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How being a victim of fraud was the inspiration for Bunting

Posted on Categories Click Fraud, Entrepreneurial

IMG_0412I shouldn’t have been struggling to pay my bills. I had 10 years experience studying successful e-commerce websites, and in the development of online retail systems. Yet when my business of 6 years closed its doors due to a lack of work I found myself with little money, few opportunities, and was laden with worry.

But it was soon to get far worse.

To improve cashflow I set up a new business. With no trading history I did what most digital entrepreneurs do to kick start things; I advertised on Google Adwords. For the first few months business was great. Thanks to Google the little money I had went a long way – my advertising spend was low and sales were steady. But then everything changed.

Crippling attack

Almost overnight my cost per acquisition more than doubled. The number of clicks I received suddenly soared, yet the sales remained the same. I had unknowingly become a victim of click fraud.

Click fraud is the main threat to Google’s mighty revenue model. It happens when someone not remotely interested in buying your products or services clicks your ads, often simply to waste your money. In small numbers, invalid clicks are acceptable. In fact, they’re a natural part of the pay per click (PPC) landscape. However, when one individual or company – which normally tends to be a competitor – clicks your adshundreds or thousands of times, it can become a big, big problem.

But for those few months I was unaware of click fraud. I was confused and I was worried. What was happening? Why was my advertising spend suddenly so high? And what was I going to do about it? Then the answer began to emerge.

click-fraudStrange messages started arriving via the contact form on my website. These weren’t enquiries or spam. They mocking and foolish in their nature, but clearly written for my company. I dug further, setting up a basic IP address capture on my contact form, and quickly identified a pattern. These enquiries were coming from the same computer… and all arriving via expensive PPC ads.

I could have stopped my marketing campaign there. But I was intrigued; who was this person, and why was they trying to destroy my business? I decided to engage the anonymous attacker, writing a piece of software to silently track their movements across my site. At that time I didn’t set out to start a new entrepreneurial venture, but that is exactly what was happening.

A few months later the attacker’s identity was finally revealed – a rather immoral competitor. When I challenged them they confessed to clicking my ads (with a poor excuse that it was “market research”), and the attack finally ended. However the desire to help other companies avoid this same terrible situation had just begun.

I began working on a public release of the software I’d used so successfully against my attacker, streamlining it to easily plug into any website, and improving the features. Initially I worked on it in my spare room and in coffee shops; anything to keep costs down. After 6 months development it was finally released to the public and Bunting was born.

Ironic success

Even today I find it ironic that a malicious attack designed to cripple my business was largely responsible for a successful entrepreneurial venture that has now become Bunting.

We’ve since grown from click fraud prevention to helping growing web-based businesses thrive via the power of website personalisation. You will already no doubt have seen personalisation in action; every time you visit Amazon it recommends products to you. In fact, you’ve probably already let it successfully influence you into spending more money.

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Our aim now is to help visitors enjoy their online shopping experience, and for retailers using Bunting to experience a natural and consequential increase in their bottom-line sales.

But our roots are still in the fabric of who we are. We include Bunting’s click fraud prevention tools within our website personalisation software, and believe that everyone has a right to defend themselves against click fraud.

Opportunities Everywhere

However, all this experience highlights one important lesson that we can all learn from; There are viable business opportunities everywhere, no matter how hopeless your situation seems, nor how bad things get. Don’t give up when times get hard. Just take a step back and see what jumps out at you.