You've seen the ads for Bone Fish on TAZ. Let's find out more about it from the CEO and co-founder, Mike Fitzgerald.
Hey Mike - Thanks for taking the time to participate in a TAZ interview. Can you start by giving us a brief bio?
I am the co-founder of Bone Fish Limited, an enterprise started back in 1999. My background is primarily in sales and business management although running a company has other “interesting” elements! Before starting Bone Fish, I worked in the online insurance industry when it was in its infancy. The blue chip insurance companies we dealt with were terribly formal, terribly slow and terribly frustrating and lost a massive lead on the smaller players we helped who went from 6 man operations to 100+ employees in the time I worked with them. This pretty much focused my mind on creating a small dynamic company able to change and grow quickly in a completely new environment.
What is your educational background?
Both Graham Hampson and I have business degrees from Manchester (UK).
What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point?
Unlike most start ups, Bone Fish Limited was launched on a budget of £10,000 within six weeks of conception. We have never needed external investment.
Following up on this, our version 2 which is ready for launch is probably the most dynamic and impressive white label solution. This is something I am extremely proud of and cannot wait to launch.
Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
Plenty, any company director who has never made a mistake is lying. We have partnered in the past with relatively new start-ups (e.g. telephony companies) who have folded. We therefore don’t touch new companies until they are tried and tested.
What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Food?s Beverages?
Drinks: Mohitos/ Champagne
Books: Lord of the Rings Trilogy | Anything by Andy McNab
Movies: Jacobs Ladder | Spotless Mind of Eternal Sunshine | eXistenZ
Music: Anything from Verdi to Rage Against the Machine
Which websites do you visit regularly?
Other than news and sports, probably iMDB, Wiki and OPW.
What do you do for fun and relaxation?
I have a four year old son who tends to bring me down to earth but do occasionally turn into a Night Elf on WC!
What is Bone Fish and how did it come about?
The concept is a rather strange one to explain but the motivation behind the company was both Graham and I believed that traditional companies would not be able to react fast enough to embrace the internet. In 1999, at a meeting in a local northern bar it was agreed we would push on and build something completely new and innovative. Thus “Dating Central” was born. It took a few months to get the domains, servers etc. together but by summer 2000 we launched appearing in daily newspapers and magazines. Dating Central had arrived.
How does your program work?
We provide a complete dating solution. Affiliates and webmasters simply need to purchase a domain name, point it at our service and market it through their existing channels or PPC. Designs and logos are provided to most affiliates and we deal with all customer support, credit card billing, hosting etc. Simple.
Tell us about your customers.
Our customers range from professional marketers to starter entrepreneurs. Most are aware of how our service works but for the uninitiated we provide FAQs and email/telephone support.
What problems do you find yourself dealing with most commonly?
There are no real long term problems that we have not dealt with. Scammers for example were an issue in Q1 2008, by Q3 2008 we had built into our service IP filtering, velocity checking, country/credit card confidence matching. Our scammers now take less than 10 minutes a day to handle. These types of problems are hit head-on rather than managed.
How large is your affiliate program, and how long has it been in place?
We have over 15,000 dating sites on the web created through our affiliates. These sites cover all types of niche from romance, gay through to adult and fetish. The affiliate program is as old as the company, dating back to 1999.
How does it work exactly?
Affiliates are provided with a branded dating service by Bone Fish, this includes logos, colours, branded emails etc. The affiliate then feeds traffic via an existing website or new domain to the service. All customer services, billing, support etc. are dealt with by Bone Fish, the affiliate simply concentrates on marketing. Revenue is split 50/50 down the middle, no charges are passed on (processing fees, chargebacks etc.). For European affiliates, the revenue will not incur Sales Tax or VAT charges as we are based in a zero rated location.
Has it proven to be beneficial to Bone Fish? To the affiliates?
Most definitely. We have turned a bedroom startup with $15,000 cash into a business which has paid out commissions of over $15m over the last nine years.
How much money can a successful affiliate earn?
Upwards of $20,000 per month for a good affiliate with a good advertising plan is hard but possible. Our average super affiliate will generate $5,000 a month.
Are you planning any major changes to the program?
Indeed we are, the new version of the service will be live by the end of July. I cannot wait for the new service to arrive, it is easily the cleanest white label solution and rather than go for tacky credits or overwhelming complexity we have stuck to simple is best.
How has the global economic downturn affected Bone Fish, and the internet in general?
Over the last twelve months we have seen the headlines that dating is “recession proof”, this is simply not the case. From Match.com all the way down dating services are suffering. Good sites and good companies are slashing staff, overheads and costs. Dating services rely on recurring transactions, if these credit cards are revoked by the bank then your recurring sales suffer. I don’t think we have suffered as much as others as we keep our books tidy. On the whole, the internet will suffer as much as offline industry, being online may mean a higher volume of customer but not necessarily a higher conversion.
What other projects are you involved in?
We are currently involved in some multi-million dollar offline projects which should come to fruition over the next twelve months. Online, we are beginning work on a new project in Q2 2010 which as you would expect is confidental.
Can you describe a typical work day for us?
8.00 – Sit down with a cup of herbal tea and catch up on the news and emails
9.00 – Staff arrive and discuss any queries regarding current projects
11.00 – Meeting with Graham to discuss developments
13.00 – Deal with any affiliates who want direct contact with a director
16.00 – Check email and send out any reminders to current affiliates
Unfortunately, no matter how I read this it does not sound very exciting!
Where do you look for new ideas?
Anywhere and everywhere. I think inspiration comes from within and built on the personal experiences you have. You cannot find inspiration in copying your competitors or desperately searching the web in the vain hope of a big idea. Most of our best ideas have been in the sun by the marina, a place to reflect and let your mind work.
Where do you see the internet going in the next 5 to 10 years?
Considering we were so early to enter the market and see its possibilities I am very pragmatic about the internet. Cut through the hype of Web2.0, telephony revolution and new technology and you are left with the same solution you had in 1999. Whatever and however the internet evolves it will always need to base itself on the lowest common denominator or it will fail. You will however see strides in media and gaming. The iPhone has brought the internet to you palm and your TV won’t be far behind. My Wii, AppleTv, iPod and PS3 are all online, I have not yet found a tea pot I can boil remotely but I am sure it is out there.
What advice do you have for webmasters looking for revenue streams?
Don’t believe the hype. There are NO fast track ways to making millions. Like any job where you work for yourself you will need to put the hours in, lose your personal life for six months to a year and listen and learn. We see so many webmasters who think they can make $10,000 a month with no experience or skills after reading these “how to make money” ebooks.
So, how has the move to Gibraltar worked out for you, business wise and otherwise?
Excellent. Gibraltar is a great hub for business and very tax friendly. Socially both my business partner and I have started young families since arriving, must be something in the water!
What does the future hold for Mike Fitzgerald?
Ten plus years in the industry has taught me many things, never plan for the future, you don’t know what is around the corner.