REVISED: Bike trade’s dotcom bubbles burst

9feet.com is set to close in September, and kjerag.com has closed already. Not all is well in the land of the bicycle website...
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full3957_9feet staff inc chipps.jpg

Bikemagic.com is said to be financially robust, Magicalia, the mother company, having secured its second round of funding last year.

Singletrackworld – run on a shoestring – is benefiting from having its own enthusiast-owned print magazine.

Maformountainbiking.com has just jettisoned key freelance writers and photographers but editor Malcolm Fawcett said this was a “change of phase” not a symptom of deeper malaise.

“We have cut back on freelances and there’s a budgetary reason but we are spending the money elsewhere instead. We needed a lot of depth quickly and using lots of freelances was the best way of doing that.”

The madfor management have recently acquired Sailing Today, the tit-for-tat sailing magazine Future Publishing launched when IPC – with a successful sailing magazine - launched Mountain Bike Rider. This acquisition will support Madfor’s madforsailing.com.

The multi-sport, multi-country adrenalin website kjerag.com recently ceased to update its English-language site and has mothballed the whole pan-European site. The UK editor, Dave Smith, said the online registration system and content may be absorbed by an unnamed UK based site.

Kjerag's founder Raymond Dulieu - a former Tour de France rider - told bikebiz.co.uk the site is suspended pending a possible takeover:

"Kjerag has put its activity on hold as talks to join a larger pan-European media group have failed. Since July 2000, Kjerag grew thanks to the dedication and passion of a small staff and a large number of freelance writers. 150,000 unique visitors came to the site on a monthly basis to read our endurance sports coverage in either English, Dutch, French or German. Kjerag is generating its revenues from online registration and became quickly the leading online registration site in Europe. Despite those good results, a pan-European endurance sports audience is not perceived as a sufficiently lucrative market segment to the various investors we approached so far.

"We hope to soon resume our activity despite the current negative climate surrounding Internet ventures."

The fate of 9feet.com is similar. A press release reveals that the site will go pop in September if a buyer is not found.

9feet.com started in April 2000. It is said to have “significant cash reserves” for trading into next year but, nevertheless, will close within weeks if more cash is not forthcoming.

Although it is said to be generating income of £230 000 a month (no word on the profit on that turnover) the site will close because of “current market conditions and the downturn in confidence in the dotcom sector” which have “adversely affected the company's ability to secure further funding or a strategic partner.”

MD Stephen Sheridan, like many dotcom MDs before him, is said to be in talkswith “interested parties” who, hoped Sheridan, may buy the company.

“We are clearly very disappointed by this turn of events,” admitted Sheridan.

“Unlike many on-line retailers we have run a tight ship, building a European business, operating at a low burn rate and generating strong revenues while reducing customer acquisition costs to a low level. However, over the next few weeks I shall be doing my utmost to secure the future of what is obviously a useful business to a larger group.”

Chipps Chippendale, now the editor of print magazine Singletrack, was 9feet’s cycle content editor from January 2000 to January 2001, told bikebiz.co.uk that 9feet.com was not as profligate as boo.com but, like many other bright young internet start-ups was simply not profitable enough, quickly enough:

“The venture capitalists who fund such ventures expect to see some sign that their investments will pay off – at least while they’re young enough to enjoy it. 9feet managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of other e-commerce ventures – spending most of its first year squatting in the offices of Bainlab, the internet incubator that helped get it going, and it quickly managed to acquire many top outdoor brands, such as The North Face, Helly Hansen and Merrell, but cycling brands were slow and sceptical to sign up,” said Chippendale.

“Due to the complication and expense of stocking and servicing whole bikes, no-one would supply them. Neither would firms like Madison or Trek who have blanket company policies not to supply purely e-commerce ventures.”

9feet.com may not have had an expensive corporate HQ but it splurged on big bucks ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi, paid over the odds for their inhouse journalists, and sponsored an MTB trail in Afan Argoed that will long outlive the company.

9feet, however, had few USPs. To begin with, it had a stated policy of not discounting the goods it stocked. Yet, as the demise of fashion site boo.com demonstrated,web purchasers want bargains, not simply access to the best brands.

CAPTION

Pic at top shows the 9feet.com staff on an office outing. Despite being lifted today (copyright 9feet.com) it is well out of date: for a start it includes Chipps Chippendale, who hasn't worked for the company since January.

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