You can’t do it all yourself. To really scale your business, you will need to outsource different functions. The method is this: Learn, Do, Delegate. Study up and learn the best practices for something. Then, define success and figure out a process that achieves it. Finally, once the system is in place, hire someone to do it for you. A great example is Customer Service. For 2 months, I answered every customer support inquiry we received. I created an FAQ document and eventually was able to copy/paste 95% of my responses. That’s when I hired someone else to do the busy work for me and freed up my time to focus on high-value tasks.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Camisasca, founder of The eCommerce Boardroom, an online resource center, consultancy, and SaaS tool for eCommerce Entrepreneurs. Prior to that, Charlie spent 5 years as a Management Consultant, designing software for corporate legal departments at several Fortune 500 companies. But all the while, entrepreneurship seemed to be calling him. During his tenure as a consultant, he devoted nights and weekends to creating his business, eventually building three successful eCommerce brands in his spare time. In early 2020, he finally took the leap and quit his full-time consulting job. Armed with a desire to help others and the knowledge that eCommerce is an incredible opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs, Charlie created his new company. The eCommerce Boardroom is the intersection of his unique expertise in eCommerce, Consulting, and Software Design. As a CEO, Charlie is dedicated to helping others to see and realize the lucrative and lifechanging opportunity that eCommerce represents.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Of course. I was born and raised just outside of Tampa, Florida. My father came from no money and built a formidable financial advisory business from the ground up. From the time I was a kid, he encouraged me to explore entrepreneurship and instilled in me a keen desire to build something of my own.
That led me to study Accounting and Entrepreneurship as an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t feel ready to start a business right out of college. Wanting to avoid a routine desk job, I began my professional career in Consulting. At the Huron Consulting Group’s Law Department Management practice, I was thrust into the world of software design and implementation. For an Accounting major, the learning curve was steep. Looking back, I am incredibly grateful for all that I learned there: The skillset that I gained in software and consulting has become instrumental to my new business.
During my time with Huron (perhaps hearing my Dad’s voice in my head), I never lost sight of my entrepreneurial goals. My nights and weekends became sacred times of reading and research. Fascinated with the idea of starting a business from my living room, I was drawn to eCommerce. For months, I read everything I could find about selling products through Amazon, Shopify, Facebook, and Google.
Finally, I started my first business: selling biodegradable disposable plates on Amazon. There were some (many) bumps along the way, but I won’t soon forget the excitement that came with that first sale!
Fast forward a couple of years, and I own (with my business partner) 3 eCommerce brands that have collectively done over 200k dollars in sales.
In early 2020, floored with excitement about the opportunity eCommerce represents and armed with my software and consulting skillset, I set out to build a company that combines everything I’ve learned. The eCommerce Boardroom is that company: Part free eCommerce learning center, part consultancy, and part Software as a Service (SaaS), it is the best way that I can think of to share all that I’ve learned with the world.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
As I began to scale my eCommerce brands, I learned two striking things that contributed to the idea for my new company.
- There is a massive online community of aspiring eCommerce entrepreneurs.
- eCommerce is really, really complex.
First, the community. I can’t tell you how many eCommerce Facebook groups, blogs, podcasts, forums, and influencers I’ve followed or subscribed to. And each one represents a community: often 10s or 100s of thousands of people that are just trying to “make it” in the world of eCommerce. Truthfully, I have been encouraged by just how engaged, supportive, and helpful these communities are. But the sheer numberof people who are starting an eCommerce business is enough to overwhelm any newcomer to the space. After all, aren’t allthose people technically my competition?
Second, the complexity. Starting an eCommerce business is hard. But scaling one? That’s even harder. There are so many touchpoints: systems, platforms, tools, and service providers that all work together to make the business tick. With many touchpoints, comes much data. And with much data, comes confusion.
If there was an “Aha Moment”, it was when I listened to a podcast that interviewed Tobias Lütke, one of the founders of Shopify. I can’t remember if it was Tobias or the Interviewer who called Shopify the ultimate “pick and shovel” play in eCommerce. In case you don’t know, this phrase comes from the California Gold rush. Who is guaranteed to make a killing in a gold rush? The people selling the tools (picks and shovels) needed to mine the gold.
Today, eCommerce is a gold rush.
After listening to that interview, I did a quick Google search. As it turns out, there are over 1 million active Shopify Stores and more than 2 Million active sellers on Amazon. Amazing!
That’s when I realized that, although Shopify might be the ultimate “pick and shovel” play, it can’t be the only one in town. The lightbulb turned on.
Instead of viewing those massive online communities as competitors, I saw them to be potential customers. And instead of feeling overwhelmed by the high degree of complexity involved in scaling an eCommerce business, I began to see this as an opportunity to coach others. And so, the idea of a SaaS / Consultancy hybrid for eCommerce entrepreneurs was borne.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first started selling products online, I nearly threw in the towel a number of times. One such time came, as it did for many people, when the reality of COVID-19 set in back in March 2020. All 3 of my businesses floundered.
At the time, I had just spent about 6 weeks researching and setting up my very first Shopify store. My idea? A Travel Accessory brand that I called Yugenite. Yeah, I guess you could say that COVID had an impact on that industry! My store went to 0 overnight.
Another business that I co-own with my brother-in-law is a custom men’s suit shop called Destino Clothing. As we all know, COVID led to fewer events, less disposable income, and virtually 0 in-person business meetings. So, our luxury clothing business took a hit as well.
And of course, there was my B2B disposable plates business, Conscious Products. It struggled to stay afloat as its primary customer segment, event planners and catering companies, was decimated by the pandemic.
As you can imagine, there was a temptation to close up shop and apply for my old consulting job. Instead, out of necessity, we orchestrated a pivot with all three businesses. The result? We learned a ton and actually ended up turning a profit.
At Yugenite, I needed a complete overhaul. I saw the opportunity in creating a lifestyle brand that encourages people to adapt to the new normal of the pandemic and “shelter-in-place”. I sell products that empower my customers to work, exercise, and decompress from the comfort of their homes. My flagship product is a unique reusable face mask. (Not wanting to contribute to a medical supply shortage or price gouge in any way, I targeted the high-end, non-medical “fashion” mask segment, and did well!)
At Destino, we began to sell high-end casual wear that allowed us to adapt to market demand while remaining on-brand.
And at Conscious Products, I successfully pivoted the model to B2C by targeting individuals hosting small outdoor get-togethers.
The pandemic was truly a pressure cooker for my eCommerce brands. It was stressful. But it was probably also the single biggest learning experience of my life. I think the love of God, the support of my wife, and the determination to not go back to my old consulting firm were the key reasons I was able to persist in the face of every temptation to give up.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well today! Yugenite, Destino, and Conscious Products are each still operating and producing sales each and every day.
Most importantly, grinding through the process of building up these 3 brands has given me a robust understanding of various eCommerce business models. The result is The eCommerce Boardroom: a neat marriage of my experience designing software as a consultant and my expertise in eCommerce.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I made every mistake when I was first getting started. The funniest was probably mixing up the “Consignee Address” with the “Delivery Address” when importing my first product to the US. What does that mean? Well, my Freight Forwarder, per my instructions, was about to deliver 50,000 disposable plates to my apartment in Chicago! Fortunately, an agent noticed that something looked a little “off” (warehouses don’t typically have a Unit #…) and called me to double check. We had a good laugh on the phone, but can you imagine if the truck had shown up at my apartment? I’m not sure what I would’ve done! The lesson? Sweat the details. They MATTER.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to not stress if you don’t have all the skills that you need to build a great company. Online dating is great but finding a business partner online is even better! Just be sure you are clear about setting boundaries and coming to terms before partnering with a stranger.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Create a routine that includes time for mental health. I’ve found that I need to carve out 3 specific times each day to do this.
First, for me, the early mornings are critical times of meditation, reading, and prayer. Second, (this one is the hardest for me) I’ve forced myself to get into the habit of taking a lunch break. And third, I take 15–30 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and journal.
I can’t stress enough how important these have been!
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?
I am extraordinarily grateful for my father, who always encouraged me to start a business and inspired me with his own work ethic.
Additionally, my former boss at my consulting firm, William, was instrumental to my professional development. William is a master salesman and always pushed me to take on more responsibility than I thought I could handle.
His favorite exercise was to do what he called “theoretical physics”. This was a scoping exercise where we tried to figure out how in the heck we were going to come up with the resources to complete a project with a tight deadline.
Whenever I heard William say, in his thick British accent, “Hello Charlie. It’s time for some theoretical physics,” I knew I was in for a busy week. And a week full of learning!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
The pandemic definitely disrupted the way in which eCommerce store owners run their business. Here are a few things that we’ve had to do:
- Adjust our inventory to meet market demand. With Yugenite, we had to completely overhaul our product line. Travel, Apparel, Jewelry, and Electronics sales are all down. Products that target an “at home” audience are doing quite well.
- Monitor geographic realities for ad targeting. Something we’ve had to do is to pay close attention to which states and cities are reopening or shutting down again to curb a resurgence in the virus. This has helped significantly boost efficiency of our ad campaigns.
- Transition from B2B to B2C. One of our primary customer segments, Catering Companies, suddenly stopped operating when the pandemic hit (unsurprising since most events were canceled!). We pivoted to a B2C model successfully. I am sure that other eCommerce companies have had to do the same thing in their niche.
- Focus on Customer Retention: If your budget is tightened because of the pandemic, start focusing on low-cost customer retention methods like Email Marketing. Another gem we implemented: We started offering discounted subscription-based deliveries (think Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save”) for some of our disposable products. Customers love the savings and we love the predictable recurring revenue!
- Be a human: I know, groundbreaking. Just be open and honest about the way that the pandemic is affecting your business, commiserate with your customers, and try to encourage people.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Try to see the changing landscape as an opportunity instead of a threat. Worried about the threat of Amazon? Well, Amazon is made up of over 2 million 3rd party sellers. Instead of worrying, why not instead list your products on Amazon and capitalize on their huge but growing market share in eCommerce?
If you are an exclusively brick and mortar retailer, it may be time to introduce an online component to your business. At The eCommerce Boardroom, we love helping folks expand their reach in this way.
My point is that yes, there are significant challenges associated with the rapid pace of change in eCommerce. But if you can stay calm and adapt your business, you can thrive amidst the chaos.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Many newcomers to eCommerce, unfortunately, start in the middle of the business launch process instead of at the beginning.
What do I mean by that? Well, most people starting an eCommerce business get going by doing a few Google searches. It doesn’t take long before they land on the website of some Internet Marketing “Guru”. These Gurus make a killing by selling courses that teach a very narrow model, like “Private Labeling with Fulfillment by Amazon” or “Print-on-Demand Drop Shipping with Shopify”. They do this because the content is fairly easy to teach when presented in this way. But it doesn’t give the full picture.
Some will be successful after spending 2k dollars on one of these courses. But, as the Guru’s fine print will tell you, most will fail. Why is that? Well, the above examples (Amazon FBA and Drop Shipping with Shopify) are really just fulfillment models. But why on earth would you choose a fulfillment model before you even know what product you’re going to sell?
We teach a different launch process, one that’s logical and linear. We harp on answering what we call “The 5 Fundamental Questions of eCommerce”, in order:
- What product should I sell?
- How will I produce (or source) my product?
- How will I deliver it to my customers (now choose a fulfillment model)?
- Who is my ideal customer, anyways?
- How do I convince them to become a repeat buyer and tell their friends about me?
I apologize for the soapbox, but I get fired up about this stuff. The Gurus start you off on Question 3 because they have an agenda, one that involves selling as many courses as possible. I think (I hope) that when it’s laid out in this way, it becomes clear that their approach doesn’t make sense.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I think folks tend to underestimate the importance of differentiation.
It can really make all the difference. Just look at Sarah Kauss, the founder of S’well. If you don’t know, S’well is a brand selling stainless steel water bottles that keep drinks hot or cold for a long time (12–24 hours). They did well over 100M dollars in sales in 2017. But did Sarah invent stainless steel water bottles? Hardly! She is just a master at differentiating her brand, in two key ways. 1) She aligned her products with a social cause (the clean water crisis), and 2) She made her water bottles just plain cool, by focusing on creating unique and fashionable designs.
S’well is a great case study in differentiation that all eCommerce entrepreneurs can learn from!
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Well, I have to suggest that our Boardroom App, which will launch in Q4 2020, will empower eCommerce entrepreneurs to start and manage their brands efficiently with data-driven decision-making.
Shameless plug aside, there are tons of software tools out there that streamline various pieces of the eCommerce puzzle. Here are three of our favorites:
- Product Research Tools: Aglopix, Viral-Launch, Sell the Trend. We use a variety of product research tools to get a sense for market size, competitive landscape, and the viability of launching a product on various platforms (Amazon vs Shopify vs eBay, etc.).
- ShipBob: A tech-enabled 3PL company that integrates with all major eCommerce platforms. I use them for inventory storage and order fulfillment. They have amazing customer support, automated order fulfillment, and low / no monthly minimums for fees. They definitely ease the headache that logistics can create for eCommerce brands!
- Sales Funnel Software: ClickFunnels and The Upsell Plugin (for WordPress) are great tools to help you build out compelling landing pages, up-sell and down-sell sequences, and focus on maximizing your Average Cart Value.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
The best way to increase conversion rates is to focus on the customer experience from start to finish. Here are some of the key elements:
- Retargeting Advertisements. Ads targeting people who have engaged with your brand get much higher conversion rates.
- Compelling Product Pages. This includes great pictures, titles, descriptions, and reviews.
- Offer a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee.
- Add free “Bonuses” to increase the perceived value of the product. For example, offer a free eBook with every purchase that helps the customer get the most out of your product.
- Use Urgency and Scarcity to encourage the customer to buy today. For example, a limited time sale.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
I think some of the answers to the previous question serve to boost customer trust and loyalty. Broadly, I would say that you need to focus on Customer Success, an area that many brands ignore. Customer Success is the process of ensuring that a customer achieves their desired outcome from using your product or service. It means providing 10x more value to your customers than your competitors.
Do this by providing “How-to-Use” instructions with every purchase, lenient Customer Service / returns policies, easily understood Rewards / Customer Loyalty / Referral Programs, and free bonuses and upgrades.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Brands should be sure to respond to negative reviews quickly, publicly, and compassionately.
You don’t want a website visitor to read a negative review in isolation. You always want them to have a chance to see your response. So, replying quickly is crucial.
You want to ensure that your reply is visible directly beneath the negative review. Your response should stand out and it should be obvious that it comes from your brand. It must be public so that folks have a chance to read it.
Finally, respond compassionately. Even if you’re feeling attacked, make sure your response is kind, understanding, and respectful. If what their criticism is truly unfair, you can usually get them to remove their review by asking gently.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Your background matters. There is an old adage that I think is relevant here: “Let your life speak.” Don’t ignore your own experiences and areas of expertise when considering an eCommerce product launch. If you start a business that falls into a niche that you enjoy and understand, you’re far more likely to succeed and far less likely to get burned out.
- You can’t do it all yourself. To really scale your business, you will need to outsource different functions. The method is this: Learn, Do, Delegate. Study up and learn the best practices for something. Then, define success and figure out a process that achieves it. Finally, once the system is in place, hire someone to do it for you. A great example is Customer Service. For 2 months, I answered every customer support inquiry we received. I created an FAQ document and eventually was able to copy/paste 95% of my responses. That’s when I hired someone else to do the busy work for me and freed up my time to focus on high-value tasks.
- You need to test. eCommerce is one big science experiment. What products, platforms, ad targeting, creatives, etc. are going to work best for your business? You won’t know for sure until you get some data that you can evaluate. Which brings me to my next point…
- You will need to pivot. This one is hard for me: I’m a planner. I love to scope out every detail of my business plan, from product to market. But I am never afraid to toss it in the trash. If the data indicates that I should pivot to a new product, marketing strategy, or fulfillment service provider: do it. And trust me, at some point (probably multiple points), the data WILL sugg
- There is a repeatable process that you can follow. The good news is that there is a framework that you can leverage to generate predicable success with eCommerce. Answering “The 5 Fundamental Questions” of eCommerce (mentioned earlier in my interview) is that framework! We teach a series of strategies and tactics for making data-driven decisions at every step of the process. That’s what gets me so excited about eCommerce: anyone can do it! I firmly believe eCommerce has fundamentally changed the entrepreneurial landscape and flattened the playing field. It’s up to you to take advantage.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I would love to start a mental health “movement”. One thing that has helped me tremendously with mental health is entrepreneurship. I would love to create an organization that teaches “mental health through entrepreneurship” as a means for curbing anxiety and depression. In fact, if The eCommerce Boardroom achieves even modest financial success, we intend very seriously to form a team that focuses on this initiative!
How can our readers further follow you online?
The best way is to sign up for our newsletter on the eComm Boardroom site (linked at beginning of the article). There, we provide helpful eCommerce tips and resources and readers will have the exclusive chance to beta test our software for free once it is released!
And finally, we’d love to answer any questions your readers might have! Please feel free to reach out to us at: [email protected]
Thanks to everyone, sincerely, for reading!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!