UK
22/11/2013 12:03 GMT | Updated 22/11/2013 13:55 GMT

Alastair Crawford On How He Built £6.5m-A-Year Directory Website 192.Com

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Alastair Crawford's big business idea came after he effectively predicted the internet.

Crawford, who had dropped out of university twice, realised that printing out thick copies of the Yellow Pages directory would not be sustainable. And so he seized on the idea of selling a new directory stored on floppy disks, then CD-Roms and finally, in 1997, online as 192.com.

The dotcom entrepreneur started selling the directory in bundles of floppy disks or CDs, and when internet speeds improved beyond their infamously sluggish dial-up days in 1999, the website was able to take a greater role as he took on the telephone 118 directory services. During the height of the dotcom bubble, his business - then called icd publishing - was valued at £100 million.

Crawford rolled out a £29.95 deal for customers to get 100 tokens to search out data on the site. Now 10 million people use the website every month and 40 people working in the business, which raked in £6.5 million last year.

Crawford spoke to HuffPostUK about how he came so far.

So Alastair, tell me how you got 192.com off the ground...

We got the URL in January 1997. We already saw the Internet coming so we registered it then for just 26 dollars and 95 cents, and we were the first person to do it.

Most of the sales were through direct sales channels but progressively the website became more and more popular so we put an early version of directory live, but it wasn't the main focus of the website at the time because broadband speeds were so poor that we found it hard to compete with voice directories when people had to dial in on a modem and connect in that way.

So it wasn't really until 1999 to 2000 that it became the main priority of the company. At the time, we were shipping about 2 million CDs between 1997 and 2000, but we decided that we wanted to create a website that would put our CD business out of business - because if we didn't do it - someone else would!

We were able to provide a freemium model, with free directory enquiries every time searches are done and we advertise other information as premium data.

People are using it for everything from ID verifying customers, suppliers or looking for old friends, relatives, and genealogy to get postcodes for Christmas cards.

How are you expanding the business further?

We're enhancing more and more using social profiles, not just aggregating what is publicly and privately available. We're connecting them back to real life profiles and so the web is vast emerging as a big source of data for us.

The relationship we have with our business users is also an area of huge growth so we are targeting and building new products to allow small businesses to harness our traffic. We have more business listings than any other directory in the United Kingdom because we are so comprehensive. We have approximately 8 sources of data for every record.

Do you do have any investments in other businesses on the side?

I do invest in a number of small start-ups, just harnessing 20 years of experience of building small Internet companies.

What values do you look for in a young entrepreneur?

The character of the management team is one thing. Lots of people can have good ideas but it's all about execution

What have you learned in the course of your career?

If there's one thing that got me to where I am, it's perseverance. If you've got a good idea, you keep going and going and you never give up.