Growing a business: From 0 to 40,000 users a day

Chris Holbrook was a freelance web developer when he launched Freepostcodelottery.com, a daily lottery draw funded by advertising. He talks to SmallBusiness.co.uk about starting up and upping interest in the site.

When did you come up with the idea?

In 2007 I was listening to the radio and they were talking about how the provision of a breast cancer drug was a postcode lottery, how some people get the drug or not depending on where they live, and I thought that sounded like an interesting idea.

At the same time I heard about a guy who made something called the ‘Million Dollar Homepage’, selling a million pixels to various advertisers for a dollar per pixel.

So, drawing on the two ideas, I planned to launch an online lottery funded by advertising, Freepostcodelottery.com where prizes are won based on a postcode draw, and if someone else in the postcode is registered the prize is split.

How did you proceed?

I didn’t actually work on the business for four years after having the idea, but in 2011 I had a bit of downtime so I decided to go ahead with it. I drew the logo, scanned it into a PC, built the website over a weekend and launched. I went on a few money-saving advice websites and posted about my own product, which is frowned upon so I had a few run-ins with a few sites. However, within a few weeks the idea was sticking. The visitors curve was going upwards.

What helped get people interested in the site?

Well, I effectively put in nothing in terms of cash investment and I didn’t do any marketing. People describe the way I designed the site as ‘cuddly’. I’m very personal with the users, and I try to come across as a nice guy rather than just being a faceless corporation. I read a book about three years ago that tells you about getting the users to be your staff. Be nice to them and they’ll do your promotion for you. So a lot of interest has come from positive word of mouth.

How did your traffic and advertising revenue grow?

In terms of goals for traffic I didn’t have any; I didn’t even know if it would work. I hit 1,000 registrations on May 11 2011 after launching on April 1. It was a steady increase but this year it has taken off; I now get about 40,000 unique visits per day.

When I first launched, the way I thought it would work was to approach potential advertisers directly. I did that for a week or so; I approached people I made websites for, they bought very small amounts of advertising, a few hundred pounds here and there. Then I thought I could use Google Adsense. Google is so good at knowing about people and putting the right ads in front of the right person. So all you have to do is specify the parts of my page you want to be adverts, and Google does the rest. At the start I gave away about £1,100 in prize money before I broke even in September 2011.

What’s next?

A few users said they like doing surveys to earn some extra money so I’ve just launched a feature where users can sign up to become part of a panel that’s farmed out to market research companies.

I’ve always been meaning to provide more content relevant to the postcodes on the home page, so I’m working on a rollover map that can show a visualisation of where a cash rollover has gone.

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