With an influx of eCommerce sites becoming available to the consumer, offering everything from clothing, to your family’s weekly groceries, it’s important for entrepreneurs thinking about getting into the eCommerce space to know that it’s possible to do it organically. Not every successful eCommerce business needs outside funding and the team at Reservations.com has some tips to share that helped them achieve 237% growth over the last three years – without it.
● A Relentless Focus on ROI
Almost a no brainer, it bears repeating and emphasis as many early-stage companies lose sight of ROI in pursuit of a bigger dream. There are exceptions to every rule, however, if you cannot make your unit economics work at a small scale, they will very rarely fall into place if you’re 10, 20, or 100 times the size. Operating an early stage company is a blessing and a curse. Focus on the benefits of being small and nimble. Experiment with different demand aggregation strategies to identify the formula(s) that work best for your business. Without outside investment, you need each of your decisions to be ROI positive or you won’t be able to scale properly. Ecommerce businesses are fortunate to have data-rich options at their disposal to understand the finer points of profitability by transaction.
● Choosing Quality Over Quantity
Companies that raise outside capital almost always go on a hiring frenzy. Quality goes out the window and the focus is on getting as many bodies in the door as possible to support growth. At a bootstrapped business you simply do not have that luxury. Hiring will need to sometimes lag the growth you are seeing. Oftentimes, you do not have the ability to invest ahead of growth. This means that your early employees are incredibly important and are instrumental to the success you may or may not see. For that reason, bootstrapped businesses need to make early hiring decisions carefully. Each employee must have the capability to scale with the company and take on increased responsibility. Individuals that can operate as generalists and take on tasks across the company are especially valuable.
● Nurturing Partnerships.
Vital to the growth of any business venture, meaningful partnerships are particularly important for new eCommerce sites. Through strategic business partnerships, young eCommerce businesses can expand their customer base and build their business. A single solid partnership can unlock opportunities to access new products, reach a new market, and increase customer loyalty. Leveraging partners for shared growth can be a low-cost way to increase brand awareness and drive incremental sales without having to foot the entire cost yourself.
● Setting A Steady Pace
You don’t need to grow 100%+ per year to be a successful business. In fact, growing that quickly can often be detrimental to the long-term health of a company. As a founder, you should focus on sustainable growth. In other words, what is the most you can grow while not putting unnecessary strain on the people, processes, and systems currently in place. It is also important to maintain perspective as your company scales. Benchmarking your company’s growth to others who have raised $5M, $10M, or $50M is unrealistic and can lead to bad decision making. It is easy to grow in an unprofitable way—you can buy your way to a larger size. Profitable growth takes discipline and patience.
● Focusing on the Important
While we all love fluffy office perks like free snacks and nap pods, in the end, these aren’t the things that will make our employees loyal to our company in the long-term. An effective employee retention strategy is one based on providing your employees with meaningful work, valuable learning opportunities, and clear avenues to advancement. In order to inspire team members to perform better and achieve the goals you set for them, you also have to earn their trust by building personal connections, prioritizing honesty and transparency, giving credit, and shouldering blame. In addition, whenever possible, you need your salary and benefits to be competitive—as many as 45% of employees have reported to quitting their jobs because of unsatisfactory salary.
● Being Open to Change
The path to success is never a straight line. Ideas conceived in an office rarely unfold as planned once tested in market. To put it simply, stubbornness is the enemy of success. The market may not respond well to your first iteration of a product or service. And the market doesn’t care how well thought out or cutting edge your value proposition is. If you can’t accept that, you will be wrong and you will have to pivot, adjust your expectations, and reform your go-to-market strategy. If that’s the case, perhaps running a bootstrapped business isn’t for you. If you refuse to read the signals the market is sending you, you will no longer be a financially viable company.