Monday, March 29, 2010

My strange experience - accounting is fun

I've had a strange experience over the past week. I've been enjoying accounting.

I studied Commerce and Law at University and for my Commerce degree I took all the accounting electives. I hated them. I couldn't get motivated and while I managed to scam enough good notes off my friends to get ok grades I didn't enjoy it one bit. I shouldn't have needed clarification but I did a summer clerkship at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and realised I was not cut out to be an accountant. At all.

As we've mentioned earlier we've been using Saasu as our accounting software and it's great. Mike's linked our site with Saasu's API, and we've done some semi diligent tracking of our expenses so about 90% of our sales and expenses are already in Saasu without any problems. The 10% we haven't tracked properly were tricky transactions like customers paying in US dollars or UK pounds, customer bank transfers and multi-currency transactions like sending money from our Australian to our Chinese Bank account to pay suppliers. I'd been dreading sorting these out but recently decided it was time.

And I've discovered it's fun! Never in my wildest dreams did I think doing a bank reconciliation would be something I would get excited about. But ticking off each of those transactions feels good. And deciding which of Saasu's many options for recording a multi-currency transaction will work best for us is interesting.

The only thing I can put this down to is working on our own business. I'm pretty sure I would have hated doing a bank rec. for my past employers, Supercheap Auto or Google. But I'm so keen to see what our numbers are going to look like when I'm finished that I don't mind doing very detailed, repetitive tasks which are not normally my thing.

How bizarre.

Image Credit.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The incredible power of a 16 year old video blogger

Well, it's taken me a week to think through all the ramifications of this and put it into a blog post, but last week was the best ever for Shoes of Prey by a large order of magnitude, and it's all thanks to this video by a 16 year old YouTuber, Juicystar07 aka Blair Fowler.

Yes, that video has had over 450,000 views and more than 90,000 comments, each of which is a potential customer who has visited our site, designed a pair of shoes, then written a description of those shoes and what event they would wear it to - talk about brand engagement!

The video was the 5th most viewed on YouTube worldwide last Wednesday and the most commented on video worldwide for the day. It was the 58th most viewed video and 2nd most discussed video worldwide last week! Our Google Analytics traffic graph is my new favourite image of all time:

We've now had over 700,000 visits to the Shoes of Prey website, and 500,000 of those came last week!!! Our previous best day of traffic was 17,092 visits during the week that both Springwise and TechCrunch covered us. That day now looks like a speed hump compared with our new best day of 197,104 visits. And the traffic sent by the traditional fashion magazines and newspapers that have covered us over the past 5 months looks like the flat line graph on a heart monitor after someone's had a heart attack!

Unfortunately conversions is a different story as Juicystar07's audience is primarily 13-17 year old girls. They love shoes and clearly love to design shoes but we're a little out of their budget. Tee Twyford of NZGirl did a piece on us on one of the popular morning TV shows in New Zealand last week and we've actually had more sales from that, so traditional media is far from dead. Still, this is phenomenal and given how much Blair's followers have engaged with our site I'm sure if we were targeting 13-17 year olds sales would be going through the roof. 5 years ago there was no way a 16 year old could have achieved the following and influence that Blair has. The fact that she can more than triple our total traffic in a couple of days after 5 months of work from us shows the power of new media like YouTube.

And even at 16 she's a savvy business women. We paid her for the review, though she doesn't do videos for everyone, she reviewed our shoes herself first before agreeing to take payment and do the video and all this is disclosed on her YouTube channel. And we worked with both Blair and her agency to put together the competition so that it would work best for us and for her viewers.

Clearly we're big believers in online media, but we're still in the process of picking ourselves up off the floor after witnessing first hand the fact that a 16 year old YouTuber can deliver us 3 times the traffic in a couple of days that some excellent traditional media coverage has over 5 months.

Juicystar07 and new media, we love you.

Update - Here's our follow up post on how we managed to convert this traffic resulting in our sales tripling.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Goals and Expectations of a Startup

I came across a tweet from Clare Lancaster of Women in Business the other day and it got me thinking about a conversation Mike and I have had a few times recently.

What are our personal goals for what we want to achieve in life and more specifically, what are our entrepreneurial goals? Being born in 1981 supposedly I sit on the border of Gen X and Gen Y, but there's no doubt I'm your typical Gen Yer. I'm 28 years old and on my 4th career change, and I've had pretty high expectations of what I want to achieve. But are those expectations realistic? If I'm honest I think a good part of the reason I'm on my 4th career change is that in each of my 3 previous jobs I felt I didn't have the opportunity to progress as quickly as I would have liked, and in the end I came to the conclusion that the only way I would progress at the rate I wanted was to start my own business.

Lately I've been asking myself why I wasn't satisfied working for my 3 previous employers, particularly the best employer in the world, Google. I think it's because a lot of the media I consume talks about all the successful businesses and people out there, and it creates an expectation that I want to and can be one of those people. I read TechCrunch every day which is always talking about successful start ups and profiling successful people, same with Springwise. Over the past 5 years I must have read about 100 books on successful businesses and business people, and I'm pretty sure not a single book on an unsuccessful business. If I look to the people who inspire me, in addition to a lot of the people I meet and interact with day to day, the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are the stand outs. They've built amazing businesses and done it in a way that I admire. So with everything I read and the people I aspire to be like, it makes sense that my expectations of what I want to achieve are very high.

But are those goals realistic?

There seems to be all sorts of statistics on it, but something like 9 out of 10 startups fail. Arguably I'm on about my 4th or 5th, and Shoes of Prey is going well, so hopefully we can avoid the fail part this time, but of the 1 in 10 how many are super successful? If I define success as being on the scale of a Google or a Facebook those are the two fastest growing businesses ever, so I'm setting my expectations extraordinarily high if I want to achieve what they've achieved. And women's shoes isn't going to get me there. Reading about Larry, Sergey and Mark one of the key themes of both Google and Facebook is that the founders had absolutely no idea the business would turn out the way they did and they openly admit that luck played a massive part in their success. In the last 90's Larry and Sergey tried to sell Google to the existing search engines but couldn't find a buyer! Mark thought Facebook would be a great way for students at Harvard to connect with each other, he never expected that more than 300 million people would want to use it. There's no doubt these guys are brilliant, but there are a lot of brilliant people out there and these guys had the added benefit of luck along the lines of winning the lotto squared, so given I'm not as smart as them and am unlikely to get that sort of luck I should keep that in mind when I set my expectations and goals of what I want to achieve.

The next question I've been asking myself is, let's say Shoes of Prey or another business I start over the coming years has a ton of luck, goes well and is super successful and I don't have to worry about money after the age of 35, what on earth do I do for the rest of my life? Sure Jodie and I will want to have children and it would be great to not have to worry about money and so spend lots of time with them, but if I want to live to a good old age the best thing to do is not to retire, so ideally I'll be working into my 80's which leaves me a hell of a lot of time. Giving something back through charity work would be satisfying, or perhaps I'd find something new and different like politics interesting... but I'm pretty darn happy doing what I'm doing now, and part of the fun is the challenge of trying to make money... so if I didn't have to worry about money paradoxically perhaps I wouldn't actually enjoy life as much?! I caught up with a mentor/friend recently who's in this exact position. His business IPO'd a few years back and BRW puts his net worth at around $80 million. And while he wouldn't hand all that back for the world, he's now trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

So, if achieving a crazy, lofty, unlikely goal isn't necessarily going to make me happy, and the very likely scenario that I don't achieve it is going to leave me feeling down because I didn't achieve my goals, why on earth should I have such high goals?

Well, one reason is that having high goals is what helps people achieve great things. As Michaelangelo put it:

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high & we miss it. But that it is too low & we reach it -Michaelangelo

So it's with all of this in mind that I've decided to scale my goals. Realistically, $800,000 or so would buy Jodie and I a nice house somewhere in a beautiful location and close to family, like Byron Bay. And an income of $200,000 a year total for both Jodie and I would be enough to live a good, happy family life. And I want to be earning that from my own business as opposed to working for someone else, as I love the flexibility that one's own business provides. So that's my base goal, I know if I achieve that I can live a happy life. That said, being in a position where I'm either earning millions a year or have sold out of a startup for 10's of millions would be totally awesome, so that's still a goal and hopefully I end up somewhere in between those two. As for time frames, I plan to live and work until at least 80, so I don't need to achieve my goals this year. Jodie and I will want to have children sometime over the next few years so it would be nice to reach the base goal within 5, but it's not the end of the world if we don't. As for the lofty goal, it would be fantastic to achieve that within 10-20 years time so I could find something new and different to do, and that's going to motivate me to work hard on Shoes of Prey, but if I don't ever reach that point I'll still be happy.

It's obviously a difficult balance to strike between setting goals that keep you motivated, without leaving you in a position of feeling unfulfilled if you don't achieve a goal that realistically is unlikely to happen.

How do you go about setting your goals?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

MFC - Yep, they've copied everything in China!

I'm not sure what the M stands for... Manchurian Fried Chicken?

Even the colonel hasn't escaped a good copying.

Against my better judgement I tried one of the burgers but somehow managed to order a vegetarian patty, though the burger did have an egg on it so I guess at least there was something chicken based.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CRM for Gmail - Rapportive

We're answering a lot of Shoes of Prey customer emails using Google Apps for your domain and Gmail. One of the downsides of using Gmail is that there aren't really any customer relationship management tools integrated into it.

Enter Rapportive. Rapportive is a Firefox and Chrome extension that integrates social and CRM tools right into your browser. Even though it's early days, it's awesome! Take a look at the image below. Mike sent me an email and taking the place of the Gmail ads Rapportive displays:

  • a photo of Mike that they've pulled from a social network,
  • his job role (though this data is a little old as it's showing his previous role at Google),
  • links to his social network pages in case I want to learn more about him, and
  • a note I've made to myself about Mike.
And Rapportive has even pulled a dodgy photo of me that I clearly have somewhere up on the web.

Naturally they're only using data that people have made publicly available, and they're doing an impressive job pulling data from all these different sources. Rapportive only launched very recently and it's still early days so the service doesn't work perfectly. There are also lots of things they could add. A feature I'd love to see is a link to previous email threads I've had with a particular customer. Judging by their suggestions from other users list they'll be adding a lot more features soon. So if you're using Gmail to communicate with customers, I'd recommend trying it out!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hong Kong and China

Jodie and I just flew into Hong Kong this morning for a 15 day trip, 3 of them in Hong Kong and 12 in Guangzhou. We'll be catching up with our suppliers and working with Vanessa from our Guangzhou office while we're over here.

There is lots on the agenda including new shoe styles, new materials including silks for wedding shoes, new shoe boxes and shoe bags and we'll be continuing to improve on our processes like photography and the arrangements we have with our shipping suppliers.

In addition to that there will be some time to catch up with friends in Hong Kong and enjoy the great food in China. We're looking forward to a fun and busy trip!

Photo Credit

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The flexible and extended work life of an entrepreneur

One of the things I've loved about working on Shoes of Prey is that I can work from anywhere. Our office, the couch, the bus, China, or where Jodie and I are now - Noosa. We're up in Noosa for a friend's wedding so we came up to Brisbane a week earlier to catch up with friends and family and we were still able to work each day while staying at my mum's place. That wasn't really possible in my previous jobs.

The flip side of this is that it's hard and sometimes impossible to switch off. It's Saturday morning, we're in Noosa and Jodie and I are both sitting on our bed with our laptops, working.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TEDx Sydney - 22 May

On Saturday Jodie and I went along to TEDx Brisbane and wow, it was an amazing event! TED stands for 'Technology, Entertainment and Design' and the idea of TED is for a bunch of really interesting people to share what their working on in short lectures. I've always enjoyed watching the videos of these lectures from the TED website.

TEDx is an independently organised TED event, and Brisbane TEDx was organised by Carl Lindgren and Paul Fairweather who did an amazing job. All the presentations were inspiring and some particularly so. The full line up of speakers from the day is listed on the TEDx Brisbane website here. My favourite presentation for the day was the photojournalist Nigel Brennan who spoke about being held hostage in Somalia for 15 months. I also enjoyed Dr. Joel Gilmore's presentation on the pros and cons of nuclear power, and Deborah Fleming talking about the ABC TV show Australian Story which she started.

In addition to the great speakers there were plenty of breaks and opportunities to meet the other attendees and I got to meet some really interesting people who I plan to stay in touch with. I've been going along to a lot of entrepreneurial type events and those have been great, but the thing I loved about TEDx is that the topics covered are so broad so I was exposed to lots of ideas and people that I might not come across normally.

TEDx Sydney is scheduled for 22 May and I'm very keen to go along to it now too. You need to apply to attend so visit their website to sign up to their newsletter and you'll be notified when applications are open. TEDx Brisbane had over 1000 people apply for what was initially only 260 places. The videos from TEDx Brisbane should be online soon.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Brilliant Use of Twitter - BestBuy Twelpforce

My marketing friend Matt Newell was telling me about BestBuy and their 'Twelpforce' and it's a brilliant use of Twitter!

BestBuy employees will answer any tech related questions sent to the @twelpforce Twitter account. And even better for BestBuy, their employees are happy to answer these questions in their own time! I guess this taps into the human desire to be seen as knowledgeable and an expert, because BestBuy employees are going home, logging into Twitter and answering customer questions.

BestBuy have made some pretty good ads promoting the service too:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shoes of Prey - Wholesale

Our custom shoe business is growing nicely so we thought we'd try out hand at offering a wholesale service to fashion retailers.

Retailers can design shoes for their stores using our online shoe designer, then if they order a quantity of each style and colour, and are happy to wait 2-3 months for delivery we can offer them a wholesale price which we believe is competitive with what similar shoe brands in the market are offering. The retailer gets the added benefit of being able to design shoes that complement the other products they stock in their store.

Our cost to manufacture multiple pairs of an identical shoe is less than the cost to make one pair of custom shoes. And ocean freight costs for a large quantity of shoes are less than 1/10th what we pay to post a single pairs of shoes directly to customers, hence being able to offer a good wholesale price.

We're not sure how this business will compare with our custom shoe business, but our theory is that our custom shoe offering is helping us build a good brand, which we can leverage to offer wholesale, ready made shoes. And while we make much less selling a wholesale shoe, in theory the volumes should be much higher.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, and if you know any retailers who might be interested please let us know as we'll be spending the next month or two speaking to as many retailers as we can.