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Your Last $1,000: Bootstrapping Multimillion Dollar Companies | AWeurope 2018

September 20, 2019


Okay, let’s get started! Can each of you share a little bit about you and about your background and why you’re sitting
here today? Rhian, wanna start? Absolutely! My name is Rhian. I’m the COO and co-founder of venntov,
a Shopify app company. I got started in e-commerce in 2014 after quitting banking. I’m a retired banker. Awesome. I was hired by an affiliate network a handful of years ago. I’ve run everything from dating and sweeps on Facebook when it was still alive, back in the day and after being an affiliate for many years,
I started my own business, PixelHaus, an agency that works with brands to
help them scale customer acquisition and yeah. I’m Mia. I own and run several
e-commerce businesses from Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been doing that for the last 3 and a half years with a combined revenue turnover of over $10 million. So that’s my bread and butter, that’s what I do on a daily basis and it’s what I know. Hi guys! Gretta, also from Melbourne, Australia. Over the last 5 years I’ve started and scaled $5 multimillion e-commerce brands into the 7- or 8-figures. Looking forward to chatting today. I’m Aline. I’m from Brazil. I’ve started out with an advertisement agency. We were doing really great but I started to speak at
conferences and I got invited to Afiliados Brazil, which is an affiliate conference, and we met some people there and we started to license some best-selling offers, world-selling offers, to the Portuguese market. And then, because of some limitations we had we started to create our own offers
and we became top players in the Brazilian market, and our partners at Offerpay, they helped solve those problems we were having, which is having access to international affiliates and allowing international affiliates to create and sell offers in Brazil. Awesome. Alright! Well, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur nowadays so what do you think are the main differences
between an entrepreneur and a “wantrepreneur”? I’m happy to step in quickly. I’d say definitely being solutions-driven people. I think it’s very easy to find problems in everything but finding a solution for that problem is a bit of a different matter. So definitely the way that I started out in business was I had a idea
for a product. I created the product. It’s called SkinnyMe Tea. We’re the world’s first Instagram “teatox” so you guys might have seen those
Instagram influencer girls holding a cup of tea? We started that weird little trend. It wasn’t little. It ended up being quite a large trend. And so I literally just got online and
googled “How to start an e-commerce store” and Shopify came up and I created a Shopify store I think it took me about 8 hours
and I just kept Googling things along the way. Every time there was a problem,
it was just finding that solution to that problem and it sounds like a really, really simple thing except yeah, it’s just making sure that when, you know, some people see problems, you do find that solution. And alongside being a problem-solver, and this is probably common knowledge to most of you but, what I believe the difference between a wantrepreneur and entrepreneur is someone actually takes action and executes and gets shit done. I think so many people have amazing ideas but they don’t take action because they might be fearful, scared of judgement, scared of failure,
which is probably the biggest one but yeah. Definitely taking action is the most important thing. Getting shit done. Right. Execution is everything, some people say. It’s true. Alright, in terms of financing. Financing is always a huge hurdle for getting things off the ground. So how did you go about funding your first venture? Did you just self-fund and save every penny or did you get a loan? What was your experience like? We bootstrapped. I consulted. Our company was the Shopify agency where
we were an agency, so like a partner agency, appdevs and experts, which is this crazy mix of things. So I consulted and I started raising my consultative fee and then all of a sudden we launched this SaaS product and we have 1,000 users, 2,000 users, 3,000 users and then at some point I was like, “I’m not consulting anymore. This is great.” So that’s it. That’s what we did. Nice. When I started my first e-commerce company,
I literally had no money to my name and I did something that’s probably a little
bit dodgy but I actually started selling a product before I actually had any stock on hand. I did the same. Amazing. So I knew that I had to sell an X amount of
products for me to be able to afford my initial capital to buy the product and import it and I managed to hit that goal within 8 days and that’s when my first company, Pearly Whites Australia, was born. So I think there’s a bit of a
misconception when people say that you need to have a truckload of money and
capital behind you to start a business. I’m the first to say that’s not
necessarily true, obviously depending on the product or business that you’re
starting but if you’re a little bit creative there’s definitely ways around it. Yeah, I had $24 in the bank when I started SkinnyMe Tea and I was working full-time at the time. I mean the reason I had $24 in the bank is I just bought a really expensive designer handbag
so I don’t know about the priorities. I usually leave that part out of the story.
It’s not like I was completely broke. I just made funny choices. So I was working full-time at the time so my only choice was to take orders during the
week and then fulfil them on weekends so it was kind of like a 5-day pre-order
and then a two-day fulfilment and I was mixing the product by hand at that stage and I had no idea what manufacturing was like. If we were a tea company and I was like, “I wonder what Lipton do? or Tetley?” Like how they have so many teabags. I had absolutely no idea about business when I first started it but we ended up scaling the company to $600,00 in revenue in 6 months. And my accountant was like,
“What are you doing? What’s your secret sauce?” I was like, “I have no idea I just know how to sell tea.” That wasn’t the case.
We were really good at Instagram marketing. I just didn’t understand what my strengths were yet. Did any of you start off your businesses
with partners or joint ventures? I have a business partner. You do. I’m a non-technical founder so would say, loosely, I’ve got something
in the front-end stack, right? I can look at things. I know how to break something really well.
I can’t put it back together. My business partner, however, is a prodigal PHP dev. He’s a full stack. He’s amazing and we work really well together
and we fill in each other’s weaknesses. So you have good balance there. It’s a really good balance, yeah. Perfect. I think I had a beginning that’s more similar to more people in the room,
where I was running affiliate offers. I started as a media buyer and I was saving money from running my campaigns to invest in more ad spend to build my business
and grow a media buying team. Nice. Alright. Did any of you build your business
with an exit strategy in mind? No. Probably didn’t even know what an exit strategy was
when I first started my business, to be honest. I have now built businesses with exit strategies in mind It’s just when I first started my first startup,
that was absolutely not the case. It was just about getting through that day, that week. Your new venture? Like Hey Influencers. And I know you’re
working on something. Oh! Yeah, yeah. Well, I have exited one of my businesses so I guess that’s an exit strategy. To actually exit it and sell it would be a good strategy. But yeah, the Fifth Watches, I have now exited. And Hey Influencers? I mean, I don’t have an exit strategy in mind but I understand the value that is built through brand as well. I think that it’s really, really important. I know that a lot of people in the room do affiliate and I know that a lot of people do dropshipping for e-commerce and that is an amazing first starting point.
That is a great place to start but if you’re similar to me
and you want to build something that maybe feels a bit more purposeful,
that it’s a bit more authentic to yourself, and that you want to have that kind of
sustainable growth over time, I think it’s really important to build a brand
and building that brand is an exit strategy because at the end of the day, if you don’t build a brand you’re just gonna exit for a sales multiple. If you do build a brand, it could be one of those huge companies that you’re seeing on the market, the big CPG companies like Dollar Shave Club. They weren’t just a sales multiple obviously,
there was a lot of goodwill and equity involved as well. So brand building is central to planning an exit. For us, as affiliates, we never have an exit plan but with Offerpay it was different
because it’s a much bigger project and we managed to solve a problem that is very unique. We are a very unique company so we know we are going to grow enough market share to be able to be acquired but we do have an exit plan for that one. Nice. Alright. So how do you hold yourself accountable? Do any of you work with mentors or is that why you took on a partner, to hold yourself accountable? Well, I took on a partner because I had to, right? I’m not a fan of outsourcing development work. It’s not for me. So I needed to take on on a partner
and we do hold each other accountable. And sometimes, it’ll always be this give-and-take because sometimes he’ll say like,
“Oh, I’m not sure about this.” I’m like, “Let’s just ship it. Go, go, go!” And other times when I’ve written things and they’ve gotten published, I’m like,
“Oh it’s never good enough” and then he’s like, “It’s fine. Just ship it.” So that’s accountability. Just make sure we always ship something. Did you work with mentors, Mirella? I think this industry is based on knowledge-sharing, right? I think the conferences, the forums, the Facebook groups, the masterminds, it’s kind of like, how people grow their businesses
is through learning from each other, so in that sense, I feel very lucky
to have learned from so many around me. But I hold myself accountable because I’m a very competitive person by nature,
and very proud. I think that the expectations that I set for myself are what keep me in check. And yeah I think it’s a personality trait, just
like how we were discussing before about being an entrepreneur. And the difference between being a wantrepreneur is someone that makes excuses or
someone that gets shit done. So yeah. Personally, I didn’t have a mentor when I
started. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing
but I’ve always been somewhat of a leader. My personality, I’ve always been a bit of a leader and someone who is very fearless. I’m not scared of anything or anyone
and I think that’s a very important trait that you need to adopt when you have business, as I’m
sure you guys are very much aware of. But I don’t think there were many people
that I really looked up to, probably because I didn’t really understand the whole
thing about networking and mentoring because business was so intimidating.
I didn’t grow up in a family with money or business. It was very new to me so I just kind of learned myself through books and podcasts and videos and self teach, I guess? Which I think is almost a benefit because I’m not manipulated into someone’s way of learning or doing. I’ve had to build that myself and what I do now is based on what works for me,
not what someone’s taught me from the beginning, do you know what I mean? So now I definitely have mentors and people that I look up to and chat to on a regular basis and even just being in environments like this, leveraging off each other and bouncing off each other. That, definitely to me, is a form of mentorship
and inspiration, and is so important as well. Nice. Can I answer this one? Yeah. I have a lot of business partners
and I think they’re great because they allow me to achieve much greater things, like with
Offerpay. We have partners that take care of manufacturing products, we have partners that take care of logistics,
like distribution and customer support. And so we can manage to have a LinkedIn team work with what we do best
and our partners takes care of stuff that we don’t have so much knowledge about. So I think it’s very important to help you grow. Nice. So once you got your business
to a point of being successful what was your strategy to scale? I think, coming from a media buying perspective, it’s about diversifying, especially if you want to scale and survive long term. Don’t rely just on Facebook. Run other things. Run search, run Pinterest, run Snapchat now and use the great traffic source as well. So yeah, that always works for me. Yes, same as Mirella. I think it’s not good to feel too comfortable, you know? We never felt comfortable. We always tried to create new offers and learn
from them to keep a sustainable business going on. Did anyone here reinvest your profits or buy yourself a nice treat? We are always investing large amounts
of everything we earn. We started with baby steps until
we got to a point where we could invest in a much bigger project. But
we started very small. Having two jobs. Going through one to pay for the other one until we transition to the affiliate world. And it was very slow but it got to a very big point. Yeah, same here. Sometimes picking offers strategically where you can take some mobile offers, plug in on a CPA, just so you have steady flow to reinvest in media buys. And I see it like that. Taking the profits that we’re generating from current campaigns and investing in future campaigns. I was 21 when I started my first company and when I started it I was on wellfare, Centrelink. And the fact that I had and was starting to make money for me was so exciting so I’m not gonna sit here and say that I was reinvesting all my money. I was just excited they had money. But I said to myself that once I hit the my first million dollar turnover, that’s when I would buy myself something nice or go on a holiday or whatever it was at the time. Buy a new car. But I think obviously reinvesting back into the business, I started reinvesting into new businesses and starting new e-commerce businesses because I knew that my first initial product wasn’t going to be around forever.
I knew that wasn’t going to be the company that I was going to run for the next 40 years. I knew it had a timeline so I’m glad that I was switched on enough at the time to know that it was important
to start thinking about the future and seeing what the next trend was going to be and what the next product that I could fit in a market hole was going to be. So yeah, definitely reinvesting into new ideas. Alright, so I think a lot of us have been
talking about imposter syndrome recently. That’s kind of when self doubt creeps in
and you don’t always recognise your own accomplishments. Does anyone have any stories or experiences you can share around impostor syndrome? Does anyone else have that? Yeah, I mean. Do you wanna go? Go ahead. Oh definitely when I first started SkinnyMe Tea. I have a similar story to Mia. I was 22.
I hadn’t started a business before and we grew very quickly and it was relatively overnight. So my biggest fear was always that everything was going to go on to the next day basically, and I was talking about this
in my Q&A yesterday with you, Bonnie, and basically it took until a mentor said to
me, or a close friend and mentor, said to me, “Okay, Gretta, well it’s it’s Friday today.
If everything went under tomorrow, what would you be doing on Monday?” And the answer was really simple. I was like, “Starting again, of course.” So I think if you understand that everything that you’re doing is repeatable and everything that you’re learning, you’re able to take away and do again,
and not to worry too much or focus too much on this concept of failure or fearing the worst then you’re gonna have that much more self-confidence. But outside of that, I have never felt as though I didn’t deserve to have what I have. I’ve never been like, “I’m so lucky to have that.” It has been hard work. I was working like 14, 15-hour days, non-stop when I first started SkinnyMe Tea because I didn’t understand that you could have a team and I honestly would feel guilty if I gave like any of my work to anyone else so I
was doing all of our customer service, all of our marketing. I was doing the majority of our distribution. And everything else I hadn’t even realised
that you had to do yet, like accounting and legal. Oh God. So yeah, it just was a bit of a learning curve but I’ve never felt lucky. Timing is always crucial and that has an element of luck to it but seeing an opportunity and timing it to that opportunity is not necessarily lucky so I don’t necessarily feel as though
I’m an impostor in my own life. It’s kind of the reality now but when you first start out that can definitely be the case. I feel like, once I learned what impostor syndrome was, I look forward to feeling that way. I feel like when I find myself in situations where I am like, “Oh my God, am I good enough to do this? Did I bite more than I can chew? Can I solve this problem? Can I make this work? Those are the moments where I know
I’m pushing myself. Where I’m doubting my own abilities is when I know I’m growing, so it’s not a comfortable feeling but those are the best times. It’s weird but I look forward to feeling like an impostor. I think most people feel that as well. But not enough people share it. Not enough people share their vulnerability and we live in a society where man is so dominating and it can be intimidating sometimes as a woman to be in business and to be a leader and to be a CEO and to be a woman who takes home $2-3 million a year, especially being under 30 years old. But you know, I think it’s really important, and if I speak for women now, it is that you stand your ground
and it is that you believe in what you do and I think that’s probably the most important thing of course we all have self-doubt, we all have insecurities. That’s part of human race. But we just get over it. Nice. Well done too. What’s your team structure like?
Do you run a lean team or do you have plans to grow your team tremendously,
is that part of your strategy? I’ll answer that first because I think we’re this outlier and this kind of piggyback’s off the last question. There’s this path in app development
that people think you have to take. Like, you have a product idea. You go shop it to investors. Then you raise a million in seed. And then you have to hire all these people
and then you hope to God you hit your metrics otherwise you’re gonna go under. And we didn’t do any of that. So, we have 20,000 paid active monthly users and our team is 3 people. Wow. It’s all profits, right? Like if we can sustain, if we can give excellent support, I don’t wanna scale human capital. For any of us who have scaled human capital
we know when you scale, there are inherent challenges with
bringing on more people on your team. There’s more fail points. So we’re probably gonna bring on
a T1 support person this year, maybe, if we need to. But right now, I like it lean. I think it depends on the nature of the business and how it’s structured, like if it’s a media buying-based business like mine is, you want a lean team, you want low overhead, you want to be able to pivot quickly. The industry reshapes itself,
suddenly we’re not so focused on Facebook anymore. We’re quickly learning other things
and how to make that work, and if you have a big team, it’s slow for a change. So it really depends on what kind of business you run. Yeah, we have a lot of customers so we have to make it fast, as fast as possible. The responses and everything else. So we try to automate everything that we can. Just keep it fast and working. Alright. So given that we’re all females here, what would be the one thing
that you believe female entrepreneurs excel in and how you operate a bit differently
than male entrepreneurs? I think the first thing is women are very creative. That’s my strength in business. What I found with a lot of men
that I know that are in business, is my strength, personally, and a lot of women
that I know that are in business as well, is having the ability to brand the designs, creating community,
creating a feeling for your consumers. I think women do that really well because we are creative nature. So for me personally, my biggest strength is branding, it is creating a community, it’s creating a culture, it’s creating a set of feeling. And one thing that I’ve always lived by in my businesses is we’re not selling a product, we’re selling a feeling. and I think that you do that best through the way something visually and esthetically
comes across to the consumer. I think in relation to that feeling of really good, something that I’ve definitely seen in
maybe more of my female entrepreneurial friends would be empathy and maybe
a certain degree of emotional intelligence. Not saying men are not emotionally intelligent
or empathetic. You’re great. I’ve just noticed that as a common trait
in female-run companies. They’re often quite focused around having an emotional connection
with both their audience and their team and that common thread runs through the entire business. My job is to create ads.
I create landing pages. I create video sales letters. I think that girls are way more sensitive
to understand human emotion on a deeper level. I think we are very good at creating angles and stuff. At least for me, it works like wonders. I think a strength is that sensitive thing. I think it’s really hard to answer
this question without generalising. We all just generalised so much. I know guys that are amazingly creative. Ben was telling a story. He said the same thing. “Sell a story, not a product.” I think, to answer this question differently and not say, “Oh, girls are like this” or “boys are like that.” It’s not what it’s about. I’m talking about facts. Right? So women control 70-80% of all consumer purchases. Their buying power or their influence. That’s a fact. And another fact is no one understands women better than women so if we’re running campaigns for
health and beauty offers for women, for example, I’m sure many of you are, my ads are probably better than yours. Right? So I think that’s our edge is that we are women and if we market to women,
we’d do it better. It’s not about gender or anything like that. So I’m gonna disagree with everybody and here’s why. I believe in total equality
across gender, race, sex, class, everything. I don’t know. Everyone couldn’t do everything and I don’t think there is a difference. I think we all have unique strengths
that we bring to the table and yeah. I guess that’s my answer is I think that we’re all equal that being said, in a business environment, our community is male-dominated and when I am treated as a non-equal, which happens relatively frequently, it just means I’ll never ever
work with that person ever again. And I’ve stuck to that. Yeah. Thank you. Do we have any time for questions or we’re done? Yeah, let’s take a few questions. Can we take a couple of questions? So his question is, if he’s an affiliate,
how does he build a media buying team? That’s a really good question. I think if you’re an affiliate and you’re starting out and you’re by yourself and you’re figuring out like, “How do i scale this? How do I grow beyond just me buying ads
and running campaigns?” I think the first step is
identifying what your strengths are and identifying what verticals or traffic sources you’re good in and slowly evolve from running affiliate offers
to maybe running an exclusive offer. Or if you’re dropshipping, start building that so that you’re building something, right? Because if you’re just running affiliate offers,
you’re just making that money and the turnover but you’re not actually
building something long-term. So the first move, I would say, is switch your strategy from just purely running affiliate offers to maybe building a Shopify store or start building some assets. A website. Whatever it is that you’re doing. And then start outsourcing
or hire for the things that you’re not good for and slowly build your business that way. And if you don’t have the capital to build a team straightaway, look for a partner,
rather than a team member, to begin with and look for complementary skill sets to your own. So that would be my number one tip. I think just a lot of people look for their first hire when maybe they should just be looking for potentially a co-founder or partner to
work alongside or mutually benefit. Just do a value swap. Say, “I’m happy to use my XYZ skill to benefit you and you can do the same back to me in return.” But just work out what those deliverables are
before you get started so that you have an understanding of the value you’re both going to add, and don’t get disappointed when somebody else doesn’t fulfil their end and you’ve done yours. We’re about out of time. Thank you very much, everyone.

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