Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. This is the story of a part-time business that turned into a multi-million dollar company. Angie Stocklin is the co-founder of One Click Ventures which owns a network of online stores.
They own Readers.com, which sells reading glasses, Sunglass Warehouse, which sells as you might’ve guessed, sunglasses. And they own a collection of other sites which includes Scarves.net, and Handbag Heaven, and Angie, thank you so much for coming here and telling your story.
Angie: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: Oh, I forgot to say, this interview is sponsored by Walker Corporate Law. Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. I will tell you more about him soon. We’ll get right into the story first. Angie, what kind of revenue can you generate by selling scarves, handbags, sunglasses, etc.?
Angie: It’s kind of funny that you asked. So the first year in business we made about $90,000 in revenue, which doesn’t sound like a lot but that was out of our home. You know, that was significant value for us. Last year we ended the year at $8.5 million, and we’re expected to do $10 million this year.
Andrew: $8.5 million in 2013?
Angie: That’s correct.
Andrew: Unbelievable. And it’s all bootstrapped, right?
Angie: That’s correct, yes. Self-funded.
Andrew: Yes, and $90,000 in revenue does sound like a lot to me, especially considering what you were doing at the time. You were actually…actually what were you doing?
Angie: I was a school psychologist full time, and my husband was an IT guy.
Andrew: What does it mean that he was an IT guy?
Angie: He was actually a Web developer.
Angie: At a local company called, “Angie’s List.”
Andrew: Oh I know “Angie’s List.”
Andrew: Okay. And it sounds like he and you were kicking around some ideas for businesses. In fact, you considered, well, what were you considering in real estate?
Angie: Real estate, house flipping, it was not a great time to get into house flipping actually, and we’re not very handy. So that also was a good reason not to do that.
Andrew: Yes, so we’re talking about 2005.
Angie: Yes, 2005. It ended up being a very good thing that we didn’t do that. We looked at everything from house flipping to franchises and like a blinds franchise. My only caveat was no restaurants, because I had worked in restaurants for years and years and I didn’t want to deal with the hours and the headaches associated with food, the food business.
Andrew: You know what? People fantasize so much about owning a restaurant because it seems like it’s so much fun. You get to have people over. It’s like you’re doing a dinner party every day, and you get paid for it. But it’s not fun. You have to be there too much, you know? It’s not easy to grow. There’s so much competition. When you were evaluating businesses, what helped you figure out whether you should be doing one or the other?
Angie: That’s a great question. I think at first we probably didn’t know. And our very first business we launched an affiliate site that sold letters from Santa Claus. And it was so much fun. The owner of the business was right in Indiana, which is where we’re located. He sent them from Santa Claus, Indiana, so they come with a Santa Claus, Indiana stamp on the outside of the envelope.
And we loved putting together the website, and just the marketing that went into that. And so when we decided to get a little bit larger and purchase a business that could maybe sustain itself, we looked at something online. So that really, kind of, drove that decision.
Andrew: I see. Because you had this early success with this simple idea, you figured, “All right, let’s stick with what’s working. Why go into real estate if we’re not handy and we don’t have much experience there.” So the business that you’re talking about was called, “MailFromSantaClaus.com, right?
Angie: That’s correct.
Andrew: I clicked on the URL and I ended up on LetterBySanta.com.
Angie: That’s correct.
Andrew: How did that work? What are we talking about here? An affiliate deal where Letter By Santa was already built, and all you had to do was buy a domain and start sending traffic to it?
Angie: You got it, actually, yes. He had pre-packaged ideas for us, and so all we had to do is build a web site. I could upload his content. It was already generated for us, and we sent traffic. And he actually took care of the entire checkout process as well, like an affiliate does. So it was a great starter business.
Andrew: So how did you get traffic to send over?
Angie: We dabbled in PPC, and that was the early stages of Google. And so, you know, we tried our best to get ranked organically as well. And we had, after the first season, we had a little bit of email subscriber list, and so we used that as well.
Andrew: So I don’t understand how that would work because it seems like what you did was bought a domain, and then automatically redirected it to your affiliate. You didn’t, did you own LetterBySanta.com?
Angie: We actually did own that site.
Andrew: Oh, I see.
Angie: We bought two sites and then directed it to the owner’s site. So we had two Santa letter affiliate sites at the end.
Andrew: I see, okay. All right. And so then you had someone manage this for you. So if I click over I end up on IGCO.com where I get to create my letter. What’s that?
Angie: That is – so we no longer own, “Letter by Santa.”
Andrew: Got you.
Angie: So, yes, we sold that to that the original owner. So that’s why the links may be a little – the printing they were at the time. But that is the parent company.
Andrew: So I should step away from the weeds now and just go back and understand the bigger picture here which is you really were learning on this site. How did you learn how to do Paper Click?
Angie: We just dug in and learned from scratch. We literally – I had a psychology background. My husband had a technology background so we learned everything from scratch. And it’s not the way that most people grow up and own their own business, but it was wonderful for us. I mean, control of the process.
Andrew: Did you know things about language that non-psychologists wouldn’t know? Could you get in peoples’ heads and not just have them click, but have them die to click? Be eager to do it?
Angie: I think probably not, although that sounds lovely, I think my psychology background probably comes in more handy now that we have six [??] members than it did back in the day when it was just the two of us. But we really looked at, like, “How can you be concise and how do you drive people to click on ads?” And we just read and read and read and read as much as we could get our hands on.
Andrew: Do you remember one thing that you learned back then that was especially helpful?
Angie: Start small and test small. And so we would, especially with Paper Click, we would start with a small amount of money, test the ad, see how well it went, really focus on the conversion, and look at pretty much the whole nine yards before we would dive in deep. Because it was just the two of us and we were starting small. So I think just really taking calculating risks.
Andrew: How much money are we talking about for these small tests?
Angie: Oh, my goodness, $50.
Andrew: Oh, $50, a day or $50 a week?
Angie: I don’t remember. The first year that we owned the business we brought in $2,000 in revenue. So they were really small. We’re talking about really small numbers here.
Andrew: Two thousand dollars in revenues doing Santa letters?
Andrew: Got you, okay. Did it break even?
Angie: You know what? I don’t remember.
Andrew: But we’re not talking about huge spending. If you spent anything it was no more than $4,000 that first year learning how to do PPC?
Angie: You got it, yes.
Andrew: And when it came to content I know that you guys are still really good at content. Do you remember one thing that you learned back then, back when things were simple?
Angie: I think keep it simple, honestly.
Andrew: For content also?
Angie: Yes, don’t clutter your page. Give people what they want, but don’t give them too much because if you give them too much they’ll run or walk away. They’re not going to read the entire page. Make sure you get your point across concisely.
Andrew: Did you write those articles yourself back then?
Angie: Have you found some of those articles?
Andrew: You know? I kind of do. Let me see if I can find some. I bet I can.
Angie: My name is all over the Internet, so I did actually write some of them and some of them we paid $10 per article to have written for us.
Andrew: I see. For $9.97 you can get a letter directly from Santa. Was Santa actually writing the letters?
Andrew: I was actually, I was just trying to see if I could come up…Usually, you know what, I’m really proud of myself because in interviews I can go back while we’re talking and find something and say, “Wow, this is something you wrote all that time ago.” I can’t find anything. All right. That’s too bad.
Angie: That’s okay.
Andrew: So then, you seem pretty happy that I’m not going back and finding those old articles. I get it.
Angie: I can’t promise it’s the most well written article you’ve ever found.
Andrew: All right. And so then you decided that you’re going to buy a real business.
Angie: That’s correct.
Andrew: That’s when you bought Sunglasswarehouse.com.
Angie: Yes, that’s correct.
Andrew: Why did you pick that company to buy?
Angie: We searched Biz by Sell and a lot of similar sites for e-commerce companies that were for sale. We found a Canadian company that sold sunglasses, and we fell in love with it and we actually lost the bid to someone else. And we thought it was the end of the world, of course. But, Randy, who is my husband, he’s always kind of been business development and I’ve been nuts and bolts, and so he just started contracting other similar companies, a lot of sunglasses companies, to see if anybody was interested in selling, and they were.
And we were really looking for something that would be easy to work out of our house. So a small product if it was going to be e-commerce based and not like a software business. And something that was a low cost but had great potential, and that’s how we ended up with Sunglasses.
Andrew: I see.
Andrew: And you’re going to fulfill the orders from your house?
Angie: We did, yes.
Andrew: I see now. So this I was able to actually find. I do see Sunglass Warehouse from the year before you bought it, 2004. I see March madness specials, Paris Hilton-style glasses, Ozzie-style glasses. I see Morpheus sunglasses, football, all that stuff. This is what it was. We’re talking about a very basic site. It was hosted on Yahoo Shopping.
Angie: Yes. We kept it on Yahoo for quite a while.
Andrew: How many years did you keep it on Yahoo!?
Angie: Probably three . . . I’m thinking three if I remember correctly.
Andrew: How much money was it making before you bought it?
Angie: We purchased the site for $10,000.
Angie: I don’t remember exactly how much revenue it was bringing in but it was not a lot of money.
Andrew: Was it profitable?
Angie: What we found over the years is that when people keep businesses in their homes they don’t always keep great records.
Angie: Sometimes things get a little mixed up and you don’t always know what you’re getting into until you have it.
Andrew: I get that. Frankly, I keep my business at a very professional level. I don’t do it in my house. I have records and book keepers. Still, it’s tougher than I expected to keep everything straight. I can’t imagine if someone’s doing a business and owe thousands of dollars. It’s harder.
Andrew: What was the hardest thing about acquiring it? What was the biggest surprise?
Angie: Oh my goodness. Well, when we purchased the business we redefined it from scratch. We got all new inventory. We didn’t purchase any of the existing inventory. So we kind of just started from scratch but we kept the domain and kept some of his categories. I think probably just the sheer amount of work that goes into it. We did all of our own product photography and I added all of the prices to the site on our own.
Randy was in charge of marketing and technology and getting the site designed. One of the biggest surprises working with Yahoo! stores was that it was very user friendly in some respects and then in other respects it’s quite difficult to manage for someone that understands code. Their proprietary code is really . . . There’s not a lot of people that know it.
Andrew: The difference seems to be night and day. I mean, each shot looks really professionally done. You have a nice little shadow on all of them. The site is more organized. There’s more content on it. I did interview Ben Ha though from I Can Has Cheezburger. He bought that business and he says that one of the first things he needed to know to do was to not touch anything so that it doesn’t interrupt too much with what’s working. Did you spend anytime saying you were just going to let it sit there so you don’t jar the customers and what’s working?
Angie: Our first business we did not. Up until last year we had nine different brands and we wanted a lot over the years. Sunglass Warehouse has always been our test run, if you will, and kind of my baby. So, as we got a little bit larger and we learned more about how the internet works and how customers function, we would buy brands and we wouldn’t touch them for quite some time. We would just make small changes along the way and maybe roll out a redesign. With Sunglass Warehouse we didn’t know to do that and so we pretty much scrapped it from the start and started over.
Andrew: So, what happens when you scrap it from the start that makes you say, ‘Never again?’
Angie: Customers that are coming back to the site and expecting the same products to be there and expecting the same prices, perhaps if you change prices. You are really going to lose them from the start, so a customer list isn’t as useful or as valuable as you thought it might be.
Andrew: Okay. It that why you bought it instead of developing your own site, the customer list?
Angie: That was one of the reasons. Yes.
Andrew: What else?
Angie: There was a template in place with a pre-existing site. So we could see what categories they had and how they structured their product pages. Even though we made a lot of changes it was nice to have that past history in place. It came with history. Google or Yahoo! keeps track of all of that.
Even though we scrapped the site we could see what the sales from the year before, and what products people were purchasing, and where they were landing and coming from. It’s nice to have that background history.
Andrew: I see. I do see a lot of Gucci glasses and Coach but those aren’t really from Gucci and Coach right?
Andrew: It’s Gucci’s style.
Angie: That was more acceptable in 2005 and 2006 than it is now. That’s a pretty big no no in today’s terms. That was the site as we purchased it.
Andrew: Okay. I’ve had other entrepreneurs on who I’ve talked to about this kind of business where it was Gucci style stuff and they don’t like talking about it. In fact, I feel like if I even just bring it up then I’m trying to somehow catch them. I agree with you I feel like there was a time when it was okay. When we say it was okay it was never obviously legal to sell copies. What was okay was that Google wasn’t causing trouble. Today they do, right?
Angie: Correct. Yes.
Andrew: Right. What was okay was that you were saying ‘style of’ and today maybe you can’t.
Angie: Yeah. That’s correct. Again, I think Pay Pal was actually the first company to come and say that you can’t use their services if you have compare-to styles on your site. We definitely never tried to sell the compare-to glasses as Gucci glasses, but it definitely drove a lot of traffic to our sight. When you’re running a business and you get traffic and people buy, you kind of keep doing what you’re doing.
Andrew: All right, so now the things that you did well when you were selling letters from Santa you can come back and bring to the sunglass business. PPC SCO article writing, how did that work did it work better or harder here?
Angie: That’s a good question. It was different because for one the Santa letter business was very seasonal so you work all year and then you have six weeks at the most to kind of make it or break it if you will.
Andrew: Really. Just six weeks?
Angie: It’s actually more like four weeks because you’ve got to get your order in time for the letter to get made and shipped.
Andrew: Wow. Because people want it just before summer but during summer if they need it they will go to the local store and get it.
Angie: Oh. I’m sorry for the Santa Letter Business.
Andrew: Oh sorry, for the Santa Letters of course, of course. But this is more year round then?
Angie: This is more year round so yea you don’t have to wait an entire year to see the fruits of your labor if you will and it’s definitely more fashion oriented so bloggers weren’t nearly as popular as they are today but there were other outlets where articles would be more appropriate than just seasonal Santa type articles.
Andrew: I see and you would write articles on other sites and then link back to your businesses. That’s why I couldn’t find it on the Santa Claus site. I kept looking for blog posts there that were so good that people were linking to and now I see. I see.
Angie: Yea. It was a different time.
Andrew: That even works today I don’t know maybe today the content needs to be different but it’s still so tough to write so much. What did you do back then? Did you repurpose a lot of articles?
Angie: So we paid, I wrote some of them myself and we paid ten dollars an article for contract writers.
Angie: Yea. And there are a lot of kids out there, college kids especially, that would love ten dollars for a one page article.
Andrew: I do remember that. All right. So then how did it do after the first few months of the transition?
Angie: Pretty good. We didn’t see our family and friends for quite some time we were kind of holed up in our house and both had our full time jobs just kind of getting our feet wet and figuring it all out and then about a year and a half into it, it had grown to a size where we could no longer contain it in our house and then it was time to move on and find some office space.
Andrew: Wow that must have been a celebration when you actually have to move out.
Angie: It was. I was a really good feeling.
Andrew: How do you and Randy celebrate?
Angie: We actually took a trip to Hawaii.
Andrew: Oh, wow cool.
Angie: It was the first time that we had taken any money out of business so before since we had jobs we were able to pile every cent back into the business to grow it and when we finally got big enough to get office space we went on vacation and that was kind of the first time that we had taken money out of it.
Andrew: How long did you wait before you quit your job?
Angie: I waited a year and a half. And Randy waited two and a half years.
Andrew: So how do you know when it’s time to quit?
Angie: My hair was falling out.
Andrew: Really, it was just falling out too much.
Angie: Yea it became too difficult to do both jobs.
Andrew: Okay. And then why did your husband wait longer than you did?
Angie: I think because we’ve always been, we’ve taken calculated risks and so we knew we had enough money in there to support both of us but both of us leaving our jobs and not having insurance and just the things that go along with being self-employed were a little scary at first looking back we could have both gone at the same time but doing for the first time was just a little scary.
Andrew: Yea you guys don’t seem like dare devils. You take risks but they are very calculated risks. There are very thought out.
Angie: That’s correct.
Andrew: Were you an entrepreneur while growing up?
Angie: No, I mean I had a lemonade stand along the road and things of that nature.
Andrew: But I heard that you grew up in a small town in the country.
Angie: In the country. Yeah.
Andrew: In the country. So how did your lemonade stand do there?
Angie: Not so hot.
Andrew: Not well.
Angie: I don’t think I sold anything.
Andrew: Okay. So where does this entrepreneur come from was it because Randy had the bug and you caught it from him or do you feel like it was something inside you?
Angie: Well I had been exposed to it my dad and his brothers owned a business growing up and so it wasn’t that I never thought of it but definitely Randy was the driver behind this entire thing he had started three businesses before we’d even met, consulting businesses with his friends and he was always frustrated that they weren’t as in to it as he was.
And so I kind of knew that when we decided to get married that it would become a family business I don’t know if I knew it would be what it is today but I’m someone who if I take a step in I get committed really easily and so once we decided to do it then we decided to do it.
Andrew: Sun Glasses business then does well when do you decide that you’re going to get into another business?
Angie: We actually decided right away pretty soon like a year in and we purchased some drop ship businesses. And, we quickly learned we didn’t care for those quite as much because we didn’t have control over the process. We liked being in shipping and customer service and quality control and all those things that you lose with a drop ship business.
Andrew: What was the first drop ship business that you got into?
Angie: I believe it was Cedar Station, which sold cedar furniture. Then we had Safety Chest which sold stun guns and pepper spray.
Andrew: Okay. So then what’s the problem with someone else shipping out you stun guns? You just get to focus on SCO, on pay-per-click, on the design of the site, on the photographs of the product. What happened that made you decide not to do it?
Angie: I think that for some people it’s probably a really great choice, the drop shipping angle. But we really learned early on that we love control of the process. And when it was a drop ship business I couldn’t choose the method of shipping. And if they went on vacation and couldn’t ship the product, our customer couldn’t get it. And that was out of our control.
We learned early on that customers drive your business. Customers were the ones that come back. They are the ones that keep you afloat. And we just really wanted to control that entire process.
Andrew: I know what you mean. When you love what you’re doing and you care about the product, you want full control of the whole process. You don’t want to give it up. I will sometimes be invited to speak at different conferences and they will fly me out anywhere. And they’ll say, “We need you to interview people” and I’ll say, “Who are you going to have me interview?” “It doesn’t matter you are such a good interviewer we’ll put someone up with you.”
Well, the reason I’m such a good interviewer is I know who I’m going to interview, you know? I’m not just going to have a conversation with someone who has nothing going on. There is a reason these people are interesting. They come to me interesting. There’s a process where I do some research, where I understand how they work. I don’t just pull this stuff out of thin air. I spend some time. And, so I know, I get it.
And I think to outsiders it doesn’t feel like it’s necessary. But you’re right, to some people the drop ship business does make sense and it works for them.
Angie: Absolutely. Yeah.
Andrew: The hard part though is when you’re not drop shipping. You have to buy your own inventory.
Angie: We do.
Andrew: How do you figure out what to buy?
Angie: That was a couple spreadsheets and several nights worth of head ringing. I believe our very first order was about two thousand dollars. Which now doesn’t seem like very much but, back then was a lot. We spread it out to get as many styles as possible.
We were trying to get men’s styles and women’s style and sports styles, and aviator styles. We tried to run the game so everyone would have something when they came to our site. And it’s gotten easier over the years after we have history. But the first order was pretty difficult.
Andrew: Yeah and did you ever get stuck with a thousand Paris Hilton sunglasses? Or anything like that?
Angie: You know, we’ve had some mistakes along the way but, never a thousand Paris Hilton sunglasses, which is good.
Andrew: Well, I guess it could just as easily turn into Miley Cyrus sunglasses if it doesn’t work out with Paris Hilton.
Angie: Yeah that’s the nice thing about celebrities they tend to where the similar things across the board. So if somebody falls out of Vogue you can move to the next one.
Andrew: Well, I met this guy years ago who was running a business where he would basically be looking at celebrity magazines, seeing what jewelry they wore and them creating a version of that jewelry. As seen by. As seen on, whatever. And he was cubic zirconia. It was very inexpensive. Like 20 bucks. And he was making tons of money off this stuff. And I had no idea. Because frankly, I’m a guy as you can tell. I just buy guy stuff. I think about guy things.
I don’t think about sunglasses online. I don’t think about scarves and jewelry. And things like that. And so this whole part of the world is invisible to me.
Andrew: So how did you know about scarves? Did you know about scarves because you wore scarves and that’s how you ended up with the scarves business?
Angie: So pretty soon after we starting selling sunglasses online, we started going to trade shows in Las Vegas.
Angie: Which really opened our eyes to all the possibilities in the world? And so we didn’t necessarily, at the start we didn’t set out to just do fashion accessories. But that is kind of where we ended up, with the handbag, the scarves and the ties. And we met all of these vendors at trade shows.
Andrew: So if you’re meeting someone at a trade show, how do you know if his product so going to sell so well. That it’s worth investing a whole business to sell it?
Angie: That’s a good question. We looked at a lot of product that we didn’t start selling, cufflinks and jewelry for instance. Jewelry is a very competitive market. And so, once we were large enough and we had a little team, we could come back and look at traffic for certain key words. We could look at how many site are selling these items in general. Our big brand name selling is a product that’s really name brand driven. There are a lot of factors that go into it.
Andrew: So, actually I don’t get that. I don’t understand it. I want to understand how to do it. When you say there are all these factors. How do you weigh them against each other? How do you know from an outsider’s point of view whether they are going to sell or not? Is there a tool online that tells you?
I’m used to people saying I went and I did a keyword search and I saw that tons of people were searching for this issue and I knew that there was a business around it, but that works for software. How do you do things in the physical product world?
Angie: We really did look at keyword searches related to products to see how many people were searching for it online and in terms of cuff links there were people searching for it but there’s not a large enough market, we didn’t think there was a large enough market, to invest in a cuff links site.
There are people out there who have cuff link sites, and we actually talked to a few of them and that’s another way that we kind of decided what to buy and what not to buy is looking at sites that already exist to see if we wanted to purchase their site. scarves.net is the only site that we started completely by scratch and that was based a lot on trend research and scarves have become common place but at the time several years ago it was very trendy so we thought let’s get in this market let’s stay here for two or three years and if it’s over and we’ve made our money back then that’s a success.
Andrew: And when you say make your money back. What the investment that you have to recoup?
Angie: It was pretty small for scarves.net. We actually started on affordablescarves.com which I believe we just paid a ten or twelve dollar price from Godaddy. And then we invested a couple thousand dollars in scarves and at that point in time we had our own technology team in house and so for them to be able to create a site from scratch didn’t cost nearly as much as it did when we were first starting out and we had to outsource everything.
Andrew: Why did you buy businesses instead of starting more the way you just described?
Angie: A lot of it honestly has to do with the customer list at the time Google because they had whether it’s true or not the sandbox which if you are a new domain the rumor is that you would go into the sandbox for up to a year and we knew that we couldn’t afford to be out of search for a year.
Andrew: I see. That makes sense.
Andrew: I’m on scarves.net right now and on the bottom it says a member of the affordable style network. What’s that?
Angie: Affordable Style is our pseudo name. One click ventures is a very technical name and it is our legal entity but bloggers and magazines don’t necessarily gravitate towards a name like that and so we created affordable style.com to kind of help ease that transition.
Andrew: As your DBA?
Angie: Yes. You got it.
Andrew: I love DBAs. Mixergy is my DBA. It means that when you incorporate you don’t have to think of the actual final name and then if you come up with couple of other names you can have a couple of DBAs so Mixergy is my DBA and I can accept checks under the Mixergy name.
Andrew: All right. I think I’ve got a bunch here I want to come back in a moment but first let me do a quick plug for Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer as I said at the top of the interview. Actually, Andrew I’ve got a successful entrepreneur here and you’ve worked with lawyers over the years, do you have any advice for entrepreneur’s about how to pick the right lawyer?
Angie: I think it’s really important to find someone who talks your language and I know that lawyers talk lawyer’s speak but we found a lawyer really early that we could trust and I think that’s the number one most important thing if you get a bad vibe from somebody during your consultation then they are the right guy for you or gal. They are not the right lawyer. So make sure that you can trust them and that they have a good track record and they just talk your language and understand your business.
Andrew: It’s a good point. There is a different way of speaking that some people just feel too uptight to me which means that I’m not going to work out well with them, some people feel too casual. When I first moved to L.A., I talked to this lawyer who is a lawyer of a major publicly traded company, and he was just too much of a surfer dude. I get that he worked well for them I think, but he wouldn’t of worked well for me.
So you do have to click with them which is why I keep not just saying to the audience you guys should check out Scott Edward Walker, but I keep saying that he is a friend of mine a guy who I’ve known for a long time, he’s not the kind of friend that we’re going to go for a hike this Sunday together but he’s a friend that I’ve known through business for a long time.
And if you’d like to get to know him first, check out his website, WalkerCorporateLaw.com and what you’ll see there is several other entrepreneurs who we know and respect who have given testimonials who’ve said nice things about him and as you click around you’ll notice that he focuses on the startup world which is very important because we in the startup tech community have unique issues that others wouldn’t understand and finally I say if he’s interesting to you and you think that you could click connect with him and have a conversation. His email address is Scott@WalkerCorporateLaw.com Check him out. WalkerCorporateLaw.com. Did you ever have any legal issues where some sent you a cease and desist?
Angie: We actually have yes.
Andrew: I feel like every single entrepreneur has that.
Angie: Especially when we’re doing the compare to styles on sunglass warehouse still and every once in a while we would run into a style that would be too similar to something that had been trademarked or patented and so we’ve never had an issue where we couldn’t just cease selling the project. We’ve always been okay but yea it’s definitely something that you have to deal with from time to time.
Andrew: When you start having multiple brands is it harder to start keep track of everything of inventory, of web design, of customers?
Angie: Yes absolutely it is. So we’ve ran into issues where you only have so many team members and you only have so much time in a day and where do you focus your time? Where do I focus my time and where does Randy focus his time?
And so that’s one of the reasons we have less brands today then what we did last year. We just got to a point where if we’re going to grow these brands and really invest time and energy into them we needed to soften our portfolio a little bit so we could have time to focus and really give the brand what they deserve.
Andrew: And when is it’s time to sell, where do you go to sell them?
Angie: We actually have a broker that we used and he sold three of our brands last year and he’s actually working on three more right now.
Andrew: I noticed you actually say that on your website we are selling these brands I didn’t think anybody would be public about it, which three are you selling?
Angie: Scarves.net, Handbagheaven.com, and ABCneckties.
Andrew: Okay. Why are you talking publicly about it? Why not just let the broker subtlety let people know and then just let it happen?
Angie: They’ve only been for a sale for a short period of time and locally in the Indianapolis community we talked about our plans moving forward which is to focus on eyeware, and so we haven’t really gone public but locally the news media and everyone in the community knows that we’re moving in a different direction so I guess maybe it’s just not a secret.
Andrew: Yeah. I guess you know what, I don’t see the benefit of pretending that you’re not selling it unless it’s the kind of thing where you have to sell because it’s a fire sale in which case you don’t want anyone to know that the thing is going down because then it helps perpetuate the feeling that it’s going down. Who’s the broker?
Angie: Quiet Light.
Andrew: Quiet Light.
Andrew: How do you pick a right broker in the buy and sell business? I’m going to check out Quiet Light. I’ve never heard of it.
Angie: That’s a really good question. So our finance guy basically takes care of most of that for us but we’ve worked with several different brokers over the years because like I said we purchased most of these businesses as existing businesses so we’ve kind of gotten a feel for how people work and we work with Jason at Quiet Light and he’s just been really great at understanding and really listening to us and understanding what we want and he seems really and I don’t want to say other people aren’t but he’s a very high character individual and we know we can trust him.
Andrew: Wow, look at this, I’m on the site right now. Quiet Light Brokerage.com I see the listings He’s got a moving company legend business for $1.9 million, hospitality equipment furniture site for $1.25 million with income of 410,000. Really interesting, I had no idea this even existed.
Andrew: Wow. When you have to start scaling it you need to start bringing people in. Who’s the first person you hired, I mean the position you hired for.
Angie: Okay, the first we hired two people for part time order fulfillment.
Andrew: Okay, and order fulfillment means answering those phones.
Angie: And pick and pack.
Andrew: And pick and pack. Okay. You had phone numbers on your site I think from day one.
Angie: We did. So actually I guess the first unpaid person that we hired was Randy’s mom and she helped take care of the phone calls when we were at work which was a real blessing. She would get two or three calls a day and she worked from home anyway and so we didn’t have enough money to pay her at the time but it was really a huge blessing to our business.
Andrew: And then you hired two people and they came into your home picked the glasses up boxed them up with note and put them in the mail?
Angie: Yes. Only when we were home so I really hired my friend I guess to come in and do it in our home and then when we moved into office space then we were able to keep regular hours and have the same part time people come.
Andrew: Okay. And then what’s the next position that you hired for?
Angie: Technology and Marketing. Those came back to back. We hired a full time marketing associate and then a in house developer.
Andrew: And this was still when you were on the Yahoo platform?
Angie: It was, yes.
Andrew: Wow. So you could hire still to this day developers who work with the Yahoo platform.
Angie: So actually he didn’t. He was a PHP My Sequel developer, and we hired him to build our new sites. And once we had those up and running, so we said, the Reader site next after the drop ship businesses and we kind of sold those off. We did Readers, ReadingGlassesShop.com, and we hired a developer to build that site from scratch.
Andrew: And what did you use to build that?
Andrew: Are you still on X-Cart?
Angie: We are, yes.
Andrew: You are, oh, wow.
Angie: Yeah. I know we’re a little bit larger customer than they usually have, but we went through an entire kind of search and find process last year where we looked at other systems, and we finally decided X-Cart was still the right system for us.
Andrew: What do you like about X-Cart?
Angie: We liked how customizable it is so we have a team of seven developers now, and they’re all PHP My Sequel, so they know the language. It’s easy to work with. It’s not really a hard language from what I understand. I’m not a developer. And all of our sites are built already from the X-Cart platform, and we really just like the way that you can pretty much do anything you want within their licensing agreement.
Andrew: The one position I always wanted to hire for was the equivalent . . . I don’t know what the equivalent of COO is for a younger company.
Andrew: Someone who’s just the chief operating officer, who’s in charge of running the place. Were you ever able to hire someone like that?
Angie: Well, that’s me actually.
Andrew: So you’re still the COO?
Andrew: Doesn’t that ever get tiring? Don’t you feel like well, I’ve done this over and over, somebody else should do this, no? What are you like?
Angie: I love it. I really love it. So over time I’ve been able to give some bits and pieces of my job away as we’ve hired, so I started out doing Word fulfillment. I did all the product photography and added all the products to the site so I essentially did merchandising and buying and kind of did customer service as well. And over time it’s been nice to see how I could give pieces of my position away and have teams grow from that, but I love having done it all. And no, every day is different.
And so whether it’s a different site or if it’s a different team, every day is fun and exciting and different, and it never gets old.
Andrew: I remember reading Ray Croc’s book where he said the little things that used to take up a fraction of his day suddenly grew into whole positions and then teams and then departments. And it’s just amazing to watch a business grow. Is that the process where you took one piece of your job and say, “How do I clarify it into a position and hand it over?”
Andrew: Can you talk more about that because I know that with you it’s a very intentional process? Can you give me an example?
Angie: Well, the first full-time hire that I made for my team was a Word fulfillment specialist to be there eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, and I thought in my mind that was the easiest portion to hand over because I had all the processes down in terms of this is how you pack the order and this is how we want it to look. This is how we want the box to look. This is how we want the label to look. And so it was the easiest in my mind to teach . . .
Angie: . . . moving forward. So once I handed that off, then I could kind of focus on the customer service side of the business and hire someone to hand off to “This is how we treat our customers. This is the policy of how . . .
Andrew: How do you codify that so the next person can pick it up? Back in the early days how did you do it?
Angie: We wrote a lot of things down.
Andrew: You did?
Angie: Literally yeah, notes all over the place.
Andrew: Did you say if a customer complains that something broke, we don’t challenge them. We just handle it this way. That’s the kind of thing you’re talking about.
Angie: You’ve got it. Absolutely. Yeah.
Andrew: So I’ve been thinking of doing that more at Mixergy. I wonder if anyone’s going to read it though if it becomes this 20 page document of “If someone complains I don’t want to read it. I don’t want to jerk them around.” If someone has some issue and they can’t download it, download it for them and send it to them in some way that it makes sense. I don’t know if people go through that.
Angie: It is hard when your business gets more sophisticated. Early on when you’re only talking to 20 customers a day, it’s pretty easy to get a feel because a customer service person can put someone on hold or after the call we can talk about how I would have handled that a bit differently. It’s okay for now but next time just go ahead and give them a free pair and don’t press them on it.
So I think if you hire somebody that has your values and understands your value prop, we can understand core values until a little bit later in our business, but we always run our business with core values in terms of treat people right. And so that is a little vague so you have to define it, but I think running with a core value set definitely helps people understand your rules.
Andrew: I do kind of feel like systems are . . . Just doing it is the first step. Then systems are the next step in an organization’s growth where everything is documented and organized so that someone who’s never met you and doesn’t know you specifically your way specifically can just go and figure out how you’ve done it and then values are the next step up so that if there isn’t something documented people understand we care more about the customer than we care about another pair of sunglasses. So how do you come up with your values?
Angie: So we were about 25 people large when we finally decided to document our values and write them down and we just started asking for feedback so we sent out as an email to the team when you think of One Click Ventures what comes to mind?
And we kind of grew from there we had small groups we got together as a large group and we ended up with twenty or twenty five different values and we put some together and then we ended up just voting as a group and we sat with the team and defined them what does this mean to us when you say act like an owner what does that mean.
Andrew: Act like a what?
Angie: Act like an owner.
Andrew: Okay. So what does it mean for you, act like an owner?
Angie: Act like an owner means to always think about the business when you are making decisions. So that goes from how to do we remain profitable to how would Angie want me to treat this customer, treat them with respect always but in every decision you make act like you are owner of the business and how would you want this to run and obviously we have to hire the right people so that they can act like us but it’s a core value that is really popular.
Andrew: You are also like me a fan of Tony Shay’s book Delivering Happiness which I just thought would be this boring business book for some reason I don’t know why I thought it would just be a collection of business advice and it’s not it’s a story of a guy who made it who is so much smarter than people realize because he’s quiet who’s more of an entrepreneur hustler than people realize or at least he was in the early days and he’s more systematic than anyone who’s just an entrepreneur would be and so when you say we went to our employees and we said what’s our values, what do you stand for reminded me of the way he did it where he sent out an email to people and he said what do we stand for already, did it come from him?
Angie: Oh we have been very inspired by Tony Shay and Zappos. We love the culture of Zappos. Randy and I actually got to tour the facility when we were in Las Vegas a few years ago. We love the way they treat their customers and that they really focus on the customer experience definitely a lot of One Click has been inspired by the Zappos brand.
Andrew: What else did you like about that book?
Angie: I think it was interesting to see that because we didn’t necessarily start our business the way that other people start their businesses and so you like to read about other people that are kind of going against the grain and making it anyway and obviously the success that he was able to get in such a small amount of time was very inspiring.
Andrew: Yeah. Like to the way he was thinking about business being like poker I guess it was a period in his life where he was playing a lot of poker and when he got into business he said with poker it’s not just about how good a player you are but the table that you decide to sit down at and when he sat down at the shoe table and he decided he was going to get into that industry he wanted to make sure that it was big enough to be worth his while that there was an opportunity there. Hey, you did this interview set because a PR person suggested it?
Andrew: I like when people are open with me like that most of my interviewees are fans or people who are in our community and I go and reach out to them but I like that we connected and you’re outside of my community and I wouldn’t have known that there was a scarf business that was this big that readers.com was a reading glasses business that was doing so well but I’m curious why do you have a PR person what are you looking for?
Angie: So we actually have a team of three PR.
Andrew: You guys have a team of three PR? You know I keep underestimating your company. You told me eight point five because you’re so nice because I see a picture of you and your husband because the story in the about page just sounds like it’s the two of you in a kitchen table which is true but for some reason I always feel like it’s a small and I have the date right here April wrote at the top of my notes how big your company is 60 employees 8.5 million dollars but I think small so yea you have a PR department why?
Angie: Yes. We have a PR department to get our name out there, so they work with bloggers, they do product placements with magazines they help write our story and our about us pages. We also have a content team but they kind of lead the direction for what we want our business to look like in the community and Randy and I know that our start is a little bit different than others so they definitely focus on that small business aspect and we’re from a small town as well so.
Andrew: I saw that too, right. And the small town part comes into it.
Andrew: You know what? How many people do I interview who like to pretend they’re part of Silicon Valley, and they’re in Silicon Valley and they won’t talk much about it. I like your approach. Go in the other direction.
Let me say this to the audience: If you like this type of story, if you’re looking for more stories of entrepreneurs who are really building companies; the kind of entrepreneurs you don’t see on Techcrunch.com — I love TechCrunch. I read it all the time; the kind you don’t see on Techmeme –again, I love Techmeme. I read it all the time; the kind you don’t see in the pages of the Wall Street Journal…
(Actually, you guys probably will be, if you haven’t been in the Wall Street Journal. You are that kind of company.)
If you like to go outside of the usual tech community and you want to hear those stories because they’re inspiring, because you learn something along the way, because they really put you in the frame of mind of being an entrepreneur, I urge you to sign up to Mixergy Premium where I have over a thousand interviews with proven entrepreneurs who come and spend an hour and break down their stories.
Most people who subscribe to Mixergy Premium are real entrepreneurs with real companies, who listen to get the kind of exposure that, frankly, last night I had went I went out for drinks here in San Francisco where everyone is in the tech community. Where everyone is building a company, and they’re all breaking down how they do it.
If you’re not here, this is the next best thing to being here where you get to listen to those stories. Keep it on in the background while you’re showering. Keep it on in the background while you’re driving into work or while you’re listening…or while you’re running I should say.
Try it out. Go to Mixergy Premium dot com. Sign up. Tony Hsieh was one of the first entrepreneurs to come here and do an interview, back before he was noticed. He came in and supported because we had a mutual friend who encouraged him to do it.
I urge you to go sign up at Mixergy Premium.com. Be a part of this entrepreneur revolution that we’re all experiencing. Don’t just watch it. Don’t just listen to it. Be a part of it by learning from successful entrepreneurs, building your own company, and then hopefully you’ll do what Angie did, which is come back here and tell your story.
Angie, what’s the best part of having made it?
Angie: Have we made it?
Andrew: Yeah. I feel like you’ve made it. So what’s the best part of it? You’re thinking no, huh?
Angie: Yeah, I’m like ‘Oh gosh’. It seems every time we hit our goal, we make a bigger one. So I don’t feel like we’ve made it yet. Honestly the best part for me is getting to build a team and work with that team every single day. It’s such a neat experience to be able to choose the people that you work with every single day.
I love working with my team. I love how loyal they are to our brands and how excited, talented and energetic they are. It’s just such a fun process.
Andrew: Congratulations on all the success. We didn’t even talk about all the subseqe-… Wait. Let me see. Hang on. I have my data here, before I go. I was about to say ‘good-bye’, but let me check on my data. Here’s what my data is showing: you guys are very good for organic search – cheap sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglass warehouse. Very good stuff.
You do paid search. We talked about that. You still do it until this day, and it’s more competitive.
Andrew: I see Pinterest is very big for you. People are ‘pinning’ and you guys are very good with that. Is that part of the PR Team? Is that their work?
Angie: Yeah. We have a social media expert as well that does Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Andrew: A few entrepreneurs gave me access to different tools for seeing how my interviewees do. One of them is What Runs Where. What Runs Where shows me that you have…that you buy ads. [??]…I see photos. It’s just very simple. Very crisp. It just says ‘Sunglass Warehouse’ and a photo of sunglasses. Very ‘apple-y’.
Andrew: Are you still taking those pictures?
Angie: I do not [??] take the pictures any more. We have a full time photographer.
Andrew: Oh wow. All right. There are no skeletons in this closet that I can find. So I will just say thank you for doing this interview.
Angie: Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. If you got anything of value, please find a way to go say thank you to Angie. I always tell you guys that whether it’s on Mixergy or you read it in Ink Magazine or the Wall Street Journal or anywhere else, if you got anything of value, go and say ‘thank you’.
Someone in the audience who recently said, “Hey. I’m going to Argentina. Can you introduce me to this guy?” I said, “No way!” I said no way because when I did a search in my inbox, I said, “Did he ever email me anything? No. Do we have any connection? No.” He’s just a stranger who’s asking me for an introduction to someone. If I don’t have that connection with him in the past, then forget it. I said ‘no’.
You can bet that anyone you connect with in the future is going to do something similar. Start on the relationship by saying ‘thank you’. Years later when you need something and they do that search, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah. It’s the guy who was really grateful a while back and he’s built something since then. That’s the woman who just said ‘thank you’ because of an interview.’
Coming to you right here.
Angie, thanks so much for doing this interview.
Angie: Thank you for having me.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.