Incorporated in November 1999, Magicalia Ltd. received $1.4m from venture capitalists in order to develop infomediary sites aimed at cycling and boating enthusiasts.
The company was founded by Adam Laird, 27, and Jeremy Tapp, 27, both
former Boston Consulting Group consultants.
They wanted to create a raft of sport portals based on the appetite of outdoor activity enthusiasts for sharing information about their passion - be it cycling, sailing, golf, windsurfing, climbing, or canoeing. BIKEmagic.com was the first fruit of this idea but it didnt start out with a silver spoon in its mouth.
It was created off the back of a simple database to sell bikes online, written by Robin Tapp, Jeremys brother. After six months of unpaid development work, the site evolved into Magicalia (the company) and BIKEmagic, the site.
With cap in hand and a winning business plan Laird and Tapp hit the VC trail. Backing soon came from Atlas Venture, a venture capital firm specialising in technology and e-commerce investments, and supported by Episode One, a new investment fund launched by online entrepreneurs Richard Tahta and Simon Murdoch.
Adam Laird said Atlas Venture and Episode One were attracted by Magicalias homing in on enthusiast:
"[Our] web sites cater to the passion that so many people have for a particular activity. Until now, the web offered little to satisfy the true enthusiast. Magicalia's growth will be realised through the creation of further web-based communities, where the large numbers of those involved in an activity -- both consumers and commercial operations contribute to the community by sharing information and their experiences. The content generated by the members makes the Magicalia communities such a rich resource.
Vic Morris of Atlas Venture believes serving niche communities is a winner:
Magicalia is a great concept that provides a real opportunity for independent retailers and interest groups in specific areas to become part of a significant online community. We look forward to the company developing further passion sites as well as extending into Europe.
Richard Tahta of Episode One said he was won over by Magicalias own passion for the sports concerned: We were attracted to Magicalia because the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs was combined with a real get-it-done mentality. It's not surprising that among their specialist areas, their web sites already rate among the highest in terms of end-user satisfaction and loyalty.
As part of the funding, Vic Morris and Richard Tahta joined the board of Magicalia.com as non-executive directors.
BIKEmagic is managed day to day by Cullen Ward, ex of Future Publishings bike mag division. Curry afficiando Brant Richards, ex MBUK tech ed and contributor to most other MTB titles of the past eight years, is the editor.
Magicalia contacted Richards when they were looking for mountain bike content to launch the website.
I was working for Cabal on MMB at the time, though in the week between them calling and me calling them back, I'd left and moved back up north.
I worked on BIKEmagic largely unpaid for six months, and set up a relationship with MMB so they got their articles and magazines promoted online and we got our URL on the cover. It worked well, until Cabal suspended publication. The upside of them doing that was that we got Cullen in to work for us, he's really switched on and is working 100 percent on our revenue generating side, getting in banner ads, promotions and dealing with all that stuff.
BIKEmagics strength lies in its two key features, personalisation and localisation. When consumers sign up for BIKEmagic, they are given a list of personalisation options. They can opt to receive only the news that interests them, be that road or cross-country racing, and cut out say, off-road and downhilling.
We've made the categories quite large, but as the site develops, we could increase the focus so people select to see only articles about fixed wheel folding bikes made in Cambridge if they want," said Richards.
Through the Localiser members can find out about local routes, clubs and other cyclists and their local IBD. Following a recent purge of the database to hack out any dead wood, BIKEmagic now has details of 900 shops, about 500 of which include web details.
Besides personalised news, the site also delivers independent product and bike reviews, and cycling features.
Lots of websites get really hung up on having hits on their site but what we're concerned with is getting BIKEmagic entrenched in the cycling community, said Richards.
BIKEmagic already is THE place to come for on-line cycling in the UK.
Members can submit articles, features or reviews, though these all go through the editorial mill before they go up.
"I'm not against putting up a review that I might not agree with, because we brand members reviews quite clearly as members reviews. Recently, we've had a huge discussion about Porelle Drys, started by one member who submitted an article saying that his leaked - turns out they didn't leak, water came in the top - but it's been very interesting seeing the debate develop."
Member submissions are deliberately kept separate to avoid the fate, believes Richards, that befall many sites, of turning into a ground for general slanging matches.
BIKEmagics income is mainly generated through advertising and sales commissions. There are banner ads from pureplay bikes-and-condom etailer Wiggle.co.uk, Kinetics, National Cycle Registration and others.
The site currently has 8000 members and a considerable number of non-member users. Because of the databased information BIKEmagic has about its members, advertising can be highly targeted.
For manufacturers, we can email all the people that have read a review of their bike and tell them where their local dealer is. We could email everyone within a certain postcode or phone area code to tell them that a shop's been broken into and to watch out for stolen bikes, said Richards.
Soon BIKEmagic will be offering a service whereby shops will be able to email all the customers within a given area to keep them up to date with promotions, test-ride days and so on.
This form of local, viral marketing is an often over-looked use of the internet, claims Richards.
How is BIKEmagic promoting itself (apart from taking those lovely adverts in BicycleBusiness)?
We're advertising in the cycling magazines and we've got hundreds of upstream links in place, from amateur sites and some huge global portals too. There's more in the pipeline," said Richards.
Magicalia operates three other sites - FISHINGmagic, BOATmagic and GOLFmagic, with SURFmagic about to be launched and six others in development.
The aim is to be the total sport provider for UK and global portals. Deals are currently being negotiated to provide content for outside high profile portals, said Richards.
But does the site make money? Will it survive without further VC funding (which is now pretty thin on the ground)?
Cullen Ward thinks it will:
BIKEmagic is in the enviable position of being comfortably the largest
biking site in the UK, possibly even in Europe, and is currently growing at
30 percent, compound, every month. With that status comes very real power. We offer advertisers, partners, etc, direct contact with more of the people that they want to reach than anyone else. We know from data-capture that our members are totally passionate about biking, that they are in well paid employment, and that they would rather spend money on their hobby than anything else.
In addition to the obvious revenue earners, advertising and e-commerce
partnerships, BIKEmagic has enough shops and clubs under its wing to get
involved in much more interesting projects. To give you an example we have recently joined up with Provision to offer our 1000 cycling clubs a really impressive deal to get their club clothing produced. The Provision clothing is first class, a quote is free and there are no set-up charges. Clubs simply won't be able to get this sort of deal anywhere else. We expect a high take-up on these sort of offers.
Being part of a network of sites such that we are under the Magicalia
umbrella brings some real benefits. Obviously there is the issue of
cross-promotion. But perhaps more interestingly is the spreading of costs.
We have access to a technical development team, a marketing budget, a PR agency, that would be totally out of reach if the cost wasn't spread
across existing a number of sites.
My aim for the next six months is to make BIKEmagic pay for itself. I am
absolutely confident that BIKEmagic offers more than any of its competition for much less cashola; that talks to people. I have set up a situation where companies can advertise with us at no risk: I am happy to run banner adverts only charging when someone clicks on it. I want to build up our client list and I want those people to stay because it works not because I pester them day in day out. We are building a sustainable business. BIKEmagic is a name that you will see in 20 years time.
8000 signed up members
2000 average visits per day: 2000
This is the number of visits. Other sites may say "visitors" but what they're counting is visits, rants Brant.
83 000 "Hits" per day
A completely useless figure derived from the number of files that are accessed per day. Hits are only used by sites that have very low visitor numbers per day.
If you want to multiply all that up, then BIKEmagic has around 60,000 visitors and over 2.5 million hits per month.
I hear about other cycling sites claiming 10,000 hits a day, and then getting all vague when pressed about what this means. We usually have 10,000 hits before 10am.
Oh and BIKEmagic.com will be at Bike 2000 as this tasty little graphic shows...