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Chris Cardell

Interview with Chris Cardell (Cardell Media)

Chris Cardell has shown thousands of business owners how to grow their business.Chris Cardell's - Cardell Media

I interviewed Chris Cardell, founder of Cardell Media to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Chris!

Avoiding the Dangerous Number One

Chris Cardell is a strong believer in the golden rule of the entrepreneurial world: the most dangerous number in business is one.

As UK & Europe’s leading provider of online and offline marketing information for businesses, Cardell knows that Entrepreneurs can’t rely on one of anything – whether it’s one key customer or client, one key employee, one key supplier, one key product or price, or one key marketing method.

It’s a lesson he knows well and has continued to teach during the more than 20 years that he has helped Entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

As one of his current clients at Cardell Media puts it: “The lesson that we learned during the recession was that you can’t be reliant on one business source, which is something that people who have listened to what Chris Cardell has to say are aware off.

“That’s one of the first things you learn when you sign up to work with him,” according to Dan Butt of Now Chartered Surveyors, whose one key business source prior to the recession was High Street lending institutions.

He is just one of the many business owners that Cardell and his marketing company, Cardell Media, have helped get out of the “one” mode.

“The majority of businesses have one or two or three vital customers who – if they were to go – would cause major difficulties,” Cardell said. “On the face of it, it is very appealing to have one great customer paying you oodles of money and who is enjoyable to work with. But all the positive points are outweighed by the risks involved in that dependency.”

For one, this type of situation makes business owners weak, because at some level, they are operating from a level of fear, according to Cardell. It also means the Entrepreneur doesn’t have a system to bring in new customers, so the business can never grow.

It’s a situation Cardell knows firsthand. He was in the “one key client” position early on in his career, a situation that worked well for both Cardell and the client at the time. And although the relationship ended amicably, he said most of these types of relationships end badly.

“Freeing yourself from that dependency should drive your entrepreneurial actions every day,” he said. “You need to have enough customers so that if, despite your best efforts, you lose some, it doesn’t matter.”

Having gone from one key customer to Cardell Media’s tens of thousands of customers, he said: “I can assure you that the difference is not just financial. It’s psychological. I don’t want to lose a customer. But if it happens, it makes zero difference to my life. That is a key element of what financial freedom is about.”

While one key customer is bad, the “just one” key form of marketing is even worse.

It’s also fairly common, he said, noting that about 90 percent of businesses are dependent on just one or two forms of marketing to get customers, usually Google, referrals or Facebook.

“I have lost track of the number of businesses I’ve heard about who were making small fortunes purely from free traffic from Google. They were completely dependent on it and everything was going fine until Google did one of its algorithm changes,” Cardell said.

“These business owners woke up one day to find their website had gone from the top of page 1 of the search results to page 5 or 10 – or in some cases, they had completely disappeared from the search engine. End of business.”

Of course, he continued, there are also “the business owners who got all their customers from Yellow Pages – until the year that their phone number was printed wrong. Or the businesses that were totally dependent on Google AdWords – until the month a couple of years ago when Google closed the accounts of 30,000 businesses in a policy crackdown.

“I’m sure you get the idea,” he said. “The first step to marketing success is to find one or two methods that work to attract customers. The second step is to do whatever it takes to find two or three more, so you’re not dependent on the first ones.”

Again, this is an area that Cardell knows well. He grew his business from a small company to a multi-million pound enterprise by using a wide variety marketing methods, including Google AdWords, Facebook and other online marketing methods.

But he said he also has spent – and continues to spend – a huge amount of time and resources on direct mail, newspaper ads and multi-channel TV advertising.

“Why? Because I don’t want to be dependent on the online element.”

While he is proud of the rapid and dramatic profit increases he has helped business owners achieve, he said, the more important work they do together is to build a long-term, multi-marketing approach to growing their businesses.

And yes, he practices what he preaches. For example, he has spent about £3 million of his own money on Google AdWords. He handles the Cardell Media ad campaigns himself, making him very qualified to be Europe’s leading trainer of Google AdWords.

“I’ve trained more people in AdWords than anyone in Europe,” he said, noting that it is absolutely crucial that businesses advertise through this medium because people are always searching for products and services on Google.

 

Another area where Cardell works diligently to change attitudes with Cardell Media members is the idea of one product and one price.

He continually encourages them to think about offering premium products/services, so that they can charge premium pricing. In doing so, they are offering more than one product and reaching a larger number of potential customers.

There will always be those who will buy the most high-end product available, he said. And when Entrepreneurs add in that higher-priced option, their more basic offering will look even more affordable so their sales will increase too.

He used Apple’s recently released watch as an example of why business can’t fail with a high-end version of a basic offering.

“Along with their main offering of the Apple Watch Sport, which starts at $349 (£230), they also launched a premium price version that will range from $10,000 to $17,000,’’ he said. “The more that Apple has us talking about the $10,000 watch, the more we forget to have a conversation about why a $400 or $700 watch is actually pretty expensive.”

Enough said. It’s easy to get the picture. Perhaps that why Cardell Media has had a hand in creating more successful Entrepreneurs than any other marketing business in the U.K.

Cardell can take a situation from today’s news reports, like the Apple watches, and put it in easy to understand, practical terms for all sorts of Entrepreneurs – whether it’s on premium products and pricing, AdWords, or avoiding the forbidden “one key” of anything.

More on Chris Cardell

Interview with Kevin Kogler (MicroBiz)

MicroBiz is a cloud based point of sale, software solution.

I interviewed Kevin Kogler, MicroBiz President to find out more. This is the two hundred and eleventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Kevin!

How would you describe MicroBiz in under 50 words?

MicroBiz is cloud-based POS software for omni-channel retailers. It features real-time multi-store inventory management and enables retailers to manage their operations using iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, PCs and Macs. Its Magento ecommerce extension allows retailers to operate their Magento ecommerce sites and retail stores from a single application.

Can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to start working on MicroBiz?

About 2 years ago, I attended an eBay technology conference in San Francisco to further research the free open source Magento ecommerce platform as a replacement for an outdated proprietary ecommerce platform developed by my prior business, CAM Commerce Solutions. eBay featured a local soccer store named Soccer Pro to highlight how easy it is to launch a new ecommerce site using Magento. It turned out that Soccer Pro is right down the street from where I live. So, a couple weeks later, I was shopping at Soccer Pro and noted that their legacy POS system was totally disconnected from their new Magento ecommerce site – forcing Soccer Pro’s owner to do double data entry and creating situations where he sold items online that were no longer in stock in his store.

I immediately realized the opportunity to sell a modern cloud iPad POS system to the 170,000 retailers using Magento. The next day I decided to start the process to sell my current business in order to start a new business which would develop a cloud POS platform specifically designed for multi-channel, multi-store retailers. We posted a video on YouTube that recreates the light bulb going off.

You put together MicroBiz after feeling frustrated with technologies already available to you. What did you do differently?

The biggest difference is that we decided to build an entirely new application rather than trying to do what most established POS companies are doing – using middleware to connect old legacy POS/ERP systems to an ecommerce platform. We also wrote the new application using the most modern, open source technologies and frameworks available. Rather than create a closed ecosystem like most legacy POS applications, MicroBiz has an open standards architecture which will allow MicroBiz to easily connect with whatever third party technologies and services that a retailer wants to use. For example, a retailer will be able to use MicroBiz as a platform to connect with mobile payment providers and other cloud based ecommerce, accounting and marketing applications (such as Magento, QuickBooks Online and MailChimp), to create an integrated store management platform for a fraction of the cost of a legacy retail ERP systems.

As you decided not to raise any venture capital, was it difficult to finance in the initial stages?

We are a little different than most start-ups. The “new” MicroBiz was created by spinning an existing POS product out of a larger POS software vendor. So, we have an existing brand and base of customers that have generated much of the cash used to fund the development of our new iPad POS product over the past 18 months. However, we still have to be very careful how we spend our money, as we do not have millions of dollars from a VC sitting in the bank. We have almost exclusively used open source technologies and looked to hire developers in lower cost areas. For example, our development and support team is based in Las Vegas – which offered significant cost savings vs. the San Francisco Bay area. While its amazing how much technology is available these days for free or through hosted offerings, the lack of VC capital to date has forced us to be very focused and make some hard choices on what features we can added to the product during our start-up phase.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing MicroBiz?

From the first line of code, MicroBiz Cloud was built to integrate with the free open source Magento ecommerce platform. So, every feature in the store management system has to be designed to be able to work with a Magento ecommerce site. For example, our system is designed so that any change in a customer or item record in a store system must instantly be updated in the ecommerce system, and vice versa. While this has significantly added to our development costs, it has resulted in a seamless integration between the MicroBiz store management system and the Magento ecommerce platfom.

Prior to the sale of CAM Commerce Solutions where you were President, what did you learn from working at Citigroup and Credit Suisse as a technology investment banker?

I was a banker during the first dot com bubble and saw many companies being created for the wrong reasons. Many of these companies were way too far ahead of market demand or were more focused on creating a good “story” for investors rather than creating a company with a differentiated product and a sustainable business model.

At MicroBiz, we are very focused on providing small to mid-sized retailers with easy-to-use and affordable software to manage their online and offline retail operations. This may not be as “sexy” as many other start-ups today, but this is a large market opportunity with a clear demand and need for the product. Being a banker also taught me the value of profitability – so we are very focused on measured growth and a rational pricing/cost structure.

You allow retailers to try out your POS application free for 14 days before committing. How successful have you been in converting users?

We have been happy with the positive feedback received from these trial users, and most of the users that invest a few hours trying to learn the system request a paid subscription. However, because our application is much more feature rich than most other cloud-based POS solutions, our users tend to be more sophisticated retailers looking for purchase orders/receiving, inventory management and other multi-store features in a cloud-based application. So it is a longer sales cycle than more simple, single store cloud cash register solutions.

You have nearly 25,000 retailers on board. Did you expect such rapid growth when you initially launched in 2012?

The fact that 25,000 retailers around the world have purchased MicroBiz software does show that our solutions meet the needs of small retailers. It’s also created a nice base of retailers that know about MicroBiz. While not all of this growth has occurred since 2012, we have been pleased with the market acceptance of our new cloud iPad/Android POS offering.

How much competition is there in there in cloud based POS?

It’s a pretty competitive space, but the cloud POS market is becoming more segmented. Most of the cloud POS vendors focus on the restaurant/hospitality space, and have robust reservation and table management features, but typically lack any real inventory management functions. Of the cloud POS vendors that focus on the specialty retail space, most are designed to replace cash registers at single stores, and either lack or have only very basic inventory management features and no ecommerce integration.

MicroBiz was designed from the first line of code to be multi-store and integrate with Magento. As a result, we have much more sophisticated store management features and functions – such as customer records that show both store/online sales, item records that show real-time inventory at all locations, special orders, store transfers, integrated gift cards, etc.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments for MicroBiz at the moment?

A good retail management solution can take years to build, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We are focused on adding more multi-store back office management functionality and building out integrations to third party applications and services most requested by our customers.

Where do you see MicroBiz in 5 years time?

This is a huge market opportunity. The rapid adoption of tablets and smart phones will change the way people shop. In 5 years I see consumers using their mobile devices to instantly tell them where they should buy a product – either from an ecommerce site or from a nearby store that is confirmed to have that specific product in stock. Retailers will have viability into where their customers shop – whether on an ecommerce site, at stores or from other online marketplaces. I see MicroBiz as the management hub that runs these smaller multi-channel retailers and exposes the store’s current inventory to all the locational based search engines and online marketplaces.

MicroBiz will also track and provide actionable data on customer activity across all channels, and allow the retailer to sell goods anywhere, anytime and with any type of device. I believe the way we shop will change more in the next 3 years than the last 20 years, and see MicroBiz as the key platform enabling smaller local retailers to compete in this evolving market.

What one piece of advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders?

Be laser focused on your market opportunity and try to do a few things really well instead of being average at a whole bunch of things. I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and see early stage companies get caught up in the hype surrounding the start-up community all the time. These companies tend to get distracted by all the opportunities and end up changing direction too often, wasting precious resources and time, and creating a mediocre product. Instead, focus on creating a really great product and then focus on the one or two go to market strategies to connect with the market segment most likely to be early adopters of your product. Do not try to have your product be all things to everybody or try to sell to every opportunity in the market at once.

Can you convince the reader to start using MicroBiz in under 50 words?

If you operate one or more retail stores and have an ecommerce site, you should use MicroBiz. MicroBiz’s cloud-based POS software features real-time multi-store inventory management and runs on iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, PCs and Macs. Our Magento extension operates Magento sites and retail stores from a single application.

Finished reading? Check out MicroBiz!

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