I started a sourcing company that focuses on helping e-commerce sellers get products manufactured. Selling on Amazon is a popular topic these days, but I want to focus on the growth of my business and how we got where we are today.
I love reading about the growth of companies, both small and large. So here is me giving back.
Ask whatever questions you want, I’ll try to be as open as possible. TL;DR My progress in building a company where I can act as an operator and not a micromanager The Beginning
22 months ago I updated /entrepreneur
of my minor progress in quitting my job at a product development company where I set out to help businesses get products manufactured from China.
You can read about it here: 14 Days in, and what started as an idea, is becoming a global business.
After starting the company and hiring a small Chinese staff working out of my apartment, in Shenzhen, China, we began getting a lot of clients by word of mouth and basic networking. The business model was simple, we act as the eyes, ears and boots on the ground in China for our customers. Our customers ranged from medium and large scale Amazon/eBay sellers, to brands that you can find in Wal Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Tesco and Target.
Our profit margins were pretty good, because we were acting as the middle man and paying factories with our clients money, our revenue was much higher than our profit. But our risk was minimal as we were never holding inventory. It wasn’t before long before where we had multiple millions of dollars in sales, which looked nice, but our profit margins only ranged from about 1% - 10% per order.
I realized we needed to scale, as my goal was to create a company, bring in talented operators and oversee operations without having to micromanage. Trying to Scale Attempt 1
Traditionally, Chinese companies scale via internal growth. The more employees you have, the bigger and more profitable you are. Our competitors have teams of 100+ people working in single offices. I don’t like this idea. Too much management, too messy and the overhead is too high. I tried to switch my clients over to a recurring revenue model. Nobody was biting. We tried to increase our profit, but the market was too competitive. The only possible option I saw to grow was to add a sales team and add more sourcing agents. - Again, an idea I did not love. Trying to Scale Attempt 2
China works based on scale. The higher the order quantity, the better it is for everyone. Because of this, we would often get weekly requests from small quantity e-commerce sellers who we’d constantly turn away because their order sizes were too small, and the work wasn’t worth the reward. I never liked turning people away. I had a client come back to me and tell me that there are no services out there who understand the business model of an e-commerce seller.
I decided I was going to find a way to help these types of e-commerce sellers.
A serious gap in this industry was identified. The only services out there for e-commerce sellers were training courses teaching new sellers how to make millions on Amazon. These were just courses, nothing different from the affiliate marketing, forex trading, work from home courses that new age entrepreneurs are seen creating as a way to earn a quick buck. Sure, some of this stuff was helpful, but there are still a ton of people out there who were actively selling online, they’ve surpassed the beginner mark and they are struggling to grow their business and deal with China at the same time. Having identified that group, our target customer was created. The Problem:
We know that manufacturing works based on scale. So the larger the order, the lower the price, the greater the profit. Accepting to work with small sized importers was too dangerous in the existing model of sourcing suppliers, offering product quotations and hoping the client bites. There is way too much work involved just to offer a quotation, and hope the client was serious enough to place the order. The Pivot:
We created a new service, outside of our existing website where the goal was to guide importers through the entire process of working with China. We’d act as the project manager, offering our purchasing office and resources in China in an outsourced model where we’d become a part of our clients company. We built an a la carte
menu and offered our existing services to anyone who wanted them in a buy it now, productized fashion. They could purchase a sourcing service where we’d provide them with a list of qualified suppliers for a product they wanted to manufacture. They could purchase our negotiation service where we would negotiate for 8 days on their behalf. Clients could even have multiple samples shipped to our office in China, and we document them and ship them all together to them, saving them hundreds of dollars in shipping fees.
This service took off! We got tons of orders as a lot of people began talking about us on various forums and groups. But apparently this was not good enough. Everyone said, can you guys just do everything for us?
At this point, I had hired some marketing consultants and had close friends following what I was doing. Almost everyone was telling me to just create a full package and offer everything. I was reluctant at first, I told them all it would never work, there were too many unknown variables.
Eventually I caved it. I stayed up for 48 straight hours planning the restructuring of the entire business model. Previously, we were using Chinese sourcing agent who we’d train and have them work from home to source suppliers for these e-commerce clients. This process was great, as the overhead was much smaller, but it was not super reliable.
I stuck with the idea and built a service where clients could come to us with their product idea, we’d give them an idea of its feasibility, cost, etc. and then we’d get moving acting as their purchasing office. Total transparency. The client would know who the factory is, something most sourcing companies keep as a close secret. The goal was, for the client would be in the loop with everything, but would rely on a single representative at our company to handle all aspects in China for them. The Marketing:
We built a list of 300 email subscribers we found via three Facebook groups. These 300 people were going to be our beta testers. We started a drip series email campaign that would educate them about the pitfalls when dealing with China, scare them of the risks, and sell them on our service. The day to launch was near. We were hoping for a 3% conversion rate from this list. That would have been enough for us to validate the new service and let us know whether or not to continue down the road of offering a service to this type of importer.
Five days after the launch our conversion rate from the drip campaign was roughly 30%. We were not equipped to handle that amount of sales. Frantic, I shut down the site, emailed all customers and informed them our site is down so we can focus on their orders.
In the weeks to come, I transitioned from half of our sourcing staff working from home, to a full staff in our office. Then we began interviewing and hiring like crazy. Brought three new sourcing agents on, left our small office and rented a new office which provided us more room to grow. Rebuilding
Once the shock wore off, reality began setting in. This idea was not only validated, the problem was not demand, it was supply. The past couple of months we’ve been building training programs, adding a management team and structuring our company to fit the mold of my original goal, operating and not micro managing.
Now, I have two strong managers. One manages the sourcing team and the other manages the account reps. We were able to build team leaders who are responsible for solving day to day problems, leaving me to focus on growth. All work is based on metrics, each employee is graded on their work, and the bonus structure is set up according to the monthly performance metrics.
We have a lot planned in the near future. It is definitely exciting to be paving the way in an age old industry with a modern approach. We are starting to see competition, and as an MVP in an arena of this size, that is to be expected. Our main focus is on continuing to strengthen our core, come out with new services and make sure all of our early clients are heard and their problems get solved. We’ve been approached by some pretty large companies both in our industry and outside interested in investing in us. I am still the sole owner and we’ve yet to take a single investment. That time may come, but I am going to be picky with who we choose.
It is an exciting time for us, we’re not perfect by any means, I 100% work by the philosophy where you need to be ashamed of your initial launches and attempts, anything you’re not ashamed of, you took too long to release.
I purposely left out our company name as I’d love to focus on the business growth, and I’m not interested in plugging anything at this time. Some things we’re working on now:
- Better content management - we don’t have a great blog or content schedule. This is probably killing us in sales.
- We’re working on rebranding our name. Multiple marketers said our name sucks, and we need something to captures our ultimate goal more precisely.
- I’m slowly allowing myself to trust the management I’ve put in place and focus on the big picture as they are doing a good job with the day to day. - This took a lot of hesitation before I could give up a lot of power, now, I couldn’t be happier.
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