Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tech Talk - Prue Healey - PR for your Startup

On Tuesday 4 October we're holding our 4th Tech Talk at Shoes of Prey.

Prue Healey will be coming in to present on how to manage public relations and get press for your startup. She'll be spending some time particularly focused on the fashion industry where Shoes of Prey, Sneaking Duck and Prue all operate, but the lessons will be applicable to all startups. We got to know Prue recently when she was working on PR for the Rosemount Sydney Fashion Festival and she's been a great source of advice for us.

Join us from 5:30pm on Tuesday October 4 at our offices for drinks. Prue's presentation will kick off from 5:45pm. RSVP either in the comments or to michael@shoesofprey.com

Image credit

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ORIAs 2011


Last night saw the 2011 Online Retail Industry Awards gala dinner as part of the Online Retailer Conference & E-Commerce Expo being held in Sydney this week.

Shoes of Prey matched our efforts last year as a finalist in 4 categories amongst some fantastic Australian online retailers though this year we didn't manage to take home any of the prizes.

One of the great things about this years awards was the strength of the traditional retailers in the online space, particularly the performance of Woolworths owned brands with Dick Smith and BigW both taking out awards, including the big one, Online Retailer of the Year. SportsGirl also took home an award winning Most Innovative Online Retailer. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come from the rest of Australia's large, existing retailers.

It was fantastic to see Paul Greenberg from DealsDirect take out the Industry Recognition Award. He's built a fantastic business and has been a great mentor to Mike, Jodie and I.

The dinner itself was a fantastic event, it was great to catch up with and meet so many people from the industry. There's a few sore heads in the Shoes of Prey / Sneaking Duck offices this morning and no doubt at the conference today too with a few of us only just managing to make it home by 4am! It was fun celebrating with our peers.

Finalists for each category listed below with winners bolded.

BEST PURE-PLAY ONLINE RETAILER

  • Appliances Online
  • SurfStitch.com
  • Kogan
  • Shoes of Prey
  • Mooo
  • OZScopes

BEST MULTICHANNEL RETAILER

  • Big W
  • Dick Smith
  • Ted’s Cameras
  • Bing Lee
  • ABC Shop
  • Barkers Online

BEST NEW ONLINE RETAILER

  • Dan Murphy’s
  • StyleTread
  • BoutiqueAccessories.com.au
  • Le Domaine
  • Joe Button

BEST USE OF TECHNOLOGY

  • Appliances Online
  • Shoes of Prey
  • SurfStitch.com
  • Mooo

MOST INNOVATIVE ONLINE RETAILER

  • Joe Button
  • Kogan
  • Appliances Online
  • Sportsgirl
  • BoutiqueAccessories.com.au

BEST ONLINE RETAIL MARKETING INITIATIVE

  • Appliances Online
  • Catch Of The Day
  • Big W

BEST CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

  • Appliances Online
  • Big W
  • SurfStitch.com
  • Shoes of Prey
  • StyleTread

BEST AGGREGATION CHANNEL

  • ClubQT
  • Getprice
  • StyleTread
  • Buyii

BEST SITE OPTIMISATION & DESIGN

  • Appliances Online
  • Ted’s Cameras
  • ABC Shop
  • OZScopes
  • Le Domaine

INDUSTRY RECOGNITION AWARD

  • John Debrincat, CEO, eCorner
  • Ruslan Kogan, Founder and CEO, Kogan and Milan Direct
  • Paul Greenberg, Executive Chairman, DealsDirect.com.au
  • Michael Fox, Co-Founder and Director, Shoes of Prey
  • Peter Pakarinen, Founder/Director, Niche Fashion Technology
  • John Winning, CEO, Appliances Online
  • Gabby Leibovich, Director, CatchOfTheDay.com.au

ONLINE RETAILER OF THE YEAR (Chosen from finalists in all the above categories)

  • Dick Smith

Grant Arnott organised and presented a well deserved Special Recognition Award for Online Retail Conference organiser Mark Harvey who though a range of industry events, including the ORIAs, has helped bring the online retail industry together over the past 3 years.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Running

If anyone is into startups and running we're still doing the entrepreneurs running group Wednesday nights at 6pm from the Shoes of Prey offices in Surry Hills. We run a 12.5km loop past the opera house and under the bridge and chat while running a steady pace of around 5:45 min/km. If that's a bit long for you the loop can easily be halved.

Feel free to join us this Wednesday at 6pm.

Image credit

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crazy PR campaigns

December 2010 saw an ill-conceived PR campaign by the retail industry to try to have the GST free threshold reduced from the current level of $1,000.

Here's another ridiculous campaign that some in the property industry are attempting to peddle, and it seems they're trying to loop the retail industry in on it. The gist of it: "The retail and property industries are suffering so we need to increase immigration levels so we have more people in Australia to buy houses and the stuff to fill them."

Immigration policy is well worth discussion but there are much more important issues to factor into this decision making than short term retail and property sales numbers and whether we have enough people to sell stuff too.

(It's off topic for this blog but speaking of immigration policy, the current debate in parliament about refugee processing is even more ridiculous than this PR campaign. It would take 25 years to fill the MCG with refugees at the current rate of 4,000 per year. We're a country of immigrants, our culture is, or at least was, to give people a fair go, people travelling here by boat are almost by definition desperately in need of help, offshore processing is ludicrously expensive = process refugees onshore and work with Indonesian law enforcement to break the people smugglers business. Then get on with more important issues like capitalising on our once in a lifetime mining boom and working on an international solution to global warming. /political rant)

Image Credit

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Keeping a balance

This is part 4 of 6 about Mark's experiences leaving Google to set up Sneaking Duck. Read parts 1, 2 and 3 here.

I've been an entrepreneur for 3 months now, and on a recent flight I was reflecting about some of the challenges. The key thing that comes to mind is the challenge of knowing how many hours to put in, or what to stop. As many of you know, when you work for yourself there is no 'normal'. You can work when you want, and how you want. The flexibility this affords is awesome, but does raise the challenge of needing to think careful about your investment level. Also you personal incentives may be in conflict - if you put more work in, you gain in terms of business progress, but maybe loose free time. If you invest fewer hours, you gain in terms of free time but are potentially losing business traction. It's easy to get caught into the trap of just working and working with gradually eroding productivity, it's also easy to get caught in the trap of "meh, I've worked hard I can take a few days off" and delay on something important. It's really not easy to work out what is the best thing to do.

At Google, and all my previous employers, I've generally worked pretty hard, however there were a few key differnces that put some boundaries around things. There was the team agreement about what is ok - things go up and down, but we all sort of knew what was reasonable. Tasks could potentially be re-allocated with some discussion with your boss. Deadlines and expectations were quite clear, so you knew when something was done.

None of these 3 things exist by themselves in entrepreneur world. I don't think I can, or even should, seek to re-create these 3 things now, but I'm keen to get better at finding the right long-term balance. These are the things that have worked, and I try to do more:

  • Set clear work objectives for a day and week, and when I'm done, call it a day. This can lead to the guilts about how you should be working, but I think it's important to train yourself that work does have an end. If I find myself kicking back at 4pm every day, maybe I'm not putting enough on the daily list, but hopefully you see what I mean
  • Seek to keep knowing yourself better. I know that I'm most productive in the mornings. I know that I'm less good when I'm hungry. I know that I get more done in a day if I take a proper break over lunch and have a chat about something different. I'm sure there's lots more I don't know about myself, and I'm sure that everyone is different, but I'm trying to learn.
  • Get enough sleep. I can go the odd night on short hours, maybe 2, but if I do it repeatedly I find my productivity and concentation starts to suffer. Unless there is just a long list of something monotonous to get through, this a complete trap where I invest the hours, but don't get the output.
  • Exercise. I'm sometimes bad at this - I set the alarm early intending to exercise, but instead hit that snooze button a few times. Then I think I should really get on with work instead of heading out for some exercise. Yet I also know I work better when I'm feeling fit and healthy. Dilemma!
Work as an entrepreneur has no end and no limits. It's completely possible to get trapped in a cycle of guilt leading to slowly decreasing productive as you don't re-charge. But it's also amazing to have the freedom to work as suits you best - I love that I can vary when I get in, stay home if it makes more sense, leave early and make it up another time. I love the flexibility. But I'm also aware that it's a tough balance to strike.

What other tips and approaches to people have to managing this challenge?

Image credit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We proudly present our new 3D shoe designer! Feedback requested.

Last week we touched on the fact we had a second big project we've been working on in addition to Sneaking Duck.

Without further ado, we're very proud to present the beta version of our 3D shoe designer! It's been by far our largest project to date, 12 months in the making and we've had 5 or 6 of our small team working on it. Our development team and the team in China have done an incredible job putting this together.

One of the most common requests we receive from our customers is, 'Is there a way I can see a more realistic image of what my shoes are going to look like when they're made?' We're confident that our 2D designer has been a a major factor in our low conversion rate. One of the best investments normal e-commerce sites can make to improve their conversion rate is in their product photography. Allowing customers to see exactly what they're going to buy, from lots of different angles is critical. The equivalent we've been offering our customers has been a pretty unrealistic 2D drawing and even from that we've had 1000's of customers paying $250+ for their shoes. So we're expecting this new designer to have a positive impact on our conversion rate.


Which would you rather pay $300 for?

It's been no small feat building this designer. It's many multiples of orders of magnitude more complicated than our first version. Modelling our shoes in 3D, allowing customers to adjust and view the shoes in different heel heights, incorporating much more realistic examples of our leathers and materials complete with light reflections, allowing customers to rotate the shoe in 8 different angles and having this all work fast and with an easy to UI has not been without it's challenges!

In addition, the 3D designer is built in Javascript unlike our previous version, and most other online mass customisation software which is built in Flash. This allows it to run on mobile devices and the iPad, an often requested feature.

Hats off and a huge thank you to Mike, Bel, Mel, James, Andy, Susie and the rest of the team for doing such a fantastic job in building this.

As you'll see, the designer doesn't yet have all our shoe designs enabled in it so we've not yet replaced our 2D designer, we expect to do so in 1-2 months. We've launched this beta version to gather feedback, particularly on the user interface. If you have any problems using it, or can see things you think could be done differently we'd love for you to leave your feedback in the comments.

Click here to access the beta version of the 3D shoe designer.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

When magazines and online shopping collide

Interesting online shopping concept, a shopable blog and shopable videos, quite well put together too. Via @nativedigital

My favourite take on this though is Mr Porter, Net-a-porter's online men's fashion site. Articles like this one make me want to pull out my wallet, such a great hybrid between magazine style content and online shopping.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Technology Behind Business Interview - Sky News

I interviewed with Nigel Freitas on the Technology Behind Business program on Sky News a couple of weeks ago to discuss online retailing in Australia.



Note the purple Sneaking Duck frames that match my jacket lining and the purple laces on my custom Nikes. ;)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Balancing short and long term activities in a startup

This article was cross posted to StartupSmart.

An issue we've been discussing internally lately is how to balance short and long term activities. We've got 2 big projects we've been working on over the last 6 months and together they occupy the equivalent of 8 of our 17 team members full time. Both projects are progressing very well (Sneaking Duck is one, the other we'll be ready to announce soon), however the challenge has been they have had 0 impact on sales to date as they can't have an impact until they launch.

That means that day to day operations and short term growth activities have fallen to the other 9 members of our team. Our day to day operations are manageable with 9 people however we've had very few resources left to invest short term sales growth activities over the last 6 months and as is reasonable to expect, that's meant we've not been experiencing the same growth rates as we did last year.

As we're learning, startups need to strike a balance between short and longer term growth activities. If we had our time again we wouldn't change things as our 2 large projects are giving every indication they'll have significant positive impacts on our business, but balancing the short and long term is something all startups should give thought to.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Interview with Fab.com's Jason Goldberg

If you're into online retail or entrepreneurship this video is well worth watching. Kevin Rose interviews Fab.com's Jason Goldberg:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Doing business in China: How we found our suppliers

This article was first published to Power Retail.

We're often asked by people moving into the online retail space, 'How did you find the suppliers you work with in China?'

The first place we started was the web. Sites like Alibaba list suppliers for all sorts of different products, including women's shoes. The trouble for us was that all of these suppliers wanted minimum orders measured in the 100's or 1000's or shoes per style per colour whereas we wanted to order 1 pair per style per colour.

Our next stop was trade fairs. There are numerous trade fairs in China, some specialise in a particular product category, others like the Canton Fair cover nearly everything. The Canton Fair is one of the most amazing events I've ever been to. It's held in an enormous exhibition centre in Guangzhou that must be at least 1 square kilometre in size. To see all the exhibitors would take at least 3 or 4 days walking at a relatively brisk pace. And because there are so many product categories and so many exhibitors the event is held in 3 parts because the exhibition centre can only hold 1/3 of the suppliers in show at a time. You can source just about anything at this fair, although the skew is towards low to mid quality products rather than the high end.

Unfortunately trade fairs didn't reveal shoe makers willing to make shoes one at a time for us, however we did meet quite a few people in the industry who were able to point us in the right direction. In the end we found some suppliers who were already doing small runs of high quality custom shoes and we went to speak with them. We were fortunate that we approached them during the global financial crisis so orders from their regular customers were down. While the bulk of their business was in wholesaling larger quantities of shoes, they had the capability to do custom shoes and were willing to experiment and work with a new customer.

We followed a similar process to find a second back up supplier in case we had any issues with our main supplier. 3 months in we were having a few problems with getting consistent delivery times from our original supplier so we switched to our back up supplier and we've not looked back, they've been amazing to work with.

I suspect it's possible to find a good supplier online on sites like Alibaba, however in our experience there's nothing like spending time on the ground meeting people in the industry and getting to know your suppliers.