedin, The Funded, video platform – vimeo, youtube.

    I agree with Mike on the tech as well. The website’s profile, browsing and video features are clunky. In-house tech can speed up the implementation/testing cycle. I added the Smarkets business 30 min. ago and has yet to be added to the ‘All Businesses’ section.

    However, I’ll use anything that features Sokratis!

  • Alex Bellinger

    I can’t see a problem with Smarta employing an agency to develop their site.

    Ultimately I don’t think they’re a technology startup, in the same way that Techcrunch isn’t a technology startup.

    They’re #1 priority is the quality of content and support they provide to startups and SMEs. With the team they’ve assembled and backers they have in place this ought not to be a problem.

    P.S. Have corrected Brightstation reference from my own earlier post on the launch.

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  • john m howitt

    Looks like an on-line one-stop site for people who don’t use on-line one-stop sites.

  • Jonathanwthomas

    Brilliant Website.

    We need a site like this in the USA.

  • Engago Team

    Liked the site, so we signed-up and posted the message about our web service.
    We will track the number of visitors coming from

  • Dan Mitchell

    Too clunky and cumbersome. Sites like this need to be to the point. The Business Link website has helped countless colleagues and people around the UK get started. No fuss. Just relevant content.

    Looks like another ‘Web 2’ organisation/company offering nothing but tired spin with an unrealistic revenue model.

    Oh, I’ve got a piece of advice for new businesses, especially Smarta: ensure your website complies to W3C standards!

  • Gwen at GigPay

    This is nothing new Mike. have been providing an all round service to UK startups for some time now without the social networking features of course. Smarta would have been better off adding value by integrating existing social networks and business directories.

    Smarta have only bolted on a 2.0 and shiny look in the hope they can call this a new concept and go after who seem to be doing good in that space.

  • William Tucker

    I actually find Business Link to be extremley useful and concise… When you need cold hard facts nothing beats it…

    You can keep all your 2.0 features, videos and cliche magenta / grey colour schemes… Yawn…

    Oh, I nearly forgot… The thing that start-ups and people entering business really need… is MONEY!

  • Russell

    What do Theo & Deborah Meadon know about the web?
    And if Sháá Wasmund knew anything about the web he/she (?) wouldn’t of built an antiquated site that you’d expect to have developed in 1999, not 2009. Building their own video player is a sure sign they clearly don’t have people who know today’s web tech or where the web is heading.And a business model selling advertising and “subscriptions”? HELLO: CPM inventory doesn’t sell anymore its all perfromance related these days and subscriptions to what? WAKE UP.
    This proposition is weak, at best.

    And how did Sokratis get his mug on the hompage? That’s even more laughable!!

  • Simon Hill

    The site is clunky, but user experience will come in time. Unfair to expect perfection on a tech start-up’s first day.

    Mike, you mention BusinessLink. It has its faults, but it achieves independence and trustworthiness – something essential for a site reaching out to this audience. Whereas Smarta *feels* like being in that bit of a networking event where everyone’s forced to watch the sponsors.

    Hopefully Smarta’s business model is flexible enough to allow some of the ads/products to be removed until its reputation can acccommodate them.

    Best of luck Smarta!

  • Stuart Russell

    I thought this was a marketing venture by the NatWest when I looked at it last night, I have to say that it put me off.

    Nice looking site but I don’t see anything new unfortunately

  • Fagin

    Smarta shows signs of a classic start-up, lets give them time.

    From the overal dynamics they have something here……, especially in the downturn entreprenurs need all the help they can get.

  • Nick

    Good to see some competition in this space – pity about the NatWest ‘partnership’ – in many ways that means that the government is sponsoring another site?

    I wish them luck but 200,000 users is a big challenge – BT Tradespace supposedly has just reached 300,000 and they’ve spent a fortune. Our site has 61,000 subscribers and about 50,000 monthly visitors and its take 2 years…

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