Find a technical co-founder. Although many eCommerce founders may think that they’ll be able to rely on platforms like Shopify to handle all the technical components of their business, the reality is that having a technical co-founder will enable you to scale your processes in a way that’s not possible with just Shopify. The technical co-founder can even be yourself — just set aside time to start getting familiar with “no-code” tools like Zapier that can help to automate significant and time-consuming aspects of the business. For Onedesk, one of the main time-savers is a simple Zapier integration with our Webflow eCommerce backend that saves us countless hours each week in fulfillment time.
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 Roman Peysakhovich.
Roman is a successful business operator who has rapidly grown his cleaning business and online shop to over 5M dollars annually. He has been featured as a speaker at several industry conferences where he’s taught how to utilize software to grow and automate cleaning businesses. He is currently working on Onedesk to help supply disinfection services and equipment for facilities across the nation.
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?
I have a pretty unconventional background. I dropped out of high school in my senior year. Even though I was right at the finish line, I was desperate to get out of class and go into business. My family owned a local house cleaning business, and I begged them to let me help in any way possible. I started off driving our cleaners from house to house. I started diving deeper into how we were acquiring new customers and started expanding our customer base by building out an online presence. Eventually, I grew a fairly large book of business within my family’s company and went on to spin off this section of the business into a new brand, Maid Masters. After continuing to grow Maid Masters for several years, I started focusing on the commercial industry and rebranded to Building Masters — a full-service B2B facility management service provider. The concept of Building Masters proved to be a hit, and I soon brought on additional partners to help scale the company.
During the process of building out Building Masters, I realized that there were some significant pain points in the process for clients to book and manage their services. I realized that there was an opportunity to develop a SaaS that would help office managers to book and manage cleaning services for their facility. This led me to start Onedesk. I partnered up with a local developer who had recently moved back from Silicon Valley after serving as CTO of a venture-backed Blockchain company in San Mateo to develop the Onedesk platform in October of 2019. We launched the platform in March of 2020, right as the coronavirus was beginning to outbreak in the US. Our customers immediately turned to us for help with their disinfection protocols. We discovered the best way to disinfect large offices was through the use of a device called an electrostatic sprayer. When we went to purchase a few, we realized that the device was nearly impossible to find in stock due to massive surges in demand. We knew that if we were having this problem, so was everyone else in the cleaning industry. We started hustling to find multiple distribution partners to try to create supply in a market that we knew had bottomless demand. Fast forward 8 months and we are selling to countless churches, offices, schools, and buildings across the nation. What began as an initiative to supply our own cleaners with the sprayers turned into a full eCommerce store supplying facilities across the country with these devices.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Our “Aha Moment” came to us when we realized that every cleaner in our network was trained to use the electrostatic sprayers but could not locate the devices anywhere online as most sellers were sold out or promising shipments in 6 months to a year. We saw an opportunity to pivot our existing business into supplying these sprayers that our cleaners were desperately needing. We had to move fast to partner with national distributors and hustle to be able to keep up with the demand for the sprayers and the disinfection services that they were used for.
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?
The hardest part of the journey was getting distributors to listen to us and make their products available to us. Since we were only a 6-month-old company at the time, no distributor wanted to work with us. We had to convince them that our software had built up an entire network of cleaners across the nation that was in desperate need of these devices to provide the proper disinfection services to our customers. We considered giving up after the 10th distributor told us they are not willing to work with us. We continued to desperately seek out new distributors and knew we would eventually find some that understand our unique situation of having demand across the country for a service that required these sprayers. We had the drive to keep looking because we saw how many offices were requesting disinfection services. We saw other companies providing electrostatic cleaning on a local level and knew that there was demand across the nation.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great today. We have established a relationship with 5 different manufactures and are offering several lines of sprayers and solutions on our site. We wanted to make sure we could offer everything from a simple 500 dollars sprayer for small offices, to complete solutions for government buildings and public schools in need of units that are upwards of 5,000+ dollars. If we had given up after the 5th or 6th distributor turned us away, we would never be able to enjoy our current successes.
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?
In our first couple of orders, we were still learning how to handle everything manually while our software team was working on automating order fulfillment. I went to fulfill an order for a customer and was so overwhelmed by the process that I ended up putting my own home address as the shipping address. A few days later the sprayers arrived at my door. We had to make up for the delay to our customer with a shipment of free disinfection solutions. Since then, we’ve automated the shipping process for us to avoid this kind of error going forward.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of the key things that we are so proud of is our ability to adapt. Competitors in our space have been around for many years, but we’re all in the same boat of needing to rapidly adapt to shifts in the market due to the virus. We didn’t set out to be an eCommerce shop. We initially planned on being a software solution for office cleaning services. When we saw the need for electrostatic spraying and the low supply of sprayers, we knew we needed to adapt to this new need and would solve the issue for many customers and cleaners looking for these devices. When we started selling the sprayers on our site, we were inundated with questions about the pros/cons of each. Nobody knew which products were the best as the whole world of electrostatic sprayers was brand new to nearly everyone in the industry. Based on our early experience with the sprayers, we put up a review page to assist in the buying process. This simple review page has led to an outpouring of appreciation from our customers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
When setting up an eCommerce store, I realized the key to not burning out is having the technology to help you along the way. Our CTO, Daniel was hard at work from day one building tools and automation that would streamline everything from the orders being put into a system, to automatically sending out tracking info. There are so many great tools available today that you can utilize that will prevent you from doing those manual tasks that cause burn out.
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?
Our family investors have been the answer to our success in being able to quickly set up our store and finance our project. One of our major customer bases has been local schools and police stations. Municipal organizations like these required us to send out the product before they would send out a payment. Due to this, we ran into a serious cash flow issue and would not have made it without our families believing in us and helping to finance these purchase orders. We didn’t have time to prepare our books for a bank loan, so their quick help was vital to our success and continues to be today.
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?
I think the entire eCommerce space has been a lifeline for many people during the pandemic. Imagine how different coronavirus would be in a world without easy online access to many of your needs like clothing, food, masks, etc. The shift away from physical stores was already on the way, but the pandemic has rapidly sped up this shift. Many eCommerce stores are offering memberships to consumers who order their products regularly. I think we will see a big push for a “subscription” model from online businesses, as they will seek to introduce loyalty to the buying process. Most eCommerce businesses today cannot accurately forecast future cash flow. Introducing membership programs can ease a lot of these uncertainties. When Amazon added Prime, they were handsomely rewarded by the public markets, as investors began evaluating the business in a new light.
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?
Build a brand! If you’re competing on price or value, you will eventually risk competition being cheaper. One thing your competitors cannot do is be better at being you. Great customer service, a story behind your product, and an awesome dedicated team is what drives a good product to outlast cheaper competitors. We cannot compete with China when it comes to pricing on our sprayers. What we can do however is answer the phone late at night and guide our customers in their journey, and to promise to be there when they need it.
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?
Overpromising! Whether it’s shipping times or its inventory promises, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself in the beginning. You want to do everything for your customers so you over-promise them and then end up disappointing by not delivering. This is the case with so many eCommerce stores. In the beginning, I wish we were more transparent with our customers and told them we are a new start-up and we are doing the best to adapt to this new demand for our products. The best thing you can do is to keep an eye on inventory and know your shipping times cold. Only promise what you can fulfill, even if it’s not what the customer wants to hear at the moment.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The most underestimated aspect of running an eCommerce is customer service. Getting a customer to purchase your product is only half the battle. Once you realize you’ll have to constantly manage inventory issues, shipping delays, and defective products, you realize how important it is to have good support. We realized this once we had about 20 people asking questions every day about their order. We were not prepared for this at all. We’ve recently onboarded a full-time support rep to manage customer service for our shop.
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?
The software that has driven our business from the start is Google Sheets. We used WebFlow eCommerce to set up the eCommerce site and used Zapier to integrate Google Sheets with Webflow. When a customer makes an order on our Webflow site, Zapier gets triggered and sends the order to our Google Sheet with all of the relevant order information. We also set up our CRM to track requests, orders, quotes, and even provide website chat. We used HubSpot for this and it continues to be the hub for our entire store.
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?
We increased conversions dramatically simply by adding a chat widget to our site. People were able to get answers to their questions immediately and this was one of the major factors for converting traffic to our site. The key is instant replies. You need to be available to assist your customer immediately. Our target is sub-60 second response times. Another strategy we used to increase conversions was to have a compare button on our page that links to a similar product on Amazon. This helped build trust with our customers as they knew we were not pricing our items higher than the big online stores.
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?
Try to be a thought leader in your industry. Show your customers that you are constantly researching your products and are working on offering them the best solution, not just a profitable one. Our research is what got us to be a trusted brand in the space. We spent countless nights researching electrostatic sprayers and documenting our experiences with them. It’s paid off by ultimately leading people to trust our brand.
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?
Be the bigger person! If a customer is not happy with their purchase, we don’t just reply to their review. We always reach out and try to make it right by understanding their specific needs and trying to create the best outcome for our customers. We never attack them or get into details of why we think we are right and they are wrong. While we always stand up for our product and our brand, we also apologize when our customers didn’t have the experience they wanted. We always let them know that we are one call away from working out a resolution together.
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 eCommerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Find a technical co-founder. Although many eCommerce founders may think that they’ll be able to rely on platforms like Shopify to handle all the technical components of their business, the reality is that having a technical co-founder will enable you to scale your processes in a way that’s not possible with just Shopify. The technical co-founder can even be yourself — just set aside time to start getting familiar with “no-code” tools like Zapier that can help to automate significant and time-consuming aspects of the business. For Onedesk, one of the main time-savers is a simple Zapier integration with our Webflow eCommerce backend that saves us countless hours each week in fulfillment time.
- Before you start your eCommerce business, you should have a good understanding of the landscape of competitors in your niche. The last thing you want to do is enter a niche that is oversaturated. No one will be making money, including you. The reason we started selling electrostatic sprayers on Onedesk is that we saw first-hand that demand was vastly outstripping supply. Oftentimes founders will want to start a business and will go looking for a product to sell to make their eCommerce dream a reality. In reality, it’s much better to go searching for the product or niche first, and only start the business once you know it’s a winner.
- After you get started running your operation, you’re going to want to know your numbers down cold. There are two main metrics I think are important to monitor at all times while running your business. These are Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Lifetime Value (LTV). In addition to understanding the margin on each of your product lines, it’s important to know how much your blended cost to acquire each customer is across all of your marketing channels. If you’re not monitoring CAC, you may end up spending more to acquire each customer than you make on them. Similarly, it’s important to understand how many times a customer re-orders on average. If you’re just measuring CAC against the average gross profit on your customer’s first order, the numbers may look much worse than they really are. Sending a simple re-activation email with a discount code can drive huge gains in LTV, so don’t count yourself out if you’re not able to make the numbers work on your customer’s first order.
- Cash flow is king! The age-old expression still rings true, especially in eCommerce. Many eCommerce businesses are moving towards drop shipping to avoid the cash flow pitfalls of storing inventory. However, if you can solve your financing needs with revolving credit lines, there are big opportunities in seeking out clients that rely on NET terms to make their purchases. These clients are much less price-sensitive, but you’ll need to work around their process. Oftentimes, these are customers that are embedded in a large organization that has specific accounting controls in place and forces all purchases to be made via Purchase Orders with NET terms. If you can work around their buying process, you’ll enjoy bulk purchase orders and reorders, and you’ll become their go-to supplier.
- Invest in a good CRM. Your CRM will be the lifeblood of your company. We use Hubspot to manage the entire lifecycle of our customers. We’ll send out quotes to customers when we’re early in our relationship with them, and we’ll continue to use HubSpot to address inquiries or customer service needs well after they’ve received their initial purchases from us. CRMs help to standardize and organize your customer interactions. If you use them correctly, you’ll have a complete record of every interaction with your customers, accessible by your entire team. I recommend using HubSpot due to the plethora of add-ons that they provide. Hubspot Chat has been a huge driver for growth for our business, and I couldn’t be happier using it.
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. 🙂
You’re too kind! I, probably like many of the people reading this, struggle with digital addiction. If I’m not looking at the screen on my laptop, I’m looking at the screen on my phone. It can be hard to just disengage and live in the moment. One simple trick I’ve started using this year is turning the color filter on my iPhone to grayscale. I’m still able to be productive on my device, and the lack of color really detracts from a lot of the appeal of the phone for the time wasters that all of us fall prey to. I would also encourage a policy of “no-notifications”. This means turning off badges and alerts on your phone. You should be in control of your devices, not have your devices in control of you.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Feel free to add me on LinkedIn. I am always down to chat with anyone and try to help with any business matters. I am a knowledge seeker and thrive off learning new things as well as helping out in any way I can. If you need any help with anything cleaning related in the workspace, I am your guy!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!