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Chris Cardell

Interview with John Lawson (3rd Power Outlet)

3rd Power Outlet specialise in urban accessories and jewellery.

I interviewed John Lawson, 3rd Power Outlet founder to find out more. This is the sixth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to John!

How would you describe 3rd Power Outlet in under 30 words?

We specialize in urban street accessories. Particularly in the area of shoelaces, sweatbands and flags.

Why did you decide to launch 3PO in 2005?

We had already been online since 2001 on Ebay as a vendor. At that time we were all over the place. I have sold everything from Books to Concert Tickets. I started to explore some items in a local wholesale store near my house in Atlanta. That is how we ended up trying certain apparel and jewelry and that is what got me focused.

You’ve had past experience at Accenture and Bank One Corp, did this previous experience help in getting 3PO set up?

I know working for a consulting firm did acclimate me for the rapid changes that came with ecommerce. I have been used to being put in situations and teams where you had lots of change and flux. So the Accenture environment prepared me well for what I embarked on in ecommerce.

When and why did the ColderICE persona come about and how has your personal brand helped your business?

The ColderICE thing really came about because I missed the social environment of the workplace. Once I was at home and working basically alone, I just had no one to talk to. So I turned on the video cam and starting talking to it via YouTube. The weird thing was, that people actually started to listen. Then I moved the conversation between videos to this new Twitter thing at that time. There were only 200k people on Twitter back then, and I used it a lot to interact. That was how ColderICE started.

How long did it take to get from idea to launch?

I think I launched FIRST and then had an idea LOL. So I was out there as John, but I had no URL for me to do the blog. What I wanted to do with a blog was to simply have 1 landing page for all my videos. When I went to Go Daddy to buy my name url of JohnLawson.com, I was disappointed to find it was already taken. Of course with such a common name, I guess I should have known. So I had to come up with something and I wanted it to feel unique.

I had kicked around dozens of names for the site and one day I remembered a story. There were massive amounts of African American businesses in the days of segregation that severed “Blacks Only” in the separated Jim Crow of the south in America. Once the integration took hold, many of those business owners were harmed by the new competition of Blacks being able to leave the “Black part” of the town and shop and interact where they were previously not allowed to go. Out of that, there was a saying in the African American Business Community that “the Whiteman’s ice must be colder”…I laughed to my self about it, flipped the words around, Googled “colderice” came back with few results. Went to Go Daddy and it was available and that was IT. Cause I knew I wanted to use the ICE as an acronym for Internet Commerce Education. The rest….history.

With the knowledge you have today, would you do anything differently if you were to go back to 2005?

Yes, I think the one thing I would have done completely differently would be to have focused MORE on building my own webstore a little earlier than I did. I didn’t take that seriously in the beginning.

Who do you see as your target market? How are you reaching them?

I have a couple of targets. We deal in both B2B and B2C sales. On the B2B wholesale side of things, we reach them through many of the normal channels for wholesale retail ready merchandise. However on the consumer side, we use a lot of social commerce and we are very heavy into channel marketing with sights like Amazon and Ebay to reach the demographic.

What have been the most successful ways you’ve found in driving traffic to the website?

YouTube videos are probably one of the MOST successful things I ever did. I created a short video on “How to Fold a Bandanna” which today has more than 260,000 views. We have tracked over 10,000 actual sales from that one video. Nothing has ever been that successful as far a ROI, ever. That is ROI to the infinity really.

Where do you see 3PO in 5 years time?

We are in the process of redoing the entire thing. We are niching our product mix, beginning to manufacture our own brand and the 3rdPO you see today will most likely be an entirely DIFFERENT entity. Changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. That is where I see us in 5 years.

Where do you see the future of e-commerce?

The future of this ecommerce industry is BRIGHT, vast and set for a RAPID increase within the BRIC nations. As they come online, they will move this method for product delivery forward in ways I can not image. The future of the industry is also being driven by the hardware more than ever. As consumers now get the ability to interact 24×7 with the virtual world through mobile devices along with advancements of mobile payments what we see today will be UNRECOGNIZABLE tomorrow. We are living in ancient history right now.

With the high competitiveness of e-commerce; which strategies do you implement to differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

You have to engage with your customers, your engagement makes you different. Even when others engage with them it is still the uniqueness of your company and its persona that makes all the difference. Plus when all things are equal as far as product, price and availability it will be SERVICE that tips the scale. Offer the best service possible.

What advice would you offer to anyone starting up an e-commerce business?

Research! It is so easy to do research on your industry today online. You do not have to fly blind, you can listen to the echos. People are telling you what is needed, where the opportunity is. Put up the radar and listen and you will breed success.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I am most excited about the marriage of social media and ecommerce. I think social + commerce = business … and not just online business…ALL business. That is exciting to me because this is the industry I have studied, been apart of and have been immersed in for over a decade. Now the world is catching up finally to what we are doing and what we have been doing now is positioned to go main stream. The technology is making the connection from “brick stores to click stores” and they will not be that hard line between the two.

Can you convince the reader to start shopping at 3rd Power Outlet in under 30 words?

I got more shoestrings in more colors than anybody else… LOL

Finished reading? Check out 3rd Power Outlet!

Interview with Will Royall (Factory EStores)

Factory EStores is an online furniture store.

I interviewed Will Royall, Factory EStores owner to find out more. This interview is the fifth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Will!

How would you describe Factory EStores in under 50 words?

Factory EStores is a multi-million dollar e-commerce conglomerate, specializing in furniture, hot tubs, hardwood flooring, and playgrounds. The company started in 2010 with youth furniture. Currently the company has 20 employees, 15 websites, 6,400SF of space downtown Orlando, and 150,000SF of warehouse space in Sanford, FL.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Determined, Intelligent, Decisive.

Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide to set up Factory EStores?

I also own an advertising agency, Royall, and made a lot of other companies a lot of money. As a full service agency we’ve worked with big brands such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Hilton Grand Vacations, CiCi’s Pizza, and other smaller local companies too. We’ve learned a great deal working with so many large companies, and seem to have an advantage over other ad agencies in the online marketing, search, paid search, and e-commerce areas. This advantage translated into us watching as we made our clients more and more money (tracked from our online marketing efforts) and as the amount we were making them was outpacing what we were charging them, we thought – why not do something like this for ourselves?

I was waiting for the right opportunity, and one day my neighbor took me to lunch and presented a possible partnership with a children’s bunk bed manufacturer. After looking at the numbers, and doing some due diligence online, we jumped in with $12,000 and two year’s later are doing close to $10 million in revenue. We could do this over and over… we just need more opportunities for great products, backed by great numbers and margins.

Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what ways?

The company is definitely competitive – we sell a lot of the same things some other e-commerce guys bigger than us do, so we’re always on top of pricing, and our customer service is over the top. We want to stand out there so we personally call every customer who orders from us twice, once to thank them after the order, and a second time after they get the product to make sure everything is OK. If it’s not, we send replacement pieces to make it right, and a sorry card with a gift. If everything is OK even after the phone calls we follow up with a Thank You card in the mail. If you spend over $2,000 with us you get placed in our VIP club and you then get a second thank you card from our customer service team with a VIP gift. Everything we do is over the top – and we think it’s paying dividends.

Personally, I would say I’m very competitive. Always at the top, and if I’m not, I’m determined to get there. The truth is, all it takes to win, is to put in a bit more than the other guy – and while a lot of the time that means working harder, and working longer- it’s not always about that, it also means working a little bit smarter too.

What was the reason for recently redesigning and relaunching your websites?

Back in July we did a complete redesign of the sites to help increase conversions and take them to the next level. The new design was cleaner, and had better navigation, as well as included video on product pages. The conversion rate has doubled, meaning for the same marketing dollar we’re driving twice as much revenue and have increased the profit margin considerably.

We’re no where near done either and have a lot more split testing we’ll be running to continue increasing the conversion ratio. A lot of smaller design changes will be following. Honestly, we’ve been moving so fast, we’re already discussing the next redesign and may possibly be starting over with a newer version of our e-commerce platform. We’ll see how soon before we do it again.

The updated sites include videos of behind-the-scenes tours, product demos, and manufacturer interviews. With your interest in video production, how involved have you been with this?

Actually, I’m at High Point, NC right now grabbing more manufacturers on camera for our site. We’ve seen that conversions are 50-100% higher on product pages with video so this is key for us moving forward. Personally I’ve been doing video production stuff since middle school so I’m the guy at Factory EStores who knows this the best. We’re creating a position though whom we may already have a candidate for going forward. We want to do more than product videos and such, focusing on some educational and how to type things… teaching people about the types of furniture out there, helping them to make better informed decisions about what their buying – not focused specifically on one product at a time. If we can be a resource for people, they’ll come back time and time again.

We also want to eventually stumble upon a great viral video idea for promotion. Dollar Shave Club for example is one of my favorites that really helped build their e-commerce business for razors – YouTube it if you haven’t watched it.

Once purchased items are put in the hands of the delivery service, the quality of customer service is in their hands. What efforts have you made to ensure the quality of the delivery service meets your standards?

We actually used to use purely LTL Freight companies to do deliveries, but you hit the nail on the head that the customer service with these companies is not always top noch. Damages too tend to be higher and we were running a damage and re-shipment cost, of about 5.5% of revenue (low actually for this vertical).

Recently, we started to send about 50% of our shipments through a new white glove service for our customers. This company makes extra calls to our customers and our customers never not know where their shipments are. They’re delivered in a van with two people and the product can even be brought into an upstairs room, and they’ll remove and throw away the packaging for you (upgraded shipping).

What we’re finding is that many of our customers are appreciative of the added services they can upgrade when deciding on their shipping type, and the amount of damage as a cost of revenue is going down, while customer service is going up. The added cost of using the service is made up by the fact that the damage cost is going down. It’s a win win all around as basically we’ve shifted the money we were spending in damage to provide a better customer experience. We’re looking for ways to send more shipments now through the new white glove home delivery company because of this.

Has Factory EStores got the growth you expected?

Factory EStores is growing way faster than I expected. It’s exciting, and scary all at the same time. 16,700% growth actually since month 1.

Where do you see Factory EStores in 10 years time?

It’s so hard to answer this question regarding where we’ll be in 10 years. The industry changes so fast, and since we’re growing so fast I couldn’t tell you the types of things we’ll be doing by then. I know that mobile will become a bigger and bigger focus for us, but I think in 10 years it will be something else all together. Honestly, by then, we’ll either be bought up by a giant, taken public, or at least have had a VC step in and inject some cash to further our growth rate.

How do you plan to stay ahead of the competition?

Right now, our size allows us to be nimble, quick, etc. So being faster at reacting is one way. However, as we grow that will get tougher and tougher. Truth is, it’s all about the customer. We’re going to be so damn customer focused that anyone who’s done business with us once, will only think about doing business with us again.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Big Data. That’s about all I need to say about that. Once your database gets to a certain size, it becomes very difficult to manage. Speed becomes affected. Small issues that pop up can cause other issues which you may not even see affecting the way things function. Big data is hard to deal with. Period.

What mistakes have you made, and what did you learn from them?

Biggest mistake was probably growing our product line too fast. Doing so, some of our product team Factorians, pushed with deadlines, threw up a lot of products without really well built out descriptions and some duplicate content. We’re going back now and cleaning all of this up, but in hindsight we were just trying to get as much on the site as fast as possible. Really to convert and sell online you need quality, not quantity. We knew this but growing so fast didn’t really pay attention to it. Clean up crew is on it now though.

What advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Find a great product, with some great numbers and margins, make sure people online are looking for it, and then call me. ;-)

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We’re wrapping up some big integrations right now that is going to allow us to process orders faster with our vendors, and streamline marketing. We’ve already done the math and these integrations will show a 2,500% increase in productivity for the fulfillment, finance, and marketing departments, and if we had to hire additional Factorians to do the same job, saves us an estimated $30,000 / month in overhead costs. Just imagine what you can do if you were 2,500% more productive and an extra $30,000 in your pocket monthly! (Hint: We’ll be reinvesting that in our growth)

Can you convince the reader to visit Factory EStores in under 50 words?

If you need something for home, you’ve got to check with us first. We’ve got a low price guarantee, and the customer experience is over the top. Heck, if you reference this article, I’ll put you in the VIP club even if you don’t hit the minimum spend limit.

Finished reading? Check out Factory EStores!

Interview with Allan Stevens (InstallerParts)

InstallerParts provides a vast catalogue of cables and accessories for home systems.

I interviewed Allan Stevens, InstallerParts co-founder to find out more. This interview is the fourth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Allan!

Give us the elevator pitch for InstallerParts.

Nearly everyone today has a TV, computer, or ten of each. We recently launched a website, InstallerParts.com, that sells virtually every cable, adapter, connector, TV wall mount, and accessory you could ever need to properly setup your equipment.

Our pitch is that we, the guys who founded InstallerParts.com, have spent the last 15 years, hooking these devices up for you in your homes and business. We’ve used our experience and knowledge to source over 5,000 products we know you’ll like, at prices that make Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus.

Additionally, we’re here to help you with your audio/video project questions, and as experienced industry professionals, we’re confident we can.

What are your most popular products?

We have incredible prices on Cat5 & Cat6 patch cables and sell a ton every month as a result. TV/monitor arm mounts of all sizes, and oddly enough a DC power plug that apparently everyone loses or cat chews through.

Where are you based?

Bellevue, WA.

What is your background? What made you and your cousin, Denny, decide to set up InstallerParts?

I started installing car stereos in 1995 then switched to home system installations a few years later, eventually ended up starting and building a home automation company, which was acquired by a larger company in 2005. The housing market was booming back then and we were fortunate to have some very good clients. Some of the projects we worked on would blow your mind. One house had a man-made river running through the hallway and another had a 50-car garage packed full of American muscle cars in flawless condition.

I left the audio video world to pursue a social network startup, but unfortunately it wasn’t the next Facebook. The audio video mafia lured me back in and this time I partnered with my cousin Denny to once again run an integration company. When we got together, this was after the 2008 crash. This was not the same market I once knew. The big whole-home new construction projects were few and far between and now customers were going online to shop our bids against Amazon prices. Ask any audio/video installer how they feel about this and you’ll get an ear full of fun words.

When we started finding cheaper prices online then at our wholesale distributors, it became ultimately clear that times were changing and rather than fighting them we decided to take our specialized knowledge and join them.

What’s it like working with family?

I’ve advocated against working with family and friends to anyone who says they plan to do it, then, started this venture with both. When everything is going great, it’s fantastic. Who better to share the successes with than your family and friends. The problems come when something isn’t going great. No sane person wants to fire a family member or lose a friend over some pointless dispute. Fortunately for us, business is good and we make a great team. Ultimately, I’m extremely thankful that I’m able to work with them, even if I’m a hypocrite.

What has been the most insane moment of running your own business?

In 2005 I had just finished a pretty massive audio/video system for a new sports bar in Seattle, and was invited to attend a small private grand opening party for the investors. There were 48 HDTVs scattered throughout the place and a custom programmed touchscreen that operated them all. The real reason I was invited was to show everyone how to use the equipment! One of the notable investors attending this party was the King himself, LeBron James. He was there with his family and half of the Cleveland Cavilers who had just played a game and lost to the Sonics across the street at Key Arena. After spending some time showing him how the touchscreen controlled everything, we hit it off and decided to go hit a couple local nightclubs together.

The stars had aligned; we had just completed some work for another club owner where the SuperSonic’s frequented after games. I called him up and was able to get the whole place setup for us before we even got there. We left the sports bar to head that direction and I had Lebron in my car with half the Cavs following closely behind. As a huge NBA fan at the time, this was just a surreal moment for me. I ended up flying to Cleveland and doing some work for Lebron in his first house later that year.

Where do you see InstallerParts in 5 years time?

I heard a comment recently that we’ve reached a time in history where technology is advancing so quickly that it’s virtually impossible to imagine even 5 years out. Selling technology products on a technology platform makes this a real tough question to address seriously. Our plan is to continue to identify the needs of our customers, source out products that provide great value, and make our purchasing experience as positive and efficient as humanly and technologically possible. And we’d like to have a private space program.

Has InstallerParts got the demand and growth you expected?

Yes and no. Initially, we thought it would be easier to convince Installers to visit our website simply by mentioning our insanely low prices and incredible selection. Turns out people are so busy and numb to solicitation, even if you truly have a unique and valuable offer, a very low number of customers will actually follow through and end up making a purchase as a result. The good news is that our online marketing efforts are working very well and we have an incredible number of repeat customers with compounding sales growth.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

When we were first developing our website we had it hosted on a basic, cheap hosting plan so we could save some money until we launched. The hosting company advertised nightly backups with a money back guarantee plus all the usual promises. We assumed that because it was nicely designed and advertised on their site with a big green check by it — it was a matter of fact. Turns out it wasn’t, and yep; their database server crashed. We had local copies of our application files but two and half months of product data entry was instantly vaporized on their database machine. We got our money back for that month of hosting as promised, $15. The hard lesson learned; even if you trust your hosting company, you should always make your own provisions for a backup of their backup.

Name the toughest challenge of starting your own business.

I’d say the toughest challenge when starting up would be making time for everything that your business will require of you if you really want to be competitive and successful. It’s best if you can build it when you’re single without kids because you need to put in the time or your competition will simply outpace you.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Tell your ambitions to wait or you’ll find yourself spread too thin to be really good at any one thing. It’s easy to convince yourself you need to spend time & money on all sorts of must haves, but most of the time in retrospect they’re not absolutely necessary. Start thinking in absolute terms early on, focus on the one thing you’re really good at and grow up instead of out.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Right now, our value proposition to customers is basically three things; we have really good pricing on parts that virtually everyone uses, we have a much wider selection of audio video parts than you’ll typically find at other retailers, and finally, we are installers ourselves, so we really understand the products and their application better than most.

Price and selection are important, but only really matter if you’re making a purchase. A lot of people are just looking for information to help them plan a project, which we have plenty of. The problem is it’s in our heads and you have to call or email us if you want it. What we’re most excited to be working on is our solution to this problem. We’re in the process of adding some features to our site that we believe installers and do-it-yourselfers will greatly benefit from.

Can you convince the reader to check out InstallerParts in under 50 words?

If you own a TV, computer, or both; InstallerParts.com can help. We have over 5,000 cables, adapters, connectors, TV mounts and accessories, at prices that make Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus. Check us out and see why companies like Red Bull, Nissan, and UPS shop with InstallerParts!

Finished reading? Check out InstallerParts!

Interview with Omar Farra (Scooter City)

Scooter City are UK distributors of the latest brands of mopeds and scooters as well as accessories and parts.

I interviewed Omar Farra, Scooter City founder to find out more. This interview is the third in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Omar!

You’ve been in e-commerce for over 10 years. Tell us how it all started.

It all started like a lot of E-commerce companies do, in my garage. I saved up £5000 and went to a local computer components wholesaler and purchased the cheapest motherboards, graphics cards etc I could find. I would then build the components up into completed computers and sell them on eBay, through local newspapers and at the Manchester computer fair. Once I had built up a little profit I started to buy consumer electronics and toys from auctions in the UK and from wholesalers in China. One of the products I was bringing in from China turned out to be very popular, miniature video CCTV cameras and at that time I was the only person selling them on eBay so they were flying out at a good margin.

Tell us a bit about each of your current businesses including Nitrotek, Scooter City and eComm Angels.

Nitrotek is a distributor of radio controlled models. We sell online through our site but also dropship for many other companies. We also have nine European sites such as Nitrotek.fr, Nitrotek.nl and sell both to the retail and wholesale markets in those countries.

Scooter City is our new site launched this year selling both toy micro scooters and proper road legal scooters. Like with any new company there is always teething problems but overall it has been a good start and we expect to have a good 2013 as demand for scooters increases in these tough economic times.

We have an office in Asia that employs local IT professionals who do tasks for us such as data entry and SEO work. These guys are very useful for eCommerce company tasks so we have just started eComm Angels that will allow other companies to hire their own full time staff like this for a very low monthly fee.

What got you into the business of remote-controlled toys and scooters?

In 2004 one of my contacts in China opened a new factory making gas powered radio controlled cars and asked me if I wanted to be the UK distributor. I agreed and put every penny I had into buying a full container of stock and Nitrotek Ltd was born. The agreement was that I had to buy $350,000 worth of stock a year to be the exclusive distributor which at the time was very scary. It’s good to have a little pressure like this and we ended up doing a lot more than this. We still distribute for that factory and many others.

In the recession the radio controlled toys market has got more difficult as it’s a luxury product market so we started to look at products that would sell well in a recession. Our first idea was Bogo.co.uk which is a site that buys people’s electronics and media for cash and then re-sells it. It was going pretty well and we were getting a lot of stuff sent through but sorting it and testing everything was turning into a nightmare. If it was going to work out it would need going all in 100% and I decided that was not what I wanted to be doing so I put that project on hold for now. I saw on Dragons Den last week a new company doing the same thing and they got investment so maybe it was a mistake to put it on hold.

Anyway, instead we started Scooter City as the savings from running a scooter instead of a car are very big. Nitrotek already employs mechanics and has a warehouse so it’s a perfect match.

Do you have a scooter yourself?

I used to have one before I had a car and I used to love it. I’m going to get one again in Spring, they are a lot of fun.

What e-commerce platform do you use?

We use Magento. We have tried a few other in the past but will stick with Magento now, it can do everything you could possibly ever want.

You have found a way to combat the recession by offering customers who qualify interest-free credit for six months. What made you decide to implement this payment option?

Well this was probably our customers’ idea. We kept getting customers ask for it so clearly the demand was there. Many customers will probably save more by driving a scooter instead of a car than the monthly payments for the scooter itself so it is perfect for a recession.

Has there been much of an increase in sales since you implemented this payment option?

Yes the sales have increased a lot. It’s difficult to put an exact figure on it because a new company’s sales will always increase as initial marketing starts to kick in, but for sure it has made a big impact.

What do you wish you’d have known 10 years ago that you know now?

So many things, I don’t even know where to begin! Everything has been started from scratch so every lesson has been learnt the hard way. There are little things like we did a television marketing campaign that cost a fortune which did not pay off or I paid for a consulting company that again cost a lot but was a complete waste of money. But on a bigger scale if I had known how some online markets were going to grow such as online fashion then I may have gone for a bigger market.

Has Scooter City got the demand and growth you expected?

It’s still early days but considering this is a new project I am very pleased with how quickly it has grown. We link to Scooter City from the Nitrotek site which has helped to boost sales.

What are you working on right now?

We have a few startup projects we are working on. Nitrotek has an office and warehouse in Poland also so we have built up some good contacts in Eastern Europe. For example Poland is a big manufacturer of furniture, so we are currently working on a new furniture site that will sell high quality low cost furniture that will be made by factories we have partnered with over there. Also there is a lot of work to do with the eComm Angels startup. We hope this will do well in the recession as there are big savings to be made by employing one of our agents compared to employing an on site full time member of staff.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

I started a whole airsoft toys site and purchased a container of airsoft products. Then a few months later airsoft was basically banned in the UK! I’ve learnt to look into things more and to be more cautious before jumping in. If I had done proper research I would have found out that there was already talks about banning these types of toys in the UK.

With over 10 years experience in e-commerce, what one piece of advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Keep control of your costs. Don’t blow your budget on a fancy office, the best website and staff you don’t need. There are always unexpected costs so you are better keeping this money in reserves.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

On Nitrotek over the next few months most models we sell will have a QVC type video presentation that will be neatly displayed below the picture gallery. I think this will increase sales and also make us really stand out from our competitors.

On Scooter City we are looking at how we can increase the number of customers that will be approved for finance and if we can make that happen we should see sales increase a lot. Plus there are all the new projects that I am very excited about. I think 2013 is going to be a busy but exciting year.

Finished reading? Check out Scooter City!

Interview with Firas Kittaneh (One Mall Group)

One Mall Group is an ever expanding group of online stores. Amerisleep is One Mall Group’s flagship eco-friendly memory foam mattress store.

I interviewed Firas Kittaneh, One Mall Group co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the second in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Firas!

Describe yourself in three words.

Passion drives everything.

Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide to set up One Mall Group?

I was on track to become a medical doctor. There was an intense itch to create something larger that went beyond myself. I wanted to create jobs, not just have a job. I wanted to create something sustainable which delivers incredible value and service. I wanted to be learning for the rest of my life. Being an Internet Entrepreneur, which is a constantly changing field, forces me to stay nimble and on my toes. We’re still little babies swimming in the huge internet, and its very much the Wild West – it can be very scary, exciting, overwhelming and yet empowering all within the span of a few minutes!

In your experience, what’s the best way of choosing a supplier?

Remember, they work for you, too… so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Be honest about business problems so you can work them out together with your supplier. They rely on you to bring in sales just as much as you rely on them to deliver the product. Never forget that you’re in a symbiotic relationship, where everyone is helping each other to succeed.

At One Mall Group, we’re never in competition with our suppliers. We are successful because we make it clear that we’re all looking out for each other, all the way from the manufacturer, to the supplier, to the retailer to the customer. It’s an inclusive, positive relationship where everyone can win.

Has One Mall Group got the growth you expected?

My expectations are very high so I’m tempted to say no. But if you travelled back in time and found the younger me and said “This is what you’ll be doing in 6 years,” there’s no way I would have believed you.

Where do you see One Mall Group in another 6 years time?

I want to discover new talent through crowd-sourcing, help bring this raw talent to a big market that they can’t reach on their own, into the retail stores and on the big box shelves.”

What do you think the e-commerce industry will look like in another 6 years?

Crowdsourcing is taking over. Small-time designers can get a million hits overnight with a breakthrough product. People everywhere vote on the design and give instant feedback to the designer.

The supply chain is going to change in a big way. eCommerce sites will be able to know right away what’s hot and what’s not, based on the amount of social attention a new product gets. Hopefully this means a lot less waste, because we’ll know a product is hot BEFORE we bother to stock it in our warehouse.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?

I shut down our flagship retail store even though it was profitable. I knew without question the internet was going to dominate the marketplace. Looking back it seems silly, but 15 years ago nobody would have predicted the sheer volume of money passing through the ‘net. The single decision to shut down our retail store and concentrate our efforts online eliminated hundreds of headaches in one fell move. It let us avoid the hassles of dealing with running a brick-and-mortar outlet. There is no question that it took us to the next level. We were able to focus ALL of our energy towards the online customer experience, which exploded our growth.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Getting customers to pay for high-priced items without touching and seeing them in person has always been our biggest hurdle. Luckily, we’ve become experts at showing them “virtually”.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were both were doing very well and worked together in Edison’s company. But Ford was so focused on his own inventions, he was forced to leave his job and file for bankruptcy. He just kept going. Almost exactly one year later his invention – the Ford Motorcar – broke the land speed record. The press he got helped him launch Ford Motors.

He was driven by an intense passion for his product, putting everything else aside to build the best product he could dream of. It helped him build a company that has stood strong for over 104 years. If he’d let a little thing like bankruptcy stand in his way, this story would have been a lot less interesting.

As an entrepreneur and e-commerce expert, what advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Build value into your brand. No matter what you sell, you are in the CUSTOMER business. Your job is not to sell things, it’s to create evangelists… people so incredibly happy with your company they rave to their friends and family.

Don’t sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself and don’t cut corners. Make something you are proud to put your name and face on! You can’t convince people to buy a lousy product, no matter how great your web site is, and it’s 1000 times harder if you don’t believe in the product yourself.

And have fun. Create the ideal job for yourself. If something doesn’t “feel” right, do it differently and do it the way that makes you feel good about building a business. Make sure your employees love their work, too!

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I think that the next evolution of the internet will be more and more high-resolution 3D graphics inside a regular browser. Instead of browsing flat pictures on a store’s web site, you are transported INTO their store in 3D, thumbing through racks of clothes or virtually picking up a pair of shoes. Later, we’ll be able to create a digital version of ourselves and our homes so we can see, “What will this couch look like in MY living room?” It’s coming sooner than we think, with advances in WebGL and the newest HTML5 standards.

What should we look out for from One Mall Group in 2013?

Shopping in 3D. :-D

Finished reading? Check out One Mall Group!

Interview with Sasha Dennig (Callixto)

Callixto sources local handicrafts, jewellery and accessories from around the world.

I interviewed Sasha Dennig, Callixto founder to find out more. This interview is the first in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Sasha!

Describe Callixto in under 50 words.

Callixto is an online boutique dedicated to bringing together unique pieces of jewellery and other accessories from far-flung places, with a focus on originality, craftsmanship and beauty.

What made you decide to quit your job as a corporate lawyer and set up Callixto?

I had been working for 3 years in a large corporate law firm when I realised that no matter how hard I worked, and paid my dues the level of work and stress was never going to ease up. I didn’t see how I could be successful as a lawyer and have a family at the same time. I felt overworked and underpaid, and was generally miserable.

How did you come up with the name?

I spent a lot of time thinking about it and researching a name that had both meaning and could be pronounced in all languages. Because the concept behind Callixto is very much travel I started looking into the stories and myths behind constellations. Stars being the original navigation tools used by travellers before the advent of GPS, I thought it would be fitting to call my venture after a constellation. Callixto is an alternative spelling of Callisto who was the nymph that was turned into a bear and thrown into the sky by a jealous Hera. She became a The Big Bear Constellation.

How did you fund Callixto in the beginning?

I have taken a very organic approach to funding and growing the business. I put in 50,000 USD to start off with and am only growing at the rate that my initial investment allows me. I work from home, and as a result have no overheads. So far so good.

Who is the team at Callixto? Where are you based?

The Callixto Team is comprised out of me and my husband. He very kindly goes to the Post Office and sends my orders when I am travelling. I am based out of Hong Kong.

How is business so far?

Business is good. I have good months and months that are not so good. On average though I cannot complain.

How successful was your first pop-up shop in Hong Kong in June? Do you plan to make this a regular thing?

The pop-up shop was incredibly successful and I would like to do at least two a year in Hong Kong and potentially in London. The difficulty when trying to organize a pop-up shop is finding a good location/venue in which to hold the shop. It is easier said than done!

Has Callixto got the growth you expected since launch?

It has exceeded expectations in terms of sales. I completely underestimated the amount of work a website requires though. It has not been easy!

Where do you see Callixto in 5 years time?

I would love for Callixto to become the go to destination for women that want unique jewellery and other accessories that have a story as well as a distinct provenance.

While in Turkey for your honeymoon (congratulations) you squeezed in some sourcing. How did your new husband feel about this!?

My husband is incredibly supportive of Callixto. He hated me being a lawyer as I was either working ungodly hours or tired and grumpy. He is incredibly patient when it comes to sourcing with me and even helps me negotiate when needs be. Of course he also has all sorts of games on his iPhone to help him pass the time!

What has been your favourite country to visit and source from so far?

I love Turkey. I love Istanbul. I love the Grand Bazaar. I love Turkish food. There is really nothing about Turkey that I do not like. Turkish jewellery has a very distinct look which is very much up my alley. I like bold, big and colourful pieces and that is exactly what Turkish jewellery is like. It is also an easy place to do business in. It is easy to get around and easy to communicate. Really, I cannot speak highly enough of Turkey.

Do you ever encounter any problems as a woman doing business?

I have not had any problems so far. The interesting thing is that I thought I would be dealing exclusively with women as jewellery and decor is very girly. Almost all my suppliers are men though. Every once in a while I meet a couple where the wife designs and creates and the husband deals with the the production and sale of the product.

The only real problem is travelling alone. There are some destinations that are maybe not that advisable to visit if you are a woman travelling alone.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

At the moment I am a one woman show and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up with everything that has to be done. Equally this is my baby and I am finding it hard to give up control of even the smallest things! It has come to the point where I should really be outsourcing some things but I am finding it very difficult. I still take all my own pictures, I do the sourcing, I deal with the the wholesale orders and I do all the marketing and social media aspects myself.

What advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Just do it. Don’t think too much about it. If you have an idea, and a bit of cash saved up, go for it. You can wait your whole life for that one idea to come that nobody has ever had. But ultimately Pepsi was made on the back of Coca Cola. You don’t have to have the most novel idea for it to work. You just have to dedicate time and effort to it and do it well.

Where are you heading to next?

My next sourcing destination is either Morocco or Vietnam.

Finished reading? Check out Callixto!