It’s all about people. For all of the spreadsheets, analysis, big ideas and other important aspects of creating a business; ultimately, it’s all about people. It’s about your customers. It’s about your team. It’s about your vendors, partners, investors, and more. Without these people, your business wouldn’t exist. And without these people, your business wouldn’t matter.
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 Joe Fischer.
Prior to Greetabl, Joe helped found Soho House Mumbai, with a 13M dollars raise and held significant operational roles. He was Vice President in Goldman Sachs Consumer/Retail group, and enjoyed time at Bear Stearns and Ernst & Young as well. He earned his CPA accreditation and CFA charter in 2005 and 2008, respectively. In 2010, Joe backpacked around the world visiting 25 countries across six continents. Joe lives on a six-generation family farm, and enjoys every minute spent there with his family.
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?
From the time I gave up wanting to be a professional basketball player, I wanted to do two things: travel the world and start a company. Growing up on a farm, you never really travel, and I always had the itch.
In 2010, I quit my Wall Street job, sold most of what I owned and bought a backpack. I spent the next 7 months traveling solo around the world–six continents, 20+ countries. It was an incredible experience, but it was also a little bit lonely. When I was sitting in a hostel in Cambodia not having any real friends around was a moment that helped me realize how important relationships are. Really, relationships are everything.
After a stint helping start a company in India, I moved home to start the next phase of my career. During that time, I had a couple of weddings to attend and my go-to gift for weddings was always a handwritten note and a check. I felt that, while the message was the meaningful part, it’s a lot more fun to receive a gift than an envelope. I started tinkering with this idea that the message could be the gift and the gift could be the message, until I came up with a design that really seemed to work. And Greetabl 1.0–a greeting card that folded into a gift box– was born.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The inspiration really sprang from what I think is a universal human desire–to make someone we love feel loved. It was a close friend’s wedding that sparked the idea, but the concept really came together as the perfect way to celebrate life’s little moments–a friend’s birthday, for instance, or a new job–particularly when you can’t be there in person. (And certainly my mother’s insistence on sending ‘thank you’ cards played a role!).
After tinkering around, I created a greeting card that folded up into a gift box to encase a check. It was rough around the edges but still got an amazing reaction from all who saw it (even the postal carrier who delivered an early prototype to my mom)!
Our customers inspire us as well–it’s really uplifting to see people use Greetabl to simply reach out and say ‘hello’ or ‘I’m thinking of you’ for no reason at all other than to make someone’s day.
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?
a. The lowest point of the roller coaster that this journey has been, was several years ago — before we re-launched the version of our company you see today. We were raising money for the new launch we had been working on all summer and were running out of cash. Negotiating a deal when your back is up against a wall is a very stressful situation.
Fortunately, I was able to keep a level head and secure a good deal for the funding we needed, but it was a very challenging time. I think the combination of having a vision for what we wanted to create and the impact we wanted to have on the gifting industry along with a heavy dose of hard-headed stubbornness and the complete unwillingness to give up kept me going. Any sort of rational analysis of the situation at that time would have resulted in a different outcome, indeed!
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
a. Things are humming right along at Greetabl, thanks to our incredible team, outstanding partners, and the most thoughtful and considerate customers in the world. We always want to be growing faster, that’s just in our nature, but we are building a world class brand, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
Sometimes, I think terms like “grit” and “resilience” are just fancy words for being irrationally stubborn and hard-headed. I guess it comes down to caring about the vision in my head and being committed to bringing it into reality. When you’re committed you don’t give up. End of story.
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?
The funniest little thing that happened was a typo in the subject line of the first email we sent out, “Intoducing Greetabl…” I’m not sure how I missed that…
Looking back, though, I think the funniest thing is really our naivety about how much people pay attention to you. Everyone is so busy and thinking about their own lives that it’s a lot more difficult to cut through the clutter than you realize…until you try. This is the kind of thing that informs our sales and marketing efforts on a daily basis, and is one of the reasons we emphasize Customer Happiness so much.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are a lot of ways someone can send a gift these days, so standing apart from the crowd is very important. For one, we have a very differentiated product — there’s nothing like it on the market, and our patented design creates a very memorable experience, and has delighted customers all across North America.
Secondly, we make the process of giving personalized gifts both easy and fun! We have just the right amount of personalization — three photos and a message — and our mix and match gift and design options allow you to build the perfect gift for your recipient and the occasion.
Thirdly, we focus on what we call the Gifting Gap — those times when a greeting card isn’t enough, but other options are too expensive, too time consuming, and not very personal. Rather than focus on how much we can get you to spend on a gift like most retailers, we’ve created an outstanding product that helps you feel closer to the people who matter in your life that starts at less than 20 dollars.
Finally, we are obsessed with customer experience. We ship our photo-customized gifts at an industry-leading 1–2 business day turnaround, and we invest heavily in our Customer Happiness team. Our first response time to customer inquiries is three times faster than the industry average. You will not find better customer service than what you experience with Greetabl.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
a. First, surround yourself with a team you can trust. Investing in the right people will empower you to focus on the things you are uniquely suited for and to let go of the things you aren’t. I’ve found that having the right team can make a huge difference for my own balance and clarity.
Second, you have to be able to move on quickly when things don’t work out to plan. It’s important to understand what went wrong and learn from mistakes, of course, but if you spend too much time dwelling on the past you’ll miss opportunities to improve and you’ll get burned out a lot faster. Not everything is going to work; quickly let go of the things that don’t and start trying the next thing.
Finally, make time for the things that matter outside of your business. I’m a husband and a father now, and making time for my family is absolutely critical to avoiding burnout. When I prioritize stepping away from work, I always come back with more clarity and creativity.
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?
a. There’s not one particular person; there are many, many people for whom I am exceptionally grateful — and without whom, Greetabl would not exist. My co-founder, Zoë, is an obvious one. We’ve been through a lot together from the very beginning. My wife, Sara, has been so incredibly supportive on this journey — and it’s not easy being the spouse of a founder. Of course, our investors have made so much of this possible as well as the incredible partners we work with on a daily basis. And there have been countless mentors and advisors who have spent time with me when I needed it, including the amazing folks in the Pipeline Entrepreneurs family.
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?
We have been so focused on taking care of our customers and our team members that I’m probably not the best person to opine on what other companies are doing outside the obvious things like making and selling COVID-related products.
For us, outside of the extra-long days (especially for our amazing Customer Happiness team) one big initiative we accelerated due to the pandemic was launching our Platform Partner program. This program enables small businesses and local makers who are a good fit for the Greetabl platform to get their approved gift products online and in front of millions of potential new customers in record time and at absolutely no cost to them. This program has helped so many amazing makers across the country, and we are really proud to be partnering with such creative and hard-working people business owners.
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?
This question has a very simple answer that is extraordinarily difficult to execute: don’t compete on price.
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?
It’s been an interesting year or so in the DTC e-commerce space with so many high flying brands coming undone in one way or another. I think it’s really easy to look at the companies who are lionized in the media and think “let’s do what they’re doing here” or “they just tried this tactic, it must be working for them” whereas the reality of what’s going on behind the scenes could be very, very different.
The challenge is to be laser-focused on your customer and not let other things distract you. There are really only a handful of questions you need to consistently ask yourself and most of them revolve around your customer: acquisition, retention, qualitative factors, lifetime value, etc.
But, in reality, first-time CEO’s are first-time CEO’s, and some mistakes need to be made for oneself. Just be sure to learn from them and move on.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
It’s 100% building the team. There’s so much “sizzle” in product, marketing, and technology, but what really matters is the people who are actually making things happen. Human beings are complex and dynamic, and finding (and recognizing!) the right people who are aligned with your mission and can help get you there is incredibly difficult.
I am so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by an amazing team, and it is, without a doubt, the most important part of running a successful company.
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?
It took me a while to really learn this, but the use of the tool is far more important than the tool itself. In other words, you could build your entire team around the basics of Google Workspace: documents, spreadsheets, calendar, email, etc and never add another “productivity” tool or cool app and be just fine. It would be the simplest setup, and there’s value in simplicity.
That said, we do use additional tools that work very well for us, most notably Asana and Slack. Zapier is also an incredibly powerful tool for automating some simple tasks without creating custom software.
This might be my best all around advice: when it comes to this stuff, just pick one, master it, and stick with it!
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?
a. Simplify, simplify, simplify! We’ve found over and over that it’s easy to get in your own way by adding too much to your site, or even too many options for your product. If your conversion rates are low, take a second look at your eCommerce funnel and ask yourself “how easy is it to buy my product?”. Everytime we do this exercise, we find something else to simplify or remove to make it easier for our visitors to convert to customers.
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?
This is so important to us at Greetabl! The number one way to build trust as an eCommerce business is to make things right for your customers when things go wrong. It’s impossible to avoid mistakes 100% of the time, but it’s always possible to correct your mistakes when they do happen. Our Customer Happiness team has the authority to do whatever it takes to make things right for our customers, and I think that’s one of the reasons we have thousands of five star reviews online.
We also work hard to make sure our Customer Happiness team connects with our customers authentically and personally. One recent example of this is at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had every employee at Greetabl clear their calendars for two weeks and offer to get on the phone with our customers to just chat about what was on their minds. I personally spoke with many of our customers during that time — some just wanted a listening ear as they talked about the toilet paper shortage, some had ideas on what Greetabl could do to help people connect during social distancing, and some wanted to talk about how their small businesses were being impacted by the pandemic. It was a small thing to do in the grand scheme of things, but it made a profound impact on our customers and I’m really proud of our team for stepping up and being there for people during a difficult time.
The last piece that’s really critical to our strategy for building trust with our customers is Surprise & Delight. Our Customer Happiness team actively looks for ways to add a little magic for our customers whenever they can. If they help a bride select gifts for her bridesmaids, our team may send a little surprise to the bride congratulating her on her engagement, too. The key here is to make it authentic and flexible so that the team can find the right moments to make an impact.
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?
Most importantly, respond to every review! I know it sounds tedious, but our team responds to every single review we get — whether it’s good or bad. This gives us one extra touchpoint between the brand and the consumer, and we also believe it’s just the right thing to do. When someone has taken the time and energy to give you feedback on your business they deserve some response to thank them for helping you grow. One other benefit of replying to reviews publicly is other potential customers will see your responses and will be able to tell how far you went to try to take care of the person who left the negative feedback.
The other thing we do is try to make things right for the customer. Our policy is “Love it or the next one’s on us,” and we really mean it! Even if we believe we did everything we possibly could for the customer, we will still give them their next order free if they aren’t completely satisfied.
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.
Simple is best.
If I could “go back and do it all over again” the main theme in the way I would do things differently would be that I would do them simpler every chance I could. While it can sometimes (but certainly not always) take extra time and resources to get to “simple” the ROI on that investment is worth it because you learn more quickly and can iterate more effectively. “Simple” is often cheaper (over short and long-term horizons), a better experience for the customer, less frustrating, and, consequently, a lot more fun!
Differentiated is essential.
There are many ways to think about your place in the market, though the only “right” one is whatever your customers think. If they perceive you to be just like a dozen other brands in the space, then you’re not differentiated enough. It’s difficult enough to stand apart when you have a truly unique technology or offering…if you don’t have that, it’s nearly impossible. And, being in the weeds of your industry, it’s very easy to see how differentiated you are compared to others…but the only thing that matters is whether or not your customers agree.
It’s all about people.
For all of the spreadsheets, analysis, big ideas and other important aspects of creating a business; ultimately, it’s all about people. It’s about your customers. It’s about your team. It’s about your vendors, partners, investors, and more. Without these people, your business wouldn’t exist. And without these people, your business wouldn’t matter.
It’s really hard.
Starting a company is hard. Like, really hard. Even if everything goes right (it won’t) it’s just an incredible amount of difficult work, and that’s not for everyone. If you’re joining a small business that has ambitions to grow quickly, know that YOU will have to work that hard, too!
It’s the best job there is.
For the right person, there is no professional journey better than starting and growing a business. It requires constant learning and execution as well as real-world feedback. This makes it the ultimate personal development path.
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. 🙂
One thing I’m very passionate about outside of Greetabl is our food system. In many ways, we have lost touch with the wisdom of prior generations in favor of a concentrated, industrial system where producers’ and consumers’ interests are not aligned. There is tremendous value in the high quality, locally-raised food that goes beyond nutrition alone. The pandemic exposed major flaws in the U.S. food system, and there are some incredibly smart and dedicated people working to generate awareness and help solve this very serious problem. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of understanding and a lot of misinformation out there as well.
Since these topics have become almost like religion, the movement I wish I could start would simply be one of mutual respect, openness, and dialogue…because it will take this to solve these issues, and every single person in our country would benefit from a more reliable and nutritious food system.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Follow @greetabl on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or find us on LinkedIn.
If you’re excited about what we’re doing, check our open positions here.
If you want to connect with me personally, tweet me @thejoefischer
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!