Paul Johnson of Massview: “Test with real customers as early as possible”

Test with real customers as early as possible. A lot of entrepreneurs (including myself) spend way too much time focusing on things that are not critical to growing the business. Office space, business cards, legal documents, and accounting are all good things, but actual revenue is what makes a business run.. Even the product itself […]

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Test with real customers as early as possible. A lot of entrepreneurs (including myself) spend way too much time focusing on things that are not critical to growing the business. Office space, business cards, legal documents, and accounting are all good things, but actual revenue is what makes a business run.. Even the product itself is not as important in the beginning as validating the idea.

The goal of every early stage business should be to get a minimum viable product to market and try to make sales as soon as possible. Real paying customers will help you learn so much about your product or service. As with all powerful ideas in business, this idea is not a new one: it has been discussed many times in many forms, in books like The Lean Startup, Ready Fire Aim, and The 4-Hour Work Week.

Our goal is to always bring new products to market as quickly and cheaply as possible so we can learn, adjust, and grow.

As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Johnson, founder of Massview, an SaaS company focusing on helping ecommerce merchants build their business and succeed on sites like Amazon. Paul was a successful ecommerce merchant for years before deciding to build software tools to help other sellers like himself, and continues to run several physical product businesses alongside Massview. Outside of work he enjoys Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as spending time with his wife and six sons.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in my early twenties I was a professional musician. I played guitar in a rock band by night, and by night and by day I taught guitar at a local music school.

After a couple of years of doing this, I realized one day I would want to settle down and start a family. I also realized I was not a good enough musician to support a family playing guitar.

One night I was up late and I saw a special about people making great profits selling products online. I decided to try selling guitars on the internet, where I sold my first guitar and made $50 profit with only 20 minutes of work. From there I was hooked, and I have been obsessed with online marketing and ecommerce ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

I was once in a high speed chase in China. We were on a product sourcing trip, and we were taking a cab to the ferry station so we could travel from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. We got into the cab and he started raising the price, so we got out and found another cab driver who would give us a fair price. Then the first cab driver got angry and started banging on the new cab, blocking us from leaving the hotel.

Our new cab driver got out of the cab and they got into a wild shouting match, then started stretching like they were going to fight. Finally we were able to get our new driver to drive around the first driver and pull out. As soon as we started to get away, we noticed the first driver was chasing us, honking his horn and screaming. We sped up and proceeded into a high speed chase for about 10 miles until he finally gave up and left us alone. Needless to say it’s always an adventure when you travel to other countries for work!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A couple of years into the guitar business I met Brandon Checketts. Brandon decided I was worth partnering with, and we started several ventures together. In 2013 we founded Seller Labs, which went on to be on the Inc 500.

Meeting Brandon was critical to my success in business. Not only did he provide some much-needed capital, he also taught me a ton about technology and software.

Besides Brandon, I would have to thank my dad and my wife. Both of them have inspired me to go after my dreams. My dad partnered with me on my first business venture, and my wife has been there for me every step of the way. Dreaming with me, working on projects with me, and most importantly, helping to raise my six amazing boys!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to it.

We work a lot with Amazon and it’s a great platform to sell products on, but there are a lot of things that are out of our control. On several occasions, our products on Amazon have been attacked by competitors and completely removed from the marketplace. Oftentimes these attacks have been via sophisticated exploits in the Amazon system and seem impossible to overcome. If you call Amazon support in these instances, they will make it seem like there is nothing they can do to fix the issue.

We have made it a core competency of our businesses (both B2B and B2C) to understand how the system works and how to resolve these issues. We hire consultants, attorneys and any experts we need to make sure we are able to deal with these challenges. There have been several times where giving up may have seemed like the best solution, but that is rarely the case in reality.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

We live in a world where algorithms heavily influence the information we consume, the products we buy, and places we visit. These algorithms control much more of our lives than most people realize:

  • Bought a product on Amazon? The algorithm probably surfaced it high in the search results.
  • Watched a video on Youtube? it was probably recommended to you.
  • Tried a new restaurant? You probably found it on Google or Yelp.

As a business owner, you have to find a way to make your products or services relevant to these algorithms, or else risk going unnoticed and not making money. A huge component of success on these platforms is engagement from real customers or fans — often in the form of reviews and comments.

Our goal at Massview is to give businesses a platform where they encourage customers to engage with them on these platforms. We help them build their review count while providing them the ecommerce software tools to optimize their ranking in search results, thereby getting the customer attention required to increase revenue.

We primarily focus on Amazon right now, where we’ve had great success with our customers (as well as selling our own products via our B2C businesses like Clout Fitness), but we plan to expand both our B2B and B2C businesses into other platforms in 2021.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We focus on delivering premium products at a great value. We do this in part by avoiding unnecessary expenses, and the strategy works in both our physical product businesses and our B2B software platform.

In my last company, we had a big fancy office that cost us over $20,000 per month. We tried to recruit most of our talent locally and have people come into the office. It was nice to have the location to host business partners, as well as the mayor and local leaders, but at the end of the day we were spending a ton of money on less qualified people.

Before the office, we had a 17,000 sq/ft warehouse with tons of local employees. It was incredibly expensive and hard to manage. When I sold my stake in that company in 2017, I knew I wanted to do more with less. I wanted to avoid having an expensive office and warehouse. I wanted to be able to hire the best people around the world.

As we built Massview and our physical product businesses, we fully embraced the idea of building a global remote team where we could hire the specialists that we needed. We embraced asynchronous work so we could collaborate efficiently, regardless of timezone. We now use third-party logistic companies worldwide to handle shipping and fulfillment for all our physical products, and every member of the team works remotely.

This has allowed us to offer great products and services at a much lower cost than many other companies in our market. It also gives our team the ability to live and work where they want, which means we’re now distributed globally. This has been a huge benefit during the pandemic, and I believe it will continue to be a key element to our success in whatever market we decide to enter.

When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?

When I first got started, I wanted freedom and income. I wanted to be able to work whenever and wherever I felt like. I wanted to have enough income to be able to travel and enjoy my life on my own terms.

What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?

At some point in time, it stops being about money. As you become more successful, your business will start to demand more of your time. Money is sometimes useful to track success, but really your company becomes about serving others.

I’ve found that when a business is only motivated by making the most amount of profit for the least amount of work, you probably won’t go very far. Plus, let’s face it, it’s a really depressing way to live your life. If you focus on people over profits however, you can start to measure your success in much more meaningful ways.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on some new tools for local businesses, which I’m really excited for. Small businesses have been hit terribly hard by COVID-19, and I hope some of our new tools will help them engage their customers and increase their exposure.

The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?

The most difficult parts are nailing the product market fit, and finding a profitable advertising strategy without running out of cash.

To make a million dollars in revenue you need to be able to do 2 things.

  1. Develop a product that people want, with a large enough market to generate $1 million in sales.
  2. Find a way to advertise that allows you to acquire customers profitably.

Both of these are difficult. It often takes a lot of testing. So the key is to be able to develop products and advertising quickly and affordably. The more efficient you can become at this, the more chances you have to get it right.

Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?

We don’t have any sales teams, so I will instead share our advertising strategy. My number one advertising strategy is to test offers using PPC (pay-per-click) ads. PPC ads like Google Ads and Amazon Sponsored Product ads are very effective at acquiring customers, and often very cost efficient. This is because you can target people who actually want what you are selling.

Display advertising like using Facebook or even Youtube is a lot different, but can be effective if done right. You can even build in-market audiences to target people who are looking for the product or service you’re selling, even when they’re not actively shopping.

In my experience it is wise to focus your initial advertising efforts on PPC, because it is typically easier to get conversions, and you can learn a lot more about your customers as you test different ads. Then, once you hone your offer, you can expand to other advertising channels like social media.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I can’t say we’ve had anything terribly funny regarding sales, so I’ll just tell you a few mistakes I have learned to avoid:

  1. Double check your sales funnels. Sometimes in haste to launch an ad we will put together a sales funnel with embarrassing typos, or even worse, the funnel was not tested correctly and the customer can’t even pay us.
  2. Have a good internet connection when doing live sales calls and webinars. We have done several live events online where my internet has gone out. I now have a back up connection to prevent this issue.
  3. Don’t freak out when your kids come on camera during a sales call or webinar. I have six young kids and sometimes they interrupt when I’m on a call or meeting at home. This used to drive me absolutely crazy, but now I just try to go with the flow. Sometimes I invite them to join in!

Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

We do not have a sales team right now. We mainly automate our sales processes through online sales funnels, but I recently started doing sales calls for some higher-ticket customers, such as Massview’s product management service for merchants.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Use data to help validate your business plan

Whenever we come up with an idea for a product or service, we always check various data sources to validate our assumptions. For example, when we want to create a new physical product to sell online, we will look at Amazon search data to see what keywords people are searching around that product (we created Massview in part to provide this data).

We analyze the competition and see what they are selling. We read all their reviews to determine how their products could be improved. We also look at Google Trends and social media information about the category. We build audiences Facebook and Google that we think would like to purchase the product.

By doing this extensive research, we learn a lot about the market before we even begin production. We know who our competitors are, how to position our product to compete, where to find our ideal customers, how big the market is, and much more. The great thing is that all this data is fairly affordable if you know where to look.

2. Test with real customers as early as possible

A lot of entrepreneurs (including myself) spend way too much time focusing on things that are not critical to growing the business. Office space, business cards, legal documents, and accounting are all good things, but actual revenue is what makes a business run.. Even the product itself is not as important in the beginning as validating the idea.

The goal of every early stage business should be to get a minimum viable product to market and try to make sales as soon as possible. Real paying customers will help you learn so much about your product or service. As with all powerful ideas in business, this idea is not a new one: it has been discussed many times in many forms, in books like The Lean Startup, Ready Fire Aim, and The 4-Hour Work Week.

Our goal is to always bring new products to market as quickly and cheaply as possible so we can learn, adjust, and grow.

3. Seek genuine feedback from your customers

Once your product is selling, it’s critical to listen to your customers. We work with a lot of brands selling on Amazon, and a lot of time when they get a negative review they get angry. They usually think it’s a competitor trying to sabotage their business, but the truth is, most negative reviews are legitimate and are a great opportunity to improve our products. We should do our best to encourage customers to give us their opinions, and always make sure they are heard. Getting real feedback from your customers should be built into your business.

4. Make needed changes to your product or service

Once we have launched a product and started making real sales, we will collect all the feedback from our customers and make improvements to the product. We may work to lower the price, add a feature a customer requests, or fix a flaw. We never get things perfect on the first try, so this is a critical step in making a great product.

This is easier to do with software because you can change code on the fly. To accomplish this with physical products though, we try to work with manufacturing partners that will produce smaller runs until the product is dialed in. We don’t mind spending more on the product in the beginning because we know it will help us scale up in a healthier way, and bring the cost down once we get everything right.

5. Scale advertising on you optimal marketing channel

After we fix all the issues with a product and we know we have something people want, we start testing different advertising strategies and channels. For us, PPC ads and SEO usually work best. That is not to say that display or other advertising methods are not going to be best for others. Once we lock on to the optimal marketing strategy, we can scale our advertising efforts in that area to reach 7 figures.

What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience, do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Talk to your customers on a daily basis. See what they really want and make sure your product and marketing are providing them with that. It may be that you need to change the product, but it also may be that you already have the solution for the customer, and you just need to fix your messaging to show you can address their specific needs.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Engagement marketing: in the ecommerce industry, most of your traffic and sales come from marketplaces and platforms where discoverability is controlled by an algorithm. We take a significant portion of our marketing budget and use it to encourage our customers to engage with us on these marketplaces. This helps boost our discoverability and social proof on the platform, and creates a powerful positive feedback loop in the process.

Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

A founder gets really close to a product until we understand everything about it, and in this process we become a bit blind to its shortcomings. One of the best things you can do is to get someone unfamiliar with your product and have them experience using it for the first time. Make sure to give them the raw experience without any special treatment and see what their issues are.

This can be painful to do when you’re attached to your product (which is also common among founders), but if you observe enough customers, you will start to see ways to improve the user experience.

So the best way to improve customer experience is to have your leadership (including the CEO) talk to customer service on a regular basis. By doing this you will quickly identify and solve common problems.

You should also do your best to empower your employees to solve as many problems as possible for the customer. Your company culture needs to be “we solve problems for the customer.”

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

I think there are 2 key things to focus on to increase customer retention.

  1. Build a relationship with customers: It’s really hard to keep a customer if they don’t know who you are. For all of our customers, I send emails from my own email address, which they can respond to directly. If they have a problem or question, I encourage them to reply to me. We spend a great deal of energy creating content and education to connect with our customers and build a relationship with them.
  2. Continue to deliver value: Whether you are making software, selling physical products, or providing a service, your goal should always be to deliver more value to your customers. Talk to your customers. Understand their problems, their hopes and dreams. Then determine how you can innovate to solve those challenges and help them achieve their goals.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see more ordinary people starting businesses. It’s an incredibly rewarding journey, and I think if we can find a way to encourage and help more individuals start their own companies, the world will be a better place. Giving someone money is all well and good, and giving someone a skill that earns them income is better, but helping someone create a company that creates more jobs and provides value to the world is amazing for everyone involved.

I would love to see more entrepreneurs helping others to start new businesses. I know there are a lot of great people out there who have great ideas and talents to share with the world. They often just need some guidance, and perhaps access to a little capital. If we can help more people like that and they can eventually pay it forward, it could spark massive change.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet with Russell Brunson. I believe he is one of the greatest business leaders out there today. I love what he has been able to do, and all without any venture capital. Plus he seems like an awesome dude!

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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