December 10, 2011
This is the next post in the Founder Centric Startups series.
Richard Humphries is the founder of Trade Tested, an online retailer selling the sort of things that many people probably assume are not ideally suited to selling online – generators, garden sheds, and the like.
I was lucky to work with Richard at Trade Me – his job in those days was to try and sift through the mountain of metrics and numbers and identify possible improvements or optimisations. He has a great analytical mind as well as a nose for a business opportunity – before we hired him he was a big seller on the site and it’s great to see him attempting to take this to the next level with his new business.
Over to Richard to tell you more about what he’s working on…
What’s the purpose of your company?
To deliver great deals from manufacturer to consumer.
What does your company do?
We sell a range of quality own-brand utility goods in home, outdoor/garden and semi-industrial/farming.
What is the business model?
It’s a modern mail-order business. So we run a highly efficient sales, marketing and logistics operation to get the best everyday prices to consumers.
How do potential customers learn about you?
We market online and in print. We’re also the 2nd biggest seller on Trade Me.
Who are the people working with you on this?
There are currently three of us. I worked at Trade Me as an analyst and on marketplace improvements from 2004 to 2011 with a break in the middle when I spent time in roles at Yahoo! and Fatso. Terry Metcalfe (also ex Trade Me) runs sales, operations and Zoe looks after our customer service. Terry was my account manager at Trade Me so had a pretty good head start when he came on board six months ago.
How did the business get started?
Very humbly. I’ve been selling on Trade Me for many years on the side for pocket money. In the early days I sold mobile phones and last season watches and later I switched to selling returned Dell laptops.
H_ow have you funded your growth so far?_
It’s entirely self funded. I started in April 2010 and kept my full time job at Trade Me until August 2011. The balance was hard and soaked up all my time outside work. I was lucky to have an extremely supportive employer.
What are the mistakes you’ve made?
In my determination to run this as lean as possible I didn’t commit realistic resource in the first year, especially with customer support. I ended up pissing some customers off which just ends up in more work and no chance of repeat business. I may have a fairly wide skill set, but I’m a disaster when it comes to customer support so I should have handed that to someone else early on.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
Trying to run a low overhead retail business is fine when you sell easy products like books and CDs, but we’re dealing with some pretty support heavy products. Things go wrong and we need to be there to help people out. It’s a balance of keeping the model efficient while satisfying customers.
What’s your ambition for the company?
Make customers happy and continue to build repeat and word of mouth business.
Hit sales targets.
We’re looking forward to launching Shed Master garden sheds in Australia in January.
What advice do you have for other founders?
Always keep trying new things.
Do more of what works and stop doing what doesn’t.
Other guest posts in this series: