Selling product bundles is a clever way to increase your average order value. But there's an art to building product bundles that actually improve your conversion rates too.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who focuses on solving one major problem per product and then selling them in bundles.
Spencer Boerup is the CEO of MagMod: sleek, portable, and durable flash modifiers for amateur and professional photographers. Find out how he achieved 200% year-over-year growth for the last four years.
They really appreciate some of that curated expertise. When you can make that decision easier and then you can take off 2 or 3 or 5 percent, then that kind of becomes a no-brainer because everyone is somewhat incentivized by price.
Tune in to learn
- How to create and sell starter kits in your industry
- What it means to create a focused product
- Why you need to be okay with tossing out good ideas
- Store: MagnetMod
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Good to Great (book), Built to Last (book), Great by Choice (book), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (book), EO, Vistage
Felix: Today I’m joined by Spencer Boerup from MagMod. MagMod designs sleek, portable, and durable flash modifies for amateur professional photographers, and was started in 2013 and based out of Tucson, Arizona. Welcome, Spencer.
Spencer: Hey, Felix. How are you?
Felix: Good, good. For us uninitiated, what is the MagMod and how does it work?
Spencer: Well, MagMod, everything we do is all about making awesome photography easy. I was a photographer for about seven or eight years professionally, and used all sorts of different accessories that would attach to a flash to allow us to modify and shape the light how we wanted to. A lot of those accessories were just boring or they just didn’t work very well. They would fall off. One day I had an idea, and that’s where MagMod was born, making the system of these modifiers more magnetic and modular and just super easy to do. That’s where MagMod started was making this magnetic modular flash modifiers for photographers.
Felix: Got it. You have on your website now, you have multiple different products. You also have multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns. Which product of yours would you say is probably the bestselling and why do you think that is?
Spencer: One of the single bestselling products is probably the MagSphere. The reason that’s probably the most popular is a lot of photographers are really looking to take their small speedlight flashes, these are kind of the cobra shaped flashed that go on top of a camera, and they’re looking to make the light a little more pleasing, and they don’t want to think about it too much. They can rotate in different angles and bounce off the wall or the ceiling, and sometimes that’s just not enough.
Spencer: What we did with the MagSphere, not only did we simplify it by making the attachment method super easy with magnets, we also introduced some features that had never been seen before in a diffuser like this for a flash, such as being able to add gels into the base of the MagSphere that adjust the color temperature, hue, or density of your flash, which is something very new. Then you could stack it with a MagGrid, one of our next most popular products, to then restrict the light to just a specific area while still retaining that incredible softness.
Spencer: The MagSphere is super popular. As soon as we launched it, it was instantly one of our bestsellers. But we do have some kits that we started making available to retail stores by Best Buy back in September. The starter kit includes those two products I mentioned, MagSphere and the MagGrid, and you can get those in a small kit for a pretty good price.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve seen other entrepreneurs, other companies, starting to create these kits of products, particularly for beginners where they’re looking to just get started. Like you said, you have a started kit that you put out now. What was the genesis behind that? What made you decide that this was something you wanted to do?
Spencer: Yeah, so when we launched the company at the end of 2013, I had three products in mind. One of them was that MagGrid, but we also had MagGel. What I was testing in the marketplace was not necessarily new modification abilities, but the ease and speed of these tools. The Grid and the Gel, this new magnetic mounting and modular system really kicked off right away. That was our basic kit, which is actually the name of the product on the website. The MagMod basic kit includes the magnetic mount, our grip, we got the gel, and the MagGrid, and those were always the really strong set of tools that we would recommend to every photographer for every flash that they would normally shoot with.
Spencer: When we announced a second Kickstarter campaign introducing the MagSphere, the MagBounce, and the MagSnoot, we offered a really big bundle, which we called the complete kit. That did really well, but over the years we found that people wanted maybe to test the waters a little bit simpler. We didn’t have a bundle other than the complete kit that had that MagSphere, that top selling product.
Spencer: Eventually a big retailer, Best Buy, came around. They actually came up to us and said, “Hey, we really like what we see. A lot of people are asking about the product.” And I said, “that’s great. I don’t think the current configuration of our bundles, our merchandising, would be ideal for a Best Buy customer,” and so that’s when we actually started the starter kit and the professional kit. Those came out early last, or sorry, late last year, and are currently our two bestselling kits. People that want to test the waters and are unsure of whether or not these are going to solve the problems that they have, and then almost always they come back looking to round out the kit of accessories that the need.
Felix: Yeah. You sell this through Best Buy, and of course also I see them featured on your site. Based on your experience, do you have to sell the kits differently, do you have to market them differently than you would the individual products?
Spencer: No, not really. We haven’t seen a need to market them any differently. Usually when people hear about the brand, it’s usually through word of mouth, another photographer friends of theirs or an online forum or on Facebook. And then they’ll jump onto our website and they’ll see, “Oh, what is MagMod really all about? Do you they really solve a problem that I have as a photographer?” As they jump in and they start to see the value that we offer, the really fast, easy, and awesome system, it then almost sells itself. I’m a firm believer that any product really needs to sell itself.
Spencer: Once they see it, they can really pick and choose, “All right, which components do I think are going to really best suit my needs?” Oftentimes they’re going to see a bundle or a package that they see that is probably most in tune to give them a little bit of savings in a bundle format, but also gives them exactly what they need. We have five different bundles, but those first two, the starter kit and the professional kit, tend to be the ones people are gravitating towards right now.
Felix: Do you find that new customers will typically buy a kit rather than an individual item at first? Or, is it the other way where they start off with buying one item and then upgrading to a kit?
Spencer: We’ve seen it go both ways. Lately I think it’s people jumping in with a bundle, just because it makes it easier. Bundles are great for customers because it eliminates some of that thinking, that analysis to decide, “Which ones do I need and which ones do I don’t need?” When you bundle them together with our curated knowledge, almost all of us here are photographers. We’re very experienced in the industry. We know what true, really good lighting looks like, and so we give our recommendation if you’re doing this kind of photography, we’d recommend this bundle, or if you’re doing this kind of photography and you have this number of flashes, we’d recommend this one.
Spencer: People appreciate that insider knowledge as photographers that we can offer that helps them make that decision. But we also see people coming in and just getting one of our modifiers just to test it out, and the majority of them come back. We see that a lot at trade shows as well. We package them in a very similar way as we do on the website. They’ll come in and get something basic, or they’ll come in and get our wedding kit, which is probably our next most popular bundle. And then, they’ll come back and just get different gels or to try the new MagBeam, one of our products that allows some really cool customization of your lights. Eventually, a lot of people will end up with the entire family of the system.
Felix: That’s cool. When these bundles are created, it sounds like most of you guys are photographers, so you can intuitively know what needs to go together. Have there been bundles that have come out of feedback or just data, I guess, that you’ve seen from the community and from the customers that you started realizing that certain things are bought together, or maybe a customer’s reaching out asking you to put together a specific bundle? Has it come that way?
Spencer: Oh yeah, totally. We had that complete kit, like I mentioned previously, which I guess was early 2015 when we started shipping those products. After that, we definitely went to our customers and asked which are your favorites? Which would you like to see in a bundle? Later that summer, we introduced some of our bundles on the website. The most popular one, the wedding photographer bundle, came out and has continued to be a bestseller.
Spencer: For someone who wants to come in and just get everything, they’ve heard about it or they’ve tried it with a friend on a wedding shoot and they were assisting or something and they’ve tried it out themselves, we see a lot of people jumping in right away with the mega kit, which is basically one of everything, but setup for two flashes. If you’re a wedding photographer, an event, portrait, or family portrait photographer and you’re using more than one flash on one of your portrait sessions, any of our top bundles are designed to outfit two flashes.
Spencer: That feedback came directly from our community. Same with the starter and the professional bundle that we introduced first at Best Buy. We went to our community, our Facebook community with over 35,000 members or something, and we asked them, “What would you like to see in some kind of more basic configurations?” and that’s where those came from.
Felix: Got it. Have you played around with the discounts that you would include in a bundle if someone bought it in a package? What kind of recommendations do you have there in terms of offering some kind of savings to customers when things are bundled together?
Spencer: Yeah, like I had mentioned, bundles really eliminate some of that analysis. You don’t want a customer coming to a website and seeing a grid of 20 or 100 different products. They really appreciate some of that curated expertise. When you can make that decision easier and then you can take off two or three or 5%, then that kind of becomes a no brainer because everyone is somewhat incentivized by price. A lot of people want the value with a discounted price. If you can give them that whole value, what they’re looking for, and then incentivize it with a small discount, that works really well in eCommerce.
Felix: Got it. I guess what you’re saying is that the biggest benefit to the bundle for the customer is just to remove that analysis paralysis and make it easier for them to make a decision on what to purchase.
Spencer: Absolutely, yeah. We see it all the time.
Felix: Got it. These all sound like great things, right, with creating a bundle. Are there any disadvantages, whether it be in the sales and revenue, or operations, or administration with offering bundles in your catalog?
Spencer: No. It really depends on how you actually fulfill the bundles. In the beginning, that 2015 time, they were virtual bundles. We didn’t have them actually physically packaged [inaudible 00:11:58] box. But we would send the order information to our fulfillment partner, and they would take the five or six SKUs and just package them and ship them off as the individual SKUs.
Spencer: When we introduced the starter kit and the pro kit, that actually simplifies the fulfillment, the administration, the assembly, all that kind of stuff, because now it was all in one package. The pro kit combined four of our top products and put them into one physical package, and so that reduces your fulfillment costs, reduces your shipping costs, reduces some of your packaging costs as well. That actually simplified it for us, which in the end is going to drive your bottom line. Every dollar counts in your margin. Yeah, that really just simplified things for us quite a bit.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). One thing you mentioned earlier, and you also mentioned to us in the pre-interview, was about making unique and focus products because that’s necessary in order to have a product that sells itself. I think the uniqueness makes sense. I think you explained about how you are different than the competitors. What does it mean to you to create a focused product? What does that mean?
Spencer: To me, a focus product is really focused on solving a real problem, and that’s something when I was a photographer, I wanted to be the best in my marketplace, and I wanted it to be apparent that if someone came on my website or was browsing my social media channels, that they saw something different and I didn’t have to market myself through words or through video or something. I’m trying to convince them, “Here’s why working with me would be better.”
Spencer: I learned a lot running that solopreneur business. I was the only person in the business. When I started MagMod, it was really I don’t want to necessarily need to convince people by just talking to them that they should buy my product. Hopefully that’s just apparent when they land on the website and they see the features, they see the design, and they see the value that it offers. It just makes it that much easier. The more focused you get on solving a real, legitimate problem, I think the easier it is to grow a brand because people will then come to you knowing that, “Oh, he solved my problem in this way, and I really like the way that they did that. I’m likely going to gravitate towards other products that they offer in the future.”
Felix: That makes a lot of sense. I like that you’re saying “solve a real problem,” because the opposite of that, I think what you’re saying, is that you don’t want to sort of solve a problem, and then try to convince people that it is actually a problem that they have, which makes it much more uphill battle in terms of how to market and sell that product. Now, how do you actually demonstrate that, on your website or in your marketing, how do you actually demonstrate that this is the problem that you’re solving and how you’re solving it?
Spencer: Well, photographers are very visual people. The best way we do it on the website is through video. When you land on our homepage, we have a background header image that’s just a scrolling video that’s showing photographers using the product in a very intuitive way. If you were a photographer who was looking for this type of product, you would instantly start seeing someone using the product and showing how easy it is to use.
Spencer: One of the best ways that we sell it is actually in person. At a trade show, we have our booth designed in such a way where people can interact with the product as if they were almost walking up to a photo shoot. Here’s their flash, how are they going to set it up? They can actually play with the products and put them on a flash. Once they do that, it’s pretty awesome.
Spencer: I wish we had the capability of just having a Candid Camera filming these people doing it, because their eyes light up that first second that they put it on. They’re like, “Whoa, that was so easy,” and then you see the gears turning when they start stacking them together, that modular effect that we designed. They’re just like, “Whoa this is unlike anything else I’ve tried,” and they realize how easy it is. Then they see the price and they’re like, “Oh, that’s it?” There’s that one, two punch. They’re sold right away.
Spencer: That’s a struggle that we find to do on the website, which is why we’ve done a lot of video. The more videos we have showing how easy it is and showing the results that you can get from using our product has been one of the most effective ways to demonstrate the value that the products offer.
Felix: Yeah, that makes sense that you want to be able to show them the before and after. This is what your life is like before, and now with a MagMod, this is how it can be improved. You mentioned that when people look at the price, they’re like, “Wow, that’s it?” I think that that reaction can sometimes be different between the people that are buying it that are amateurs versus professionals that need it for their business. Do you find that that’s the case in your industry too where the pricing, or maybe even the marketing, is going to be different when you are selling to amateurs versus professional photographers?
Spencer: It’s always going to be different as people’s price sensitivity changes. Photographers that are professionals, the ones that are working day in and day out, and for the most part these are tools that help them make money. It’s less of a logical or an emotional thing. They see it as, “This tool’s going to help me do my job better.” Then it becomes kind of a no brainer and it’s a very small investment. But it’s still an investment because the products, if they’re durable enough, they’re going to last them a few years.
Spencer: Whereas someone that’s just getting into photography or amateurs that have been in for a while, they’re looking to be better photographers. They’re less concerned about whether it’s going to make them more money or make them look better in front of their clients. They just want to enjoy the process of learning photography and becoming better, and so they view it definitely in a little bit different way.
Spencer: The easier we can show that to the photographers that are professionals that it’s a solid investment, that it’s something that they shouldn’t need to question because of long term viability or the durability or how easy it is, allows them to do their job easier, then that helps them decide whether or not they need to buy. For the amateurs and the beginners, if we can show how they can get professional results by using our tools and not because of the tools themselves but because of how easy the tools are to use and it allows them to get professional results better than they did before, then that becomes a lot easier way to communicate why they should be purchasing the products.
Felix: Yeah, that makes sense. This is maybe more of a philosophical question. I think in the photography world or even the filmmaking world, there’s this idea that, or not idea, but the community tends to like to acquire gear, right? I think there are other industries the same thing where people just love to buy products, buy tools, buy gear. Why do you think that is the case specifically with your industry, and, yeah, I guess that’s basically the question. Why do you think that’s the case with your industry where people just like constant of acquiring more gear for their hobby or for their job?
Spencer: Yeah, totally. I was part of that crowd. I call it GAS, the gear acquisition syndrome. When I was an early photographer, really trying to make my way in it, I’d be buying and selling different things because I was really interested in improving my craft. Eventually, that process just becomes fun. You like playing with new toys, new things that allow you to create different types of effect in your photography or your films.
Spencer: Sometimes it’s nice to just have more than you need because you just don’t know that next situation where you would need the tool. I think a lot of photographers just feel comfort in knowing that if I have it, I’ll be able to use it. I don’t want to be put in that situation where I could have made this photo, because then you miss out. Then you’re kicking yourself because, “Oh, that could have been my favorite shot of this whole month, or this quarter,” or, “This could have been my hero shot, but I didn’t have that one thing that would take it to the next level.”
Spencer: We’re trying to impress our clients, but we’re also trying to get that future business. If there’s that one image or that one reel that we can make that really sets us apart, we strive for those things. If we feel like we’re inhibited in that process, then yeah, I think part of that fuels the gear acquisition syndrome, but sometimes I just see a lot of photographers who just love acquiring those things. They love that collection. They love taking care of those things and showing them off to their friends. Yeah, I was part of it in the beginning, less so in the end. It’s just fun. Photography equipment and those kind of gadgets are just fun to play with.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Does that change your marketing then where if you do have a customer that’s a collector that just likes playing around with new gear versus someone that is more of a utilitarian that is buying this specifically because they have a shoot next month and they need it particularly for that reason? Do you find that you need to change, not necessarily change, but do you find that there are more effective ways to communicate to one or the other?
Spencer: No, we never really targeted to that gear acquisition mentality. I think that’s because the features and the value and the benefits that our products provide are pretty obvious. I mean if you watch a video, 10 seconds of a video of us showing how to use them, it becomes pretty obvious when you compare what we offer, what MagMod does, to previous competitors. It just clicks right away. I think when the gearheads that love collecting the different tools, they see it, it just kind of is a no brainer. We don’t need to say anything else. We just show them. There like, “Wow, all right, I’m sold.”
Felix: One other thing you mentioned to us during the pre-interview was about how you think it’s important to learn to enjoy the process of iterating, testing, and failing. What is your product development process like?
Spencer: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s always being refined. There’s no easy way to go about creating new products. That process is difficult. We’re actually in the middle of getting ready for a new product launch that we’ve been working on for over two years now. Within the first two years of MagMod’s existence, we basically had almost all of our products that are currently available to date now. Granted, we’re only four and a half years old, but we have been working on these new products for just over two years.
Spencer: That process really is about we have an idea about a problem that we would like to solve. It’s a problem that we’ve experienced ourselves, but we know is a problem out current customers and future customers are likely experiencing now. We have to really get focused on what that problem is, and then we start analyzing what are all of the things that this product needs to solve for it to be viable? Sometimes that starts with what are the things that we don’t need to solve?
Spencer: There’s a lot of products that are made today, not just in the photography world, but most consumer products today are just about how do we jam pack features into it and just give them all the features that are possible? Because of that, you don’t have one feature that’s maybe the best at what it does. That’s really what I’ve been mostly interested in. The very beginning of my desire to make products was make them really, really good at one thing. It might not include every single feature that our customers might want, but it better be really good at one thing. That’s where we start is that design phase. If we can land on “What is that one thing that needs to be really, really good?” we then move on to, “How does that interaction look like as the customer?”
Spencer: I think Steve Jobs said this in a podcast, or not a podcast, a keynote a long time ago. It was pre, maybe pre iPhone, when he talked about how the Silicon Valley, the computer makers were really more about, “What are all the features that we can introduce?” and just put them in. Steve Jobs was more about you have to start in reverse. You have to start with the user experience and work backwards into the technology. Don’t start with the technology and then develop it into a product. I didn’t necessarily know that at the time, or I didn’t think of it as a driving force, but I’ve heard it recently in the past six or nine months, and it really rang true to me that you’ve got to look at the product and how the consumer, the user is going to interact with it, and then design around that. Because if you lose focus on what the consumer really wants and how it really needs to be to make it the best version of that solution, you have to have that consumer in mind.
Spencer: Once we have that locked down, and I think that’s actually something fairly easy for me. That’s just my kind of my personality and my mind. I don’t know why I was gifted with this visual ability to see that thing. I guess in the business world, my role would be the visionary. I see those solutions in my head really clearly, and then I can get them out, but then we turn it over to the designers and engineers, and they will just iterate. A good friend of mine, I’ll give a shout out to Brian, he works at the Oculus Rift. When he was in graduate school, he helped me with one of our products. He said, “If you’re going to fail, fail quickly.” I’ve taken that as our mantra in our iteration process where we’re going to try a new way to do something or change some dimensions or tolerances, and let’s go try it. Let’s make sure it fails. If it fails, let’s make sure we do it as quick as possible. Because the longer we get to a failure point, the slower it takes to actually release this product.
Spencer: We’ve actually experienced that dozens of times in these new products that we’re trying to launch, hopefully very soon, within the next three months ideally. We’ll design something. We’ll iterate with 3D printing or other different types of prototyping. We want to see can we get it to fail in the normal way a user would be using it? Until we get to a point where we stop failing, then we know we’re on to something. But then you actually take it to manufacturing, and you’re using it in the materials it’s intended to be used with, and the processes that are intended to design with. You have to then be extra scrutinous on every single little detail.
Spencer: The reason it’s taken so long is that final 10%, the manufacturing process, often is what takes the longest amount of time because you have physically people making a tool and they’re injecting either plastic or rubber or they’re casting in metals, and those things just take time. We’ll get those parts and we’ll test them, and they might not fit perfectly, and we have to tweak and modify, and then you got to wait to see where you can get it to fail. Then you get it to fail, and you realize a material that they used wasn’t proper or the design wasn’t actually faithfully implemented in manufacturing. Then you have to go and tweak, and then you got to fail and fail and fail again, until you get to a point where everything’s working how you intended it to work or how you wanted it to work in the beginning. Then, hopefully, your product is ready to release.
Felix: I love how you treat failure as a milestone, like a stage that you have to get to before you can go beyond and continue to improve the product. I think where a lot of entrepreneurs, especially newer ones, trip up is that once they hit that first failure, they think that that’s it. This path is closed off. Let’s go do something else. But you use it as a way to reach the next level that’s beyond the failure.
Felix: When you are trying to get things to fail as quickly as possible, can you give examples of what you’re, I guess, throwing the product against to make … I guess, what’s the filter that you use to determine if something’s going to pass or not, especially early on? Because it sounds like manufacturing’s at a certain stage and there’s user testing that’s important to make sure that it’s not failing in the way that a normal user would use it. Are there things even earlier to determine whether it’s actually even a product that people want?
Spencer: Usually, we don’t fail … I guess, I don’t see the failure process on the early stages, kind of the idea, the concept, the design process. Because failure in that stage is, we see three or four different ideas in a drawing, just a sketch. We analyze and we pick them apart. We see how that could cause longevity issues or, “This isn’t as easy as I think it needs to be.” The failure really happens when we start iterating in the prototyping stages, and definitely in the manufacturing stages. When you said, “Is there something we throw it at?” we literally throw it at the wall or the ground. We’re trying to break it. We’re trying to find the weak points that we do, but we also go out in the field and we use it as a photographer would.
Spencer: This product launch we’re about to finalize has involved multiple different kinds of photo shoots. Back in October, we were really prepping to launch it in the very beginning of this year, in January, so we flew some influencers out to Tucson and we wanted to start making out Kickstarter campaign video. While we were using it, we saw some problems that needed to be corrected, and those were just things we hadn’t actually gone out too much into the field ourselves to test them.
Spencer: We felt really confident because we had been working on these for six months, and when we went out in the field and actually used it like a human, as a photographer, that’s when you get to see different ways that the product is going to be used, and it allowed us an opportunity to then continue honing and perfecting it. Our design team tells us that yeah, we’re going the extra mile for sure. We feel like this is a version four product without having released versions one through three because of the ways we’ve progressed because we’ve had manufactured products in our hands, and now we just need to make them fail and see if they’re going to work reliably in every situation we do it at.
Spencer: It’s definitely the failure comes more in the physical manufacturing and prototyping stage and less in the ideas, because we’re not afraid of throwing out good ideas. That’s actually something else I think Tim Cook even said, the successor to Steve Jobs, that Apple is just as proud of the things that they say no to as they are the things that they say yes to. The products that they do release are just as important to them as the ones that they never even pursued because they want to stay focused on making sure they have the best products available.
Spencer: When we put stuff on the table for design, we’re not holding back. We want to get the best product and the best user experience, and we just go back and forth until we agree like, “Yeah, this feels like it’s it. Let’s start 3D printing and prototyping and test them out. See if we get that proof of concept. We have the idea, does that idea even work?” and so we’ll make a proof of concept. If that idea works, then we’ll start refining until we get to a little more refined prototype. We’ll test that out. We’ll refine and refine and refine until we feel like all right, we’ve gotten to a point where we think we need to take it to manufacturing. Get them to make it in the materials that needed to be made in so we can actually do that final testing.
Felix: You mentioned this a couple times. It sounds like a theme within the way that, your philosophy on business, which is around focus, around throwing out good ideas to make sure you’re focused on the great ideas. You talk about solving just one problem with one product, rather than just stuffing it with features. I can’t imagine that a whole team can have this mentality just innately. Can you talk to us about this? Like, did you develop this talent or did you develop this talent within the team to be more, I guess, self-policing around how to really focus on solving just one thing?
Spencer: Yeah. It’s been a heck of a journey. We’re only four and a half years young, I guess. That’s pretty young in business world. It was myself in the very beginning, and then slowly I learned how to start bringing in people that possessed the values that indicated that they’d be people that I wanted to work around and wanted to be passionate about the brand. But it was definitely, we’re tripping over ourselves because of how quickly we’ve grown. It was a struggle for the first few years. Just before four years in, we were about a team of 10, and staying focused was something really hard to do.
Spencer: It’s contrary to my natural way of thinking. Like I said, I’m kind of classified as a visionary, and the more you learn about your personality through a Myers-Briggs test or different aptitude and skills tests, I learned a lot about that visionary personality, and it’s that I get bored really quickly with things we’ve been working on previously. I’m always jumping for those shiny things like, “Oh, that sounds really cool. Let’s do this.” I had to really restrict myself and challenge myself and actually invite my coworkers to challenge me to help us stay focused, but it was still something incredibly hard to do.
Spencer: There was a book I read called Traction by Gino Wickman, and he proposes a business philosophy in really just a pragmatic way in how to approaching growing a business. Traction is all about how to gain focus on your business, on your marketing, on your goals, your vision, where you’re going in the future, and then presents some tools that allow you to build traction over time. That traction is interpreted in the book like a flywheel. Once you start turning that heavy wheel, that inertia, you’re going to build and build and build until it’s starting to really pick up speed. As long as you’re following a well thought out process and you’re following it faithfully, that that traction will contain that momentum, and that inertia will just allow you to go faster and faster.
Spencer: This ability to focus is, I guess, fairly recent for us, but it has been pretty life changing for me and for our team because we’re now getting to the point where the rest of the team can identify like, “Yeah, this is a good thing, but it’s not the best thing.” Right now, we’re all kind of 100% focused on launching these new products, and that means we get marketing opportunities, conferences, influencers that have really cool workshops, other industry partners that want to do podcasts or email newsletters and cross-collaborate, and it’s really hard to say, “Sorry, we can’t do that right now.” We know what our resources are and we’re focusing 100% on making sure we nail this product launch 100% on time and exactly how we want it to be.
Spencer: That ability to focus really teaches you what’s important in your business and what’s important to focus on. If you don’t have focus, if everything’s important, then nothing’s important. That’s been a really difficult thing for us. We’re getting much better in the product development team to know how to maintain that focus and really focus on our goals because we know what our one year, three year, and 10 year goals look like.
Felix: Yeah, the accountability, I think, is what’s worked really well for you guys where you have a team that you tell them to hold you accountable to these standards. I think it’s sometimes easy for us to forgive ourselves when it’s something that we are innately drawn towards, right? I think a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of creative types, will be just like you where they can get bored with things that they’ve worked on. They want to move on to the next thing that they’ve thought of, right? So I think the accountability’s important. If you don’t have a team, I think that’s why accountability partners or masterminds, some other kind of group that you can rely on to help them tell you to, or to basically keep you in check, is important.
Felix: It sounds like you have a lot of business role models. You mentioned Steve Jobs, Tim Cook. You mentioned a book, the Traction book. Are there any other books that you have read that have had a big impact on how you run your business?
Spencer: Maybe not a big impact on how I’ve been running it, but will have a big impact going forward. I’ve always been interested in the entrepreneuring side of the business, rather than the operational side. As a photographer, I enjoyed photography and I got pretty good at it, but I was really geeked out by growing a business. Eventually I capped myself as a solopreneur and needed something new, and that’s where MagMod came in.
Spencer: But going forward, there’s one book called Good to Great by Jim Collins, talks about how why some companies over a very long period of time become really great companies and why. What were the characteristics the leader needed to possess to allow it to become a great company? What were the disciplines and focuses that the business had to have in order to become great? And then, a followup book to that same series of books, there’s Built to Last and there’s Good to Great, and then there’s Great by Choice is another research analysis on great companies that were able to thrive and grow amid very difficult circumstances. The environment around them in the world in business was not good for them, but they were able to excel despite those circumstances, and why the competitors failed in those same circumstances. They debunked the myth that some businesses just get lucky, when that’s really actually not the case. It was more about the disciplines that the leaders or the businesses possessed that allowed them to thrive. Companies in that book like Microsoft, Intel, Southwest Airlines, other companies like that. Those will have a great impact on me going forward.
Spencer: One of my recent books that I just finished two weeks ago was The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. That goes through how to really build a great cohesive team that allows you to really focus on the results. There’s five foundational steps to getting to where results are the most important thing across your entire team. Fantastic book, so if you have a team of people, that’s really changed how I view that.
Spencer: I have local mentors, people in business that I look up to tremendously that have been down this road before that I love talking with them. I love asking them questions and learning from them. I think that’s the one thing if you’re a younger entrepreneur, not by age but by experience, go talk with people. Go find a networking group. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. I think most entrepreneurs are eager to pass on their knowledge, as long as you’re polite and courteous and respectful of their time. I think most people want to help others, and I love being able to answer questions if I can. If I have any level of expertise that would benefit someone, I’d be happy to share it. That was something I learned early on, I started my photography company when I was 21 and eventually went full-time by 23, and I’ve worked for myself ever since, was you have to learn how to ask for help sometimes. Sometimes that kind of goes against the entrepreneur mindset, like, “No, I got to figure this out.”
Felix: For yourself, yeah.
Spencer: Sometimes you just got to ask people who have been there before you for that wisdom and that expertise, and take it for what it’s worth. You don’t necessarily need to go and jump and do exactly as they said. But the more sources you can collect information from, the more you can then filter what are the really solid principles that I need to be basing my decisions off of, or strategies or tactics, and get a lot of information before you actually start making decisions. Once you do, then I think you’re better off. Reach out and ask for help, for sure.
Felix: Yeah, I think this kind of live feedback from some kind of meetup or some kind of gathering of other business owners is even more beneficial than books a lot of times because the knowledge is a little bit more custom to your particular situation because you’re asking someone and you’re telling them about your business and the problems you’re facing. Where have you been able to find these gatherings or meetings? What do you recommend people go check out if they want to start being more a part of that community?
Spencer: That’s a great question. I’m actually in that process trying to get myself a little more out of the business on the week to week so I can go out and meet and commune with other successful business owners and leaders so I can learn more about how they were successful. I’m actively looking for those things. I think there’s some great Facebook groups that I’m part of that are in the photo industry, other business owners that can share their wisdom on how they’ve been marketing or how they’ve been building products. There’s groups like EO and Vistage. I’m not members of those. I’m looking at probably joining one of them this year, that allow you to be in a forum where you have other like-minded business owners in your community and you talk about the different issues that you face. Yeah, those are all some of the great ways.
Spencer: There’s different conferences. I’m going to a conference this week, which is actually part of the Traction ecosystems called The Traction Conference, where I can network with other people that are in the same shoes, other visionaries, other business owners, other mid managers that are following this philosophy of EOS, the entrepreneurial operating system. The more you can network and ask questions, I think the … At least, that’s how I learned quickly, is if I can learn from someone else’s mistakes, then even better.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think in your situation you mentioned you have mentors, but you’re obviously now in a position where you can be a mentor to someone else, and you probably have been already. I think that there has been a lot of entrepreneurship advice out there to go and find a mentor. You’ll see a lot of people go out. They’ll start going around to find people and say, “Will you be my mentor? Can you be my mentor?” This approach I don’t think works very well where you’re just going out and asking people to be your mentor. Based on your experience [inaudible 00:44:51] on both sides, what have you found effective in terms of finding a mentor and developing a relationship with him so that it’s actually beneficial on both sides?
Spencer: Well, I do have a few specific mentors that I will talk with and meet with regularly. One if them is someone I pay, and so it allows me to reserve a time on their calendar to get constant feedback. A lot of mentors can be free. Take them out to lunch. Send them some gifts. Make sure that they know that you value their time because of the ability that they have to help you is pretty tremendous if they’ve been in your shoes before. I would recommend, yeah, find someone. If there’s someone that does it professionally, those are never bad. I’ve experienced both ways.
Spencer: I think in order to find that person, you have to be involved in your community in some way. A lot of the people I know and meet with are just acquaintances I’ve run into in business meetings or conferences or seminars. You just have to be willing to put yourself out there and find those people and nurture that relationship so that you could call upon them when you are stuck in a bind and you need some advice or you need some help and they can probably give you five minutes of information that allows you to solve a month’s long problem that you’ve been battling for quite a while.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Speaking of groups, you mentioned earlier about the Facebook group, the community that you have built. I took a look at it. I think there’s 30,000, or over 38,000 members now. What was the purpose behind starting a group like this?
Spencer: I think people naturally like to be involved in a community that has similar interests, you know? Hobbyist groups, car groups, those have been around for decades. Facebook, their mission, I guess, was to allow people to come together, build communities. When we started the Facebook community, I believe it was early or mid 2015. It allowed a place for people to come and talk about MagMod, a place where anyone in there is likely interested in the products and people wanted to get advice on how they get the results that others are getting out them, and talk about different lighting and photography in general. It’s become a pretty, I guess, recognized group in the photo industry as one of the better groups to go and feel inspired.
Spencer: We do a pretty decent job of managing some rules that are very logical. We don’t allow buying and selling and other non-photography related discussion in there because we want people to feel like there can come here in the MagMod community on Facebook and really learn how to be a better photographer and how to get the most out of the products that we offer. Because that’s our mission. We want to make awesome photography easy. We just happen to do it right now through small speedlight modifiers. The more we can promote that mission, the better.
Spencer: The Facebook community was a pretty natural thing for us to do. It grew at a pretty decent pace in the very beginning, and then about six months in, it was just starting to take off pretty, pretty well. Now we’re, I guess, it sounds like 38,000 members. It’s continued to grow very, very quickly, and it’s because there’s a lot of people in there everyday sharing great photography and talking about how they made it. The more people feel like they can get that information, especially free, then I think they want to be part of that community. They want to learn and they want to contribute to the success of that community as well.
Felix: Yeah, 30,000 is already impressive, but I think what’s even more impressive is that it’s around a particular company or brand, which I usually don’t see, or even a particular product, which I usually don’t see where most groups are centered around maybe something more, I guess, generic, just like photography or photography lighting. Yours seems to be centered around the products that you offer, which obviously is great for your business.
Felix: What have you done to encourage, I guess, engagements? I’m assuming there’s a limit to how much someone can talk about a particular product, so you probably have to expand the content that’s being shared in that group, and it sounds like people are sharing photographs that they’ve taken is one thing. Are there other sorts of types of content that you try to encourage in that group?
Spencer: We don’t have to encourage much. The community is pretty awesome. There’s people that go in there and love to share tips and tricks. Some of our VIPs and ambassadors, they love to share different images that they’ve been creating in their professional life. And, there’s people that just ask questions about general lighting, like which flash works with which camera, or which modifiers give the best results for this type of situation? We’re not necessarily actively requesting types of feedback or content. It’s just people are naturally going in there and sharing really, really good content.
Spencer: We do have, I think it used to be monthly, I don’t know if there’s any specific timeframe on it, but one of our influencer managers, Trevor Daley, is a very well known photographer. He lives here in Arizona. He commutes into Tucson regularly to come work with us as a team. He reaches out to a lot of our big fans, our influencers in the industry, in the community, and he does a behind the scenes type of video, live Facebook video, where very much like this podcast, he’s just asking questions on really cool photographs that that photographer made and asking them to walk through how they made that and why they did that. It kind of gives that behind the scenes insight into a photograph that normally would be hard to do in just describing it in a Facebook post. We actually get to hear the story behind it. Those are always some of the highest watched videos in group is those How I Shot It videos is what we call them.
Felix: Yeah, I like that a lot. I’m not a professional photographer or anything, but I’ve been in those communities where it’s a lot of times people just drop in a photo and then leave, right, and not explain the creative process behind the scenes, like you’re talking about. But if you are big into photography, that is the thing you want to learn the most, like how do I replicate that? How can I create that style within my own photography? I think that’s a great idea to be able to bring on essentially an expert on using your product or using products like yours, and then getting them to explain how to use it. Because I think, and that could apply in any industry, in any business, where you can find someone that is a pro at using your product and get them to explain how they’re using it in their day to day craft.
Felix: With a group this large, and you mentioned that it’s just organic, I think one of the challenges when it’s organic and lots of engagement as well is that there’s going to be more difficulty in moderation and managing all of it, especially as it has grown from a few thousand to now almost 40,000 members. What’s the process there? How do you make sure that everything is such under control in that group?
Spencer: Well, I have to credit my team. We have a great group of people on our team that really takes this seriously. We want to foster a community where everyone is welcome and we want to foster a specific type of community where people can share images and learn from it and contribute and build up the community and just grow as photographers. We want to make awesome photography easy, and the better we can do that, awesome.
Felix: Got it. One thing you mentioned before was, or in the pre-interview, was that you recommend entrepreneurs set bigger goals than you think they’re capable of. Now, you said the sky’s the limit, so keep stretching higher and higher, and if you stay focused, you’ll achieve it. What was your goal early on and, looking back on it, what could you have set it to instead?
Spencer: Yeah. I think as entrepreneurs we’re capable of more than we realize. As we get into the nitty gritty of executing the strategy that we have in our head, we have to play both visionary and both an integrator. We have to take that strategy and make it work, but first you have to dream that strategy. Sometimes I get stuck, not necessarily stuck, but I have to be realistic. It’s like I’ve got this big dream, but it doesn’t seem realistic right now, so I’m going to take those first few steps.
Spencer: I think making sure that you constantly reevaluate that dream is what I was getting at. That sometimes we set that goal, the pie in the sky, and then we’re 80% there and realize, “Wow, I got here quicker than I realized.” That’s been something I’ve learned is set the goal higher. If you’ve proven that you’ve been able to execute on a strategy time and time again over two or three or four years, set that next goal even higher because the likelihood of you realizing how much you’ve accomplished so far will likely push you to believe I can get that.
Spencer: I’ve just learned that we’ve set either product goals or revenue goals, and those are indicators that reflect past performance. But if I set that goal high enough, it’ll allow me to chase something with maybe a little more passion than realizing, “Yeah, I can do this. I got this,” and I won’t put maybe as much energy into that project rather than if it was something a little outside my comfort zone, a little beyond what I thought I was capable. It’s just gonna fuel me that much further. I would say yeah, set a goal that is realistic, but set something that’s pie in the sky. Go out there and achieve something really awesome, because I think as entrepreneurs we’re capable of it.
Felix: Can you give us an idea of how large you’ve grown the business in the last four years?
Spencer: Yeah. Our first Kickstarter campaign, we raised $210,000 in about 30 days. That was definitely more than I thought we’d get in the first 30 days. The campaign goal was to reach 35,000, and that was a number that I knew would take to make an initial order with our suppliers, fulfill that demand, and give us a little bit to put on the shelves to continue selling on our website. We reached that 35,000 in five hours. That was just, I think, having a product that sold itself. There wasn’t anything necessarily genius that I did to get the word out. I had some great friends that spread the word, and then it just picked up like wildfire.
Spencer: We did 210,000 that first 30 days, and then by the end of the first year, it was just over half a million. We’ve grown 200% year over year since then. We’re growing very, very quickly, and sometimes it’s really hard to keep up with the demand because we’ve had to grow our staff. We’re almost 20 now, and that’s not easy to do. But now we’re set to continue doubling every single year for the next two or three years based on what we see in our product lineup and how the brand is growing globally.
Felix: Very cool. MagMod, which is at magnetmod.com. Thank you so much for your time, Spencer.
Spencer: Thank you, Felix. Enjoyed it.
Felix: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Shopify Masters, the eCommerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs powered by Shopify. To get your exclusive 30 day extended trial, visit shopify.com/masters.
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