Jeremy: [00:00:15] Dr. Jeremy Weisz here. I’m founder of Inspiredinsider.com, where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders, like the founders of P90X, Baby Einstein, Atari, many more, how they overcome big challenges in life and business. This is part of the Skubana e-commerce mastery series, where top sellers and experts teach you what really works to boost your e-commerce business. That’s why we have Travis. Skubana is a software platform to manage your entire e-commerce operation. Today, we have Travis Romine, founder of Sharp Commerce. His company is a group of e-commerce ninjas, helping with customer engagement, retention, advanced marketing, and much more, which we’ll talk about. He took sales from about $100 per day to over $15,000 per day, over a 10-year period, at Paradise Fibers, that he co-founded, which they grew to one of the top-performing businesses in the needle-craft industry. Now Travis, thanks for joining me.
Travis: [00:01:15] Thank you, Jeremy. Thanks for having me, man.
Jeremy: [00:01:17] That’s the polished introduction. The real entrepreneurial introduction is when we were talking before we hit record, is Paradise Fibers. Travis, $50,000 debt on credit cards, garbage shopping cart in 2005, worked 60 to 80-hour weeks for eight years, to take over the world for needle-craft. Right?
Travis: [00:01:45] Take over the world in the name of yarn.
Jeremy: [00:01:47] Yes, exactly.
Travis: [00:01:48] How about that? Is that better? It sounds less attacking. All right.
Jeremy: [00:01:51] Exactly. I don’t know if you can really attack needle-craft people.
Travis: [00:01:57] I want to sound . . . There’s some people that are gonna seek this out. There’s some hardcore yarnies that have found me after this thing.
Jeremy: [00:02:04] Really?
Travis: On social media and whatever. I’ve had long conversations with a lot of these ladies, man. You’re selling love. So anyway, they found me, and they’ll find this, dude, eventually. I don’t want them to be like, “Travis just sold yarn to make money.” No, that’s not it, man.
Jeremy: [00:02:19] No, I mean taking over the world.
Travis: [00:02:20] It really wasn’t.
Jeremy: [00:02:22] So we’ll talk about some of the big milestones of the company and what you do at Sharp Commerce, for other companies as well, but I always like to include a fun fact before we dig in to some of those, how you boosted the sales and mistakes and other things. You have a lot of interesting fun facts, and one of them . . . You have a love for mustard, which I thought was interesting. What do you like . . .
Travis: [00:02:48] I don’t know where that comes from. I love it, man. I really do. Any kind. I don’t care what brand it is. Yellow is the best. It’s not anything fancy, just yellow mustard, man. It’s delicious.
Jeremy: [00:02:58] Also, you put out a music video about dental floss dispensers.
Travis: [00:03:06] I did. I did.
Jeremy: [00:03:08] What’s the story behind that?
Travis: [00:03:10] All right. So that was a sort of entrepreneurial project that I partnered with my dad on. He has this pocket floss device, this little . . . sort of like reel-to-reel tape, and it’s a little kind of floss dispenser, but it sort of comes back in the other side. So you push a button, release the floss on one side, and you reel it back up when you’re done on the other. Now when you’ve got this floss extended, you’ve got this loop of floss, it’ll lock for you. You pull against it, and you can use it. You don’t have to wind it around your fingers. No more purple finger tips. Whatever.
Jeremy: [00:03:48] I gotcha. Yeah.
Travis: [00:03:49] Shameless plug for pocket floss.
Jeremy: [00:03:49] I knew it would have an e-commerce app . . . this music video would have an e-commerce application to it. Did it help you sell more floss?
Travis: [00:03:59] No. That product was a flop. But when you’re an entrepreneur, you make mistakes, and you learn from them. Anyway, it’s still out there. You can find them on Amazon, if you want to buy one and check it out, but they’re . . . The video . . . It was kind of crazy. I made the song about it just because I’m a weird dude, and I thought it’d be fun to just make a pocket floss song. I was just living this thing for a couple years, messing with it, trying to sell this thing. I’m approaching Walgreens and Walmart and these big oral care distributors and retailers. It was quite a journey. So I wrote this song about it, and I have . . . I’ve got a buddy in Idaho, Drew Allen, at Pepper Shock Productions, and I went to video school with him. Well, he calls me up one day, and he’s kind of a weird dude too. He’s like, “Hey. We’re doing this 48-hour film festival. Do you got a song? You got a song, man. I know you got a song. Let’s do it. Because I’ve got music video. We’ve got 48 hours to get this thing done. What do you got? Give me a song.”
[00:05:04] I played him the song over the phone, and he bought me a plane ticket, and I flew over the next morning, in costume, in the suit. If you look up “pocket floss,” you’ll see. I got the fake mustache on at the airport. I’m getting questioned by security. They’re like, “Dude, what’s up with the mustache? What are you doing?” I told them, and they’re like, “That’s too weird. He couldn’t make that up. He’s not gonna blow this plane up, man. He’s good.”
Jeremy: [00:05:25] What worked when approaching those big stores, like Walgreens and Oral Care?
Travis: [00:05:32] The story, I think. We didn’t really have a lot of success, but we had a little success, regionally, here in Seattle, in Spokane, with the Walgreens chain. We were able to get them in like 20-some-odd stores, something like that. Really it was a story about, “Hey. This is my dad’s thing. Check it out. We’re local. Whatever.” It was like . . . It wasn’t really empathy, but it was . . . There was this connection there.
Jeremy: [00:06:01] They’re willing to take a little risk.
Travis: [00:06:04] Yeah, it was a local connection. We told them the story, and it was legit. This is my dad’s passion for this device. He had thought about it for a long time. It took him a ton of time to develop it, figure it out. Then he finally made the molds and plastic injection molding. He figured all this crap out. The thing is pretty cool. You know? Anyway, that was probably it, the story that really kind of got it into the stores. The thing that we really failed on was having marketing to push it. Back then, I really didn’t understand that either. This is early 2004-ish, something like that, just before I did the Paradise project. We just didn’t understand. We’re going in and pitching it to these guys, and they’re like, “Okay. So how are you gonna promote it? How are people gonna want to buy this?” We’re like, “We’ll put it on the shelf. They’ll just come and buy it. Right?” No. At the end of it, these guys come back, towards the end of the project. These guys came back and said, “Hey. You know what? We’ll put it on our shelf, $50,000 a slot, for however many stores.”
Jeremy: [00:07:04] How many of those things do you have to sell?
Travis: [00:07:07] Numbers didn’t crunch. Numbers didn’t crunch.
Jeremy: [00:07:09] Right. Exactly. They don’t work out. If everyone’s wondering why Travis sounds so good . . . You’ve had clients like Sir Mix-A-Lot and Zombie Games and Fandango and other . . . So what did you do for Sir Mix-A-Lot?
Travis: [00:07:26] Mix-A-Lot? I did post-production editing, and I was a creative director on “Sh, Don’t Tell Him That.” It was sort of a compilation of a lot of his stuff. I was creative director on that. It was kind of cool, for the short period that I was a creative director in Seattle, working at an ad agency over there.
Jeremy: [00:07:44] Yeah.
Travis: [00:07:45] That was fun, man. Good times.
Jeremy: [00:07:46] Yeah. Your sound sounds great. So I want to go back early on. Then we’ll go on your e-commerce path. But where are you from? Where did you grow up? And what was the big influence, growing up?
Travis: [00:08:00] Spokane, man. I was born in Spokane. I was raised in the Bay Area until I was 13 and moved back to Spokane, just couldn’t get away.
Jeremy: [00:08:14] Because your family has a farm these days. Right?
Travis: [00:08:17] They do. They’ve got some sheep. It’s kind of strange, out in the middle of nowhere. They’ve got a bunch of sheep. My dad’s history really isn’t farming, per say, or animals like that. They just kind of got into that about 10 years ago or so, kind of when they started getting into the yarn thing.
Jeremy: [00:08:33] Yeah. So what did you want to be when you grew up?
Travis: [00:08:38] Still haven’t, I don’t think. I don’t know. I never really thought about that.
Jeremy: [00:08:43] In the days of San Francisco, did you want to do some . . . Did you want to create your own product? Were you an entrepreneur at the time? Or what were you into?
Travis: [00:08:52] I think I’ve always been into music. That’s been a through-line in my life. I still play music here and there. Yeah, I have a problem growing up, I guess. Can’t get serious.
Jeremy: [00:09:01] So when did your e-commerce path start?
Travis: [00:09:06] Okay. So that was in about 2005. My dad had this weird business that was kind of on its head. He had gotten into it because my mom and sister liked fiber, and I didn’t know what fiber meant. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was in Seattle at the time that I heard about this. I came back over to see them, and they had converted their house out in the middle of nowhere. It’s actually a trailer with their sheep or whatever. They’ve converted this thing into this weird online business, but it really wasn’t much. It was in trouble. I could tell it was in trouble. I talked to some other people about it, and that’s kind of why I went to check it out. They really didn’t have any background in marketing at all or warehousing or e-commerce or anything. They just needed help.
[00:10:00] So I’m like the computer guy. They didn’t really understand any of that stuff, and I did, to a degree. I understood the marketing part of it, just because I was fresh out of working with a lot of different clients, as a creative director, at the Fluid Night Ad Agency in Seattle. So what happened is I got sucked into this yarn vortex where I just said, “You know what, dad? Let me help you with this thing.” He’s like, “Thank God someone’s gonna help me. I don’t know what to do. This is great.” So I pulled up the moving van and got piles and piles and piles of yarn and animal hair, which is fiber, I learned later, basically, un-spun animal hair. I hauled that out to this space that I was able to get behind the recording studio that I was renting. So it was right next-door. I could record bands at night and figure out this e-commerce thing during the day.
Jeremy: [00:10:57] So what did you do with the stuff at the space? Did you just dump it in the space? Or you organize it in certain fashion? What were you doing with it?
Travis: [00:11:06] Compared to what that place is now and how well it’s set up now, I would consider, yes, we did basically dump it in there. We had some makeshift shelves, and we tried to do location codes, but we didn’t have the right software. We didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. Funny enough, Nick, one of my main guys, Nick Sanders, AKA “Coco,” he’s one of my ninjas, a great dude.
Jeremy: [00:11:30] He’s a business system manager at Sharp Commerce. Right?
Travis: [00:11:34] Okay. He’s a maniac, man. He is just awesome with researching new products and software and figuring it out and implementing systems. He had no experience at that point. This is like 2005-ish. He was an intern at the recording studio and really hard worker and good dude. He was actually like a paid intern. These people had sent me this kid. You know? They said, “We’ll pay $4000 or something if you train him in audio stuff and fill out some whatever.” So it was a weird relationship, meeting this guy, but he was a really cool dude. We got along.
[00:12:06] So this opportunity came up. So the first couple of days, it’s me and Nick locked in the shop until like 3:00, 4:00 in the morning. We’re barely taking breaks. We’re figuring it out, just going crazy, adding products, starting up this new website on Volution [SP], actually, and converting it from an HTML website, with this just god-awful cart that was spitting out a text file, individual text file, into a folder somewhere. You had to download with a credit card number raw in it, totally, absolutely not PCI-compliant, by any means. That wasn’t even a thing then. Pretty ugly state of things. That was really the seed to all this, getting the Volution cart, which I have to say, man, those guys did a great job of kind of training us and getting us going out of the gate. We took advantage of a lot of their turnkey services.
Jeremy: [00:12:55] Yeah. So what was some of the initial traction that you got? What did you do?
Travis: [00:13:00] One of the biggest things that we did, initially, was Google shopping. It was like Google Base or Frugal, back then. None of our competitors were very tech-savvy. A lot of this stuff is ma-and-pa, and some of these people have been around for a long time. They weren’t necessarily into the website thing a whole bunch. They were actually still doing mail-order with little catalogs and stuff. So we came on, and we’re exploring and exploiting the software as much as we could. With Volution, it’s got the feed generator built into it. We were shooting feed to Google Base and just conquering. It was free back then. So we’ve got all these listings out there. It’s basically pay-per-click, now what you’d call PLAs. This is the early days of PLAs, and it was free, and we were just killing it. That’s what we built a lot of . . . Taking advantage of those kind of loopholes early on, man, meant so much.
Jeremy: [00:13:58] So what was the other software on the market at the time for shopping carts? So there’s Volution. Is there anything else? What were people using?
Travis: [00:14:07] Back then . . . I don’t know.
Jeremy: [00:14:11] You eventually moved to Magento [SP]. Right?
Travis: [00:14:15] Huge move. That was significant. Yeah, yeah.
Jeremy: [00:14:18] At what point did you decide to do that?
Travis: [00:14:20] I think that was in 2010 or ’11 maybe. I think it was 2010.
Jeremy: [00:14:26] So you were around Volution for a while.
Travis: [00:14:28] Yeah, we were, quite a while. It took us probably six months or a year to get moved over properly from Volution to Magento. It was a huge migration. It’s a whole different way of thinking when you’ve got . . . Your products are in this spreadsheet, and maybe a couple different tables in Volution. Then you’re going over to Magento, which has got layered navigation, which is basically . . . You’ve got true filtering, where you’re filling out attributes. So you’ve got a particular product set, an attribute set, and you’ve got attributes within that set that are nested. You say, “Okay. So this is like a camera.” Well, one attribute might be the lens it comes with and other details about a particular camera or a specific product type, basically, is what an attribute set is.
[00:15:17] So we had to kind of get our head wrapped around that and fill out all these attributes for 15,000 products and set them up properly. A lot of people don’t do that. They don’t take advantage of that with Magento, which is really crazy. That’s one of the things that we, at Sharp Commerce, we’re looking out for and finding ways for people to better present their products, with whatever platform they happen to use, whether it’s Magento or something else.
Jeremy: [00:15:40] Travis, was it called Paradise Fibers back then? Or was it a different name?
Travis: [00:15:46] No, it’s always been called Paradise Fibers.
Jeremy: [00:15:47] It’s always Paradise Fibers. Okay.
Travis: [00:15:49] Yeah.
Jeremy: [00:15:49] So the first things that worked really well was the PLA. What else worked?
Travis: [00:15:57] Oh, boy. Okay. So realistically that was a huge thing until . . . I think once we got . . . We got hooked up with Bronto [SP] and those guys. I went ahead and said, “I don’t know enough about email marketing. Train me. I’ll pay you.” Went through the service, and they did a lot for us. It was like a three . . . It was only like three months, maybe six months. They’ll hold your hand and give you a lot of different ideas on what kind of sales to run with your . . . They’re all customized to you. It’s not just boiler plate. They did a great job of kind of setting us up to win with email marketing, and that turned into a huge revenue stream, just really taking advantage of trying to send people what they wanted and segment larger groups of people, things like that.
Jeremy: [00:16:49] Yeah. So what did you learn? What was working with email marketing? I read one of your posts, and it’s like, “Don’t just send out sales coupons.” That’s not the definition of email marketing.
Travis: [00:17:05] Well, okay. So there’s two parts to that. People want deals. Okay. That’s cool. I get it. But they also want . . . There’s also . . . You can give them entertainment. You can give them value-added emails, how-to videos. Now, down towards the home stretch, the last few years I was there, we were doing segmented batches of customers, where we were doing these value-added emails, like, “Here’s a special spinning technique on this specific spinning wheel,” to get them interested in the wheel and to give them some information on that. Now, we would only send that to people that were spinners. Don’t send it to your knitters. Give people what they want.
[00:17:49] It took a lot of time to make these videos. We had an expert in-house that would do it. I even made . . . You can look up my dying video on there. I learned how to dye. I had a blast.
Jeremy: [00:17:58] Not literally die, but dye fabric.
Travis: [00:18:00] Yeah. Dye with color. A lot of friends made fun of me. I had a lot of my rock star buddies cracking up. I got a lot of emails, but it was fun, man. It’s cool because I’m in the mix, answering the phones some days, and I get talking to people, “Oh, I want to buy this dye. You’re the person who made that video.” It helps all those kind of things drive it home with your customers. You know? When you’re doing those kinds of things, you’re like, “Well, who’s really gonna watch this?” Well, guess what. You segment out the people that would like these types of value-added emails or content and shoot it to them, and then you connect with them, and it’s not just like you’re blasting out crap to your entire audience. You respect your audience, and they’re gonna pay attention. That’s really a big key to email marketing. Once you kind of figure out that approach, I think the rest of it really falls into place.
Jeremy: [00:18:51] So how did you segment? What works well? If people are like, “Well, I just put everyone on the same list. I’m not even sure what to do.”
Travis: [00:19:00] It’s really common. You need to have some kind of advanced software to do that. You’re gonna have to have a decent partner, whether it’s Bronto or Dot-Mailer [SP]. Dot-Mailer has been great. Those guys are awesome. They’re probably my . . . Sorry, Bronto. They’re probably my favorite, although I love both of you guys. Dot-Mailer and Magento, Bronto as well, they have really tight integration. I worked with both those companies to improve their integration, just because I’m kind of a loud-mouth when it comes to getting what I want with this software. Those companies, I have a great relationship with, actually, now, because I pushed them so hard. They’re like, “Gosh, what does Travis want now, man?” They finally figured out, “This guy’s actually adding a lot of value to our software, and our customers like it.” At least that’s what they told me, maybe so I’d stop calling.
[00:19:50] But no, they’re really cool people, both of those companies, Dot-Mailer and Bronto. They ended up really advancing a lot of the integration and segmentation for the Magento web platform. What we were doing is we would say, “Hey. You buy . . . What’s really cool is if you set up your database right with Magento. You do an attribute set, which is like a product type. Okay. Use that to segment a whole group of people really fast.” You say, “Hey. You bought this. Well, I know you’re gonna like this.” We set up rules. You don’t even have to like . . . You can automate all this stuff.
Jeremy: [00:20:23] It’s because it’s so close tight-knit with Magento that you could do that with those two. Yeah.
Travis: [00:20:30] Well, it’s the way if you set up Magento right. There’s people out there that are doing integrations with Magento, that don’t understand it. It’s tough. I’m actually working with a client right now. We’re road-blocked. We’ve had to do a lot of workarounds just to do some integration. They basically . . . They’re not using the layered navigation like it’s supposed to be, and the attribute sets. Attribute sets are super powerful if you set those up right, like I said, kind of how I mentioned before, where your attribute set is a product type, and you fill out your attributes for each product type. It’s a little bit of work. It’s a lot of work, actually.
Jeremy: [00:21:08] It’s just a lot of work on the front end.
Travis: [00:21:11] Upfront, essentially. Once you get that put together, then you’re using that stuff to filter. You’re using that stuff to segment your customers. You’re using that stuff to . . . You can present all those things on your website as specifications for that product. So you get so much out of it once you figure that out. It’s absolutely worth doing. It’s a great way to go.
Jeremy: [00:21:32] So you can really laser focus and segment. So if someone bought some . . . I guess what’s an example of a special or an email that worked really well because you had segmented?
Travis: [00:21:48] Okay. Oh, man. This is gonna get me going down a road here. All right. So where to start? There’s a . . . With Paradise Fibers, there was a huge group of people that were spinners. Right? Those people that are making yarn from spinning wheels with the raw animal hair, and they’re spinning it and making yarn. So those people, we knew they were gonna love a club of some kind, like a wine club. We created a Fiber of the Month Club thing. So we sent them fiber, every month, with a gift, and worked deals to get gifts with vendors. So there’s added value there. We got super good deals on that stuff and just throw that in, the free gift, and write them a nice letter and which fibers are which. We also put on each fiber, “best uses for.” So there’s always value-add stuff that we always did there as part of the system that my team designed.
[00:22:44] So we solicited all these spinners. We grabbed that segment, solicited those guys, said, “Hey. Come join our club. We know you’re spinning. Guess what else? We’ll give you 10% off supplies from here on out. Just be part of our club and let us solicit you and send out fiber to your door every month. We know you love it.” We made it really advantageous. So there was a lot of value with the fiber. So we’re not trying to gouge these people. So if they tried to buy them individually, it was a lot more than what we were giving them, essentially. They would get a really . . . The value was there.
Jeremy: [00:23:17] Yeah. So how do you . . .
Travis: [00:23:17] It went crazy. That was a terrific promotion, and that continued to go. We do that periodically to gain customers on that. That was one of the other really big successful pieces of Paradise Fibers, was the clubs [inaudible:00:23:31].
Jeremy: [00:23:31] So that was subscription. Right?
Travis: [00:23:34] Right, right. We actually custom-built, had our developers custom-build out club recurring billing system for us, through Magento, which was . . . It was amazing. It turned out really, really great. It was really easy to manage. Customers can manage it themselves. They had full control. You can sign up and bail out and rip us off because you’re gonna get a deal when you sign up. People didn’t. These are real . . . The customers are really cool. I miss those customers, man. They’re a really good batch of people. Anyway, so this was . . . The clubs were just another way to heighten the level of engagement that we had with our customers.
Jeremy: [00:24:15] Yeah. So tell me about the early . . . The idea phase of that . . . What you ended up executing on probably was different than the initial conversations. What was the initial conversation? Because you said there’s a subscription, and then you gave them 10% off. Was that always the idea? Or did it go through a couple modifications when you were talking to your customers or with the other staff?
Travis: [00:24:43] It all came together quick. This is . . . When you’re living it at a really . . . I’m talking up until the last couple years, I was doing 60 to 80 hours a week, leading by example and just going hog-wild. The other guys were trying to keep up. I had a lot of guys that worked at the yarn store, which is kind of strange, but we had a great group. Those guys would be really interested in contributing, and we would have a weekly meeting. So we’d do lots of brainstorming every week. You know? Within just a few weeks, we had flushed out pretty much the whole entire club. We refined it by . . . Hey, we’re throwing in a free gift. Let’s give them whatever, some tape measurer or this or that, whatever. We started increasing the value of the gifts. I was just pushing a lot of the different vendors that I had personal relationships with, building over long period of time of dealing with them, just like, “Hey, man. What have you got to dump? What do you want to dump? Let’s figure this out, and we’ll get your name out there.” These people would never buy your whatever product, and I’m gonna go ahead and . . . Not necessarily consumable, but some kind of special . . .
Jeremy: [00:25:49] It’s like a cross-promotion, sort of.
Travis: [00:25:51] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
Jeremy: [00:25:53] Yeah. So what made you decide to do that? Now that seems obvious because it’s so popular with the Dollar Shave Club and all these other places, but then that wasn’t so obvious. What made you decide to start that subscription club?
Travis: [00:26:09] I think just . . . I’m just a genius, pretty much. No. I don’t know, man. We just stumbled onto it kind of when we were looking at segmentation. It might have been the segmentation, actually.
Jeremy: [00:26:20] Segmentation.
Travis: [00:26:21] It might have been. I really don’t know where it came from.
Jeremy: [00:26:22] I’m just wondering if it was like a . . . I know on your blog, you also talk about lifetime value. I don’t know if that was a lifetime value conversation, which led to a subscription or club, or maybe it was just kind of randomly came about, because I think oftentimes, we forget about this recurring revenue.
Travis: [00:26:44] Right. And increasing lifetime value. Absolutely, man. You’re keeping . . . That is a big part of it. I like to say that, yeah, I orchestrated it based on that. I didn’t even know what lifetime value was back then, hardly. It was like a report that was on some screen somewhere.
Jeremy: [00:26:59] At least you had it on some screen somewhere.
Travis: [00:27:02] Yeah. Yep. Totally. Yeah, yeah. I had some really robust reporting software that we used and hooked onto our order management system. It was customer lifetime value, the average customer lifetime value and how many times people were ordering. These things are kind of more on the top of people’s tongues now, marketers and people that are doing strategy, but four or five years ago, not so much.
Jeremy: [00:27:31] How do you price that? How do you price a subscription?
Travis: [00:27:36] We priced it based off of what we would want to see if we were a customer and if we checked it out. If we went, “You know what? You’re getting this much of this product and this and that,” three or four different products were being included. If you go and priced it out, you would see an incredible value. That’s what we wanted to give our customers. I built in . . . I built that for a couple reasons. I didn’t want people ever disconnecting from us, and I understood the value, the lifetime value of the customer, and really wanted to increase that and engage people and not have them bail out. I want them to like us. It really was not . . . That’s a pretty cheap way to make them like you. It’s a lot harder to go out and try to get new customers and keep these guys on board.
[00:28:17] Now the other thing is when you got a club, you can throw in stuff in each order, man. Throw in a leaflet, whatever, sale flyer, whatever. You know what they like. You know they like fiber. So hook them up. You know? Give them something [inaudible:00:28:32].
Jeremy: [00:28:31] What was the cost of the club? What was the cost at the time?
Travis: [00:28:35] Like $35 or something, I think, $35 a month, something like that.
Jeremy: [00:28:40] Yeah. So what else worked? The PLA, the email marketing segmenting, the subscriptions. What else did you find really, no pun intended, drilled the needle?
Travis: [00:28:53] Okay. So beyond that, figuring out ways for customers to stick to us, in general, once you start playing the game that way, with all the different channels you have . . . We tried eBay for a while. We tried Amazon. We did Amazon. eBay was definitely a different breed of customer.
Jeremy: [00:29:22] Really? Why?
Travis: [00:29:23] Tricky. I’ve heard this from a lot of other e-commerce gurus out there and retailers. I don’t know why.
Jeremy: [00:29:32] What is it? What [inaudible:00:29:33].
Travis: [00:29:32] Maybe they’re looking for used stuff. I don’t know. Man, they’re different. eBay customers are tough. I had so many nasty phone calls. It was depressing my staff. They’re like, “Oh, another eBay person.” I’m like, “No, that can’t be right. Really? Come on. We’re all upbeat, good pile of folks here. Don’t be getting down on the poor eBay people.” After a while, I got a couple calls too. “I didn’t get my stuff.” Dude, it says it’s delivered. This is your second time. Stop. Really? You give them a second load. They’re double-dipping, saying they didn’t get their stuff. There’s a lot of them, and you keep looking, and they’re all eBay. It’s so weird. A lot of angry . . . Oh, there’s one cent. They’re two cents off on the invoice or something weird. Who cares, really? It was weird. It was strange. It was always eBay. We ended up discontinuing eBay. I’m sure there’s . . . eBay is wonderful for a lot of people, but we had enough orders coming in through other channels, and it wasn’t really worth it, man. You know?
Jeremy: [00:30:27] So what platforms worked well? Amazon? How’d Amazon do?
Travis: [00:30:32] Amazon was good. It was great. It’s turn-and-burn. You’re not gonna make a ton of money. You’re paying out 15% after you take the merchant fee and everything. But realistically, you’re gonna pay 10% anyway, on average, if you’re healthy, with your marketing, plus another 2% or 3% for merchant processing. So it’s not that far off, really, but you’re not getting the branding. So that’s what kind of . . . That’s the biggest thing that I have . . .
Jeremy: [00:30:57] You don’t own the customer.
Travis: [00:30:59] No. You can put something in the order, but Amazon frowns on it. They’re not gonna catch you, but you can do that. It’s still not . . . It’s nothing like having to buy from your site. That’s part of the clubs and some of the other things to get people to stick to you. Once you’re able to . . . The different mechanisms that you have in place . . . If you can get people to come back and buy from you again and try your website again and get used to it, so they know it’s familiar, especially maybe an older customer base, those guys . . . They’re not super computer-savvy, maybe. They maybe even hate the computer. But if they’ve got this . . . You opened this channel for them, where they can really easily order the things that they normally like to buy. You created this pattern to get them to come back. One way we did that was a rewards system.
Jeremy: [00:31:46] Yeah, tell me about that. Yeah.
Travis: [00:31:48] A lot of people do it. A lot of people don’t do it well. There’s things that you can do. In the actual . . . In all the transactional emails and as part of your email marketing campaigns, you can throw in points in there and say, “Hey. You know what?” Maybe someone’s only bought one time from you. You’re gonna give them points on that order. So if you shoot out an email, even just the transactional, whatever, some kind of reminder, any kind of email that you can to them, that they’re gonna open, and you say, “You got points in there,” you’ve only got . . . Maybe you’ve got $5 in points. Maybe you got 40 cents in points. Who knows? But we’re finding that people were opening these emails and going . . . Especially talking to them on the phone . . . Our staff was very close at the shop, and we would all share what’s happening and, “Oh, hey. You know what? We’re getting these calls now after we implemented this process. I’ve got these points. I got to use these points.” You know?
[00:32:48] The customers didn’t want them to expire, and they would expire in 90 days or 120 days. So they’d have plenty of time to use them, depending on the recurring purchasing cycle of most of our customers. Typically, I think it was . . . We ended up around 120, which people didn’t get too upset about, where they would make multiple purchases in that period of time. That was a great way to get people coming back and keeping them engaged and kind of creating this excuse to come back, even just by a stupid tape measurer or something, but they’re going through the checkout process again. It’s familiar to them again. In an older client base, man, it’s super important. We found that was important.
Jeremy: [00:33:22] So Travis, what do you use to manage the rewards? Is there softwares that you recommend?
Travis: [00:33:29] Okay. So Magento Enterprise has rewards built in. I’m building it out for a client right now. We’re gonna try that out. I haven’t tried it before. Magento has their work cut out for them on finishing that, putting the frosting on the cake for sure. I’m kind of working with them right now to try to shore that up. You’re gonna have to have some custom development to make that work right. That’s the short version. Now, there’s Sweet tooth, which is great. Those guys, a terrific partner. I had a great relationship with them, where I’d even send them something that I thought was their extension goofing up Magento. Dude writes me back and says, “Hey. It’s not that, but it’s this from another vendor. Here’s how to fix it.” Just totally helping us out, getting us dialed in. It wasn’t anything to do with them. Instead of saying, “Hey, dude. You’re bugging me with something that’s not our problem. So go away,” he said, “No, no, no. Go here. This is how to fix it. It’s not us, but here. Let me just help you, dude.”
[00:34:30] Sweet Tooth was a really great partner, in that respect. Their software is terrific. Pretty much their whole suite I really liked, and it was highly integrated with Magento. It’s an extension. Actually I worked with Sweet Tooth, personally, to get them set up with Dot-Mailer. So I kind of put those guys together, which, again, building partnerships . . . I guess I haven’t mentioned that. Building partnerships has been a really big part of my e-commerce journey, and these relationships with vendors, whether it’s a tech vendor or with a supplier of product. It’s super important, man, to have those. So I called these guys up. I’m like, “Hey, Michael at Dot-Mailer. Let’s get this set up. I need to have this functionality working.” He’s like, “Dude, that’s a great idea. Yeah, let’s do it. Who are these guys? The Sweet Tooth guys?”
[00:35:16] So I called up Sweet Tooth, put them together, and we got, within . . . Both of those guys are really fast movers. Not all e-commerce tech companies are gonna do this for you. But within a month or so, we had this highly integrated system where we could present the rewards in the emails. That was a big turning point for us, again, where we just ramped up sales. Customers started sticking to us. So you get this momentum going as you’re . . . It sort of builds exponentially once people aren’t leaving. You know? You’re soliciting them properly with transactional emails and whatever else, and you’re putting the points in there. That was terrific. That was the integration that I worked on that with them.
Jeremy: [00:35:58] Yeah. So Travis, what else works? We have email marketing, the Magento subscriptions, rewards, partnerships. What else works to build it up to over $15,000 per day?
Travis: [00:36:14] Okay. So fast shipping. We did a really . . . We had a killer order management system, and we exploited it, just like we did with the rest of the software. Good old Nick Sanders and myself are kind of addicts for that. We love to just get in and figure out every last thing the software should do and exploit those things and see how we can use them even beyond where they’re supposed to be. So we pushed the order management system to a highly automated state where we were . . . We had some customizations even done to it too. So orders were just printing out as they come in every 15 minutes. There’s no processing or whatever, as long as the inventory is there. They’re just bombing out the printer, and our guys are running out and grabbing them.
[00:36:58] We had a countdown timer on the website, like Amazon does. Order in by, whatever, 2:30 PM or something, Pacific Time. It’s going out. Our guys there had . . . We had this great culture, man. They would be excited to try to get people’s orders out last-minute. Everybody’s trying to get that email back like, “How the heck did you guys get this order here? I just ordered it like 3:30 or 4:00, and I’m in Seattle, and I got it the next day. How did you guys do that? You’re like magicians. I love you guys.” You get a customer forever when you do that. You know? I kind of went over that. I try to build that into the culture there as much as I could, the excitement that I feel for that, personally, and kind of nurture my team with that kind of stuff. It was really rewarding for me, personally, when we were able to do that, and the team was doing those types of things and shipping things out super, super fast, just at Amazon speed.
Jeremy: [00:37:51] Right.
Travis: [00:37:52] Basically. You know? With a small crew, talking 15, 16 people.
Jeremy: [0:37:56] Right. So how did it . . . Tell me about the growth, staff-wise, initially, to a year in, five years in. When did you start hiring more and more people?
Travis: [00:38:10] Okay. Let’s see if I can remember. So 2005 to like 2007, it was like Nick and me and girlfriends and stuff, helping out.
Jeremy: [00:38:24] Yeah, because you’re working until like 3:00 in the morning. You know?
Travis: [00:38:28] Well, initially we were. That was just maybe the first couple of weeks. We had some serious late nights like that. We were really excited, trying to figure this software out and get these products moved over, kind of racing against time. We still . . . Even at that early stage, we understood speed of market. As soon as we go the stuff up, then we could start selling it and move . . . If it’s not up, man, you’re dead in the water. You’re not gonna sell it. So we tried to get off that bad platform as fast as we could, Nick and I. Then really, I was doing the books initially and shipping, with a headset on. I’m taking orders as I’m picking . . . I’m taking an order as I’m picking an order or maybe as I’m using a tape gun, hitting “mute.” That was happening, man. We had these great little headsets. That was me. The initial crew was myself and my wife, Sara. She was really instrumental in helping out. She was one of the first real employees there, besides Nick.
Jeremy: [00:39:33] Now Sara’s an email ninja also.
Travis: [00:39:35] She is. Yeah, she’s great, man. She’s been my consigliore forever. She knows a ton about e-commerce, but her skill set is more with the marketing, email marketing, and sort of email marketing design, stuff like that. But from that, we grew into . . . We finally hired a bookkeeper. That was huge. As time went on, hired shipper. All of a sudden, I’m not shipping anymore. I couldn’t believe it. We’re all in a very tight, confined . . . We’re in a big warehouse, but we’re in maybe 20 square feet. So shipping guy is listening to me talking with customers. This guy had been . . . He ended up staying with us for five . . . He was . . . Yeah, 2009 or 2010, he came on. So I think he was with us five years. Yeah. That’s good old Kyle Bickly [SP]. He ended up basically . . . He learned how to sell and learned how to talk to customers. He had no previous experience in customer service or e-commerce or whatever. Well, he just heard me talking to all the customers and how I addressed them. He was like, “Man, you just talk to them like they’re your best friend.”
Jeremy: [00:40:44] Right.
Travis: [00:40:45] You’re just loving on them, man. I’m like, “Why wouldn’t you? Is that weird to you?” He figured that out and kind of got that. It was interesting how that kind of . . . We bounced that off each other a little bit. I didn’t really realize it as much. So he learned that from me, and he kind of . . . We all kind of adopted that sort of through the years after that, when we started hiring a lot of people, post-2010, when Magento really started taking off for us, and we started hiring a ton of people and really growing fast. Then we had to really be careful of how are we presenting ourselves, how are we handling customers. Yeah, man. We were hanging out all the time. We’re taking camping trips together. We’d go have drinks after work, probably two or three nights a week, at least. Friday after work, pinball machine upstairs. We’re all hanging out, talking about work like a bunch of nerds, just, “Oh, wait. We can do this. Let’s do that on the site. This and that. You know this customer? Oh, yeah. She needs that.” We were into it, man.
Jeremy: [00:41:46] You were living it.
Travis: [00:41:47] Living it. Yeah.
Jeremy: [00:41:49] So bookkeeper, shipper. What was the next round of hires?
Travis: [00:41:53] Receiving. That’s a big one. All of a sudden . . . You don’t think receiving is really a job when you’re that small. Right? It’s like a couple blocks to come in, whatever, but they start stacking up and doing it right and then, “Wait. Oh, you’re stickering stuff now,” because a lot of the stuff is intangible. So how do you deal with it? That’s another common problem I find with a lot of online retailers. They won’t be able to quantify what they’re selling. Those kind of businesses are great. Those kind of product lines are great because Amazon has a lot of trouble with that. So you buy yourself some time from them, swallowing you alive. They can’t really compete with you if you’ve got this kind of product. So animal hair thing . . .
[00:42:37] So we’re . . . If you have a way to quantify that as it shows up and sticker it properly and/or repackage it or whatever you’ve got to do, that’s really helpful. That’s one of the things that we started doing, is stickering everything in the store, so that when we’re shipping it, we could scan it into the box and really quantify it, tighten up our whole workflow.
Jeremy: [00:43:00] Yeah. What systems that you created did you find were super important, that most people may have overlooked? It sounds like every step . . . You started systemizing everything. Like when it’d come in, you’d sticker it. You kind of put it away so that when the order went out, you could scan it and keep track of everything. What was that workflow look like that made it so efficient?
Travis: [00:43:30] Okay. So that workflow was based on the order management system we were using, basically. That’s how . . . The whole entire road map was built around that. Once we had . . . Creating location codes and having a . . . Being able to actually walk through and pick orders with a path, an order pick path, was great. That was another part of that sort of system. I’m not sure if I answered your question there.
Jeremy: [00:43:59] Yeah. Yeah. Just generally, I was curious. Then what caused the fast growth in 2010? You said that you were hiring a bunch of people.
Travis: [00:44:08] Magento. Okay. So I’m gonna tell you right now. Magento is not for the meek. There’s a lot of hobbyists playing around with Magento out there, with Magento CE. Some get lucky and keep it simple. Whatever. There’s a lot of people that are hosting Magento CE improperly, goofing around with it. It’s a nightmare, and they can’t get it to work. So it gets kind of this bad rap. Maybe it’s loading slow. Whatever. Magento Enterprise is also a very dangerous beast. It’s like . . . I say it’s like riding a pissed off dragon. It can slay your competition, or it can eat you alive. That’s really true.
[00:44:55] Our first year in doing Magento, me, being full of myself and being really ambitious . . . I’m not a developer. I decided, “You know what? We’re gonna switch it to Magento, from Volution.” Well, Volution is a hosted solution. Those guys have training wheels. They’re gonna hold your hand. They’re gonna tell you you did a good job. It’s great. It’s easy. You get kind of comfortable when you’re making money, and things are going great. You’re like, “This new Magento thing, it’ll do everything, man. It’ll do everything. Let’s switch to it. Yeah. Wait.” It’s not hosted by them. How does that work? Well, you go get hosting.
Jeremy: [00:45:30] Famous last words.
Travis: [00:45:32] You go and get hosting somewhere, and you go and get . . . You know what? I am really smart. I’m a smart shopper. I’m gonna go get the cheapest hosting I can find. So we do that. We go get this cheap hosting. I’m not gonna mention the company. It was awful. We didn’t realize why it was awful. We also did something that was nightmarish, and I need to share this so no one else does this. We did something. We did a migration from Volution to Magento, with this sort of cart transfer thing. Did not work, at all. It sprayed our Magento installation data fields with just crap, and it was very difficult to recover from that. The website really had a hard time for . . . We had an awful time trying to recover from that. We had like nine months of big trouble, as we’re launching Magento. We figured out how bad it was, and we had already gone live. We were in trouble.
[00:46:34] We had this huge . . . There was a big dip in 2010-ish, somewhere around there, where we were switching to Magento. We had been kicking butt for every year on Volution. We switched to Magento, and it’s nose-diving, man. Everybody was really concerned. I’m concerned. I’m working around the clock, trying to fix it, figure it out. We ended up switching hosts, got some professional help, and figured out what was wrong with our Magento installation and figured out . . . Really took the time to figure out how it works right again. You’re an entrepreneur. You’re gonna make mistakes, man. I was really just too ambitious, and we got goofed up.
[00:47:12] After, say, nine months or so, we got with some people that could help us, and we pulled this thing out of a tail spin, and it just soared. We started kicking butt. We got our rank back. We figured out what our customers wanted to see on . . . We got our pages set up in a way that our customers were excited to shop it. They could find what they needed, finally, much, much better. It wasn’t as good as Volution. It kicked the crap out of Volution at that point. It was a totally different shopping experience. We were able to present banners when we wanted to, on a schedule, coordinate that with our other sales or the same sale banner that we’d have on our re-marketing campaigns and our AdWords or wherever else we’re presenting stuff. So you’re coordinating all your marketing efforts all of a sudden. Then, wait, you’re tying it into your other third-party stuff. So you can do segmentation, like your ESPs, and presenting all the information to your customers now and really heightening your retention, heightening your engagement in all these different areas.
[00:48:17] Within a year or two, we saw . . . Finally launching Magento, I guess, was probably a year and a half, total, before we saw this thing just rocket ship, and we were really excited about it. There was no turning back at that . . . no looking back at that point, essentially.
Jeremy: [00:48:34] So Travis, would you have, in retrospect, hired a special developer to do that? Or what would you have done differently?
Travis: [00:48:40] Yes. Yes. Oh, retrospect is hard, man. We would have been way ahead. I said, “These guys want $60,000. I’m not making money like that. Why are they making money like that?” Well, there’s a reason. They know what they’re doing. You know? Now I’m teamed up with a lot of these guys, and I have a lot of the information now that I didn’t have then, of course. So I’m in a different boat than I was then. I know what mistakes we made, and I offered a lot of that counseling to people that are starting up with Magento, that I go through and consult with and help them get set up, even if I don’t do the whole build-out for them with my team or with my third-party developer. I’m giving them at least the road map of how this thing should go and what they should concentrate on.
Jeremy: [00:49:25] Yeah, what to expect. Yeah. So what were sales like on Volution and then after Volution, when you were soaring with Magento?
Travis: [00:49:35] Short version is like, “Oh, we had a 100-order day today. Yay. We had 100 orders. How are we gonna get them out? Oh, yeah.” Then all of a sudden, we’re into, a year and a half later, we’re doing 200 orders, double, in a couple of years, in that span. There were times that we’re doing 600 or 700 orders a day. Then you add in your club. Oh, wait. We’re doing a club. We’re processing 200, 300 orders for the club that day. So it’s just really incredible boost with Magento, for sure.
Jeremy: [00:50:10] Do you remember one of those big days where you celebrated? It was like a $10,000 day or $15,000 day.
Travis: [00:50:17] More than that. We had an $85,000 day.
Jeremy: [00:50:19] Wow. So tell me about that day.
Travis: [00:50:22] I still have the screenshot. I got the screenshot on my phone, man. That was a couple years ago, Christmas. Was it Christmas? No, it was end of the year. We did a huge end-of-the-year sale, and it was basically . . . It was this idea we had that we could implement with Magento. You’re gonna be . . . I’ll throw it out there because a lot of people . . . If you got Magento, this is a great thing to do. If you don’t have Magento, you can cry in your beer over this because you probably can’t do it. But the last couple of days of the year, we got to close out this merchandise. Right? After a while, in retail, online retail and retail, you figure out you don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of extra merch at the end of the year because of taxes. Right? Everybody knows that. So the last three or four days or pretty much the last week, we did like 10%. Then next day is 15% off. Next day is 20%. Next day is 25% and then 30% and then 35%, something like that, in the last day.
[00:51:17] We let everybody know ahead of time, “Hey, man. If you want something, kind of keep an eye out because the selection is going down, and we’re not getting more. If you need . . . Next month, if you need more of this stuff, we’re not gonna have it because everybody’s out. All of our suppliers are out. So if you need to get this, you’ll probably get it now. Get it at the 10% off if you know you got to have it. If you want to gamble, wait until tomorrow. See what happens. 15%. Maybe the next day, 20%. Right? Go ahead. Gamble. See if it’s still gonna be there, but it might not.”
[00:51:45] We had a lot of sales at the 10%. They kept gradually increasing. The last day, I think, was 35% or something. It was insane. I came into work at 5:00, which is not abnormal. I opened up my computer, looked, and it was like . . . It went from nothing to maybe . . . 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, it starts going. I’m like, “Really?” Right? Right as I got to work at 5:00, it’s at . . . I’m at like 80 orders an hour.
Jeremy: [00:52:17] Wow.
Travis: [00:52:18] That’s a ton for us. The website is still . . . It’s making it happen, man. You know? Magento is doing great. We hosted with Nexus, who’s a great partner. I highly recommend those guys. So we didn’t crash or anything. We’re just rocking. I took a screenshot on my phone real quick and texted that to everybody else. They’re like, “You’re lying. You Photoshopped that, man.” Oh, no. It’s happening, dude, 80 orders an hour. Get in here right now. Somebody go to Einstein’s and get some bagels. Team, get in here right now. We got to do this, man. Let’s rock. They are stacking up, dude. We’ve got . . . We had . . . We stayed down there until 9:00 or 10:00 that night, at least, and came back again at 5:00 the next morning, cranking them out.
Jeremy: [00:53:01] Yeah. We’ll go into some of the Magento versus Shopify versus Big Commerce a little bit later, for anyone who feels like, “Well, what if I don’t use Magento? What else is out there?” So we’ll talk about that. But talk about some more of the mistakes, Travis. So you . . . We talk about the transition to Magento. What else didn’t work on this upward trajectory?
Travis: [00:53:31] Oh, yeah. Okay. I’ve got a good one for you. There was another ESP. They will remain nameless. Their rumor on the Internet was they had a better legal team than development team. I found that out. They didn’t sue me, but these guys were . . .
Jeremy: [00:53:54] Another email provider?
Travis: [00:53:57] Email service provider, sorry, ESP, email service provider. These guys . . . They’re basically a fraud. I figured that I dealt with Bronto before, and I’m like, “Hey. These guys are a little cheaper. Whatever. They’ve got some integration. They’re talking the talk. They have this huge feature list.” I didn’t do my research. I didn’t look them up online and look at their reviews. I’m too busy rocking at the business, and everything was going great. I said, “You know what? I spent a lot of money on Bronto.” I love Bronto, and I really feel bad to say this, but I was spending a lot of money on them. I was weak. I had a weak moment, and I went and tried these guys out. It was a nightmare. We lost so much money. We spent three or four months with poor email campaigns. They weren’t converting. Stuff was going to spam. It was a nightmare trying to figure out how to . . . Just creating the emails was awful. The [inaudible:00:54:51] they set up for us was terrible, and it didn’t work. We were on the phone with support the whole time. They couldn’t ever get it integrated with Magento. This was when we were first starting to integrate. It’s got to be in 2011 or ’12.
[00:55:02] We were just integrating, trying to figure out an ESP to integrate really well with Magento. They sucked me in with that. They said they could integrate with Magento. It wasn’t done. They’re doing it for us. They’re like, “Oh, we got somebody to bid on that.” So now they’re trying us out as their guinea pig. Not cool, man. So we made a huge mistake there. That was a big mistake that I made. We went crying back to Bronto. Lindsay at Bronto was gracious, took me back, and made it all right. They actually worked really hard and got their integration going shortly after, and we were one of their first clients to kind of pioneer that with those guys.
Jeremy: [00:55:39] Is that company still around, the other one that was a nightmare?
Travis: [00:55:45] They’ve changed their name twice since then.
Jeremy: [00:55:47] Really?
Travis: [00:55:48] Wonder why. It was awful. Yeah, I let them have it, man. I looked online, and I saw all these other people’s reviews, and I let them have it for all those other people too. I saw the reviews they’re leaving. They’re like, “We’re scared. We’re just gonna let our contract run out because their legal team is threatening us.” Really, dude? That’s what you’re gonna do to your customers? People are gonna talk. You know? I wish I would have saw those reviews before I signed up, but that’s why, I guess, they changed their name a couple times.
Jeremy: [00:56:13] Right. Since you can’t mention the name of the company, is there a website that people should check out reviews for these type of companies?
Travis: [00:56:23] I’m sure you can find one. Just look at email service provider review. But if you search the company name and search review and just common sense Google search it, it’s something a lot of people don’t do, and you really need to do that, especially these days with so many third parties out there of various levels of integrity.
Jeremy: [00:56:41] Yeah. What are some of the popular ones? Bronto. You said Dot-Mailer. Are there any other popular ones out there that people are using?
Travis: [00:56:49] Yeah. Let’s see what else. List Track is good. Those guys are too rich for my blood, but if you have . . . If you don’t . . . I try to have my clients be honest with themselves about where they’re at, what they’re good at. If you’re not good at email marketing, and you don’t know what you’re doing, admit it. You’re gonna make more money if that’s what you’re about. If you really want to try to learn email marketing, go for it. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, admit it to yourself and get some help. List Track will do that. They’ll just throw it out there for you. They’ll figure out what your clients want, do some AB testing, put together all the emails for you. They’ve got like full white-glove service. Right?
Jeremy: [00:57:28] Oh, wow.
Travis: [00:57:28] Dot-Mailer and Bronto aren’t quite that way. They’ll give you some training, best practices out of the gate and some articles, and then they’ll . . . If you want to pay extra, they can hold your hand through it. Not white glove. They’re not gonna create the emails for you, necessarily, or anything, but they’ll really give you a lot of good training if you want to pay for their consulting package. List Track does all of it for you. They’ll just handle it, which is really cool. For some clients, I’ve recommended that a few times, actually. It’s expensive, but they’ll do it all for you. It’ll make you a lot of money, especially if you’re doing $10 million, $20 million. You’ve got a really huge customer base. Just do that. It’s great.
Jeremy: [00:58:08] Any others out there, Bronto-equivalent or Dot-Mailer-equivalent?
Travis: [00:58:13] Oh, I’m sure they’re out there. I haven’t tried them, personally.
Jeremy: [00:58:16] Okay.
Travis: [00:58:16] Yeah, I can’t really speak to that.
Jeremy: [00:58:18] Or any competitors to List Track that you have heard people do well with?
Travis: [00:58:26] I think List Track is the big one, man.
Jeremy: [00:58:28] That’s the big one.
Travis: [00:58:29] Yeah. I don’t know.
Jeremy: [00:58:31] So what about phone systems? Do you have recommendations for phone systems to help people keep track of orders or customers or any specific recommendations on that?
Travis: [00:58:45] Yeah, actually. We got involved with the CRM system for Kayako, from Kayako, K-A-Y-A-K-O. Those guys are great. That was a huge deal for us too. I should’ve mentioned that earlier, of things that were kind of game-changers for us.
Jeremy: [00:59:05] Yeah.
Travis: [00:59:06] But when your team is getting back to people right away . . . This is a team thing. This isn’t a software thing. The software’s a tool, man. You’re gonna have to have your team excited about getting back to people right away, especially when they’re problem customers and stuff, because they’re coming, man. You’re always gonna have problem customers. You’re gonna have people that had a bad day, whatever. It could be a gloomy thing. You know? Customer service. Your CSRs are going to have to conquer that, and you got to keep pepping them up and keeping them excited. You give them that tool, like Kayako, where it’s going to . . . You’ve got this . . . Email’s essentially . . . It’s like Zen Desk or anything else. Your emails are coming in fast. They’re stacking up. You got to triage them, send them to the right people to get . . . Is it a tech thing? Okay. Send it to our spinning wheel guy. He’ll fix you up. Whatever. Or if it’s just like, “Hey. Where’s my order?” Get in there. Copy a tracking number and shoot it off. Whatever. But answering those, having a system where you can really quickly answer CRM tickets fast is really important.
Jeremy: [01:00:07] So that’s the system you guys use, the Kayako. Yeah.
Travis: [01:00:11] Right. Right. That was a good one. Zen Desk was great too. We toyed with that for a while, but we didn’t end up doing it. What’s cool is when we started with Kayako, those guys grandfathered us in. We had a . . . We installed on our server. Nick, my super nerd, he put that all together and got that just chiming. So we didn’t have to pay for a sass model when they switched over, when all these guys are switched over to SaaS model now. A lot of it’s worth it because you’re gonna help the guys develop the software with the SaaS model. That’s great. You got to respect that. But at the same time, when you get it installed on your server, and it’s an older version, it just works killer. Why not just keep it?
Jeremy: [01:00:49] Yeah. So any other big mistakes you wish you would’ve avoided? So we have the Magento, initially, transfer and then the email, transferring the email. Any other big ones that you felt set you back?
Travis: [01:01:08] Yeah, there’s a segue here. Okay. So why am I not in e-commerce right now? Why am I consulting right now? Why am I consulting? Well, actually, I was consulting before, when I was still running Paradise Fibers. I had a lot of friends in the industry, in that industry, in the yarn and needle craft and beyond, friends that had other e-commerce businesses I met at conferences or whatever. They’d ask my advice. They’re like, “Travis, what’s going on with . . . What should we do here or there?” I would just give it away for free, which is great. They’re friends and whatever, and I want to help them out. I really enjoyed it though. I’d get really long-winded and kind of not really necessarily long-winded, but . . .
Jeremy: [01:01:54] You geek out on e-commerce stuff.
Travis: [01:01:57] It was called Travis-ing on them. That’s what they would call it. I would just get so into their thing. I’m over-explaining it and getting it on such a detailed level.
Jeremy: [01:02:07] Granular level.
Travis: [01:02:08] Exactly. Granular level. Getting into their project more than they even wanted to get into it, really. They’re like, “Man, that’s a lot of work. You’re gonna have to do all that work. Won’t you?” I’m like, “Yeah, dude. Go do it. Make it happen. Aren’t you excited? This is your business, man.” A lot of people I was able to get excited about their business, which was fun for me to make this really positive change for these people. A lot of these people I’m still friends with now, from the needle-craft industry. I actually consult with some of them currently, some of those relationships.
[01:02:44] So why am I not in e-commerce now? I am the victim of a hostile takeover. Yeah. The strange thing is it was from my father, who was my partner. One day, I go to a meeting where I thought I was buying him out, and I ended up walking out of there without a business, 55% owner, and I walked out of there, and I wasn’t allowed to come back to the building, and that was it. So my mistake there was signing a contract in the middle of processing orders and everything else, and my dad’s going, “Hey. Sign this contract. Sign this contract.” I go, “Dude, I’m busy. I’m working, man. I got stuff to do. We’re getting out orders. I’m making this business rock.” This is in 2008. This is in our kind of early growth.
[01:03:33] He said, “Oh, we’ve got to be a corporation. We’ve got to lock this down.” Sure, dude. How about let’s make some money? Let’s figure this out. Let’s get our business together. So after a lot of badgering, I went, and I signed this thing. I’m like, “Okay. Where’s it at, man? Let me sign this thing.” He goes, “Aren’t you gonna look it over?” I’m like, “Dude, you’re my dad. What are you having me sign here? Come on. Whatever. If I’m not here, I’ve got us this far. If I’m not here, we got nothing. This place is gonna fall apart, man, if I walk out the door. Right? So I don’t want to walk out the door. You’re not gonna have me sign something awful.”
[01:04:08] So I signed my life away, signed my business away actually, literally, in 2008, under the guise that I was still 55% owner. I put my heart and soul and 60 to 80-hour weeks and my wife working insane hours along with me for seven or eight years as well. All of a sudden, it all came to an abrupt stop. We had to . . . My wife was escorted out of the building with some cop, of our building that I owned at the time even, and I went to a meeting to buy him out. We’re getting a check for him and this and that. They said, “Actually we got you, sucker. We got this thing, and you’re fired. You’re out. You’re no longer on the board of directors. You can’t come back to the building. You can’t talk to the employees. You can’t do anything.”
Jeremy: [01:04:56] That’s crazy.
Travis: [01:04:56] It was crazy, man. It was crazy. I could talk about it now, but it was a huge boon in my life. That was a huge change for us. We fought in court, and we just ran out of money and couldn’t fight anymore. Possession is definitely nine-tenths of the law, and these guys had a plan. They wanted to take our business from us, and they did it. It’s pretty ugly.
Jeremy: [01:05:23] Who would’ve thought that? Yeah, especially if it’s your own family.
Travis: [01:05:28] Yeah, it’s an ugly thing. But anyway, it’s interesting though because it’s opened this whole new chapter for me because . . . Well, hey. You know what? Most people that . . . There’s a lot of consultants out there in digital agencies. You look at their resumes. None of them have any real experience. They might have a couple experience little . . . maybe a couple years, and they flopped. Nobody’s got 10 years of successful e-commerce experience under their belt. So I kind of tote that around a little bit, and I’m proud of it.
Jeremy: [01:06:03] It’s very true, actually. I was having this conversation with Chad. We were talking. He’s the founder of Skubana and has his own e-commerce business that I like to . . . We like to have people on who have done it before. You know? Who speak from experience.
Travis: [01:06:25] Yeah, there’s nothing like it, man. You can read about it. You can go take a course, whatever. You can prep as much as you want. but if you haven’t done it and lived it and had to deal with all the crap and managing all these employees and getting your fingers dirty, man . . .
Jeremy: [01:06:41] So the curiosity interviewer side of me wants to ask questions about that, but I know it’s a sensitive topic. So I’m not going to, because it’s tough on so many levels, not just a business level, but on a personal level, when that happens, and it’s either a friend or family. But instead, I’ll ask about your wife. Tell me the influence and . . . She was there through the whole boom and building up Paradise Fibers and then also in Sharp Commerce. Tell me about her support and skill in e-commerce and what she did.
Travis: [01:07:23] Okay. Well, she . . .
Jeremy: [01:07:25] We’ll go on a positive note instead of going down the negative route.
Travis: [01:07:30] That’s right. My wife, Sara, is amazing, and she’s been a great partner. Essentially she was . . . My father at the shop was hardly ever present, and I’m not gonna go into beating that horse, but mentally or physically wasn’t present. My wife, from the early days, gave me a lot of inspiration that, “Hey. We’re gonna make something out of this. This is gonna be awesome.” She was actually a knitting instructor at the store, didn’t have any experience at all, and she’s going to all these national classes in LA and wherever, where she’s learning all these techniques. She’s bringing them back to Spokane and teaching all the ladies here, teaching the instructors here. So that was kind of cool. She got into it, man. She’s making all these sweaters and stuff, and her friends are making fun of her like, “What are you . . . You’re an old lady, knitting now.” You know? She’s 35 years old at the time, 36 or something. She looks really young too and hangs out with a lot of younger folks.
[01:08:26] So anyway, she’s been a really . . . She’s been kind of the backbone for me through this whole thing. She’s a great woman. So as far as her responsibilities at the shop, she did all the email marketing, worked directly with Dot-Mailer towards the end, a lot, the last three . . . We had them for the last three years there, something like that, and designed all the email campaigns, did all the clubs for us. That was a huge deal. She was into it. She knew what a lot of . . . I think I know what the customers want. She was like, “Travis, I don’t think it’s gonna fly, dude.” Once in a while . . .
Jeremy: [01:09:03] She knew what the customers . . . kind of what they’re thinking and what they wanted to hear and what would work and what wouldn’t work.
Travis: [01:09:11] She’s one of them.
Jeremy: [01:09:12] Yeah.
Travis: [01:09:13] She’s an addict, along with the rest of these girls, knitting and spinning fiber and stuff. She learned how to spin. Of course, I was spinning too at the time. That was what I liked to do. I would teach customers in the store how to spin, whatever. It was kind of strange, but I loved it. It was great. It was the best part of my day, go spin with the customer for 20 minutes.
Jeremy: [01:09:30] Some people do yoga, and you spin. Yeah.
Travis: [01:09:32] It’s relaxing, man. It’s weird. I don’t know if you . . . If you get a chance, try it. It’s fun.
Jeremy: [01:09:38] So what are the biggest mistakes you see? Obviously with Sharp Commerce, you’re now consulting a lot of big e-commerce businesses. What are the biggest mistakes that you’re seeing?
Travis: [01:09:52] Okay. I’ve got one right now that’s just insane. There’s somebody here in Spokane, even in my town, that is . . . I’m not consulting for them right now. I have done some discovery sessions with them, early on, and they don’t have an ESP. They’re doing $13 million a year. They don’t have any email marketing program.
Jeremy: [01:10:20] They don’t email anything. Nothing.
Travis: [01:10:22] You can’t believe it. It’s like it’s not real.
Jeremy: [01:10:26] What do you tell them?
Travis: You guys are . . .Well, I told my friend who works there. I was like, “Hey, man. Look. You guys are missing out on a few million bucks a year, at least, depending on how well you’re gonna engage your group.” I don’t know . . . Depending on how that particular category performs . . . All the categories are different. They’re gonna . . . Depending on what you’re selling, there’s different . . .
Jeremy: [01:10:49] I mean come on. Let’s be honest. You’re doing needle craft.
Travis: [01:10:50] Demographics. It’s a weird niche.
Jeremy: [01:10:53] So if you can successfully email needle-craft subscriptions, no one has any excuse.
Travis: [01:11:02] Thank you. Yeah. I kind of . . .
Jeremy: [01:11:04] That’s what you should use.
Travis: [01:11:07] That’s pretty good. I’m gonna use that. Yeah. That’s a big shocker for me. They still don’t have one right now. I know that for a fact. That’s so strange. I’ve tried to convince them to get it. They’re not interested. It’s on their road map.
Jeremy: [01:11:21] They’re not interested. Really?
Travis: [01:11:23] It’s on their road map.
Jeremy: [01:11:24] So what’s your profile of Paradise Fibers? What’s the customer profile like? Above-50-year-old female? What’s . . .
Travis: [01:11:35] 45 to 65, crazy cat lady kind of thing.
Jeremy: [01:11:40] Yeah.
Travis: [01:11:41] They’ll crack up. Some of my customers will probably see this, and they’ll be going, “Travis.” That’s what it is, man. Yeah, that’s 45, 65, affluent, semi-affluent females, for the most part, but there’s dudes that do it too.
Jeremy: [01:11:55] I say that because . . . I don’t know. If those people are opening emails and reading emails and responding to emails, then I can . . . I don’t know what that person’s business is, but I can imagine they do probably check their email.
Travis: [01:12:12] Oh, yeah. No. The thing is, too, like I said earlier, if you respect your audience and you give these people good stuff, and you put in a subject line and a followup under your subject line, something really good, the first sentence of your email is basically email marketing stuff. You make sure that doesn’t say, “If you can’t view this email, click here.” That’s not interesting. Make sure you put something good underneath your subject line or the first line in the head of your email. So that pops up on a preview on your phone or in your Outlook. A little tip there that’ll make you money.
Jeremy: [01:12:44] Direct-response marketing, 101. Yeah.
Travis: [01:12:47] It’s stupid stuff like that, that people don’t get. There’s some ESPs out there that, even three or four years ago, that I was looking at, big ESPs, ESPs that are doing work for Walmart and stuff. These guys are . . . They didn’t have . . . I was checking them out, and they didn’t have that particular feature. It wasn’t available in the template. You had to get it custom-made. I’m like . . . This is like a best practice, man. You can’t do it out of the box with your super expensive platform. It’s very strange.
Jeremy: [01:13:17] So that person, that client, does not use email at all. What other big mistakes are e-commerce businesses making?
Travis: [01:13:28] Oh, boy. Okay. So here’s a good one. It’s kind of a broad topic. But in general, people . . . A lot of e-commerce shop owners are like, “I’m paying too much for my AdWords or my pay-per-click or my PLAs, whatever. I’m not gonna use that. I’m not doing that. There’s other big guys out there that are gonna . . . that can out-bid me. I’m not gonna do it. I’m putting my foot down.” You know? I hear these guys saying this stuff, and I’m like, “Okay. What are you doing to make the most of those . . . When you’re doing it, what’s your return rate for your customers? What’s your customer lifetime value? How many times are these guys gonna order from you after you initially get them?”
Jeremy: [01:14:12] Yeah.
Travis: [01:14:13] What? I don’t . . . How do you . . . What? Huh? I’m like, “Okay. So all you’re seeing . . . You’re just looking at the short game, and you’re probably not playing the long game or looking at the long game at all.” You roll that out to a customer and say, “Look.” That’s when I’ll come in, and I’ll evaluate and say, “Look. Our customer is really sticking to you. Are you getting that second and third order? What are you doing to market to them again in the future, keep them on board?” You can make the most of your pay-per-click, really, with doing rewards, things like that, engaging emails, and doing . . . Actually providing the rewards in the email is a great way to get your second sale, no matter what, because they don’t want to let that money go. But guess what? They get another reward when they buy their second sale. So hit them with their third or fourth sale. Maybe they’re like, “I’m not playing that game anymore. They got me.” Right? Or maybe they’re not.
[01:15:07] Maybe they’re like, “Hey. I like these guys. I’m gonna keep buying stuff from them, especially if it’s consumables.” That’s something else you got to figure out. Are you a one-time shop? Or maybe some accessories you can sell them after your one-time big purchase. Excuse me. Or are you somebody who’s selling filters or printer cartridges, where it’s a consumable, and that’s a different type of thing? You can put them on a recurring billing structure, and they’re much more apt to . . . You know they’ve got to get this thing again.
Jeremy: [01:15:36] Yeah.
Travis: [01:15:36] Whatever supplies they need. So it’s a lot easier to keep those kind of guys engaged for PLAs and stuff like that.
Jeremy: [01:15:43] So you find people are looking at just that front-end sale. They’re not really seeing past that, and they’re not looking at . . .They’re tracking the statistics to if that person’s buying again and what the lifetime value is.
Travis: [01:15:57] Right. I actually read an article on attribution today. This guy’s talking about how to actually measure all this stuff. So I never really . . . When I was doing e-commerce, I didn’t . . . There’s so many things going on. I just knew. I kept an eye on what was filling my bank account with money and what was making customers happy. So there’s gonna be crossover between some of these things, especially with the different programs incentivizing things, whether you’re giving points for Facebook likes or reviews or different things like that, but there’s gonna be some loss there, where you’re giving away too much on either coupons, or you’re spending too much on AdWords or whatever else is costing you to get these customers. Just make sure that you actually have a plan where you’re actually trying to get . . . trying to keep them on board, trying to get them to stick to you and go through the motions of look at this thing with a fresh perspective and say, “Would I shop with me? Really? What are you doing to keep me coming back?”
Jeremy: [01:07:03] So how do you keep track of that stuff from, I guess . . . Can you walk people through an ideal scenario, maybe hitting an AdWords ad, to you send them to a piece of content or to a product page, to buying? What does that ideal scenario look like?
Travis: [01:17:22] There’s no easy recipe for that. Dude with attribution article today . . . They’re selling a service. They’ll do it. So you plug that into your AdWords. You plug it into all these different systems. Then you say, “Okay. So this customer, order number whatever,” and you . . . They tag that to all these different channels and activities that you’re doing, email marketing, AdWords [inaudible:01:17:47].\
Jeremy: [01:17:46] Yeah, I’m sure there’s a way to do it manually somehow with . . .
Travis: [01:17:50] It’s not worth it, dude. It can be when you’re at a really high level, when you’ve hit market saturation. I have almost no customers that have hit market saturation. They may think they have. They’re plateauing. They’re just making excuses. They haven’t really done all the . . . Everything that they can do . . . There’s always more initiatives, man. That’s kind of one thing my team excels at, is finding new ways to find low-hanging fruit.
Jeremy: [01:18:14] Yeah. So can you talk about one of those times when someone came to you, and they’re like, “Travis, I’m at a plateau. What do I do?” What advice did you give them?
Travis: [01:18:22] Got a lot. A recent one, a guy who sells vitamins. I don’t know if he’s implemented this, but he didn’t actually sign up with me, but I gave him some free advice. He was super excited. I’m assuming he’s doing it now. He said he was. He’s got a recurring billing thing for his vitamins. Right? Pills are great. I don’t have a lot of experience in that industry. This is the first time I’ve had a pill client or vitamin client or whatever, but I see it as a consumable. Right? So he’s got this recurring billing thing. Well, you can check here if you want to get more, keep them coming to you. I’m like, “Dude, I don’t know. How’s it working for you?” Because it kind of traps them in there. I don’t want to get trapped in to just having pills showing up. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t need them, and I’m stacking up. Or what if I want to cancel my program or whatever? It was just clumsy. It was like you check a box, and you’re just gonna get auto-ships forever. It was like this doesn’t seem intuitive. How’s it working? 1%. 1%.
[01:19:22] I was like, “That’s not working, dude. That should be better.” So if I were . . . I’m looking at it in a different way. So all right. Let’s do this. Let’s do . . . After they put it in their cart, you know they want it. Right? You can put a little incentive, if you need to, on the page, on the product page, saying, “Hey. Save blah, blah, blah by putting this . . . Put it in your cart, and something magical is gonna happen on the next screen,” however you want to present it. You get to your next screen, and you’ve got this little pop-up or banner or something. Magento is great about that kind of stuff. If you’ve got this in your cart or even this type of product in your cart, or if this attribute equals this, whatever, you can pop up a little banner and solicit people for stuff. You can say, “Hey. You know what? Do you want this shipped to your house every whatever?” You can pick how often you want it shipped, whatever. You can have some defaults there, and they can adjust them. You can say, “You know what? Do this, and we’ll give you 10% off your order today.” He’s like, “Dude, that sounds great. I’ll do that. Yeah, this is awesome,” and he did say, “Dude,” actually. I love clients that say “dude,” like me. I have a problem with that. Sorry. I’m from California. I get a pass. Right? Maybe?
[01:20:29] But that . . . Anyway, that was a really . . . He really liked it, and I think that was . . . He was actually switching over. I tried to get him to switch to Magento. He switched in Shopify.
Jeremy: [01:20:41] What was he using before?
Travis: [01:20:42] Some ASP cart or something that was really limited, and he had a lot of trouble with it. That’s why he thought he was plateauing. The guy . . . Really great guy, younger guy. He didn’t have a lot of experience and just didn’t quite have the budget to hire us, man. So I just kind of gave him a couple free tips. Call me. I’ll give you some free tips, most likely. I’m kind of a softy like that.
Jeremy: [01:21:08] These are the free tips if they call you.
Travis: [01:21:13] Yeah. No, you’ve got lot of really good tips actually just today. There’s a lot of little money makers if you implement some of those things I talked about today, for sure.
Jeremy: [01:21:21] So how does that work for someone to work with you? Just so . . . Let’s say they hear this. Travis is a nice guy. He’s really knowledgeable. I don’t want people to call and waste your time, necessarily. What kind of clients do you tend to work with?
Travis: [01:21:38] All sizes, man. So it’s somebody doing $5 million, up to $100 million, whatever. We can handle it, for sure. We’ll always find some low-hanging fruit. Some of the bigger clients are surprisingly missing a lot of elements that are easy, easy to implement and not even expensive to implement. They’ll produce revenue right away. But how you work with me and my team . . . We’ve got . . . Basically we’ll come and do a quick discovery session to make sure we’re gonna be a good fit. Then we’ll do an assessment to see if we can make a big difference for you and, essentially, price it out as such, as a package, to make a certain amount of change with your sales for you or whatever you’re desiring. We’ve kind of gotten away from the hourly model. We do more of a package type thing now.
Jeremy: [01:22:25] Is there something common that you often see with businesses in the discovery session that is a trend, that is often a low-hanging fruit for them? Or does it vary, depending on the business?
Travis: [01:22:39] It’s so . . . That’s hard to say. A lot of the things I’ve mentioned today are really common with most of my clients, and they don’t . . . What they’ll . . . You know what a big hindrance is? Not having the right platform. Most clients that I run into that are plateauing aren’t on a good platform, or it’s dated, or it’s like . . . I have some people on ASP that are just floundering. They build another site on ASP, and they’re thinking it’s gonna be better, and they released it, and it’s just tanking. It’s sad to watch. It took them two years to do it. So that kind of stuff’s happening. I see it all the time with dated platforms.
[01:23:22] When I show them, “Hey, look,” . . . I don’t work at Magento. I like Magento a lot, as you can tell. I have a ton of experience with it, and I’ve compared a lot of the other platforms. This is, by far, my favorite, if you can afford it, but that’s what I try to plug people into and get them going, at least going down that path. Often, I’m maxing out their current platform really fast. I’m like, “Well, you can’t do this unless you’re gonna do custom development for $10,000.” Wait. Magento? $500 for an extension, dude. It’s up and running in four days.
Jeremy: [01:23:58] What was the biggest challenge for you when you were running Paradise Fibers?
Travis: [01:24:07] I didn’t know what it was for a lot of years, actually. I didn’t know what it was. I was always scrambling. The first time I actually really was able to get away from that was when I moved my office off the main floor, out of the pit, essentially, of a bunch of desks down there, where everybody’s on the phone, talking to customers. Customers are coming in. They got access to you. I got out of there. I went to the next level, the second level. Employees couldn’t directly attack me with their questions or whatever they needed. So I wasn’t the answer man. I got a little bit of a buffer there.
[01:24:50] Then also, customers couldn’t get to me either. I’m a pretty nice dude, and they want to talk to me. They’re like, “Oh, Travis, the owner. Let’s talk to him.” I really like talking to them. So I had a problem there. It was good to get away from that. Then that helped. I kind of got a whiff of that, and I said, “This is pretty cool. This is good. I’m getting a lot of work done. I’m starting just . . . ” I was at the tip of getting some really good work done, which was figuring out the plan for the future and initiatives and analyzing more of the data that we’re getting from the website and analytics and figuring out where I should be spending my time. I’m finding I’m on my phone with vendors, trying to get us better deals all of a sudden, in the last few years that I was there, which added up to extra couple hundred grand or something in profit at the end of the year.
Jeremy: [01:25:43] Huge. Yeah.
Travis: [01:25:45] Crazy, man. It adds up really quick. You know? You get an extra 10% off from one of your vendors that you’re selling $300,000 a year for or whatever.
Jeremy: [01:25:52] Yeah.
Travis: [01:25:53] So there’s those kind of things and initiatives with the website was big. I was able to do that once I got off the floor, and I got some space, and we got a really robust phone system there that we could really communicate very well. They could still get to me, but I was able to push them back. Now, the final stage of that in really optimizing . . . This is something I do for my clients. We started using Asana [SP] Project Management, which is free for under 15 people.
Jeremy: [01:26:22] Yeah.
Travis: [01:26:23] I’ve run into a couple developers that use it too. So we were able to loop those guys in. So I’ve got maybe my 10 staff members or something that all are at desks, tethered to desks. They’re not shippers or whatever. You know? They’re getting back to me with feedback and projects, and communication is going through the roof. It’s awesome. Morale, too, because Asana is awesome. They put little rainbows and unicorns that shoot across the screen when you get stuff done. It’s the best, man. It really is the best. I love Asana. It says, “Yippee,” or something really out of context and strange and stars, little rainbow stars when you create . . . you get tasks done. It’s stupid stuff like that, but it’s really fun to use. I still use Asana a ton with my clients and kind of train them on how I used to use it for my e-commerce business.
[01:27:15] Because you think of project management software, and you’re thinking, “Well, we’re not a developer.”
Jeremy: [01:27:22] A software developer. Right. Right.
Travis: [01:27:24] Whatever. Whatever project management, a typical project management business might be. It doesn’t sound like an e-commerce business at all. It doesn’t sound like the right match, necessarily. But when you start putting things in there, like your initiatives for the future and your goals and things, and you’re getting feedback from different team members and delegating . . . I found over . . . Towards the tail end, I’m out of town. This is one of the few vacations I took during this thing. I was there for five years without ever taking a day off, basically, at least working five, mostly six days a week, and often seven. We didn’t take . . . My wife and I took a honeymoon and two other vacations maybe while we were there. We never took a break.
[01:28:10] We’re always just running fast. So towards the end, as soon as I got Asana running, I’m on the second floor. I got distance. The company’s just racing at that point. We’re this thing on steroids. My employees are loving it. They’re having a great time with it, the software. They’re kicking some butt. They feel really good about themselves. I had a great group of people there. The culture was terrific. A lot of these people really got along, and there were a lot of friendships there, which is . . . I like. It’s adding a lot to . . . That adds a lot to whatever, humanity or whatever it is. It’s cool, man. It makes you feel good when you put people together.
Jeremy: [01:28:47] Yeah.
Travis: [01:28:47] Some of these people are kind of outcasts or whatever too. I don’t want to say outcasts, but they’re like . . . They don’t have a ton of friends or whatever. Right? This group that I put together, they’re taking him in kind of, and they’re part of our team. They’re part of our group. On the weekend, we hang out with them, just like whatever. It was a really wide variety of people there. It’s a cool thing to have that kind of a culture and good people, but they were all working together really hard and really well through Asana. On your phone . . . I had it on my phone. Things are popping up, 9:00 or 10:00 at night and stuff. People are brainstorming, “How about this?” Whatever. I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” type back.
[01:29:24] So the last year I was there, or so, added up the AMX points, took off to Caribbean with my wife, and we stayed there for a week. I was really scared. I had Asana in my hand, man, and I’m seeing the stuff coming up. We had Internet there. Okay. Yeah, sure. Answer that question real quick. Whatever. As the CEO of this company, as a director of e-commerce there, I’m able to really, in real-time, help my staff, if I need to, from the pool. You know? Margarita in my hand. It was great. It was a really . . .
Jeremy: [01:29:59] It sounds like a much deserved vacation.
Travis: [01:30:01] It was, man. That was the pinnacle of my experience at Paradise, probably, is knowing that my team was doing a killer job while I was taking a quick break, well, long break actually. It was like a week. I’m able to help them and communicate with them, via our project management software, and know stuff is getting done, just seeing things getting checked off, seeing what’s happening back home.
Jeremy: [01:30:23] Yeah. Travis, on that note, what software do you use, that you find is essential for the e-commerce business? We mentioned Asana, Bronto, Dot-Mailer, List Track, Magento, Sweet Tooth. What other ones did we not talk about, software-wise, that would be important to mention? We talked about Kayako, Zen Desk. What else?
Travis: [01:30:52] Boy. Those are all my favs, man.
Jeremy: [01:30:57] We could’ve hit them all.
Travis: [01:30:58] Yeah. Having a good order manager is really important. I’ve got a ton of them. There’s a couple of my favorites. Contact me if you’re interested in that. I’m actually looking at Skubana, yeah, the guys who are hosting the show. I’m actually checking those guys out right now.
Jeremy: [01:31:17] Oh, cool. So I always do a quick word from our sponsor, Skubana. So basically I always give the plug of . . . Imagine if you could combine all the software tools you currently use to run your e-commerce business into one centralized cloud platform and, obviously, for a fraction of the cost makes it even better. Would you use it, Travis? Of course, you’d use it. Skubana does all that. I actually personally use them. What I love most about them is the SKU profitability report, because I can go in there, and it tells me actually which ones are making money, which ones are losing money, which ones I should probably not sell anymore. It does a lot of automation, which I like. I know you like automation too. So if something is coming in from one site, I can automatically have it shipped out and have the, which you’ll probably go through and look at what it actually does, but have the different commands, so that I don’t have to go in and ship her from one place and manually do anything. Just if it comes in, it automatically gets shipped out from wherever I want it shipped out from. So I’m interested to hear what you think after you get done with your demo. So mentors, Travis. Are there any other thoughts on Skubana? What do you look for? What are you looking forward to, as far as the demo goes? What do you look for when you’re demoing a software like that?
Travis: [01:32:52] Everything. A lot of it is automation for order management. That’s a big part of it, putting together a lot of rules on how things need to be handled when the orders come in. Flexibility. So it can gel with a lot of different carts. That’s important for me because I got a lot of different clients that weren’t gonna get away from their cart, but they might be able to . . . Yeah, they might be able to get a . . . switch their order manager, as long as it’ll hook up to the cart properly and have really good integration. Now, especially if this is cloud-based, I’d like to see the integration . . . Basically the biggest hurdle that I see with some of the more popular order management software out there is when you’re adding new products.
[01:33:41] Very often, even big companies that are using really advanced stuff, they’re having to have one or two spreadsheets possibly put in to two different places. You’ve got two different databases, one for your website and one for your local order management, very possibly. Now in the cloud, you can tie them together easier. It’s a lot easier to do than if you’ve got a local server running this kind of stuff with API, but that’s a big problem. It’s getting dealt with, slowly, as more of the order management, cloud-based order management is coming out. It’s just a lot of the . . . What I see is a lot of the cloud-based order managers are missing tons of features. You know? Some of the old-school dudes that are set up on local servers . . .
Jeremy: [01:34:26] Which features do you find are missing usually?
Travis: [01:34:30] Silly stuff, stupid stuff like forecasted purchasing. There’s a couple of big players out there. They’re like, “Hey, $25,000 to get set up, and we’re gonna charge you $1000 a month. Blah, blah, blah.” I say, “Okay.” I’m talking to them for a long time about it, and I flush out the whole thing. I’m trying to help them out because I’m like, “Hey. I want to sell this to my client. You need to put these features in.” I give them a list, and they go, “Oh, thanks. We’re gonna put that in the garbage.” I’m like, “Oh, cool. That’s great, man.”
Jeremy: [01:35:03] I’m gonna put that in the garbage, you said?
Travis: [01:35:05] Yeah. Pretty much. They don’t say that, but that’s where it’s gonna go, because none of these guys are listening. They’re just not listening. Sometimes I’m like, “Dude, I can’t talk to you. I need to talk to someone else. Let’s move on. Let me talk to your boss or your boss’ boss or whatever. If you guys want to make a change in the software . . . I don’t want to talk to a developer. I want to talk to somebody who’s a decision-maker, that gets the big picture.” You know? I’ve talked to a couple of the owners of these companies and kind of worked my way up. I don’t know why. I’m just kind of hard-headed, and I’m like, “You know what? Your software is really cool. It’s got just-in-time inventory and a couple other really cool things. You could do so much more.”
[01:35:41] I’ve been around the block, and I know what my clients want. That’s one of the advantages of working with me I see a lot of different systems and a lot of different e-commerce merchants and what’s working for all these different companies and how to use all that stuff in your strategy.
Jeremy: [01:35:57] You see the trends. Yeah.
Travis: [01:35:59] Yeah, trends and then also just what . . . There’s different systems that people put together that are really fantastic, that are working, that are making money.
Jeremy: [01:46:06] Yeah.
Travis: [01:36:07] You know? But anyway, having so many stupid things, like forecasted purchasing, man, and there’s a couple companies . . . It’s been a couple years since I talked to them. I laid it all out, and I made a small video presentation for them. I went to a lot of trouble. I said, “This is how it’s supposed to work,” with another software they had. They don’t care. Whatever. They’re still doing min-max, out one, order five. It’s like, “Dude, why don’t you order . . . Base it on the last 30 days of sales or 365 days of sales, and order 30 days’ worth or 60 days’ worth.” There’s so much power in that. You can clean up your inventory.
Jeremy: [01:36:44] Yeah. I would like to be a fly on the wall of that conversation of that demo. So I’ll have to ask you and Chad afterwards, separately, how it went, and get the two perspectives.
Travis: [01:37:01] No, I’m excited to get Chad on the phone. I really am looking forward to that.
Jeremy: [01:37:04] I think you guys will hit it off.
Travis: [01:37:05] Yeah. That’s cool.
Jeremy: [01:37:07] So last question before we do the software showdown, which I call it, and you’re like, “I don’t even know what that means, Jeremy,” but it just means we’re gonna be comparing Big Commerce versus Magento versus Shopify.
Travis: [01:37:21] Volution. Volution, actually.
Jeremy: [01:37:23] Oh, Volution. Oh, whatever you want to compare.
Travis: [01:37:23] Volution, Big Commerce, Magento. Those are my favs, man. Shopify . . .
Jeremy: [01:37:28] Yeah, but that’s fine. If it’s not your favorite, I want to know why it’s not your favorite, because obviously a lot of people are using it. So I still want you to talk about it. But before I go there, obviously people should go check out Sharp Commerce. I like that domain, by the way. I always remember it, and I know how to spell it. so Sharpcommerce.com. So before we go into that conversation, Travis, what else did we miss from this e-commerce journey, that we need to talk about last?
Travis: [01:38:04] Oh, boy. I think we got it, Jeremy.
Jeremy: [01:38:07] We got it?
Travis: [01:38:08] I think we’re home, man. I think we covered . . . There’s a lot of good nuggets of information in there.
Jeremy: [01:38:12] Great nuggets. Great nuggets. Yeah.
Travis: [01:38:14] For all you out there, checking this out, implement a couple of those babies and make some money.
Jeremy: [01:38:18] Yeah. Any other big lessons from business in general?
Travis: [01:38:28] Employees make your business. Giving them ownership was a big part of my success. There’s an article on my website on how to do that or about that. I really . . . That is something that I believe in, and you can talk to anybody that’s worked for me, really taking to heart the relationship there. It’s not just an employee. These are people that are working for you. They’re working with you. I never really had people working for me. I had them working with me more, I guess.
Jeremy: [01:39:03] You’re a team, team mentality.
Travis: [01:39:04] Yeah. With the project management, you could assign me a task. Anybody could assign anybody a task.
Jeremy: [01:39:12] Right.
Travis: [01:39:13] You know? That’s how that . . . That was a really cool part of Asana, by the way.
Jeremy: [01:39:15] So how do you do that? How do you give ownership to the staff?
Travis: [01:39:21] Okay. So when I hire people, I get them started by figuring out what they’re good at, and I’ll throw them in the mix somewhere, wherever I kind of need some help. I’m asking a lot of the other . . . I’ll monitor them and figure out what they’re good at. I plug them into that area, wherever they end up. At that point, they’ve lasted long enough where I think they’re gonna work out. I always go by the mantra, “Hire slow. Fire fast.” So you’re nurturing one or two people along at a time or maybe 5% of your workforce along at the time, on a real kind of hand-held basis, to see if they’re gonna really be long-term people. Even for a shipping position or something silly, man, I treated everybody the same way.
[01:40:10] They would . . . Especially when you’re holding their hand so much, they’re gonna come to you, and they’re gonna say, “What do I do here? What do I do here? I don’t know what to do, Trav.” I’m like, “What do you think you should do?” Then they go . . . You push back and figure out. That’s just management style 101, whatever. Push back. Don’t find the answer for them right away. Push back a little bit. See what happens. The sort of wrap-up with that and the through-line that you can put into it is . . . Okay. The decision is yours to make. It’s not gonna end our company if you screw up. That’s okay. You can make mistakes, and you won’t even get in trouble. Make the decision. Make it happen. Whatever happens happens, but I want to know why you did it. You have to have a reason why. The employees were like, “Yeah, Trav will give you enough rope to hang yourself. Watch out.” You know? It really bred a strong ownership feel to the people there and also . . .
Jeremy: [01:41:13] It’s like an autonomy. It’s like Dan Pink’s book, “Drive.” You give people an autonomy at work, it seems.
Travis: [01:41:22] Okay. It didn’t also . . . I also baked bread in our commercial kitchen there. We built a commercial kitchen in this old building. We had a really elaborate setup, man. It was like 27,000 square feet, all brick and hardwood floors. It was a really inviting place to be for the employees and customers, and that was a big part of it, in keeping people really excited about the shop. Also, having this commercial kitchen, it was amazing, like cedar, all built-out, really nice. We had ovens and everything. It wasn’t like a microwave in the corner, man. This is like a killer $35,000, with my drunk contractor buddy building it out, killer kitchen, amazing kitchen. It was the show point of the entire building. So I’d cook for everybody on Fridays. A lot of times, I’m in there, roasting a roast beef and thin-slicing it on the bun and had the au jus going.
Jeremy: [01:42:17] I’m getting hungry. Yeah.
Travis: [01:42:18] Oh, dude. That’s the thing. Those employees . . . Forever, that experience will always . . . There’s no boss that will ever compare to me, in there with my apron, slicing off roast beef for them, man. Here you go, brother. Here you go. Take a break from shipping, dude. Have one of these. This is what we should be doing right now, maybe. This is the deal, man. My fresh au jus with my onions. Oh, man. It’s so good.
Jeremy: [01:42:39] So Travis, it makes me think. So if you were to start an e-commerce business now, what would you start?
Travis: [01:42:49] I just want some roast beef. Well, I got a couple ideas. The one I’ll share . . . Really, sorry. It’s trendy, and it’s what’s happening right now. It’s just drop-ship, drop-ship only. It’s boring to me, and that’s another reason why I haven’t done it.
Jeremy: [01:43:08] What do you mean, drop-ship only?
Travis: [01:43:10] Get dealerships . . . Find drop-ship suppliers. You can do Sale Who or whatever. There’s a couple places out there that will kind of give you training wheels to get started on drop-shipping. You get an order management software and some kind of a turnkey website that’s scale-able, again, something like Volution, something that’s $50 a month or whatever. It’s cheap. It’s all hosted. It works. Plug in your data. Plug in your drop-ship information. You can drop-ship right out of Volution, actually. That’s part of our segue here. That’s an easy, cheap model. It’ll make money. You can do it out of your house. You don’t have to have a warehouse. You can . . . If you want to bring it to that level where you get a warehouse, you start stocking things, great. There’s a lot of people out there just doing drop-ship only, and they’re making a lot of money doing it. You know?
Jeremy: [01:43:58] What would you drop-ship?
Travis: [01:44:03] Rubber duckies. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Jeremy: [01:44:05] Refrigerators.
Travis: [01:44:07] You’d be surprised at the weird stuff people are drop-shipping out there. But yeah, you’re right. You do need to think about . . . You want to be drop-shipping high-value, light things, really. That could be part of the formula, but it’s . . . There’s a lot of people bringing in containers of Chinese crap. Everything is made in China, I guess. Whatever. That doesn’t interest me either, personally. It’s not like I’m on my soapbox here about it, but it’s . . . I don’t know. The cool thing about e-commerce, for me, it was a vehicle to . . . I’m not a philanthropist, but it was a vehicle to have this really cool team of people to work with, make some money, and just blow my customers away. You look at the reviews for Paradise Fibers when I was involved, when I was involved. Did I say that? They’re amazing, all the way. It’s five stars forever. This place is awesome. You’ll see my name mentioned. You’ll see a lot of the team members mention my name because it was a personal experience when you shopped with us. That’s a fun thing, and I try to . . . When I’m consulting with people, hopefully some of that rubs off on them. It’s not all about profit. That’s kind of a personal thing for me, more than the money-making side.
Jeremy: [01:45:24] Yeah. I just figured where . . . If you were to do an e-commerce from yarn, where do you go from yarn? You know?
Travis: [01:45:35] Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that.
Jeremy: [01:45:40] We’ll think about that. So let’s go to whatever you want to call it. I’m gonna call it the software showdown. You’re gonna call it the . . .
Travis: [01:45:48] Shoot-out.
Jeremy: . . . [01:45:49] comparison shopping cart. Whatever. So just talk about whatever you want to compare. I know I had listed Big Commerce, Magento, Shopify, and then obviously Volution. Which do you want to start with? Advantages, disadvantages, what you like, what you don’t like.
Travis: [01:46:08] Okay. One of the biggest things that you got to consider, especially if you’re gonna look at Magento, is the hosting. Price is one thing. Right? Magento actually offers CE, community edition, and there’s EE, enterprise edition. Community edition, people go . . . They’re like, “Oh, it’s free. It must be crap or something. Or what? How does that work?” Well, it’s open source. Right? So you can . . . Basically they’re throwing it out there kind of in this permanent beta test for people to use for free and to get feedback and to have people work on it. Developers develop extensions on it, make it more popular. Then as it gains . . . As the fledgling grows up, they start to charge more money for it or charge some money for it, or they’re making money in different ways, but it’s typically . . . It’s a strange model. It’s really weird, but CE is free. EE . . . There’s no support or anything. You’re on your own, man. You got the software. Good luck. Install it on whatever, Linux or whatever you’re gonna put it on and whatever [inaudible:01:47:17] you want to try to launch it on. They’ve got a white paper on it, and it’s pretty elaborate. I don’t know much about that side of it. I just let my developer people deal with that.
Jeremy: [01:47:25] Right.
Travis: [01:47:25] There’s actually . . . Even your developers, that are really experienced, they won’t be able to set it up properly. They’d probably do okay, but there’s no way that you’re gonna do that, personally. You got this free software. Just forget about it. It’s not happening, man. It’s gonna be very difficult for you to set that up.
Jeremy: [01:47:42] It’s never free because you’re gonna spend hours, and then you’re gonna have to redo it.
Travis: [01:47:48] Right. Now, there’s two things to set up for CE. You’re setting it up on your host, the hosting environment, which is really difficult. You need to have a professional help you with that. It’s gonna be $200 a month for some kind of a service, and you can plug that in. That’s a free software. So it’s kind of cool. That can work. Then you have the other side of setting it up, where you need to get your mind wrapped around the attribute set thing and attributes and how that relates to the products you’re gonna sell. That goes for, of course, enterprise as well. That’s a big deal.
[01:48:17] Now enterprise is like $18,000 a year or something like that. You got to call them for a quote and do some messing around. Once you get that . . . Again, you just have software. They’re not hosting it for you.
Jeremy: [01:48:29] Oh, really? Even at that price level?
Travis: [01:48:32] It’s $18,000 a year.
Jeremy: [01:48:33] So why do people do it then?
Travis: [01:48:35] Because it’s pretty awesome. The support now is a lot better for Magento. I’ll throw that out there. Magento support has been freaking awful for a long time. It’s a joke, and it’s gotten a ton better. So anyway, I don’t want to dwell on Magento too much there, but that’s . . . The hosting from Magento typically . . . When you say “enterprise,” everything doubles, kind of like Pro Tools, if you’re an audio guy. Your plugins for Pro Tools are double. So extensions are double or more. Hosting is more. Hosting is three times as much. So it’s about $650 through Nexus every month. You got the $18,000 a year, $650 a month. That’s just getting started. You’re not developing anything.
Jeremy: [01:49:20] That’s like $3000 a month-ish.
Travis: [01:49:23] Sure. So that’s significant, when we’re talking about . . . I just wanted to preface that out there, that Magento is a big deal to get started. It’s awesome, and I’m gonna talk about all these other features that it’s got when I compare to other two, and you’re gonna go, “Why would anyone do anything else?” Well, there’s reasons.
Jeremy: [01:49:42] Yeah, what level would someone’s business have to be at for them . . . for you to tell them to consider it?
Travis: [01:49:49] Their budget, mainly. If they got the budget . . . I’m doing a build-out right now. It’s pretty much zero-to-60. Someone had this Shopify site that was clunky, and I’m not a big Shopify fan. We’re taking that thing and plugging in and building out an entire killer suite of Magento with all my best practices built in. Everything is baked in, man, all the extensions that I love, all my partners, everything. They’ve got a decent budget. It’s going to rock. That’s going to be my new case study. Look for that over the next . . . It’ll probably be six months. I want to let those guys get some really good traction, but they’re basically starting from nothing. We’ll get those guys rocking.
[01:50:30] Anyway, as far as evolution and how you’re gonna start out, Magento is not a scale-able platform. It’s really not. I don’t consider it a scale-able platform. It’s either go big, or go home. You can do CE on $200 a month or whatever. But for beginners, that’s a lot of work. I would much rather see a client of mine . . . If they’re like, “Hey, I want to get into e-commerce. I want to have some kind of a mid-level package. Put something together for me. Whatever.” Okay. You can go with Volution. Volution has this turnkey setup. They’ll do the graphics for you if you pay them a little extra money, a couple grand, $3000 or something. They’ll do custom graphics for your whole website, come up with all the stuff. They’ll do your logo even. Whatever. They’ll just throw it in. This is happening. You may not have any branding skills or even know what you want. They’ll just do it. They’ll also do your AdWords for you. You can plug that in. They’ll also do, I think, re-marketing. They’ll do Facebook, tie it into Facebook. All kinds of stuff.
Jeremy: [01:51:24] Volution will do all that.
Travis: [01:51:25] Yeah. It’s cool. It’s not like the best on the planet, but it’s pretty good.
Jeremy: [01:51:30] Right.
Travis: [01:51:30] You know? They do a pretty good job, and located down in Austin too, which I like. I like Stubs, actually, barbecue in Austin. That’s all I’m thinking about now.
Jeremy: [01:51:39] Stubs? Are they behind the gas station?
Travis: [01:51:43] It’s in a weird part of town. I’ve been there once.
Jeremy: [01:51:46] Okay. Okay. I was just there.
Travis: [01:51:50] It has this big amphitheater out back, where there’s dirt [inaudible:01:51:53].
Jeremy: [01:51:51] Yeah, I don’t think I went to Stubs. I think some people mentioned it, but we didn’t end up going there.
Travis: [01:51:57] Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a cook. Did you see . . . You know the bottle of Stubs barbecue sauce? That’s where it comes from, man.
Jeremy: [01:52:03] Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Travis: [01:52:05] It’s good barbecue sauce. Anyway. All right. So now we’re way off track. Big Commerce or Volution, these are [inaudible:01:52:10].
Jeremy: [01:52:10] I think Big Commerce is also in Austin. Right?
Travis: [01:52:13] I don’t know. I’m more familiar with Volution. I use them more.
Jeremy: [01:52:16] Yeah.
Travis: [01:52:18] Okay. So Volution and Big Commerce are great solutions to scale up on. That’s the big difference between Magento. You can start small, go the small monthly fee. As you grow, they’re gonna charge you more, and you can also add features. Add third parties. Add . . . They got a smaller amount of extensions and third parties, much smaller than Magento, much less elaborate. They’re gonna cost you more, sass-model-wise, because they’re not getting that much upfront from you. So a lot of that happens. They’re gonna get you with the sass model stuff for extensions and extra functionality, all over the place, unfortunately, but you get to start out small with the scale-able . . . based on how many gigs you’re using and whatever else. It’s gonna seem like they’re over-charging you too, but you got to remember you got to start from nothing. What, $50 a month or something for Volution, for . . . You get a lot of functionality out of that.
[01:53:12] So another big difference between Volution and Big Commerce, especially for guys just starting out, I’ve got . . . I had a client that came to me and was like, “Hey. I kind of want to do Magento, but I don’t really know what I’m doing, essentially.” Right? That’s just what it was. I’m like . . . They’re kind of . . . They’re an intermediate e-commerce skill level. They didn’t want to have my team on board a ton for the implementation. I said, “Dude. Don’t deal with Magento. You’re gonna have to go with Big Commerce, I think.” They’ve got a similar feature set, not everything Magento has got, but it’s based off the Magento Go platform, which is now defunked [SP]. Big Commerce will hold your hand through all of it. That’s the cool part. A lot like Volution, they’re gonna build out all the customizations that you need or involve the third. . . They’ll get the third parties involved for you, make sure everything works. They’ll host it for you, and they’ll . . . It’s kind of like a hosted Magento, kind of, with less features and less capability, not a lot less, but there’s certain things that are really important in Magento that it doesn’t have.
[01:54:22] Anyway, it’s a great way to get started. They can build out . . . They told me. I haven’t been there yet, but they told me that they can build out pretty much everything that you want in Magento, for the most part.
Jeremy: [01:54:33] Big Commerce can.
Travis: [01:54:34] Yeah. So they can pretty much do . . . It’s more money. It’s hosted. It’s gonna be probably . . . Overall, it’ll be cheaper than Magento to implement, and you can take it a step at a time and a bite at a time. You can even start with their non-enterprise solution. The enterprise solution . . . I should be clear. What I’ve been talking about is the enterprise solution for Big Commerce, with all the customizations. Their standard package is a little limited. That’s kind of . . . It’s at the same level as Volution or one of the other carts that are similar to that.
Jeremy: [01:55:10] Why were you recommending Big Commerce over Volution in that circumstance?
Travis: [01:55:15] Okay. So they had the budget to go big, and they were an established e-commerce company. They just didn’t have the e-commerce skills, really, or the team to back up a Magento installation. So they didn’t . . . Actually they didn’t necessarily want to exploit all the features that I really wanted them to exploit. They weren’t comfortable with all of it, or they just didn’t quite get it. That’s the only way I can say it. Not all clients are gonna go, “Hey. That’s a great idea.” You know? It’s like even if I’ve done it, and I have the experience, I’ve done it with my store that I had. I’ve done it with other clients. I’ve seen other clients do it. I suggest it to them. They sometimes just won’t do it.
[01:55:52] So there’s a couple things that this client didn’t want to do with Magento. I said, “You know what?” They didn’t have the skill level. That was the biggest thing, or the team to back up Magento.
Jeremy: [01:56:00] Yeah. So you liked, in that circumstance, Big Commerce over Volution, even though they’re both hosted. You thought Big Commerce had more features that they could use.
Travis: [01:56:12] Yeah. They could grow further with Big Commerce, for sure. Now, Volution has . . . There’s no real straight path between Volution and their big brother system, which is Mozu [SP]. Mozu is a completely custom thing. That’s basically kind of like Big Commerce enterprise. They’re this omni-channel thing that is . . . It’s pretty amazing. It looks great. I haven’t got anybody to . . . I haven’t had a need to go there yet, but I did get a demo on it and looked around, and it looks really cool, given it’s gonna be all custom. It’s a hosting solution. It’s very expensive, similar to a big commerce kind of thing, a hosted enterprise solution. You know? In the Volution scheme of things. It’s built . . . Of course, it’s a Volution product.
Jeremy: [01:56:56] Okay. So that’s Big Commerce versus Volution, and then you’re gonna talk about . . . Still, with Magento, you’re gonna talk about why you love it so much and why people should go with it. But first, talk about your non-love for Shopify.
Travis: [01:57:19] Okay.
Jeremy: [01:57:20] A lot of people obviously are on Shopify too.
Travis: [01:57:23] Yeah, layered navigation, man, or faceted . . . What do they call it? Faceted filtering? Faceted navigation, I guess, they’re calling it. What it is is basically it’s a real solid filtering system based off of attributes. So it’s gonna be basing your . . . Typically on your left column, there’s gonna have a drill-down. If you have a particular attribute of whatever you’re looking for within a category, click it, and it’ll narrow your search. So there’s a way you can do that in Shopify, which is kind of ghetto, and you can tag stuff, but it’s not really the deal, man.
[01:58:04] I started looking at that, and I . . . That was a big boom for me with Shopify. With the way Magento does it, it’s so clean, and it works great. It’s powerful. It really helps people find stuff. You know? People can’t find stuff on your site [inaudible:01:58:19].
Jeremy: [01:58:19] So you don’t like that it’s not easy to find things or to search certain attributes on Shopify.
Travis: [01:58:27] Right. It doesn’t have . . . The segmentation thing is another really big deal with an enterprise-class platform, like Magento. It’s for big boys. Magento is for big boys. It’s for people that know what they want, and they’re power users. I’m putting this together for a client who wants to really get to the next level. That’s what I’m looking for. Now with Magento, and to go into kind of more detail with the segmentation . . . So if someone has a certain . . . All the way through, there’s no real way in Shopify to do a proper segmentation, at all. Out of the box, it doesn’t have anything. You can get an extension to do it for a sass model, and these third parties will kind of put some kind of haphazard setup together for you, that will kind of email them what they want. You can kind of segment your emails and segment . . . I think that’s about as far as it goes. It may do banners, but I doubt it. I looked at it, and I was not impressed and bailed out.
[01:59:22] Magento, what it will do . . . This is what I’m talking about. You can, based off of pretty much any customer behavior you can possibly dream of, you can put together a rule in Magento. So if someone’s got something in their shopping cart, like it’s a big-dollar item, like $1000 item or something in their shopping cart or in their wishlist even, and they haven’t checked out yet, or maybe they abandoned their cart or all these different things that they may do, customer may do, you can present them with an email, go try to round them back up with this [inaudible:01:59:54] email. That’s not a big deal, but that’s something you can do. You can present it with the items that they were looking at or with items that are maybe similar. A lot of these things you can automate in Magento, by the way, and Enterprise has got a lot of automation things like that, like automatic-related products and things like that, based off of rules you set up.
[02:00:12] Then beyond that, you’ve got . . . You can present them with a banner. So if this person’s got this $1000 item in their cart, and they’re hemming and hawing, and they’re not checking out yet, and you’re thinking, “Dude, they’re not gonna make it. Let’s give them free shipping, man. We’re not doing free shipping. Let’s do free shipping.” So boom, free shipping coupon comes up because they waited a certain amount of time. That’s a big deal, man. You can do . . . Based off of what you know about the customer, if you’re smart about it, and you set it up right, you can incentivize people to check out and close and increase your conversion rate. You might give a little away. Whatever. That’s part of the deal though. What are you giving away if they bail? You know? You get your conversion rate up a little bit. That’s gonna exponentially improve your bottom line, and then you’re getting . . . You got this chance to keep these customers coming back.
Jeremy: [02:01:02] Yeah, so you can set up these automated rules in the system really well with Magento, is what you’re saying.
Travis: [02:01:11] Right, relating to segmentation. There’s also other things, like automated banner presentation. You can put together your sales banners for six weeks out and have a calendar set up. You know what you’re rolling out. Well, guess what? Then you go into your re-marketing. Set that up. Have those. You’ve got your re-marketing schedule going out with Ad Roll or somebody. Those are all gonna coordinate. So you’re sending the same message on all your channels. I really screwed that up in the early days. I would have all these different coupons going on just everywhere, just kind of shotgunning. I figured out that it was way more effective to have one really good special that was to a large part of our customer base. You could even have maybe two specials or something, but don’t have different coupons all over the place at different times. Have them all coordinated. That’s a really good strategy that I found that’s really worked a lot in the past.
Jeremy: [02:02:02] Yeah. At what level of business do you think that it’s a no-brainer for someone to just do the Magento enterprise? Is it, oh, when you hit $5 million, you’re processing $5 million a year? What level is it, “Listen,” from Travis, “This is a no-brainer. You need to be going with Magento enterprise.”
Travis: [02:02:23] Right. I would say, yeah, $5 million is actually on the . . . That’s what I was gonna say. You took the words out of my mouth. So that’s . . . Also, you need to have the infrastructure set up. So when I . . . I’m getting in there, starting somebody up with Magento. I’m putting in . . . What I do is . . . Part of my secret sauce is, “Hey. Create . . . Shop owner or head of tech,” or whoever I’m working with there, my liaison at the company, “Hey. Here’s an invite to Asana.” I get then, “You’re working with me in Asana?” They see how I’m doing it, and they see how we’re doing it with some of these other third parties. We tie in my developers, tie in some of my other guys. Then his team start to involve his team.
Jeremy: [02:03:07] Yeah, yeah.
Travis: [02:03:07] Then by the end of the three-month or six-month engagement, I’ve weaned them off. They’re doing their own project management. You know? That’s part of kind of my startup with a comprehensive plan to bring companies to the next level, whether it’s workflow or communication or the project management stuff, proper delegation. Accountability is a big part of the project management thing, checking off, “Hey. It’s not assigned to three people. It’s assigned to one person, and that’s you, dude. You’ve got to get that done. Sorry.”
Jeremy: [02:03:43] So Travis, I know you started to do this monstrous, epic post. Anything from that that we didn’t talk about with Big Commerce versus Magento versus Shopify versus Volution, that you want to include?
Travis: [02:03:58] There’s a ton. Okay. I’m just looking over my matrix that I put together here.
Jeremy: [02:04:04] We’ll call it the matrix.
Travis: [02:04:06] It is. Yeah, it’s a cart matrix. Okay. So one of the other big things with . . . Gosh, I’m just toting Magento. I find myself just toting Magento over and over again here. There’s a lot of details here, but some of it is the . . . There’s another really important part of this, is the discounting mechanism. So you’re gonna be offering your customers discounts. I don’t care who you are. If you’re not, silly. It really is. So you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to give them a free gift. You got to give them 10% off, free shipping, something, whatever.
[02:04:46] Magento will allow you to do that in a ton of different ways, with a ton of control, and you can get really creative with it. Buy two of this product, get one free. Whatever. The auto-add-to-cart type of functionality is just killer. That’s awesome. That’s an extension you’re gonna have to buy with Magento, but it’s not that big a deal. It’s like $300. Those type of things . . . You get creative with that. Your customers . . . You keep them excited and keep them coming back. Volution . . . It’s not gonna happen, man, unless you’re gonna go crazy with maybe getting somebody to build it out for you, reinventing the wheel. There’s no reason to do that. You need to just move on when it’s time. You can get really big with Volution. You can do $5 million. There’s people doing a lot more than that with Volution, if you’re content with it, and you don’t want to make the change, and you don’t want to go crazy, making some insane company and getting really huge.
[02:05:36] Some people actually don’t want to do that. They’re totally content with just playing it safe and not going, taking a bunch of new initiatives on. So that’s a big deal. Big commerce will have some of that functionality. They can built out some of it for you too. So you can get . . . Again, that’s something that’s gonna be in the enterprise version of Big Commerce. Both of those platforms are mainly gonna be using 10% off, or you can do a percentage off of a product. You can do free shipping. That’s it. That’s pretty much it, man, for discounts. There’s probably . . . There’s hundreds of different discounts you can do with Magento. I can’t even mention them all here, but there’s . . . There really is pretty much . . . If you can dream it up, you can think about it. You think up the discount, man. You just got to program it right. There’s a bunch of rules that you’ll have to set up. You can do it even based off of different customer groups in Magento.
Jeremy: [02:06:31] Yeah.
Travis: [02:06:31] I could go on all day, man. It’s very powerful.
Jeremy: [02:06:35] When I think of getting a piece of software or shopping cart, I always think of what’s the one thing that will make the whole thing worthwhile. You know? With Skubana, the fact that it does automation for me, done deal. It makes it all worthwhile. What is it with Magento? Obviously that’s your favorite. That’s why I say it. . . . that makes it all worthwhile to go with Magento? I don’t have any stake or stock in Magento. I’m just . . .
Travis: [02:07:06] I feel like you do.
Jeremy: [02:07:07] I’m just going off what your preference is, because it seems like that’s where you think that people will get the most bang for their buck.
Travis: [02:17:18] At a certain level. Yeah. You won’t get that unless you’ve got a lot of products, and you’re pretty far along, or you’ve got the budget to launch it properly. I guess that’s . . . It probably is the discounts. But then . . .
Jeremy: [02:07:34] Someone comes to you. They’re doing, let’s say, $10 million a year. You’re like, “This is a no-brainer.” What’s gonna push them over the edge to be like, “Oh, yeah. This one feature is going to pay for all the headache and hard work in switching.”?
Travis: [02:07:54] The segmentation . . . I’ve kind of gone over how global that really is and how many things it ties into. The segmentation is probably the one thing that I really, really like. Combining that with . . . The other thing is the layered nav, the ease of shopping. That’s terrific. Overall, it’s just so much more customizable than any of the other platforms I’ve worked with, especially these other two we’re comparing.
Jeremy: [02:08:18] Yeah. Anything else you want to mention on your matrix that would be important?
Travis: [02:08:26] Reporting. That’s one thing Magento just fails at, and there’s nothing there. There’s some weak sauce extensions you can get, and you can do some reporting there, but it’s not much. Big Commerce and Volution have some reporting there. It’s average, out of the box. It’s better than Magento, though, which is surprising. That’s one of the things that Magento kind of failed on. I’m sure they’re cringing right now. My buddy over there is certainly cringing, but that’s what it is. They just don’t have it. It doesn’t do . . . I like to say it does everything, but that’s something that, when I was creating my matrix, I really found that it didn’t. It really . . .
Jeremy: [02:09:02] Reporting could be big. What does Big Commerce report on that Magento doesn’t?
Travis: [02:09:10] Just general sales reports, man, what products are selling well, what’s some customer data. It’s not gonna go . . . It’s not elaborate reporting. Neither of the systems are, Volution or Big Commerce. In the reporting that I relied on, in my e-commerce journeys, has been through my order management system. So Skubana might have that.
Jeremy: [02:09:30] Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.
Travis: [02:09:33] I would rely on those guys for that or get a third party that hooks onto the database for that, depending on how that’s gonna integrate. But that’s a whole other side of things, the reporting part. You know?
Jeremy: [02:09:43] Yeah. Oh, for sure. Anything else from the matrix?
Travis: [02:09:49] I’ve got another bad spot for Magento, the built-in search. Built-in search is awful with Magento.
Jeremy: [02:10:00] Is there a plugin that you can use for that?
Travis: [02:10:04] Yeah. I would recommend getting a sass model, something like Nextopia. Nextopia is really good. It just works, and they put it in for you. It’s expensive. It’s like $300 a month, $350 a month, but it works great. You’ll have great luck with it. You’ll see sales going up right away.
Jeremy: [02:10:23] Yeah, search is huge.
Travis: [02:10:25] Oh, man. There’s stuff out there like Search Spring, I think it is, or something. That’s something I’d stay away from. They’re way overpriced and goofed up. They’ve goofed up a couple of my clients right now. Don’t recommend it. Sorry. Sorry, Search Spring.
Jeremy: [02:10:39] I usually use Swift Type, but I think it’s only for WordPress sites. Have you heard of that?
Travis: [02:10:47] E-commerce searching is a little different.
Jeremy: [02:10:49] Yeah, I’m sure.
Travis: [02:10:50] You’re doing a different type of . . . Which field are you gonna try to get to? If you go through a bunch of work, and you set up the Magento search properly, you can get something out of it, for sure, but I would really recommend getting a third party. If you’re doing Magento, make sure you get an extension, maybe by [inaudible:02:11:11] or somebody. [inaudible:02:11:12] got really good extensions for the search. It’s not expensive. It’s like $300 or something, $500.
Jeremy: [02:11:17] Yeah. So what are some of the ones people should look at for search?
Travis: [02:11:21] Nextopia is great. You can plug that into any of those three platforms, Volution, Big Commerce, or Magento.
Jeremy: [02:11:28] Big Commerce does not have a good search function either?
Travis: [02:11:31] I would say they’re good. It’s better than Magento, for sure. Volution is actually very good. Both of those . . . I haven’t played with Big Commerce much, but the little I did, it seemed to work fine. I know Volution’s is actually really good, right out of the box. They’ve improved. They’ve kind of moved forward with their platform, as far as that goes. Magento just has . . . They just don’t care. They’ve got . . . You can get SOLR for it, S-O-L-R. I don’t know what the acronym stands for, but search something. It’s sort of an alternate search you can get. You can set that up.
[02:12:07] Now your developer is gonna have to set it up, man. This is all custom stuff. So out of the box, when you plug in your enterprise Magento setup, it’s crap. You go to search for something, and you’re like, “This is awful. I just paid $18,000 for this?” It’s depressing how bad it is out of the box. That’s the whole thing with Magento enterprise. You got to have some help. You got to have people set it up that know what they’re doing. You know? Search is . . . Yeah, it’s trouble. So you’re gonna have to get Nextopia or get something from maybe [inaudible:02:12:36] plugin for that.
Jeremy: [02:12:38] Okay. Anything else from the matrix?
Travis: [02:12:45] Comparison shopping engines . . . That’s probably the last thing I would mention. Volution has turnkey setup for that. So they’re ready to go for all the different shopping engines you might want to push stuff out to, which is great, really easy for new merchants to get going and push your . . . get out to these other affiliated networks or whatever. Then, actually, that’s . . . Okay. Big Commerce and Volution will both do that out of the box. Magento needs to be set up. It’s more powerful with Magento. You can do a much cooler . . . adapt faster for different feed types. You’re kind of stuck with Volution and Big Commerce if the feed requirements change for Google Shopping. A lot of experienced e-commerce folks will be cringing right now because those feed specs change. What that PLAs value . . . The Google Shopping system values . . . When those change, it screws up your PLAs really bad and just sends a shock wave through everybody’s PLA numbers and goofs you all up. So also, you’re not coming up for results that you used to come up for, even though you’re paying for it.
Jeremy: [02:13:50] Right.
Travis: [02:13:52] Because you’re not providing them the right data, or they just pull your PLAs altogether because you’re missing data. Now you need to fill in more data or improve your picture size or whatever else you got to do. You can quickly change that kind of stuff with the more powerful feed generator, which you can have in Magento. It’s cheap. It just takes some configuration and setup. You can quickly say, “You know what? Wait. We’re gonna change. We’ll send this field now,” and you can have that field filled out in Magento, map it. Boom. It’s really easy for power users to do that. Now, you’re stuck with Volution or Big Commerce. If those changes come out, you can’t change it with those two platforms at all. You have to wait for Volution to catch up or Big Commerce to catch up.
Jeremy: [02:14:29] That can be painful for people.
Travis: [02:14:32] That’s one of the . . . That’s the kind of situation you get in with these kind of one-size-fits-all, scale-able, beginner platforms that are only . . . They’re not charging very much. You know? They’re kind of stuck on . . . They’re catering to everybody. They’ve got so many things that they’re trying to do for everybody, make everybody happy, all under one roof. Something comes out, and they’ve got to be . . . They’re just not nimble. That’s a big ship to steer.
Jeremy: [02:14:58] Yeah. Yeah. I can go on all night, Travis, with e-commerce questions, but I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the Big Commerce, Magento, Shopify, Volution, and everything else. It’s been hugely valuable. People should check out Sharp Commerce. Where should people reach out to you if they are interested in talking to you? Where should they reach out?
Travis: [02:15:31] You could get a hold of me through the website, Sharpcommerce.com. There’s also a free tips newsletter I’ve got there. You can sign up. You’ll get an annoying popup when you get there. Don’t be annoyed. I’m just trying to make you money. Put in your name and email, and I’ll shoot you an email once a week. I won’t spam you. You’ll get some tips. Hopefully it’ll make you money.
Jeremy: [02:15:52] I think that should be . . . I don’t know what the current title is on the popup, but I think that should be the title. Don’t get annoyed. This will make you money.
Travis: [02:16:02] All right. I’m gonna update that tonight. Nice. I like it.
Jeremy: [02:16:04] Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Travis: [02:16:06] We’ll do AB testing.
Jeremy: [02:16:07] Thank you so much, Travis. I really appreciate it. Been a blast.
Travis: [02:16:11] Thank you, Jeremy. Thanks for having me. Yeah.