Main Street is coming to the Web. And that may be Andrew Beebe's avenue to Internet riches. Beebe is helping mom-and-pop businesses get online via BigStep.com, a Web site offering tools for developing and running e-commerce businesses. "The hardest part for the little guy on the Internet is just getting going," says 27-year-old Beebe. Since the site launched last July, some 75,000 small businesses have hung their e-business shingles on BigStep, and more than 2,000 new ones are signing up each week.
How does Beebe differ from thousands of others offering to host small-business e-commerce operations? For starters, he's among the first to do it the Internet way -- for free -- at a time when many rivals are charging anywhere from $50 to $200 per month. "We want to prove to our customers that we don't expect to make money until they succeed," says Beebe. Later this year, BigStep will start charging for premium services such as site design, billing, or juiced-up marketing. Sound crazy? Not to investors who have put up more than $63 million to back the venture.
To get revenues rolling, Beebe plans to offer so many services that his customers will find it tough to quit. Already, BigStep helps with domain-name registration, statistical portraits of Web sales, customer surveys, and some marketing. "We've become extraordinarily sticky," he boasts. Will that stickiness give BigStep the traction it needs to reach profitability? Time will tell, but Beebe has made a big first step.