Saturday, July 31, 2010
One of the things I love about working on Shoes of Prey is that women love shoes and they're particularly excited about having the opportunity to design their own. Making people happy is very rewarding.
Occasionally an opportunity comes along to do something extra for a customer and the following post from Daniel, a customer in Mexico, is one of the most rewarding we've received to date.
To summarise, Daniel designed a pair of shoes and we printed 'Jessica, will you marry me?' inside them for him so he could propose to his girlfriend! Read the full story on the Shoes of Prey blog.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
For the last 6 weeks Jodie and I have been travelling for a mix of holiday and work. Our trip began with a week in Bali for a friend's 30th birthday. We then spent 2 weeks in Hong Kong and China catching up with our suppliers, Vanessa and Qun. Next stop was a week's sailing with friends around the southern coast of Sardinia in the mediterranean (which was amazing). And we've just finished the trip with 2 weeks in London.
We just flew back into Sydney this morning and on the way home Jodie and I both concluded that the entire trip was up there with the best 6 weeks of our lives, we had a fantastic time, and got a lot of work done at the same time. Visiting other cities, catching up with friends and making new ones are things Jodie and I enjoy a lot, and we did a lot of that this trip. We also found that, particularly in London, being in another city results in a lot of work related meetings. We'd originally planned to go to London to do our normal work, enjoy the summer and catch up with the vast number of our friends who live there at the moment.
Catching up with so many friends we invariably talk a bit about Shoes of Prey and many of our friends ended up suggesting we meet with people they know working in media or the fashion industry. It was also a good time to get in touch with people we'd been dealing with from Sydney who are based in London. When you mention that you've come half way around the world and are in town for 2 weeks it's quite easy to get meetings. So amongst many others, some of the people we met with included Aron Schlagman and the events team at The Langham Hotel, I had a great conversation with Andrew Showman who runs two online retail sites, UK Digital Cameras and Current Body about online retail and he had some great ideas about improving our conversion rate which we're focused on at the moment. I met with Julia Grinham from Upper Street who also sell custom designed shoes online and have a great website. It was great to meet her and talk through some of the issues, both good and bad that arise selling custom shoes online. We'd been speaking with some potential partners in Russia and France and they both came to visit us in London while we were here, it was great to meet them in person. A friend, Andrew Essa, is launching a ping pong events and equipment business,The World Series of Pong in London and it was fascinating talking through his business plan. On our last day we had lunch with Steven and Kimberly from Notting Hill Design and talked through the ins and outs of the fashion industry, it was great to get their perspective (and Jodie loved the handbag that Kimberly had with her!) On top of all that we met with some retailers and journalists based in the UK. We had more meetings than we'd do in Sydney in a couple of months!
Naturally we need to be careful that everything we're doing fits with our priorities for the quarter, and with all these meetings we arguably spent less time on our immediate goals of doubling our traffic and doubling our conversion rate than we would have working in Sydney, however there is the potential for a lot of longer term value to come from these meetings so they were definitely worthwhile. On top of that, meeting smart people and having interesting conversations with them is something Jodie and I love doing, to the point where I actually enjoy travelling this way more than doing a standard tourist holiday. I actually found the same when I was at Google. Travelling for work you have a reason to meet a lot of new people and from that comes interesting conversations and lots of socialising. Travelling as a tourist doesn't provide those same experiences.
We're in the fortunate position that our business operates mostly online so we're able to work from anywhere with an internet connection, so hopefully we're able to do more trips like this in the future. Now that it's over and we're back in Sydney we're going to knuckle back down to focus on our priorities for the quarter.
Have you had similar experiences working in other countries?
Sunday, July 25, 2010
In 2005 I started an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management. I'm 2/3 of the way through and I'm not sure that I'm going to complete it.
In my first semester I was ridiculously excited by the prospect of doing some more study, so I did 2 rather than the recommended 1 subject. One of those subjects, Managing People and Organisations is without a doubt the best subject I have taken in any educational course. We had an amazing class of people, many of whom I'm still very good friends with, a fantastic facilitator, Shushana Evans, and the course material covered really interesting areas I'd not studied before including Organisational Psychology and theories of what motivates people. I got a huge amount from this course.
Since then, the MBA has been a bit of a let down. The other compulsory courses I took, Finance, Accounting, Economics and Marketing I'd already covered in my Commerce degree so I didn't get a lot from these. I couldn't get credit for these because in theory they were 'taught at a higher level in the MBA'. In reality the material was nearly identical. For my electives I was hoping to replicate the Managing People and Organisations experience so I took Managing Change and Managerial Skills, but I'd moved from Brisbane to Sydney at this point and the classes in Sydney were much bigger and less personal, and while the facilitators were good, they didn't match Shushana. The amount of time that the study was taking up, on top of a full time job and dabbling in some startups had me feeling pretty burnt out.
I've now had 18 months off from study. The final 1/3 of the MBA course is called the 'Executive Year' or 'Strategic Management Year'. It's split into 4 parts, takes 10 months, costs $30,000 and involves 4 x 5 day intensive residentials at the UNSW campus, then group meetings and assignments in between. I've heard mixed reports about it. Most people say they got a lot of value from it, they've met some amazing people and learnt some great lessons from the case studies covered in the course. However some people have said that they would come home from the residential sessions exhausted having had little sleep, the groups they were placed in weren't that great and that the cost in both money and time wasn't worth it.
Given I'm working some pretty crazy hours on Shoes of Prey at the moment, I just don't think I can bring myself to do that year. The thought of doing assignments and exams actually makes me feel ill. I'm told that the residentials are very intense and apparently it's difficult to get away with spending less than 10 hours per week on assignments during the rest of the year. What little work life balance I have at the moment I think I'd rather keep. $30,000 is a lot of money when I'm not drawing a salary from Shoes of Prey at the moment. In 2004 I was so excited by the prospect of further business study that I would have read about 20 different business books and loved all of them, then when I started the MBA in 2005 I looked forward to sitting down and reading the materials each week. I'm in a completely different head space now. I feel like I'm all business booked out, I'm over the theory and instead I'm enjoying the practical side of running a business. I haven't read a business book in over a year. I don't mind business blogs, but when it comes to reading books I'm finding myself drawn to science fiction or something that puts my mind in a different place to where it is during the work day.
So at this point in time I don't think I'll finish my MBA. I'd like to think that might change and I do go back and finish it in the coming years but unless I get that motivated feeling back I had when I started the course, I think I'm better off not forcing it.
If you've completed an MBA or some post graduate study, or are thinking about doing it I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I realised the other day that May saw us reach the 12 month mark since our first post on this blog. So I thought I'd reflect on how useful the blog has been for us.
According to that first post we launched the blog with the aim of keeping our friends up to date with what we were doing, and we thought it might be also be of interest to other entrepreneurs. I think we've managed to keep the blog relevant to that audience over the 14 months. We've also stuck with our goal of consistently posting 2-3 times per week. The one change we've made is that we've adapted our aims for the blog to include:
Brainstorming various business problems that we face
The 72 comments with 100's of great name ideas on our Namestorming Competition post as well as the great ideas from our posts about improving our low conversion rate, were hugely valuable for our business. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed their ideas to these, and many of the other brainstorming related posts. The conversion rate posts in particular are highly relevant to what we're working on now and we're in the process of implementing many of the ideas that came from that brainstorming.
Reflecting and Planning
As we've discussed previously one of the most valuable things I get from blogging is taking the time to sit down and reflect on what I've been doing, then plan how to move forward. Even this post is a good example of this. Taking the time to reflect on what's worked with the blog will help me write better posts moving forward. Our recent post about 'Prioritising the work to do in a startup' was another valuable reflection post for me.
Learning from other entrepreneurs
I thoroughly enjoyed and took a lot from the interviews I did with Etienne Jambou and Brad Lindenberg. I hope to do more of these sorts of posts.
Promoting Shoes of Prey
We don't aim to actively promote Shoes of Prey on the blog, but our post about 'The incredible power of a 16 year old video blogger' was linked to by lots of online business articles, including the Wall Street Journal Blog and retweeted over 100 times contributing to the success of that marketing exercise. That post has been by far our most popular post making up a quarter of our total traffic for the last 14 months.
Our post advertising our extraordinary customer service person role had an amazing response. With no advertising other than this post we interviewed 20 amazing people and hired Carmen who beat all of our expectations of the sort of person we could hire for the role. From everything we've read and experienced ourselves hiring great people is critical for any business, and particularly for a startup so the fact this blog has helped with that earns it some extra points.
Meeting other entrepreneurs
I've managed to meet a lot of other entrepreneurs via the blog. Some I've met and had great conversations with online, while others like Daniel Cheah, Brad Lindenberg and Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin I've first met through the blog and subsequently met in person which has been great.
Here are some of our blog's key statistics from Google Analytics for the past 14 months:
70,000 page views
1:08 average time on site
131 Google Reader subscribers
47 email subscribers
Bounce Rate 82%
It's interesting looking at those statistics. 49,000 isn't a huge number of visits to a website for a 14 month time period, Shoes of Prey's best day saw 4 times that traffic in a 24 hour period. That said a lot of people read the blog via the RSS feed, email and from the feed I send through my personal Facebook account, so I'd estimate each post is read by around 400-500 people. As discussed above the number of people who read the blog is arguably less important than the other things we get from it like the reflecting and planning, hiring great people and the sorts of people we're meeting and brainstorming with, and it's certainly been a success from that point of view.
14 months in we're very pleased with how the blog has gone for us. That said, if you have any suggestions on the sorts of posts you'd like to see, or any categories of posts that don't really interest you we'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments so we can make it even better.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Our successful marketing campaign with JuicyStar07 on YouTube, introduced us to the power of video for online marketing and Old Spice's recent efforts highlighted just how powerful it can be. So we're looking to do some more marketing work with video for Shoes of Prey.
Jodie and I have been putting together some videos for our Shoes of Prey YouTube channel but we're pretty amateur videographers and editors so we're keen to seek the help of a video/film student who might be looking to gain some additional experience.
Here's our video plan:
Regular YouTube Video Posts
Like this 22michaels blog, we want to regularly post 2-3 videos a week to our YouTube channel. The videos will likely range in length from 1-5mins. Regular posting helps build an audience as people can get into the habit of visiting your site/channel every few days to see something new.
There are a lot of different things we can do with the content of the videos. We want the videos to serve two purposes:
1. Be interesting to our YouTube and Shoes of Prey blog audience to help spread brand awareness and engagement.
2. Assist us in improving the conversion rate on our website by giving customers more confidence in our product and assistance in selecting which of their shoe designs to purchase.
To this end here are some of the sorts of videos we plan to make:
- Videos showcasing our most popular leathers and materials. We want to show our customers that the leathers we use are high quality, and give them ideas for how to use them in shoe designs. We'd like to use these videos on the Shoes of Prey website to help give customers confidence in our product.
- Videos that focus on particular design options on our site. For example our ankle boots, or our new silk ruffles. In these videos Jodie would provide ideas on how to best design shoes in these styles, and what outfits they can be worn with.
- Videos that focus on particular niches like wedding shoes, bridesmaid shoes, office shoes etc.
- We'd love to do some video testimonials with some of our customers.
- Videos highlighting the shoes from our ready made collection and showing outfits they go well with.
- Shoes of the week style videos showing some of the great shoes that were designed by our customers each week.
- Videos highlighting particular trends in colours and shoe styles that are popular each season.
Jodie will likely continue to host the videos, but there are some really interesting video and editing techniques on some of the popular YouTube channels so we'd like to experiment and see what engages users the most. This could be interesting for a student to help us experiment with.
Our Thoughts on the Role
We'd love to have someone help us out 1-2 days a week for a semester or even longer if they were keen and it was working out well. Alternatively if they wanted to help us out more over a holiday period that works for us too. We're particularly keen for someone to take care of filming and editing the videos, but if they want to also help with planning, story boarding, scripting and measuring the impact of the videos we'd love assistance with that too, but if that's not you're thing we can take care of those areas.
We're keen to try working with an intern for this role, so it won't be a paid position, however if you like women's shoes we can definitely offer some of those in return for your services! We hope it's also an interesting position. Web video is becoming more and more popular and we're happy to tailor the role so that you're learning as much as possible from it. If we can tie it in with University or College assignments in any way or if it helps out with credit for your course we're more than happy to do what we can to help out there.
Please help us spread the word about this position and to apply please email a cover letter and resume to email@example.com
Friday, July 16, 2010
The ad was a viral hit. In addition to the paid for views in the Super Bowl the ad has been written about extensively, viewed over 13 million times on YouTube and took top honours at the recent Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. I think the branding is spot on for a men's deodorant and unlike many other award winning ads, it's clearly tied to Old Spice and I'd hazard a guess that it's been fantastic for their sales.
Even more brilliantly, Old Spice haven't stopped there. In what has to be one of the best uses of social media to date, the Old Spice guy, Isaiah Mustafa (a former NFL footballer) has been making custom videos for people who have written to him on Twitter and Facebook. There have been over 200 videos made and posted to the Old Spice YouTube channel in the last 2 days and they are all well written and highly entertaining! And naturally it's all been tied in with their Facebook page (500,000+ likes) and Twitter account (60,000+ followers). He's been particularly responsive to media outlets which has been great for getting the word out about the video campaign. This video response to Perez Hilton is one of my favourites.
Sadly it looks like the video responses have come to end as of 10 hours ago but no doubt the 60m+ channel view the Old Spice YouTube channel has had is going to be growing exponentially over the coming weeks as more people get wind of the campaign.
Overall the campaign makes excellent use of both traditional television and online media and it's up there with the most entertaining content I've seen for a while, advertising or not. Hats off to Old Spice and their agency Wieden + Kennedy and here's hoping we see more advertising heading in this direction.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Our recent post on careers and risk taking seemed to interest quite a few people, so I thought I'd expand on some things we did to help minimise the risk of leaving our full time jobs to start Shoes of Prey.
1. Save money to give yourself time to get your business up and running
If you even have an ankling that you might want to do a startup full time, start saving some money for that now. Mike and I, often with the help of Jodie, had dabbled in various startups over the years. A few years ago we thought that we might want to try it out full time, so we all decided to put start putting some money aside in case we went down that path.
When it came to quitting our jobs we each put in about $25k to the business, and we each have enough in reserve to live a reasonable Sydney lifestyle for 2 years without needing to draw a salary. That's been a huge help, it's meant we've been able to bootstrap Shoes of Prey and avoid the time consuming and difficult process of raising capital, and we haven't had the stress of worrying about how we're going to pay our rent. We've had enough time to plan and execute things properly without needing to worry about short term profit at the expense of long term gains, and no doubt that's helped us get to the point we're at now, improving our chances of success.
2. Do the extreme opposite of burning your bridges at your current employer
If your startup doesn't work out, and you liked your previous job, an obvious thing to do would be to go back to your former employer if they'll have you. While Shoes of Prey is going very well, should that change and the business not work out, Mike, Jodie and I would all consider going back to our previous jobs.
Something that should obviously be avoided when leaving any job, but particularly one that you may want to go back to, is burning any bridges. My theory when leaving Google was to do the complete opposite and place all sorts of beautiful things on the bridge instead. I resigned from Google in May 2009 but stayed on at their request until August to complete some projects I was working on. We've all seen people lose motivation during their resignation period so I made a conscious effort to work just as hard in those 3 months as I had in the previous 2 and a half years. Rather than rushing out to the pub early on my last day the last thing I did at Google was a 5pm interview for a new hire into the team I had been managing. I rushed out to the pub after that. :)
I've since kept in close contact with everyone from Google (that's easy to do given I'm close friends with many of the people I used to work with) and given all the Google products we use, we regularly help out offering ourselves as a case study for various products. That's great for promoting our business as well.
Jodie did a similar thing at The Campaign Palace, she freelanced for them after leaving to help with some of the handover of her projects while they put new people in place. We sub-lease our office space from The Campaign Palace and help out with things like brainstorming social media ideas for some of their campaigns. This keeps us from falling into the trap of only thinking about one business, and keeps Jodie in touch with her former employer.
3. Do as much as you can part time while working full time
Our experience with Shoes of Prey is that there's a lot of work that can be done part time before you need to leave your job. This early stage is also when you're most likely to find a stumbling block that is going to cause the business to fail, and if you haven't left your full time job, that's not as big an issue as it would otherwise be. It's fortunate that we didn't quit our jobs to work full time on our earlier startups Swift City and Darwin Dating, though particularly for the latter, it's arguable it could have succeeded had we worked on it full time, but I don't think the concept really inspired us enough for that.
We had the idea for Shoes of Prey in December 2008. We did all our business planning in the first few months of 2009 then Jodie and I took some annual leave to find suppliers in March 2009. The website was going to take Mike either 2 months full time or about 8 months part time to build, so with our business planning and suppliers organised, we figured that was a good time for him to start on the business full time. By August it was clear there was too much for me to do on the operations side working part time so I left Google. We were confident things were going well enough by November to hire Vanessa in China, then by January 2010, 4 months after our launch we realised that if we wanted to build up our fashion credentials Jodie would need to be working full time on the business.
Of course the counter to all of this is that "Good is the enemy of great", the theory being that people with everything on the line tend to be more likely to do great things. Still, if you have the option I think it's sensible to manage risk.
What have you done / are doing to minimise the risk of doing a startup? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Friday, July 9, 2010
As we mentioned earlier we were very humbled to be short-listed as a finalist in 4 categories of the inaugural Australian Online Retail Industry Awards (ORIAs).
The awards dinner was held last night and we were super excited to win 3 of the 4 categories we were short-listed in:
- Best New Online Retailer
- Best Online Retail Marketing Initiative
- Most Innovative Online Retailer
In addition to being the most nominated company we came away as the most awarded company on the night with 3 of the 11 awards! ABC Online took out the grand award of Best Online Retailer and City Beach took out the other category we were shortlisted in, Best Use of Technology.
Jodie and I are currently on a sailing holiday in the mediterranean so Mike and Carmen went along to the dinner and had a great time.
Needless to say we're thrilled to have won these 3 awards and we look forward to continuing to do our bit to help grow online retail in Australia.