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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
From Oxford to Silicon Valley, part five
By Kulveer Taggar
Chief executive, Auctomatic

The Auctomatic team
The Auctomatic team have paid close attention to user feedback

After 56,258 lines of code, 22 air trips, one merger and four months of intense coding, Auctomatic is now ready to help you sell on eBay.

It's a great milestone to pass because now our priorities on what to do will come from our users.

Before, we'd been operating in an environment where we didn't have regular feedback, which is harder because you have to guess at what's ready and what's not.

Now our users tell us, and the most encouraging thing is that all of the responses have been incredibly positive.

I have written before about how one of our biggest challenges was making sure that the usability of the site was spot on.

A lot of the established players in our market have neglected this and put a huge burden on new users by making them spend time figuring out how everything works.

So, it's encouraging to hear from almost all of our users that this investment has paid off and that they really like our interface because it's easy to use.

Of course, what we have launched is by no means a finished product and we still have a lot more development to do.

What's interesting however, is that a lot of our early sign-ups have been from Europe and Asia, so immediately we went to work on making the site work with all of the eBay international sites.

I know that eBay is growing strongly internationally and that the software market for countries like the UK is still in its early days, so it's all very promising.

Understanding your users

We also realised that there are certain things that are best learned by jumping in and feeling your users pain. So we decided to start our own power seller business to test our software.

This was fun. We started selling anything we could find in the apartment on eBay - but we quickly moved on to selling Auctomatic t-shirts after realising this strategy was not sustainable.

So far the experiment has paid off handsomely.

Hiroki, the intern in charge of the project, communicated a lot of new ideas to the team.

For example, we quickly realised it would make sense to be able to import your existing information from eBay in to Auctomatic.

Getting this instant feedback and acting on it is our top priority. It should also give us some real credibility with our users.

Ebay page
Auctomatic tested its plans by selling on eBay

If our own in-house eBay business depends on Auctomatic, the chances are that we are going to make something that works reliably and helps us make money.

We've been covering the highs and lows of this for everyone to read on our company blog - and there are plenty of lows, like when the scammers frequently end up ruining our auctions.

In terms of a launch strategy, we decided to stagger our marketing efforts so that we could quickly fix the early teething problems that would inevitably crop up.

It was quite nervy around the apartment when we finally pushed things live, but thankfully everything went smoothly and we are now ready to promote ourselves aggressively.

The past few months have been challenging as we were always so eager to launch really quickly and put ourselves under a lot of pressure to do so.

We've innovated a whole lot in our infrastructure and have mastered the incredibly complex eBay API in just over four months, which is no easy task.

Our investor Paul Graham says you're not a real company until you launch and we're inclined to agree with that, so it's very exciting now that we really get to go out there and carve out a market for ourselves.

Back in the UK

In other news, I'm currently back in London and have noticed that things have visibly improved (weather excluded) since we made the decision to take investment and head out to San Francisco.

A few of my entrepreneur friends have raised money here, but it still seems to be the case that they had to work much harder and give up more than their US counterparts.

Three British start-ups have applied to Y Combinator since us - which suggests that the Valley still maintains its strong allure.

Ultimately, the real meetings happen face-to-face and for that you have to be in the heart of it to maximise your chances of success. So, I'm currently applying for a US visa.

Being back has also reminded me that the capacity to take risks is rarer over here.

It's not easy doing something different to what all of your peers are doing, and I'm still in the tiny minority of people my age who take the plunge and risk trying to build a company.

That is why entrepreneurs are so well rewarded when things do work out.

I've definitely noticed an improvement since before, but there's still not enough people starting companies.

I look forward to the Make Your Mark campaign being launched by the government next month and hope that will change things.

Kulveer Taggar moved to Silicon Valley in California after graduating from Oxford and working as an investment banker.

From Oxford to Silicon Valley
12 Feb 07 |  Business

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