Many entrepreneurs get started by trying to solve a personal problem they have in a market that doesn't offer a good solution.
But some, after becoming business owners, realize a whole new set of problems (read: opportunities) just begging for someone to solve.
Chad Rubin is the founder of Think Crucial, a store that sells crucial products you need for your everyday life that's taken the approach of establishing a presence on as many marketplaces as possible.
In the process of growing it into an 8-figure business that lived in several marketplaces, he discovered a need for better software for handling multi-channel inventory management. So he built Skubana to help businesses of a similar scale streamline their operations.
In this episode, we'll discuss:
- Why choosing a manufacturer is not just about who can give you the lowest price.
- How to find people to hire for a business so that you can step away from the business.
- How to write product descriptions differently depending on the marketplace you’re selling in.
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Felix: Today, I’m joined by Chad Rubin from ThinkCrucial.com and Skubana.com. Think Crucial sells crucial products you need for your everyday life and started off as Crucial Vacuums, which was started 2009 and based out of New Jersey and New York area.
Chad: Thanks for having me, Felix.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. Obviously, there’s three businesses that we can talk about today, but let’s start with Think Crucial. Tell us a little bit more about that store and maybe some of the most popular products that you sell from that store.
Chad: Yeah, to back it up, I was on Wall Street covering Internet stocks. My parents had a vacuum store as I was growing up, struggling to make ends meet. I went onto Wall Street. Started covering Internet stocks. Got laid off in 2008 and started taking my parents’ product and selling it on the Internet while they were going bankrupt. Then I started a direct consumer company, which is Crucial Vacuum. Started manufacturing direct-to-consumer vacuum … I literally started with one vacuum filter. That was in 2009.
Then I started investing very, very heavy in direct-to-consumer and this was really before direct-to-consumer was the in [settee 00:02:22] thing to do.
Felix: Yeah, definitely see that more and more frequently. Both you and I from the New York City area and I see so many businesses popping up that do direct-to-consumer advertising all over the place. Yes, you started off first in the … Well, in Wall Street, but your first foray into entrepreneurship was taking your family’s vacuum business and started selling online. Did you have any experience in selling online at that point? How did you launch that side of the business?
Chad: Yeah, I was covering Internet stocks on the Street and so I found that the Internet was a recession-proof industry or a very defensive place to put your money, especially during that time. My mom and dad both had a vacuum store next to Wal-Mart and they were going out of business. I first took their product and listed it on a site back in the day, a shopping cart, which was Volusion and also got their product on Amazon, but when I went to replenish the product and buy it again, the numbers just didn’t make sense. It didn’t add up. That’s when I was like, “Wait, there has to be a better way,” and I started taking … I literally took a trip to China and started with my first vacuum filter.
Felix: You guys were buying these from wholesalers at the time? How come the numbers didn’t make sense when you were selling what your parents were selling, but then you were able to find a cheaper alternative to doing the kind of business that they were doing?
Chad: Yeah, look, the vacuum industry is like every other stagnant industry that just hasn’t changed with the times. I just found a really interesting niche to target. That was the vacuum space. Literally, the vacuum space, you have an OEM manufacturer that sells to a distributor that sells to a dealer that then sells to the end consumer. I just wanted to get as close as I could to the factory and as close as I can to the consumer. That’s where I started with the Crucial Vacuum idea.
The crazy this is, is that I thought it would take me years or decades to disrupt the industry and it didn’t take me quite long, but I already picked the name Crucial Vacuum so I grew out of the name rather quickly.
Felix: Makes sense. I think this is a path that a lot of other entrepreneurs want to take, which is like you were saying, if you were a little bit too far down the line, your margins are going to be very thin and it becomes a lot harder to scale, a lot harder to start a business. You decided, “Let me just get right to the source.” Tell us about that experience. How do you even begin to go to China, find a factory? What was that process like?
Chad: It took a lot of research. I created a spreadsheet. On the top all my suppliers. I sent each of them … All of the suppliers that I had found, I had sent each of them some samples of what I wanted to create and I started comparing … Not only price, but I started comparing quality, lead times to different suppliers, and just started spending a lot more time with the suppliers, which ultimately led to a trip to China and having a beer with the factory floor managers. That’s ultimately how I started making my decision about how I was going to do business with.
Felix: Makes sense. This process of finding the manufacturers, again is probably that a lot of listeners are at so tell us more about that. What were you doing to research these manufacturers and how did you narrow them down to the ones that you wanted to spend the time to get to know?
Chad: Number one: back in the day before Alibaba was really Alibaba.com was really crowded, that was a really good source to find factories. B, I would narrow it down based on not only price, because I feel like a lot of people in the ecommerce space only look at price. That’s all they care about, but it’s more than that. It’s about lead time. It’s about the ecosystem. It’s about the mins that they are offering, the minimum order quantities. There’s a lot of different factors that came into it along with the relationship, especially upon shaking their hand when I went to China and meeting with the factory floor managers and understood their manufacturing processes.
Felix: The lead time and the minimum order quantities … Those are obviously numbers that you can easily compare between factories, but then you also mentored the ecosystem and the relationships. Let’s start with the ecosystem. Say a little bit more about that. What do you mean by the ecosystem? How do you determine? How do you measure the ecosystem between one manufacturer versus the other?
Chad: When I say ecosystem, it’s not just about manufacturing the product, but it’s also the product packaging. What kind of cardboard is the product packaging coming with? How amicable are they to maybe push me up the priority list in terms of lead times? To push me above somebody else? There’s more than just looking at the factory. It’s the factory plus the packaging, like the co-packing facility that they’re packing at and also how good is the quality of the product that they’re shipping to you?
Then of course, when I say ecosystem, it’s also the relationship. That’s also part of it. The relationship is, okay if I ask them who their supplier … Who else they’re manufacturing for, are they going to give me that answer? Maybe they won’t give me that answer. It also helps with the trust factor when you ask the manufacturer, okay, who else do you make it for? If they’re honest or not. I think it’s a good litmus test.
Felix: I see. You look for a lot of transparency in a manufacturer, like you are … Maybe not testing them necessarily, but you are asking questions and trying to see how open they are with revealing information to you.
Chad: Yeah, and a lot of trading companies pose as factories. A trading company is like another middleman on the Chinese side that represents the factory because way back in the day factories really didn’t have the proficiency to speak English so they had these companies representing them, kind of like agencies. I really try to stay away from trading companies and go as direct as I can.
Felix: How do you identify that? Is it by asking the questions? How do you identify that if you’re not actually hitting the main source?
Chad: It’s a lot of metrics. It’s partially price. It’s partially saying, “Hey, by the way, we’re doing a Skype call right now. Why don’t you turn on your video and give me a tour of your factory? That would be awesome. Let me see what’s going on in the factory.”
Felix: Makes sense. You determined that these specific factories are ones that you wanted to work with. You found that you could build a good relationship with them. Do you just dive right in? How do you begin the relationship? The actual commercial relationship with these manufacturers?
Chad: Outside of having a beer with the factory floor owner?
Felix: Yeah, exactly.
Chad: The manager. Diving into the relationship, I will start with hitting some smaller minimum order quantities. Typically, the factory will be like, “Oh, you know what? Our minimum order quantity is 5,000.” Well, I’ll say, “You know what? My minimum order quantity is going to be 100.” Then it’s a negotiation practice after that.
Felix: Okay, that’s an important point to make, I think, when people are looking for factories on Alibaba, wherever they’re looking. They see these minimum order quantities and think that that’s a hard limit. You’re saying that it’s always negotiable.
Chad: Everything in life is negotiable. They don’t teach you that in school. This is taught in the school of life.
Felix: Yeah, sounds like you have a lot of experience with that. When you do take these minimum order quantities, I guess when you first place the initial run … You said that you first started with vacuum … Was it filters?
Chad: Yeah, I started with one vacuum filter.
Felix: I see. You place an order for these vacuum filters. Did you already have an ecommerce store at the time? What was the first step towards selling these filters?
Chad: Yeah. Yeah, I had an ecommerce store at the time. Launched the first one. I also was still reselling some other things, but I phased that out over time and really went with just my own branded direct-to-consumer approach.
Felix: I got it. When you created this store and then starting selling your own products, these products that you’re getting straight from the factories, how did you market? What were some successful ways early on to drive that traffic?
Chad: Back in the day, Google Product Listing Ads were unpaid so it was free. I had text ads as well that were flowing. Literally, I look at ecommerce and I’ve done this since I started was I needed to be on every channel, every marketplace I possibly can be on. Not just with my own storefront and driving traffic to that and I did a lot of through Google, but eBay, Rakuten, Sears, Newegg, Wayfair, Overstock, now Jet.com, WalMart.com. You get the idea.
Felix: Makes sense. Is this your approach today too? To be on every marketplace?
Chad: Oh yeah, that is the approach that I utilize.
Felix: Does it make it difficult then to market? How do you manage this entire system wherein you have so many marketplaces? How do you know where to draw the traffic and just manage that entire process?
Chad: I feel like you’re giving me a layout right now for Skubana, but I created Skubana to manage the entire process to operate it and automate it with one software.
Felix: Let’s take a detour down this path before getting back to your business. You started Crucial Vacuums … I think this is the timeline. You started Crucial Vacuums. Wanted to be in every marketplace. Was that the time then that you decided that you needed some kind of software to help you run the entire business?
Chad: Crucial Vacuum was just ramping so quickly … At the time I was using just a shipping software and eyeballing my inventory. The problem was that I was doing 60,000 orders a month. It’s a lot of order volume. The entry-level softwares that were initially in place weren’t enterprised enough to handle not only my order volume, but just were incomplete, right? You need to essentially duct tape all these various different softwares together to run your business in ecommerce.
People are still doing it that way today, but I said to myself, “There has to be a better way.” Just like there has to be a better way when you’re sourcing vacuum filters, right? You don’t need to spend … Buy them for $20 and sell it for $23. There has to be a better way. I was solving a problem and the problem was that today you have to use all these different softwares to run your business. There’s entry-level softwares that are incomplete and then on the high end, they’re very expensive. If you look at higher, more enterprise-like softwares and they still require customization and setup fees.
We started a cloud-based all-in-one operational system that marries together an ERP and an order management system in one place. That’s Skubana.
Felix: I think this is a common path for entrepreneurs which is to identify a problem that they have, look at the marketplace, don’t see a good solution or doesn’t see a solution that works well for them, and then develop their own solution, find out that other people have that same problem, and then start building their own business off of a need that they needed themselves, scratching their own itch.
I think this is a path that I’ve heard other entrepreneurs take too, which they start with a business, an ecommerce business, and then start venturing into software because they have these customized to some degree needs for their business and of course finding others at their scale, others in their industry also need it.
Talk to us about this process and if you did have an idea, let’s say, a store owner out there is listening and they have an idea for a way to improve their business, to automate it, to find someway to improve it through technology, how do you begin to build software for that purpose?
Chad: I think technology can be a competitive advantage for ecommerce companies, just like shipping can be a competitive advantage. If you choose the right software stack or the right shipping service, you can save a ton of money and create a competitive mode around your industry until the next person finds out about that software or that shipping provider.
For Skubana, when we first started it and I co-founded it with DJ, I was telling all of my friends about this problem that I was having. I was like, “Oh my God, there were all these awful solutions that were not even started by real true sellers, that didn’t solve my itch, that didn’t fix my itch that I had, that I needed to scratch.” I told a couple of buddies. One of my buddies, met DJ who’s now my co-founder, on the tennis court by sheer luck. They became great friends and introduced us together.
DJ arrives at my warehouse, which was looking like a jungle at the time. I violated every OSHA-compliant policy out there in the book. He thought it was going to have robots all around my warehouse and it was nothing like that. He was like, “Wait, this is a problem? Really? There’s no unified platform out there to manage all these marketplaces and to automate and run your business?” We started taking demos. I started taking demos with all these existing amateur entry-level softwares and then he was like, “Wow, there’s a massive opportunity here. Let’s do it together.” That was how Skubana was born.
Felix: Again, another situation a lot of entrepreneurs find themselves in, which is that you have a fast-growing business with Crucial Vacuums at the time and now you’re thinking about starting a brand-new business in a totally different … You obviously have a lot of experience, because you are the ideal customer, but still a totally different industry in the tech industry building software this time. How do you balance the two? How did you decide how to spend your time and balance both an ecommerce business and then also a software business that you were just starting?
Chad: That’s a really good question. I ask myself that all the time. I think the first thing that I think most entrepreneurs have a problem with, including myself, is we have a hard time saying no. This opportunity presented itself to me and I was like, “Yeah, it sounds great,” and I thought software was a really, really easy thing to do. I was like, “Oh, you just create something and that’s it.” But there’s a whole lot more that goes into it.
Luckily for me, and I don’t know how others do it, but for me, I have been able to automate my ecommerce business. I have two employees on the ground in the United States running my eight-figure business. Two employees on the ground. Now, yes, I use some off-shore employees, but that’s unheard of and I’m blessed because I have the software to automate and run the operations for me. We’ve been literally using technology to get rid of a lot of those repetitive low-value activities that some of your employees are doing today or that my employees were doing and we used technology to do its thing.
Felix: Makes sense. Before Skubana was born and you were trying to automate this, did you just piece things together? What was the life like before?
Chad: Life was very manual. Not only did I have a warehouse for my own pick-and-pack operation and I had almost around 20 employees depending on the season, but we also had a lot of employees doing manual tasks like exporting tracking, uploading it into a shipping software, and for every marketplace and every shipping carrier out there, we didn’t know our true profit margin on every product across every marketplace.
Now I have visibility. Because it’s unified, I have visibility into every SKU that I have and we can get as surgical as your shipping cost. Now for every … We rank our SKUs across our entire portfolio and we have 2,000 different listings out there. I can see which is the worst performing SKUs based on profitability and then I can obviously take that money off the table and deploy it to other resources that are going to actually make me more money. That kind of intelligence … That’s the Holy Grail of ecommerce, having SKU-level profitability with every cost included.
Felix: I can definitely see the value in being able to optimize when you can get down to that level of detail. When you do approach your business and you started thinking about ways to automate and essentially clean up the business and get a little more organized and you look back, do you ever think … Are there ever any certain tasks that you don’t think should ever be automated?
Chad: Yeah, I do. I would encourage everyone to look at their life and see what are tasks that are low value? Everyone has a bucket list, but I also say everyone should have an eff-it list, right? Things you just don’t want to be doing. I took inventory of my life and my grind and saw what I didn’t want to be doing, but I also recognized that one of the most important things in my business is actually creating really, really good content and unique listings. Listings whether it’s on Shopify or whether it’s on Amazon or anywhere else, spend time creating those listings. That’s a higher value activity. We keep those in house. We keep purchasing in house, although Skubana automates the purchasing decisions and gives the seller the ability to actually decide what to buy, but all the lower value activities that we never want to be doing as sellers or having employees doing them, we’ve automated with technology.
Felix: It’s effortless. I like it. I’ve never heard anyone say before, but it makes a lot of sense. Are you including things on this list, just things that are low value or what about things that you just don’t like doing, you’re not good at doing, you dread doing, but it would be high value if it were done?
Chad: All the things that you either hate doing, find somebody that had their core competency or that likes doing that activity. All the repetitive things that you’re doing? The same thing. Not only did I do it with my own life or my own grind and my hustle, in business, I actually had my employees take an inventory of their calendars and where are they spending their time. I even got them virtual assistants to help them automate those activities.
Felix: Yeah, I think this is a situation that a lot of store owners that are grinding through it and maybe are starting to not like the experience because they are so consumed by things that they’re not good at or things that they don’t naturally like to do. Is there a certain stage where that makes sense or should you … Do you think that everyone should focus as quickly as possible on offloading things that they’re not good at or offloading things that maybe they’re good at, but they just don’t enjoy doing?
Chad: A few things … I think it’s important that everyone needs to know their weaknesses and I think that becomes an asset, that becomes one of your biggest strengths if you know what you’re not good at. Why should you go and spend time trying to understand Google Ad Words and understanding your spend versus what you’re achieving for that spend if that’s not what you’re great at? If you’re really good at building a business or building a brand or marketing, why should you be doing those activities? I would encourage you to find somebody that’s good with those activities.
Felix: I like that. You mentioned earlier and I think this is a relevant question here too is that you had a hard time saying no. I agree. A lot of entrepreneurs also have a hard time saying no because at some degree, we’re opportunists, right? We look for opportunities and whenever a new one pops up, even if we don’t have the time, even if we don’t have the resources, we just can’t help but think about what if we did this and that and try and clear up some room to take on this opportunity.
What about today? Do you feel like you’re better at saying no today than before? If so, how did you work towards developing that competency?
Chad: I read a book called Essentialism. That was really helpful with me helping to identify my no, what I want to say no and that it’s okay to say no. I think we’re all raised that you get a gold star if you say yes. When you raise your hand in class, you get a gold star. That’s where I got the idea of saying no. I was like, “Oh my God, I really need to prune back these opportunities because I think life is going to present all of us a lot of opportunities.” For me to be a productive and happier person, I need to really make sure that I’m super, super, super focused.
Felix: Yeah, I think it’s a thing I tell myself too, to say no more often. I always tell other entrepreneurs that that’s a key thing too. If you want to focus, you’ve got to start saying no more often. That’s really just the key to focus is to chisel out all the things that don’t actually add value to your life or to your business. I guess that’s conceptually how you approach it, but tactically, when you sit down everyday and get these emails or people add things to you to do list, how do you decide what you should be saying yes to and what you should be saying no to? What kind of questions do you ask yourself?
Chad: I set up a system. Luckily I have a virtual assistants helping me with my inbox. We have a system for prioritizing what I want to achieve. My system is … We have a pretty intense scoring system, like a pecking order. For me, I know what is most important for me to achieve success at Skubana. I’m not so involved in the Crucial business anymore, but on a cursory level, I know what my employees need to be doing to achieve their success and I just keep them honed in and focused on it.
Felix: It sounds like you really built a business that you can step away from, maybe you already have stepped away from the Crucial business and let this, the technology that you used to automate run the jobs and then also the members of your team control it as well. Was this always a comfortable idea for you? Because I think a lot of store owners would think that I would never leave my store or not that they’ll never leave it, but they’ll never feel comfortable enough to step away from it. How did you begin to set this up for yourself and more and more mentally, how did you begin to set this up for yourself?
Chad: I had the hardest time stepping away. Three and a half years ago when my warehouse was just exploding and I didn’t know what to do, my wife … I’ll give her the credit. She’s like, “Chad, you need to do something about this. Just outsource this warehouse.” Somebody had actually been asking me, a 3PL, a third-party logistics company approached me a couple of times and I kept on saying no, like, “No, nope, sorry. I like touching my product. I like feeling my product. I like smelling my filters,” and I just let it go.
I thought it was going to impact my margins tremendously and it had the adverse effect of that or the inverse effect of that. It didn’t effect at all. In fact, it allowed me to start going to the gym. It allowed me to start a different business. It allowed me to free up my time so I can focus on building my business.
Felix: Do you think that this is achievable at every scale of business? If you’re just a store that’s doing maybe six figures a year, is it something that everyone should look at and think about creating a business that they can step away from? Is there any cons to that approach?
Chad: I don’t see any cons to it. I think it’s important to have procedures, operational procedures, in place to help you run your business so it can function without you. You don’t want to build a business about you. It has to be about the team and about other people to step in and run it. That’s part of building a system. Even if you’re a smaller store owner, I think now is the time to actually set up the process because as you get larger, it gets harder and harder to set up the process. Trying outsourcing your warehouse after you’re doing 20, 30 million. It’s a much bigger task, more time consuming. It’s better to actually start now. That’s why you see a lot of direct-to-consumer companies now that are just starting off in a third-party logistics environment. Outsourced warehouse right away.
Felix: Okay. I want to talk a little bit about setting this up, this business that you step away from. You mentioned you have two members of the team. Also you have virtual assistants and I guess help from contractors around the world. Maybe we’ll start with this: how do you find the right people for your business? What is your hiring process?
Chad: My hiring process? I’ll tell you, I’ve been through a lot of employees. I only have two now left in the United States. I really like to find people that have entrepreneurial mindsets, people that can actually operate autonomously and just hop in the role and just start doing. Just getting shit done.
Felix: How do you identify that during an interview or the beginning stages of meeting a potential candidate?
Chad: It’s really hard to identify that and I can’t tell you that I’ve cracked the code at all, but I do try to ask targeted questions like, “What is the biggest thing you’ve had to overcome in life?” That’s a question I think is a really important question and if you can’t identify things that you’ve struggled with in life … If you haven’t been through a struggle or a hustle or had to push through and just go through a wall to accomplish something, then I don’t think it’s the right fit for what I’m looking for in the business. That’s just one example of a question.
Felix: Maybe a more difficult situation to be in because it sounds like you were saying you’ve been through a lot of these processes and now you only have two employees. I’m assuming that means that you have let people go as well that have maybe not been a good fit or for the company that you discovered later on. What is that? How do you determine that this is not a good fit and then how do you fire somebody?
Chad: You know right away if they’re a good fit or not. I think it takes maybe a week or two weeks. You’ll right away if they’re a good fit or not. Just a real quick wrap up on the hiring process, I really encourage in these interviews for them to walk me through their life journey. That helps me understand the type of person that they are today. They touch on these moments in life that have defined them and that’s super helpful in this process. I ask them all types of weird questions I think that they don’t actually typically get asked, even what’s their favorite movie or what do they really want to be doing in life?
On the firing end, and for me, this is just my personality, and Felix, you probably knew this answer to this question before you asked, I like to peel off the Band-Aid really, really quickly. If you’re not a good fit, I’d waste no time and I try to part ways. Typically this person knows that they’re not a good fit. If they’re not a good fit, I’m meeting with them in my lounge. I call it the dojo. Almost every day. Like guiding them. There’s no surprises. The biggest mistake I think people make is, “Oh, I’m not going to tell them that they suck and I’m just going to go in and fire them.” That’s not the way to do it at all. I’m constantly coaching them and if they’re not meeting my expectations, they know upfront.
Felix: You look for these entrepreneurs, look for these self-starters, and I think one of the other skills or attributes that come with identifying or having these kind of employees is that they are highly ambitious, they probably someday want to do their own thing. How do you balance that? That ambition to … You want to hire people that eventually want to leave and start their own businesses and have ambitions to start their own businesses. How do you balance that kind of ambition with essentially having them work for you as an employee?
Chad: I create an environment that they’ll never want to leave. If you’re adding more value and working for me, you’re going to be getting paid more. It’s just the way I see life. If you’re adding more value, you deserve to be paid more. It’s a mutual beneficial relationship. I really try to make it … All the people that I’ve never wanted to leave are still with me today.
Felix: When you have these self-starters that are working in your company, what kind of direction do you give? How involved are you? I’m assuming this is going to be different than someone that is just a … If you hired somebody that is not a self-starter, that requires that direction, hopefully you don’t find people like this, but they’re going to be different, the way that you treat them than someone that is a self-starter, that is an entrepreneur, that is ambitious. What’s your approach to working to people that are like this? What kind of direction do you give?
Chad: If they’re not a self-starter?
Felix: No, if they are. If they are. If you hire people that are self-starters, that are ambitious, how involved are you in managing them?
Chad: We’ll have weekly meetings, weekly planning meetings where we go over their progress, struggles, challenges, opportunities, how fully is their cup is a common question I ask them. What’s their capacity to take on more?
Felix: Okay. I want to talk a little bit about Think Crucial now. We’ve been speaking about Skubana, your software business, and then also Crucial Vacuums, but now Think Crucial. One thing you mentioned to me over email before we hopped on was that you had recently done an ecommerce migration, right? From Magento over to now Shopify. Tell us about that process. What was it like migrating a store from one platform to another?
Chad: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Re-platforming is a very challenging process and it’s part of that process where you have to peel off the Band-Aid really, really quickly and that’s what we did. We still have one property on Magento that we haven’t actually fully transitioned over yet, but Think Crucial is our next gen platform that we’re preparing for the next decade.
Felix: What made you make that decision? You already had a store running smoothly. Obviously you had automation going already. I’m assuming a lot of connections were already built between the entire business. Peeling it all apart sounds like a very painful process. What drove you to make this decision?
Chad: I’m, again, preparing for the future. I like to go where the puck is going, not where the puck is, like Wayne Gretzky said. That’s part of it. The other part is I believe that I was spending more time managing bugs of the platform or fixing bugs that would arise versus focusing on building my business. Part of my move to Shopify is the ecosystem. I go back to the ecosystem again, right? You have an app integration, seamless integration to a lot of different apps that we can utilize that are helping us prepare for the next generation of ecommerce to come.
Felix: When you do a migration like this … The thing that I was telling you before the call is that there are probably listeners out there that have businesses on Magento or Volusion or whatever the shopping cart and are thinking about doing a migration maybe to Shopify, maybe to another platform. How do you prepare for a migration like this?
Chad: Wow, that’s a big question. You don’t really prepare. You just have to just do it right away. For me, A, you have to be fed up enough, right? You have to be really fed up with what you’ve got and be ready to move. For me, I was paying for a server. I was paying for all these customizations. It was overkill for what I needed. I think there is a certain place for a major amount of customizations in a shopping cart. Just not what I needed for my business.
Once you get your brain around that, hey, I’m spending all this money on development costs, I’m spending all this money on server costs, how do I consolidate and streamline and really focus on, again, it’s part of that pruning process. Focus on building my business. This is the move that I decided to make.
Then I decided to go and find a awesome Shopify company to work with, to build our site. You have to find the right partner that you identify with on their aesthetic to build the site out for you.
Felix: Now that you’ve been through it, are there things that you wish you spent more time preparing? Like you were saying, you want to get this done quickly. Re-platforming is obviously a pain in the butt, but do you think that there are certain things that if you were to do again, you would spend more time preparing?
Chad: No, I think we did it in the right phases. The first phase of Think Crucial is a little bit different than what it is today in its current phase of development and web design. We wanted to get a site up quick and we did without all the bells and whistles and we’re iterating on that right now. We got up a site. We’re iterating and improving upon what we’ve got, but I’d rather go live with a 50% done site than not go live at all. We just had to make this move.
Felix: Did you anticipate or maybe now that you’ve done it, were there impacts to traffic? To SEO? To conversions right when you make this switch off the bat?
Chad: We did some redirects on our end, but there hasn’t been a major blip in traffic. Again, we didn’t pull the biggest property off Magento yet, so I think I’m … I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but so far, I would say it’s a successful migration because we took two other sites off Magento that weren’t as large and it was a good training for us to now go ahead with the next property.
Felix: Makes sense. Now that you have these different properties up, what’s been the key driver in terms of the traffic and the sales. What marketing channels do you guys focus on today?
Chad: Like I said, we do marketplace … We have a marketplace-driven strategy and then we have our own website-driven strategy. Whether it’s remarketing, Google PLAs, back links, working with different bloggers, I would say that’s probably the largest piece of it. A newsletter blast that we have. We have multiple different cylinders that we decide … It’s like a big toolbox of things that we have at our disposal to use.
Felix: This marketplace-driven strategy, this is the idea that you want to be in all places that you can be. I think something you mentioned earlier on was that one of the core values that you offer to the business, one of the things that you want to focus on are the product descriptions, building out these listings, making sure that they are converting. Talk to us a little bit more about that. When you are approaching a marketplace, whether it be Amazon or maybe just even on your own site, how do you approach the product descriptions and writing the listings?
Chad: I want the best content on my own site. We actually hired people to write out content for every product that we have. It’s a very time-consuming process. We try to make it funny or edgy or put puns or twists in the content, but we want to make sure that the content that we’re producing on our site is the most unique, because people are coming to a Think Crucial or a Crucial Vacuum because we are the experts. We’re not a vending machine approach. We try to make our product listings unique.
On Amazon, Amazon is a different marketplace than eBay that is a different marketplace than Wal-Mart. We try to put different content … We don’t just throw gum at the wall to see what sticks. I think there’s a lot of sellers out there. I think that’s a big mistake sellers make. They just take the same content and they try to get a listing tool to just automate the process with the same content in every channel and that’s not the way to win at ecommerce today.
Felix: How do you determine what kind of descriptions then to place on the marketplaces? Like you were saying, you want the best content, you want to invest the most time and money into having the product descriptions really pop on your on site, on your own property, which makes a lot of sense, but then you’re also saying that you want to be unique throughout the different marketplaces that cater towards, I’m assuming, to cater towards that audience. How do you understand how to speak to the audiences on these different platforms?
Chad: You have to know the marketplace or the platform. For example, let’s take Amazon. Amazon, depending on the category you’re in, has a 200-character limit or a 250-character limit in the title itself whereas eBay has a more limiting title than it does and has a different algorithm that drives what comes up in their search when you search on eBay versus Amazon. Then on Amazon, you can put up five bullet points. These five bullet points are very different from the blank canvas that eBay gives you to create an eBay listing with.
We create different content for each marketplaces, because if you look at Google, Google cares about unique content. Google cares about, okay, we’re going to rank this in our Google rank because it’s relevant and because it’s unique. On Amazon, it’s not just about being unique. It’s about being compelling because their search algorithm not only looks at your product listing, but also looks at who’s coming to the page and how many of those people are converting and that’s part of their ranking. That’s part of how you get ranked in Amazon’s search algorithm.
Felix: If you can only … Let’s say, there’s a store owner out there that they want to take your … Follow in your footsteps and expand out to more marketplaces outside of their own store and they don’t have time or maybe don’t have the focus to go towards one other marketplace, how do you determine or what other kind of questions should they be asking themselves to determine which marketplace they should go into next?
Chad: I don’t think it’s a question of time. I think obviously these entrepreneurs, if they are questioning whether or not they have time to go onto another marketplace, they have to ask themselves, “Okay, how can I automate my business as it stands today to allow us and how do I find a software that can help me get onto these marketplaces and operate my business so it’s sound?” Once you have that foundation … It’s like building a house. You need to have it on the right foundation. Now in New Jersey, as I’m sure you’re very familiar with, we build malls on swampland all the time and those malls are sinking as we speak. You need to make sure you have the right foundation.
Once you have a foundation set up … It’s like a shopping cart, right? You need to make sure that you pick the right shopping cart, because there’s a lot of crappy shopping carts out there. Once you have the foundation set up, then you start going into the marketplaces and it’s no sweat off your back to get into one marketplace and then go right into the next one as well. I think Amazon has a near close monopoly in ecommerce. I think it’s a great place to start, but I think it’s a bad place to finish.
You start with Amazon. Maybe then you move into eBay. WalMart.com just opened up their marketplace to a lot of different sellers. Jet.com which was just acquired by Wal-Mart is another great place to get real estate property and sell your product online. Then all the rest of them. Newegg. Rakuten. Sears. I can go on and on. Overstock. Wayfair. Then you go international. In order to make this happen, you need to have the right operations in place before you get started, for sure.
Felix: Makes sense. Obviously we talk a lot about how you automate your life. Now you probably just have a ton of free time to do whatever you want, which is just a joke, of course, but you did mention to me before the call that you … Are you writing a book or you have a book out now?
Chad: No, I wrote a book. I wrote a book as well. It’s called Cheaper, Easier, Direct.
Felix: Cool. Tell us a little more about that. Why did you decide to write a book and tell us a little more about what it’s about.
Chad: There’s a lot of these ecommerce “gurus” out there right now that are driving me absolutely mad. They haven’t built successful multi-marketplace businesses or ecommerce businesses so they have really no place in giving insight or advice. I decided … I was thinking, “Why don’t I just share my journey and how I’ve started my private labeling journey?” So I go through a three-step process, which is discovery. How do you discover what to manufacture? Then, of course, validating the idea to make sure you don’t lose money, time, or in my case, hair. Then execution. Three-step process is all embedded in this book. The exact blueprint of how I’ve actually created my business.
Felix: Like many entrepreneurs or like other entrepreneurs out there, they want to share what they’ve learned as well. Like you were saying, you don’t necessarily want to take advice from people that have never been in the same shoes that you have or are not on the same path and hopefully a little bit further ahead than you are. For the folks out there that want to share their knowledge a little bit more, want to create their own content to help educate and give back to the community, tell us about your process. How did you find the time … Obviously the automation piece sounded like it made a big difference in freeing up your time, but what was your process to writing a book?
Chad: I was teaching a class in general assembly in New York City on ecommerce and somebody took my class and came up after me and was like, “You need to write a book.” I was like, “I do?” She said, “Yeah, you got to put this into a book. This is fantastic content.”
I thought more about it. I built a relationship with her and this goes back to my bug, which I referred to earlier in our conversation which was my problem saying no. This was before I read Essentialism. I probably would’ve had a different perspective on it a year and a half, two years ago. She approached me. She was like, “I know a great writer that you can work together with, Frank Turner.” We worked together having the late-night sessions, talking about my process, showing him how I do things, and we just started working together. Next thing you have it, we had a book.
Felix: Very cool. This was a self-published book?
Chad: Self-published book, yup.
Felix: Cool. How did you promote a book like this? Again, I think a lot of entrepreneurs out there want to create content and start sharing it, but they wouldn’t want to launch it to an empty audience, people that are not … There’s no one out there that’s reading the book or that knows about it so how did you promote this?
Chad: I just want to clarify, I don’t think that a lot of entrepreneurs want to reveal … Most people don’t tell their secrets or what they want to reveal and those that say, don’t know and those that know don’t say. That’s what I found in the ecommerce world. For me, I’m all about reciprocity and giving back. I love teaching. I wanted to apply that in a book. What I did was I started writing a book and then I found a publisher, a company to print my book. I did talk to a few different publishers. I just decided against that route and then I just published it right to Amazon. It’s been interesting.
To promote it, I speak at a lot of different ecommerce events. I talk to a lot of different people. I give it away. It’s a really great business card when I meet somebody, like if we’re going to meet in New York, in Queens, I would bring it to a coffee shop and give you a book. It leaves a really nice impression, but also allows you to continue to learn and then we can regroup and then have something to talk about the next time we meet together.
Felix: Makes sense. I think that that’s a great point is not just about selling the book, but also it gives you an entryway into building a relationship with the people that do get the book. I’m sure that the people that read the book are going to find out more about all the other things that you have going on.
We know that you have three companies, again that I know of that we’ve discussed on this podcast. You’ve authored a book. How do you spend your days today? What are you focused on on these days?
Chad: I’m 100% focused on the software on Skubana. My time is spent like a baby. When you have a baby, it needs to be fed, it needs to get the proper amount of sleep, it needs everything it needs to grow up. I felt that my ecommerce property was already walking and growing up, but the software constantly needs love and support to continue to grow and to blossom. I spend my time building partnerships. I talk to a lot of big sellers every day, all day. I learn a lot by talking to them as well. I consume that knowledge. Every single seller I talk to, I get at least one gold nugget that I can now deploy or even give to others in the community.
Yeah, I’m talking to sellers all day, showing them the software, showing them how I built my business, and how they can do it too.
Felix: Very cool. Now we know that you have planned to focus on Skubana for the foreseeable future. What are the plans for the other businesses? For Crucial Vacuum and Think Crucial?
Chad: Yeah, for those businesses, it’s all about my thesis of going direct-to-consumer, manufacture your own product, finding products that solve problems and going after niches that are really unsexy to a lot of other people. That’s where my team is going to be spending most of their time.
Felix: So cool. Thanks so much, Chad. ThinkCrucial.com is one of the sites. CrucialVacuum.com is the other. Skubana.com is the software business. Cheaper, Easier, Direct is the book that you authored. Anywhere else or anything else that you think listeners should check out, that they want to follow along with what you’re up to?
Chad: They can Google my name and, of course, if they buy the book and send me a receipt, I’m happy to give them a free 15-minute consultation session with me. That would be a great value-add for your listeners.
Felix: Oh, very cool. Yeah, definitely think that’s worth the … Right now the book on Amazon for $12 for 15 minutes. I think that’s a great trade off to speak with someone that has that kind of experience. Again, thanks so much for your time, Chad.
Chad: Thank you so much for having me.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.