A wise man once said, “if you are looking for opportunities to start a successful business, then start looking for gaps in the market”.
And, one person who has implemented this strategy by heart is Simon Slade. He is the founder and CEO of multiple ecommerce companies that work to improve the businesses of ecommerce stores and dropshippers.
Who is Simon Slade?
Here’s a video introduction of Simon Slade himself.
The biggest worry of an ecommerce store owner in the initial phase is how will he/she find reliable suppliers for products.
Simon’s company SaleHoo has developed a solution to solve this problem. It has over 8,000 suppliers from different parts of the world that help store owners find some of the best products they can sell in their ecommerce stores, while keeping decent margins. SaleHoo presents a perfect merger of demand and supply.
We interviewed Simon to learn how he became a successful businessman, what strategies he uses to build his business, and how he invests in startups and why he does that. Let’s learn what he has to say about all this in our one-to-one session with the Investor, Internet entrepreneur, and marketer at heart, Simon Slade.
Simon, we are truly honored to have you here today. The purpose of this interview is to help our readers who mostly relate to ecommerce, startups, and affiliate marketing, to learn and become more like you. So, here is a first from us.
Q1. Tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born? Where did you get your education? And what made you start your own business?
I was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. I graduated from Griffith University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s in Business Management and Marketing. As an online seller on TradeMe, New Zealand’s local auction site, I received many inquiries about where I found my suppliers. I saw that as an opportunity to help others jumpstart their online sales, and from there, I developed the concept of SaleHoo, an online directory of verified wholesale suppliers.
Q2. You started your career as a sales representative at Sellagence Limited. How was that experience and how did it help in planning your next move i.e. being an entrepreneur?
I was given a lot of space to hone my entrepreneurial skills at Sellagence. My boss was out of Christchurch most of the time and I was left in charge of the business in the area. I had to go into stores, set up stands, talk to store managers—it was basically like running a mini-business. The organizational and interpersonal skills I learned at Sellagence were invaluable to my career as an entrepreneur.
Q3. What led to the idea of SaleHoo? What problems did you observe at that time that made you build this platform? What were some early stage struggles you faced?
As far as early stage struggles go, there were many. SaleHoo’s cofounder, Mark Ling, and I, each dedicated $500 to start our company. Our tight budget presented a lot of significant challenges. We begged, borrowed, or promised an IOU for as much of our initial expenses as we could. For everything else, we dipped-in our $1,000. Our developer even worked on an IOU basis at first. But just eight months after our launch, we reached 10,000 members and started earning a profit.
That first year was really tight. It required a lot of sacrifices from us, both financially and time-wise. I served as both the CEO and the sole CSR for the first year. It was exhausting but necessary until we could more firmly establish our business.
Another hurdle we had to overcome was a poor partnership. We contracted a web design agency that charged us $35,000 for work that we ultimately found unusable. We lost that money, but ended up hiring a freelancer who charged us way less and delivered a much superior product. This experience was important and we discovered that we prefer contracting freelancers for most jobs and tend to avoid working with large agencies.
Q4. In your opinion, how has ecommerce around the world evolved in the past decade? How do you see the small and niche-based ecommerce businesses that are competing with giants like Amazon and Aliexpress?
People will always want choices. Over the past decade we’ve seen a huge surge in online buying and selling. People are not only shopping online regularly, but many folks are supplementing their income with online sales through the large platforms like Etsy and Amazon, as well as by setting up their own websites.
I don’t know that small and niche-based ecommerce operations should focus on competing with the giants like Amazon and Alibaba, but I do know that they should focus on providing something different or better than what the giants can provide.
It’s very unlikely that a small operation can compete on pricing, so it has to find other ways to stand out. When Mark Ling and I decided to start SaleHoo, we weren’t the only supplier directory, but we knew we could be the most trusted and that we could supply the best educational resources.
Truly original business ideas are hard to invent, so most businesses are introduced within an existing market. But by providing better customer service, improving the product, putting a spin on your business to separate it from the competition, and continually innovating, your business will flourish and prosper—regardless of its size.
Q5. Do you compete with Alibaba? How do you think suppliers, manufacturers from different parts of the world can compete to Chinese influence?
We don’t compete with Alibaba directly. Alibaba is geared towards wholesalers or distributors, whereas a lot of our customers are smaller ones who are selling on Ebay or Amazon or with their own dropshipping ecommerce businesses. The scale of Alibaba’s operations really sets us apart from them. Alibaba has encroached more into our territories, but I still don’t feel like we’re competing with them.
When it comes to large Chinese influencers in the manufacturing and supplier world, the unique selling proposition is always quality over quantity. Quality out of China is generally not as good when compared with the one produced by North America and Europe. We can push that: you might pay a bit more, but the quality stands out, and then the seller can sell the individual product for more, because the consumer will notice the quality and pay more. Rather than competing head to head on price with Chinese companies and manufacturers, we have to focus on the “quality over quantity” selling proposition.
Q6. At SaleHoo, I noticed that you have a Seller Training Program. What is the thought behind it? How are your customers benefiting from it?
Our number one goal at SaleHoo is to help people be successful online. SaleHoo members have already proven that with the resources we provide. They have the drive and energy to turn online sales into a full-time career.
I became SaleHoo CEO to help ecommerce professionals, but my motivations quickly evolved to ecommerce empowerment, liberating workers from the 9-5 grind and helping them achieve occupational freedom. Our Seller Training Program is an extension of that motivation.
We started the program to help people who were new to online selling or didn’t have a large amount of experience. Our intention was to guide those people who didn’t need SaleHoo membership immediately. They can learn more about how online selling works and increase their knowledge before joining SaleHoo, so they can get more out of our product once they join. It moves them from a beginner to an intermediate-level seller so they can ask the right questions of their suppliers and source products more effectively, so they don’t get burned or lose money.
The free tools and guides in the program provide everything one needs to run a successful ecommerce operation, and the premium tools can take you even further in your online sales goals.
Q7. You have written on your website that you are interested in inbound marketing, design, and analytics. What is your best growth hacking strategy? How do you grow businesses and turn them into profitable companies in a short time?
Measuring metrics is one of the most important—and perhaps one of the most often neglected—growth hacking strategies out there. It’s never too early to start collecting data of a company. Even before it has launched, there is always information to be collected through marketing research and or studies within your industry or niche. All companies are unique, so the data you collect about your company will be invaluable to making growth decisions.
I always recommend the book ‘Lean Analytics’ by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz, to both new and veteran business owners. It’s a tremendous resource for discovering which data is worth collecting and analyzing.
Pick a single straightforward metric, such as sales units or revenue, and aim to beat yesterday’s total everyday. Tracking the right analytics early is crucial because only your own data provides the greatest insight into what works, what doesn’t and how to improve, which is the foundation of sustaining a successful business.
Q8. You started your first business with your partner Mark Ling (Wikipedia). How do you think of partnerships as a model of growth?
Founding and running a startup on your own is incredibly difficult, obviously. There are so many benefits to having a business partner. No entrepreneur, no matter how skilled, is perfectly well-rounded. There will always be a skillset that you are lacking or could improve upon. That’s where a partner comes in. Furthermore, twice as many founders means twice as many ideas and twice as many opportunities for growth.
Cofounder Mark Ling and I founded SaleHoo together and when it reached 10,000 members in just eight months, we used the momentum to launch Mark’s business idea, Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal. From there, we built the parent company, Doubledot Media, and we’ve been improving all three companies together ever since. Alone, we simply couldn’t have been as successful as we are together.
Q9. After SaleHoo, what are some other companies that you have started or invested in? And what are the most successful ones? How do you select startups for investments?
Affilorama and Doubledot Media Limited are two companies that I created immediately following SaleHoo. I’m also a cofounder of Smtp2Go, an email delivery service, and an investor in SwiftMed, a virtual GP clinic. The criteria I use for investing in a startup is pretty simple. An idea doesn’t have to be completely new—in this day and age, it’s hard to come up with a completely unique business—but if the business can offer better customer service, an improved product, or a spin that separates it from the competition, it’s likely to flourish and prosper. When I’m deciding whether or not to invest in a startup, I ask myself: how will this startup stand out in the market?
Q10. All entrepreneurs fail. What were some dark times you faced during your journey to success? How did you beat those failures?
Failure is a natural consequence of risk-taking, which is essential to discover your industry’s next big innovation. That’s why I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve experienced failures, such as Zeadoo, a personalized start web page. It’s still available today, but it’s a failure in that it lacks the proper strategy for support and a method for monetizing. From this experience, I’ve learned that developing an in-demand product isn’t enough. You must also devise a plan for generating revenue and a general action plan for measuring its success and planning for improvements.
In hindsight, I recognize the errors I made, but I feel no regrets. I am proud of myself for taking a gamble, and as long as you learn from your mistakes, no mistake goes in vain.
Q11. Do you read often? What books do you recommend to eCommerce business owners?
Absolutely. Reading is the key to staying relevant in this rapidly changing world. In addition to “Lean Analytics”, mentioned above, I also love ‘Remote’ by Jason Fried, which explores the challenges and unexpected benefits of working remotely, and ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ by Steve Krug, who discusses web design usability. All three of these should be required reading for ecommerce entrepreneurs.
Q12. Who are some people in the business that have inspired you? Name any five of them.
Steve Jobs, while perhaps a bit of a tired answer, will always be on my list of inspirations. He said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” and this advice gave me the courage to quit my full-time job at Hewlett-Packard to pursue a career as an entrepreneur.
Two others, a little closer to home, are my co-founders: Charles Abrahamson, my co-founder at SMTP2GO, and Mark Ling, my co-founder at SaleHoo and Affilorama. Both those guys have inspired me throughout the last 15 years. They are constantly inspiring me to be more creative and push the company further forward. They give me the confidence that I have someone on the path with me, but they’re also not afraid to question and challenge me. They make me a better entrepreneur every day.
One of my other major inspirations is Sam Morgan. Sam founded TradeMe, the New Zealand equivalent of Ebay. He started his business from nothing and grew it into a company that he ultimately sold for about $700 million. He was an inspiration during my early days when I started Doubledot Media, and remains inspiring to this day.
Q13. What is your advice for young entrepreneurs who have $500 in hand? How can they launch a successful business career?
Starting a business doesn’t have to take thousands of dollars, especially if you’re launching a business online. Affiliate marketing, in which you promote others’ products for a commission, can run on auto-pilot after the initial setup. You can start affiliate marketing at the simplest level by creating a single one-page website to gather email addresses, and then you can create emails that you send automatically through an affordable email service. Now, sit back while people sign up for your email newsletter, receive your product recommendations and make purchases, earning you a nice commission.
Affiliate marketing is a special ecommerce industry because a profitable business can be created, launched and sustained by a single individual. If your affiliate marketing niche starts to dwindle, simply move to another niche. Or add another niche even if your current website is fairing well. There’s no limit to how many niche affiliate marketing websites you can create and earn profit.
Now let’s have a quick rapid fire round: (Pick one)
|Influencers or Affiliates?||Affiliates|
|Dropshipping or FBA?||Dropshipping|
|Entrepreneur or Employment?||Entrepreneur|
|SaleHoo or Affilorama?||SaleHoo|
|Sleeping partner or active investor?||Active Investor|
I always ask my interviewees to share some pictures of their workstation. I would appreciate if you could show us how you keep your workplace
Feeling inspired? Read more interviews from Cloudways.
**Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
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