Interview with Stuart Wright, Founder of AVForums.com
Interview with Stuart Wright, Founder of AVForums.com – an audio visual forum with over 200000 members and exceeding 1 Million Unique Visitors a month. This is truly one of the Net’s most successful forums and Stuart has some solid tips for any of us who aspire to Forum Success!
The AV Forums is an independently run resource for people interested in home consumer electronics. AV Forums cover all areas of electronic home entertainment including home cinema, DVD, digital photography, camcorders, video gaming, computer hardware and mobile phones. AVForums.com is the largest AV home consumer electronics forum in the UK by a significant margin and the busiest home cinema forum in Europe
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I have been very impressed with AVForums.com (Need to know anything AV related and you will find it there)
First off – can we have a little background information – Where you live? How old you are? What motivates you? Inspires you?
We work from home in a reasonably rural Shropshire town in the UK. I’m 43, I’m motivated by the desire to accumulate wealth to secure a decent future for my children and I’m inspired by any innovations in technology which make life more interesting.
1) Tell us about your main project, AVForums.com? Why did you launch AVForums?
My hobby was home cinema (home threater in the States) and in ’98, seeing that my favourite magazine Home Cinema Choice didn’t have a website, I contacted the publishers who contracted me develop the HCC website. It was the third website I had ever created and it grew to become the UK’s largest home cinema review resource. Starting a home cinema forum seemed like a natural addition to the HCC website, although I kept it separate. At the time, the only competition with a home cinema forum was Usenet. Now most of my time is spent working on the forums which get many times more traffic than the HCC website.
2) You boast over 1 Million Unique Visitors a month, how do you attract so many visitors to your website?
Over Christmas 2007, according to Google Analytics, it was actually 1.8 million. We got here by being the first UK home cinema forum, starting in 2000 so being around for a long time, using good software (search-engine friendly vBulletin) and running the forum the right way. Our traffic is seasonal with the peak during the 6 months around Christmas and the trough in the summer when people are outside away from their gadgets. Our biggest source of traffic is Google, and producing a daily sitemap helps.
3) What advice would you give someone who wants to build a successful forum?
* Focus on a topic which doesn’t already have a significant forum. For example, when I started AVForums, the largest other audio visual forum was (and still is) the AV Science forum. However, AVSForum.com is aimed at the US market. AVForums was initially (and largely still is) aimed squarely at the UK visitor. Our traffic is going to be limited because of that choice, but it means we dominate our market. There was and there still is no other significant audio visual electronics forum in the UK.
* Choose a topic which interests you and about which you have some knowledge. In the early days, you may find that you are one of the main contributors.
* Try and partner with a website which has the traffic you want but which doesn’t already have a community.
* Also pick a topic which you can envisage generating advertising revenue. I am lucky because although I didn’t consider it at the time, audio visual home consumer electronics can command a fairly high revenue. Hence we have lots of advertisers from a wide variety of product types with a fair advertising budget. This contrasts with, say, a DVD forum where there is a narrow range of related products and very little margin on DVDs. Given a choice, start a forum about real cars rather than toy ones.
4) What would you say is the number one reason for your success with AVForums?
Being the first forum covering AV in our country.
5) If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what business related advice would you give yourself?
Have the confidence to take risks, but the wisdom to appreciate that you won’t always make the right decisions without the advice of others.
Don’t spend a penny you don’t have to and don’t expect a holiday for a few years. Use a good accounting package early on and unless you are a salesperson (I’m not – I’m a geek) get an organisation to sell advertising on your website for you. If they take, say, 30% commission, then the 70% you keep will be a lot more than the 100% of what little you can sell yourself.
6) Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
On a day to day basis I don’t really consider myself to be an entrepreneur. I think it’s important to work to your strengths and mine are the technical and managerial elements of running the forum. You have to delegate as much of the other stuff as you can.
7) Do you have any favourite business related, webmaster or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
The most important ones for me were PHP and MySQL books. If you want to start out without any investment other than your own time, then you are going to have to get your hands dirty. My technical background has been invaluable.
8) What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Don’t scrimp on time when it comes to keeping your forum moderators happy. I have 60 or so who donate at least an hour of their time a day (some significantly more) for nothing more than the satisfaction of helping to run the community. That is not something which should be taken for granted.
9) What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
If you don’t enjoy what you are doing so much that you could easily do it 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for several years, forget it.
10) How many hours do you work daily and what are your daily tasks for your sites?
Blimey! For a start, I have to stop work at 9pm to keep the marriage going! That’s most important. Otherwise it’s 14 hours a day during the week and maybe 6 a day on weekends. Possibly more. We have a hierarchy of moderators, super moderators and 3 admin looking after the day to day stuff on the forums. I still have to deal with some disputes. Advertising enquiries go to a separate organisation with whom I work very closely. I still organise competitions, develop new areas of sister sites (programming and graphic design work), I do the marketing, some of the accounting stuff, maintenance of the forums and implementation of any modifications, organisation of new initiatives like podcasts, hardware reviews and video production. It’s a very varied and interesting job and I love it.
11) If the Internet had not existed – what do you think you would be doing?
Probably programming computers although I can’t imagine I would have been enjoying it. I’m not management material in an office because I hate office politics.
12) What do you like best about the Internet?
The ability to find the answer to a question in a few seconds. Why is the grass green? Who was Lindsey Wagner married to? Where is the nearest steak house? I’m also a big fan of online gaming.
13) What do you like least about the Internet?
Having to protect my kids from the sickos that they might encounter on it.
14) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
Since I could conduct my business with a laptop on a beach in the Bahamas (provided it has broadband) I’m wondering why I’m shivering my ass off in Britain