Sunday, October 31, 2010

Marketing to our existing customers

Something we've not focused on to date has been marketing to our existing customer base. Our repeat purchase rate is reasonable, people like our shoes which is great, but we think we can improve on it and encourage more of our customers to order a second, third and more pairs of shoes.

So we're planning on segmenting our customer base and sending tailored emails/offers to each group of customers, based on what we think they'll like. A couple of ideas for segments and what we'll offer them:

Customers who have designed leopard print or nude patent leather shoes but haven’t ordered those shoes or leather samples yet.
We'll send these customers either the nude patent leather video below or a video we've recently produced talking about designing with leopard print. For Australian customers we'll offer to send them a sample of the nude or leopard print materials along with a few other samples they've used in their shoe designs.



People who have purchased gift certificates from us
We'll send these customers an email showing them our new gift certificate designs and offer to include some leather samples of their choice with the gift certificate. With Christmas approaching we'll remind them that a Shoes of Prey gift certificate is a great gift because unlike other gift certificates the recipient can actually do something fun on the day they receive it - design their own shoes.

Customers who have purchased multiple times from us
We're putting together some trend boards showing photos of celebrities wearing shoes to highlight seasonal trends. We'll email these trend boards to our repeat customers and offer to send them samples of the leather that's on trend.

These are just a few initial ideas. We'd love to get your thoughts on what else we can do to market to our existing customer base.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Power Retail - Plugged In Event



On Wednesday night I went along to Power Retail's first online retail networking event, Plugged In. I don't know of any other online retail networking events in Sydney so this was the first one I'd been along to and it was fantastic.

Around 50 or so people attended, people from other online retail businesses as well as service providers to the online retail industry. I met some great people and will no doubt be staying in touch with quite a few of them.

Luke Hilton from Playhouse Digital did a great presentation full of good suggestions for online retailers. Attendees had been asked to submit their sites for review by Luke and Luke managed to review ours. We took away some good tips and Mike was pleased to know that Luke's feedback on our site was very positive. Despite our low conversion rate apparently we're doing a lot of things well.

Pics and more details from the event are here on the Power Retail website.

Thanks for organising Nirosha and Grant, it's great to have a forum to meet other people in our industry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Startmate

Some great news for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in Australia. A Y Combinator/Techstars mentorship and seed funding group has launched in Sydney - Startmate.

I think this is fantastic for the Sydney startup scene, and they have some very experienced Australian tech entrepreneurs involved so I invited Niki Scevak along to the Shoes of Prey office to tell us more about it.



Hats off to the Startmate team for getting this off the ground. A lot of people in Australia talk about the need for more entrepreneur support programs and seed financing in Australia, congratulations to Startmate for being the first to do it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creative Marketing Campaigns



One thing I did not expect when we started Shoes of Prey was that we'd be working with Beaurepaires, a car tyre retailer, but that's exactly what we're doing!

Beaurepaires recently launched a marketing campaign targeting women based around the concept that tyres are like shoes for your car. It's very creative and hits a market who probably make most of the tyre purchasing decisions. The idea is that like a nice pair of shoes for your feet, it's important to get a tyre that is the right fit for your car.

As part of the campaign Beaurepaires, with their agency Haystac have set up a Facebook page to promote awareness of their brand and the need to regularly have your car tyres checked, wheel alignments and balancing done and have your tyres replaced when worn. They're giving away a number of Shoes of Prey gift certificates over the coming months on the Facebook page so feel free to like the page and follow the instructions to enter the competition.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are we dreaming big enough?



I was reading this article about custom jewellery site Gemvara on TechCrunch this morning. They've had and are continuing to push for some amazing growth and it got me thinking, are we dreaming big enough for Shoes of Prey?

To give some background to their business, Gemvara (formerly Paragon Lakes) was founded in 2006 by then 21 year olds Matt Lauzon and Jason Reuben. Based just outside Boston in the US in April this year they raised a second round of venture capital funding worth $5.2m, to bring their total funding to over $11m. They had 20 employees in April, have grown to 40 now and plan to end the year with 60. They have 10 jobs posted on their website at the moment. Their current annual revenue run rate is $10m and from what I read a large portion of the growth to that level of revenue has come this year. Co-founder Jason Reuben has left the business but remains a shareholder, Matt is the CEO though he's currently looking to hire someone externally to take over the role.

Interestingly they started out pushing a more offline model, partnering with existing jewellers to offer custom designed jewellery in store. That didn't work as well as they'd hoped so they've since pivoted to focus solely online. Some lessons in that for us as we consider opening a physical store?

Looking at the roles they're hiring for is a fascinating insight into what we could be doing with Shoes of Prey. They recently hired a Social Media Co-ordinator and are now hiring a Social Media Community Manager. Jodie takes care of our social media between managing our PR, marketing and all our relationships within the fashion space (Gemvara are also currently hiring a PR Specialist and a Marketing Intern). In addition they're hiring a Site Experience Manager, a Senior Software Engineer, Senior Systems Engineer and an IT Support Engineer. No doubt they already have a big software development team. Poor Mike does all of that for our business, and more.

After hitting our milestones for our first year of operation we're currently planning out what we want to achieve over the next 3-5 years. Reading about what Gemvara have done and are doing has us thinking, should we be considering a similar path and dreaming bigger than we have to date?

We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shoes of Prey B'day Drinks

Yesterday we held the Shoes of Prey birthday drinks at our office in Woolloomooloo. It was great catching up with so many people who have helped and supported us over the past year. Below are some photos from the event (thanks Ian).




Social media guru Ian Lyons, Jodie, photographer Dario Gardiman and his partner Daniella.

Ian shares space with us at The Campaign Palace and is a social media consultant. He's doing some great work with the Sydney Festival at the moment, and did amazing things with the online retailer Le Black Book, I love their use of the Facebook recommendations widget on their home page.

Dario was the photographer who shot the image on our home page and a number of other images that feature on our website. We couldn't have been happier with how our shoot with him went and how the images turned out.



The stunning view we had while enjoying the drinks.





The uber rich chocolate shoe cake. A few people asked for the recipe, here it is.



Ian Lyons, Fan Bi from custom business shirt site Blank Label, Jaron Mitchell from boutique brewer 4Pines and Mike.

We served up 4Pines beer for the day and I have to say it's probably the best beer I've ever had, the stout in particular. I'm normally a red wine drinker at these sorts of events but after three 4Pines beers I tried some red (Penfolds Bin 138 - $30 a bottle so decent wine) and I didn't finish my glass before going back to the 4Pines stout. The 4Pines stout is also likely to be the first beer to make it into space, I kid you not. If, like us you live in Sydney's eastern suburbs, this bottle shop on Bourke St. near Taylor Square stocks 4Pines.

Fan is normally based in Boston or Shanghai but he's visiting his parents in Sydney at the moment and Mike and I caught up with him last week. Like Brad Lindenberg from Lindgolf it's fantastic talking to Fan, our businesses are so similar, just with a different product and there's so much to learn chatting to each other.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Submission to the RBA's Strategic Review of Innovation in Australia's Payments System



Back in April we decided to have a rant about how much multi-currency credit card processing in Australia sucks.

It looks like some people at the RBA agree and they're doing a "Strategic Review of Innovation in Australia's Payments System". (Thanks to @miakgarlic for passing this link to me).

Yesterday I submitted our thoughts on the issue to the RBA and I thought I'd copy our letter here.




L6, 150 William Street
Woolloomooloo
NSW 2010
www.shoesofprey.com
02 8006 1506

Attention: Jennifer Ross, Payments Policy Department Reserve Bank of Australia

Regarding: Submission for the Strategic Review of Innovation in Australia’s Payments System


Australian online retailers looking to export into overseas markets are being let down by a lack of innovation in payment processing options offered by Australian banks.

Shoes of Prey offers customers the opportunity for women to design their own shoes online, which we then hand make and ship to customers all over the world. Currently 40% of our sales are to customers outside Australia and despite having our shoes made overseas, we’re a net exporter from Australia. To help grow our sales overseas we need to offer customers overseas the ability to pay in their local currency. At the moment NAB is the only Australian bank that can provide this as a service to us but their offering is severely lacking. Their fees are complicated, setting up to work with them takes months (an eternity in the online retail world) and the software we need to use for their multi-currency product is archaic and is literally from the 1990's.

Because of the lack of options provided by Australian banks Shoes of Prey use PayPal for credit card processing. PayPal provide a fantastic service, however there are two issues for Australian retailers using PayPal for payment processing:

1. Repatriating our foreign sales revenue to Australia is expensive. PayPal only have NAB to compete with and this lack of competition means we pay high fees.

2. PayPal don’t offer their most up to date products in Australia so we’re forced to use an inferior version of PayPal’s product which results in lower sales for us and reduces our competitiveness against overseas competitors. Specifically, PayPal have a product available to US and some European customers called Website Payments Pro which allows for credit card processing to happen on the online retailers own website. This product isn’t currently offered in Australia so we’re forced to send customers to the PayPal website to process their payment resulting in lost sales. Greater competition from local Australian payment processors would encourage foreign companies like PayPal to offer their most up to date products to the Australian market.

The rate of innovation in payment processing in overseas markets is only accelerating. US companies like Square and Verifone are launching credit card scanning devices that attach to the iPhone and iPad so small businesses can accept credit card payment using these devices. Innovations like this aren’t available to Australian businesses. As innovation in the payment processing space picks up in overseas markets Australian businesses are only going to be left further and further behind.

If we want Australian business and particularly online retailers to be competitive in overseas markets we need more innovation in the payment processing space. The regulation in the Australian financial services industry arguably helped us through the Global Financial Crisis, but it’s letting us down in other areas. The lack of competition and high levels of regulation in the Australian banking industry are stifling innovation, particularly in the area of payments processing.

Following on from my discussion with Jennifer Ross, if you would like to meet in person to discuss these issues please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Sincerely,

Michael Fox
Co-founder - Shoes of Prey
michael@shoesofprey.com


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Foreign Exchange


Photo by Bradipo

We do a fair amount of foreign currency exchange. 40% of our sales are in currencies other than Australian Dollars, we pay our shoe suppliers in Hong Kong dollars, our shipping costs and Guangzhou office costs in Chinese RMB, our partners in Japan in Japanese Yen and will soon be paying our partners in Russia in a still to be determined currency. That's a lot of changing of currencies!

For our sales we have to convert those back to AUD using PayPal, we love everything else about PayPal except this as their exchange fees are a little high. For paying all our costs we've started to use a company in Australia called World First, and their service and fees have been nothing other than awesome, so I wanted to give them a shout out.

Previously we'd been using the Macquarie Bank owned LatitudeGT and I had been extremely impressed with them. Their service was outstanding and their rates were much lower than the banks. So when World First contacted me I told them I was already very happy with who we were using. They persisted and we did an on the spot comparison of LatitudeGT's pricing against World First's for a couple of our standard transactions and World First won out by enough to justify us changing. I was still a little hesitant given LatitudeGT's great service but they made the process of signing up easy.

We're now a month in to working with them and I have to say their service is about as good as any I've come across anywhere. We discussed the situation with exchanging through PayPal and they spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with a way we could do those exchanges through World First. We came quite close to a solution but couldn't quite get there in the end, but I was impressed by how much they tried. Last week I did a transfer to China and made a mistake by not attached a Payee to a transfer, so the money hadn't arrived when I thought it would. We needed the money in China urgently to pay DHL so I emailed World First. They were on to it immediately, emailing me to tell me they were working it out, then calling me back 30 minutes later to explain how we would fix it, when the money would arrive and showing me how to not make the same mistake next time - perfect.

It's fantastic to experience working with 2 vendors in the same industry where the pricing is very reasonable and the service is outstanding, clearly it's a competitive space. If you're running your own business, or even for personal transactions that involve exchanging more than a few thousand dollars I'd highly recommend both World First and LatitudeGT. Our account manager at World First can be contacted on world_first_au@worldfirst.com and (02) 8292 4904 if you'd like to get in touch directly.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Now hiring: summer software engineer intern



As Shoes of Prey continues to grow we're keen to hire a Sydney-based software engineer intern for the summer holidays.

If you are that person, or you know someone who might be, please get in contact!

Some of the projects we have up our sleeve include:
  • Building out our Facebook application
  • Building a search engine
  • Experimenting with our shoe designer technology
  • Credit card processing
  • Customer service automation
Technologies: AppEngine (Python), JavaScript, Flash/ActionScript, Github

Competitive salary, including super.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter and academic transcript to mike (at) shoesofprey.com

Applications close 1 November 2010, so get in quick! 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Shoes of Prey


Photo by Simon James Kent

We launched Shoes of Prey on the evening of 8 October 2009 at about 8pm, so today we turn 1 year old and what an amazing year it's been!

We've had over 1.6 million visits to the site with over 6 million minutes spent designing shoes, we've sent around 10,000 emails to customers, we're approaching 8,000 Facebook fans, have more than 2,000 Twitter followers and most importantly, our sales have tracked pretty much spot on the quarterly targets we set for ourselves at the start of the year.

Going through some of the major events chronologically:

We couldn't have been more thrilled with the press we've had this year either. We've been covered by Marie Claire twice in Australia and once in France, Notebook magazine twice and CLEO once in Australia, The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, The Courier Mail, The Times in London, The Wall Street Journal blog, Sky Business News, the Official Google Blog, along with TechCrunch, Springwise, and A Current Affair which we mentioned earlier. And to top it off, we're the cover story on this month's issue of NETT magazine!

On a personal level it's been extremely rewarding. For Mike and I leaving Google wasn't an easy decision, nor was leaving The Campaign Palace for Jodie but starting and running our own business is something we've all always wanted to do. And to have the business running to plan at the 1 year mark is immensely satisfying. Hiring and working with Vanessa, Qun and Carmen has been a great pleasure. Seeing their dedication, passion and the enjoyment they get from helping us run the business only makes us want it to succeed more.

We've also met a lot of really interesting, smart people running the business and through this blog. Our relationship with our shoe suppliers in Hong Kong and China is not only great from a business perspective, they make outstanding quality shoes, but from a personal one as well. We all look forward to our trips to Hong Kong and China to catch up with our suppliers and have learnt a lot about China and Chinese culture in the process! It's been great meeting and getting to know people at some of our other vendors like PayPal and GoGet. Renee, Sam and Brook from SwissĂ´tel were fantastic to work with and are now good friends. Spending time with our partners Yusuke, Jun and Yuka from Japan, and Leighton from Russia (we're looking forward to meeting Olia!) has been thoroughly enjoyable.

In addition to our suppliers and partners, getting to know people through this blog, and the generosity of everyone who has helped us out when we've posed problems or questions is amazing. In particular we wanted to give a shout out to some of the regular commenters like Dom, Sib, Jeni and Ian - thanks to you and to everyone else for sharing all your thoughts over the past year!

And with all of that, to think the business is only a year old! In some ways the year has flown, in other ways, given all that's gone on it feels like a lot more. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable road so far and we look forward to a lot more happy birthday's to come! And if you're in Sydney next Sunday afternoon, come and join us for some birthday drinks to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shoes of Prey / 22Michaels Birthday Drinks in Sydney - You're Invited



This week Shoes of Prey turns 1 year old! It's been an incredible journey and we'll reflect more on that with a post on the day.

There are so many people we want to thank for all their help over the past year and we thought a fun way to do that would be to put on some drinks and catch up with people in person! We're still finalising a venue but here are the basic details:

Sunday 17 October
3pm - 7pm
Sydney's Eastern Suburbs - Surry Hills / Woolloomoolloo area.

It's an open invitation to customers, our friends, anyone who's been involved in the business and anyone who has been following our journey via this blog. If you're reading this you're invited so don't feel shy about RSVPing, we love catching up with and meeting new people.

If you think you'll make it please RSVP to michael@shoesofprey.com. We'll use the number of RSVP's to help us settle on a venue and we'll email you the final details.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Should You Censor Negative Comments On Your Facebook Fan Page?

Last night someone posted a rather aggressive comment on our Facebook fan page. The comment was essentially a protest piece about animal rights. We lost some sleep about whether we should delete the comment, pretending it never happened, or whether we should leave it up and respond. We decided to leave it up this time, but we’re undecided about what to do in the future. We’d love to share our thinking and get your feedback.

Before we get into the merits either way, here’s the comment, along with our response:


We really struggled with this. On one hand, we want to be transparent about our business, and we certainly care about animal rights too. On the other hand, we need to put food on the table; and that happens to involve selling leather shoes. Fueling a debate about the realities of where leather comes from -- dead animals -- probably isn’t good for business. (And for the record, we’re pro-animal rights, which is why we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to research how we can release a vegan range of design options in the future. It’s actually much harder than we expected but we’re getting there).

Here are two opposing perspectives about deleting comments from your Facebook fan page, as argued by Michael, Mike and Jodie.

Which do you think is the right approach?


You Shouldn’t Delete Negative Comments



If you’re going to create a forum where customers can discuss your business, you should be open to allowing that discussion to be negative. There’s a limit, spam, swearing and hate posts should be deletable, but not general complaints or ethical discussions about your business.


Deleting ethical discussions about your business is a slippery slope. Should BP censor discussions about oil spills they cause? If the Bhopal Disaster happened in the era of Facebook would we have thought it reasonable for Union Carbide to censor discussion on their Facebook page? In our view, using animal leather in our products is not as bad as these other examples, but for animal rights activists it might be. I don’t want to live in a society where ethical debates are censored in any way, so I don’t think businesses should censor these discussions on their Facebook page.


From a purely business perspective, am I going to trust a company that deletes posts they don’t like from their Facebook page? There are lots of positive comments on our Facebook page, but if a customer knows or suspects we’ve deleted one post we didn’t like, how can they trust that we haven’t deleted 10 times as many bad posts as there are good posts on our page?


We should actually take this comment on board and use it as constructive feedback to continue our work on offering vegan shoe options to our customers. We’ve been working on this for a year now, people clearly want it.


Sure, our Facebook page isn’t the ideal place for an animal rights debate, but a good, well thought out comment that shows we listen to our customers adds value to our brand.

You Should Delete Negative Comments



Your Facebook Fan page is a haven where your true fans can gather to celebrate your business. You must absolutely not let it descend into a place where anyone can simply drive by and spray venom on everyone else.


If someone wandered into your physical store and started yelling about animal rights, you would quickly show them the door. If they refused, you would call the police. You definitely wouldn't allow them to leave a poster on your front window. Why is online any different?


By all means you should allow your true customers to air grievances (“where is my order, dammit??”), but general or unconstructive rants are something entirely different.


It’s also appropriate to delete posts that are disrespectful to your community. This particular comment crosses that line. To our shoe-loving fans, it’s a personal affront, implying they are outdated, “disgusting” and “cruel” for wanting leather shoes.


We’re also extremely unlikely to ever sell shoes to this person. She’s loudly mocking our business, and for a brief moment her opinion is proudly displayed at the top of our fan page. She’s welcome to protest issues, but could she please do it elsewhere?


If you still don’t agree, just try thinking of a horrible post you would undoubtedly censor. I guess the question is, where is the line? For different businesses, this is going to vary. It’s up to you as the business owner to decide what the rules are.


My advice? If a comment isn’t constructive, you should remove it, ban the user, and don’t look back.







We had quite a lengthy debate about this last night and all 3 of us could have ended up going either way. In the end we decided to leave the comment up and put it to this blog to help us determine what we should do next time. We’d love to hear your thoughts.