Bending the rules – Internet Money – Issue 4

Internet Money – Issue 4

Not content with curling the world’s cutlery, renowned paranormalist Uri Celler is now launching is own lnternet Service Provider and predicting teddy bears will save us from the millennium bug.

Uri Geller is the man who made his name by using Mindpower to bend spoons in the early 1970s, but today he is more than just a man with a drawerful of deformed cutlery. A world renowned paranormalist, a best selling author and, increasingly, an influential figure in the lnternet industry, Geller now pens a weekly column for the Interface supplement of The Times on the weirder side of the Web and also writes regular columns for Computer Active magazine, Electronics And Beyond and GQ Active.

He inevitably has some vocal opinions about the way the Internet will shape our personal and commercial future, and when Geller talks about the future people tend to listen – even if he says so himself, he has an enviable track record. For example, in 1985 he told John Howard that he would one day be Prime Minister of Australia and for years major companies have commissioned him to help them find minerals and oil. Various British police forces also use him to help them find missing people.

“The lnternet is turning economics inside-out,” insists the mercurial mystic. “For example, everybody on the internet now wants stuff for free and there are so many free services available. You can copy all your hard disc data into online storage called @backup and get free technical advice at In the past people would have expected to pay for such services. This issue will change every aspect of trade.”

Geller predicts that the lnternet is causing businesses to radically rethink the way they deal with consumers who now demand something for nothing. The success of Dixons’ subsidiary Freeserve has accelerated this new way of thinking in the UK, but old-hands know that the “something for nothing” motto has been part of Net culture since it started. However, what’s different today is that, while Netscape was able to steal a march on the rest of the Web browser industry a few years ago when it decided to give its Navigator software away, “freebies” have now become the norm: an essential rather than simply canny business tactic for gaining market share. Geller claims that, as we enter a new century, paying for things is almost becoming an old-fashioned concept, “it’s a ridiculously retro, 20th Century idea and just because things are free it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not worth having. The Linux operating system is just one example of a quality product which people do not have to pay to use.”

What today’s top companies get in return for providing products and services for nothing is information: and information about your about your customers can have a tremendous value in the future. Today hardly anyone would dream of paying for a browser and one year on from the launch of Freeserve there are over 150 ISPs who do not charge a monthly access fee.

Undeterred by the glut of competitors in the marketplace, Geller has recently started his own new ISPenterprise. In collaboration with his business partner Sam Rosen, he has launched a free ISP and Web e-mail service called Peoples Net ( As you might expect from an innovative thinker such as Geller, Peoples Net is different from the other free ISPs in many ways. For example, subscribers get to choose one of over 1000 interesting, relevant and easy to remember domain names for their e-mail addresses. There are 15 categories of names available including youth, sport and business, examples of the domain names on offer including,, and Peoples Net plan to develop these niche domains into microportals offering content and services.

In keeping with the free ethos of business, Peoples Net provides its customers with a whole range of free offerings. Subscribers get free unlimited lnternet access for the cost of a local call along with free registration and subscription, web based e-mail, 25Mb of web space and technical support. Another pioneering and free service which Peoples Net is offering its customers is the change of e-mail address template. Subscribers just need to complete a form with the details of the friends and family members who they want informed about their change of e- mail address, and Peoples Net will mailshot them at no cost.

“With such an amazing choice of e-mail addresses people can now drive down the information superhighway wearing personalised licence plates that reflect their image,” says Geller. “We provide quality lnternet access via the high capacity worldwide MCI Worldcom network, together with an amazing selection of domain names for truly personalised e-mail addresses so that members can be themselves. The e-mail addresses, together with the microportals which Peoples Net will build around them, will focus on people’s interests and affinities.”

What makes Peoples Net truly unique, though, is its status as the first major charity donation- linked ISP. Whenever the Internet connection with Peoples Net is used, five per cent of the local call revenue goes to charities which customers can help select. Via the Fountain Charitable Trust, the funds are then distributed, with no deductions, to charitable and voluntary groups working in healthcare, human rights and the environment.

By donating five per cent of total connectivity revenues, and not just five per cent of profits, a successful Peoples Net could mean a massive injection of cash to good causes. Josh Mailman, founder of the Social Venture Network (USA and Europe) and Business For Social Responsibility, is impressed with the approach: “By pledging five per cent of its revenues to voluntary and charitable groups, they are ensuring that the non-profit sector will benefit directly from the growth of the internet. I’m not aware of any other ISP that has made this commitment.”

Geller has big ambitions for Peoples Net. Customers can set up with the ISP online or via a CD-ROM (available from a number of outlets, including video shops, and by mail) and the aim to have 50,000 subscribers by the end of 1999. After that, they’re looking to enter selected European markets and to go global with their Web based e-mail. Geller predicts that the influence of the Net will continue to grow, and while free software and access may well accelerate, Net users will come to pay for that all important thing – content.

“You won’t be big unless you get lots of hits to your Web site. Visits to your Web site is how you’ll make money. I believe your credit card details will be held by your Web browser and you will be charged for visiting certain sites. You’ll probably pay more for visits to entertainment sites such as Disney than you will for visits to others.

Geller believes that because so many people in the world will eventually have their own website, successful sites will have to indispensable to stand out from the billions on offer. He also believes that in the future teenagers will become billionaires: “They’re so much more open-minded and consequently pick the technology up so much more quickly.”

Backing up his claim” Geller quotes the example of a 13-year-old from his home country of Israel. “Ray Narunsky has created an Operating System called Curtains which protects parents’ files when children are working on the family PC. He’s already CEO of his own corporation called Bilisoft and he wants to start building it into a business empire when he’s 18.”

And with the lnternet meaning webpreneurs don’t necessarily need staff, capital or experience to achieve business success, Geller sees it as the perfect medium for discovering your own genius. “If you’re brilliant and open-minded, you can start at the top,” he enthuses.

“We’re all brilliant at something. I discovered my powers when I was four years old. When you’re young you’re more in touch with your real talents, but so often the 30 year slog knocks it out of people.”

The powers of positive thinking remain at the heart of Geller’s philosophy to life and business. His latest unique venture is a product aimed at open-minded children, who he believes have the capacity to crack the Y2K problem. The Y2K Bug Buster – a small, cute stuffed toy devised by Geller in collaboration with leading UK manufacturer of teddy bears, Canterbury Bears – is powered with positive energy and, when placed next to your PC, apparently has the power to ensure you do not suffer terminal crashes come the dawn of 2000. Slaes proceeds will go to charity and many of the large toy retailers in the UK have taken to the idea.

“I believe that if you are good to your computer, it will be good to you,” decides Uri. “The Bug Buster is aimed at chiidren but it will work for anyone if they believe in the power of positive thinking.”

Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold (£9.99) and Ella 5.99) are published by Headline Feature. Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? (£5.99) is published by Orion Books. Visit Uri’s Web site at

Steve Roche is one of the leading advisers to startup lnternet entrepreneurs in the UK. Contact him on 01 81 -582-2583 or at [email protected]




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