Sunday, March 28, 2010

Want to create an online store?

Last year I started to think about trying to create an online store. I didn't really have a specific product in mind, but I wanted it to be a niche market to avoid a lot of competition, and I wanted it to have a price point of at least $50 to make it more feasible to maintain a margin. That seemed simple enough until I realized that since the eighth grade I've bought every piece of clothing I've owned at The Gap, J.Crew, or Banana Republic. I'm not exactly "niche," and it was a challenge to come up with product that met that criteria. Last spring though, I was thinking about trying worm composting again and came across Nature's Footprint. They offered a drop-ship reseller program, and their product seemed to be the perfect match. I looked into it a little more. The bins were certainly "niche" and the prices/markups were high enough to feasibly make a solid profit on a few sales. All I had to do, it seemed, was become an official reseller, build a site, and market the bins. But any time I spent trying to create the site, I became pretty frustrated with my lack of web development experience. There were some pretty cool tools available to create a fairly nice website but nothing seemed to offer enough to create a real online store.

I played around with Weebly a lot. I had used it in Nicaragua to create the beginnings of a website for our Peace Corps class, La Empresa Creativa, and it was pretty useful to quickly build a functioning site, but their online store features were pretty inadequate. I didn't get very far and ended up just kind of shelving the idea for awhile.

A few months ago though, Simon sent me a link to Jimdo. It works a lot like Weebly but makes it very easy to set up a store. You can set prices, shipping rates, pictures, and product variations all by just dragging and dropping preset site elements from the toolbar. You can then link a PayPal account to your Jimdo account and within 30 minutes have the basics of an online store set up. I was excited and decided to give the worm bins a shot.

I applied and became a reseller, bought a URL for $8 from GoDaddy, had Luke Emeott create a logo, and used Jimdo to build the site. I shelled out $60 to Jimdo to have a little more freedom in the site design, and had it all up and ready within about two weeks. $68, little web development experience, and no product inventory, and the Urban Worm was born. I had created a "business."

I use quotation marks because it's not much of a "business" if it doesn't actually sell anything or if it sells something but doesn't turn a profit. Quite frankly, it'll be hard to do both for some pretty clear reasons I'll get into in an upcoming post. But, for anyone interested in creating an online store, I'd encourage you to check out Jimdo.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Urban Worm

Blogs are washed up and slow moving. Or so it seems after launching a new project this week and before having a chance to reveal it here, it was unleashed on Google Buzz and I got quick responses in emails, IMs, and phone calls from roughly 90% of this blog's readership. The digital world, apparently, does not wait. At least not as much as what I had grown accustomed to in Nicaragua where, I learned, there was more time than life.

For those that haven't yet seen it, take a look at my new site The Urban Worm. It's pretty cool what you can create online, mostly for free, with very little actual web development experience.

I'll write a little more about the actual process of creating this and what I plan on testing, but for right now, go to the site and send me your suggestions (new pages, new copy, other products, promotions, blog entries). Better yet, buy a worm bin. $10 spent on AdWords so far hasn't yielded any orders. Be the first!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Push for Peace Corps

Contact your representative now to encourage the signing of a letter urging $465 million for Peace Corps in FY 2011.

And for those that need to be convinced, I leave it to the authors of my favorite two books about the Peace Corps experience (The Village of Waiting and River Town).

George Packer

Peace Corps provides the best return on the dollar in America’s entire foreign policy budget. The program educates thousands of young Americans in each new generation about the reality of life as lived by most of the world’s population.

Peter Hessler:

I was fortunate to attend Princeton and Oxford universities, but the most important part of my education was the two years I spent in the Peace Corps. I learned to teach and communicate with people very different from myself, and I learned Chinese — but the most important lesson was one of perspective. I saw the world differently, and that viewpoint has informed everything I’ve written since. This is true of many former volunteers in many walks of life: teachers, organizers, diplomats. It’s a shame that in a country with such an active foreign policy, relatively little attention and support has been given to the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Peace Corps Week

In honor of the Peace Corps' 49th anniversary and the annual celebration of Peace Corps Week, I'll share with you a short tour of my former house (nicely updated by a current volunteer, Penny) in Pacaguina, Nicaragua. Complete with a shot of the latrine, the chickens, the neighbors, and the concrete washing table.