Friday Entrepreneurs: Brandon McNamara, Biz BookTalk

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Brandon McNamara emailed me earlier this week about a business-book review site he started, http://www.bizbooktalk.com. I’d actually stumbled across the site before, and I think it’s a great example of a very specific niche site that anyone can start.

When you read below, notice a few things:

  • How many failures he went through in order to get to where he is today. Also, notice that he failed fast, a favorite phrase of VCs and entrepreneurs: If you’re going to succeed or fail, do it fast. The worst thing a company can do is be in a state of limbo for years.
  • How his site is getting about 100 visitors/day. To some, that sounds horrifyingly high. To others, it sounds like a pittance. The point is, who cares? You have to start somewhere. I remember when this site had like 3 visitors and I was lucky to get 5 comments per post. If you look at my earliest posts, you’ll see that. But you have to start somewhere.
  • His goals when he started the site. Hint: It wasn’t about making money.
  • The feedback from his friends/family. When you start something different, you’ll inevitably get regular people wondering why you aren’t just being normal. Ignore them unless you want to become them.

BizBookTalk.com

How’d you get started?
I decided that I was going to start a website. I knew it was something I could do as long as it was an idea that I was interested in being successful at. I registered 2 domain names before I finally set up the business book review site.

My first site was an attempt at setting up an online shopping site which drop shipped the items. I think the domain name was something crazy like babyfurniture4you.com (I was going to sell children’s furniture! Ha!) I realized that I didn’t like the fact I wouldn’t have control of the shipping, ect, and foresaw issues with that, so I went onto idea #2.

I used to live in upstate NY. There weren’t any services like PeaPod (grocery deliveries), so I was going to start my own. I registered the domain supermarketconnect.com. Over a couple days, I mulled over the idea while creating the site, and realized that there wasn’t a customer base to support the idea (which I wasn’t crazy about anyways), so I went onto idea #3.

Which was…?
I love reading. I was ordering books off of Amazon like every other week (my local library was small & old, and didn’t carry any of the titles I wanted to read). It was getting out of hand, so my frugal-ness coupled with a spark of an idea which made me start bizbooktalk.com. I had recently read enough business books where I could post my first 4 reviews. After that I drafted up a letter which I would send to authors/publishers requesting a review copy. Never Eat Alone was one of the first few books that I requested which led me in contact with Ian Ybarra. He helped me make some adjustments to my review request letter/fax I was sending out. It helped a ton, and I was getting more books that I was able to keep up with. I’d say I’ve received close to 45-50 books so far to review.

What were the negative things your friends told you when you started it?
It was a bunch of mixed reactions. Some were impressed that I was doing this on the side without getting paid because it is a commitment to read/review the books. My mom didn’t understand why I was doing it if I wasn’t getting paid. A business book site isn’t that ‘sexy’ of an idea. But I love reading, and it gives me the opportunity to do so, all while making connections with those across the world.

Did you plan to make money? Do you?
Money wasn’t ever a goal in this. I guess originally when I attempted the first two sites it was, but look where it ended up – nowhere. My #1 goal with bizbooktalk.com was to learn from the books, gain some experience running a site, work with publishers, and learning from the connections I make with others. I wanted to create a site with value to others. I would love to get a MBA, but don’t want to spend the money/time, so I figured this would be a good substitution in the mean time.

How many visitors/day do you get?
Right now I average 115. It’s slowly but surely increasing monthly.

What do you get out of the site? How has it benefited you so far?
I’ve been able to make connections with people all over the world, received free business books, and improved my writing skills. It’s also taught me how to better manage my time. I have a commitment to these people to post reviews of their books, or else I will establish a bad reputation.

Tell me about your first failure. God knows I have had a ton of them.
I got to interview Dave Lakhani, author of The Art of Persuasion. It was my first interview that I had ever done. I was nervous as hell. I wrote down some questions, practiced asking them. The time came. I went through the interview, asked my questions, tried to act professional. I listened to it after words. It made me cringe. I got the first one out of the way, but realize I have some ways to go to improve. It was a great opportunity though because I stepped out of my comfort zone. You always grow when this happens.

Who are you?
I’m 24, grew up in Upstate NY between Syracuse and Rochester. I graduated in 2004 from SUNY Oswego with an Information Science degree. I recently relocated to Chicago and I’m working as a business systems analyst for Harley Davidson.

brandon_bizbooktalk

One more thing: You’ll notice that he’s looking for people to join his team.

To be featured as a Friday Entrepreneur, check out the meager guidelines.

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8 Comments

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  1. Nice writeup. The link to his site is broken. You forgot the http:// in the URL in the a href.

    Keep ‘em coming.

  2. Ah, I’m dumb. Thanks, fixed.

  3. Great post. I just discovered your blog last night but I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Thanks for the great stuff!

  4. Ramit -

    I appreciate it! I’ve already received some great feedback and
    interest from others to join the team. Thanks for everything. If there is anything that you need in the future please contact me! Talk to you soon.

    Brandon

  5. I have a question for Brandon:

    When you first started out, how did you plan on recovering costs of say hosting the website? The reason I ask is that I am working on a web app but don’t really want to pay for hosting as the monthly fees would be more than if you were to put up a regular web page.

  6. I love the reaction from family.

    I get that all the time. Why can’t I just work at a regular job like everyone else?

    They don’t understand.

  7. Answer to Wayne’s question:

    My web hosting fee was $90 for the whole year. I paid the full amount up front, not month by month. I figured if I put the $90 down that it would force me to be committed to executing the idea, which it did. The end result is creating something in value which in my eyes is worth way more than $90 dollars (the experience , books, learning opportunity )!

    A standard opportunity cost analysis is needed. Will the $$ spent on hosting the web app be worth it to you? Sometimes it’s hard to put dollar values on non-tangible items.

    If you are working on the web app, but don’t want to pay for hosting fee’s, how will you ever find out if it will be successful? Why don’t you shop around find the best price and use that to barter with other companies?

  8. Nice to see a fellow Upstater doing things like this!