We’re back with another episode of our 2Inspire Interview Series, where top entrepreneurs, managers, experts, and creatives in the eCommerce space share their stories and gear you up with the tips, resources, and tools you need to drive your online business forward.
For this episode, we were very lucky to sit down for a rewarding conversation with William Harris, Founder and CEO at Elumynt, an award-winning eCommerce growth agency. As you may have already guessed, William works with a lot of eCommerce and SaaS companies to help them grow and drive revenue acceleration by acting as their “outsourced” VP of Marketing. On top of this, he’s also a Marketing Manager at Sellbrite, a multichannel eCommerce SaaS solution – so he’s got plenty of hands-on experience and tips for growth. He also contributes his valuable insights to reputable publications such as Entrepreneur, Fast Company, The Next Web, Search Engine Journal, Social Media Today, and many more.
As you might expect, this episode will be jam-packed with actionable eCommerce growth tips. After providing an overview of his professional journey in eCommerce and SaaS and how he scaled up his own agency (by focusing on retention!), William deep dives into everything eCommerce growth – whether you’re looking for more strategic directions such as the ingredients to a sustainable business; key metrics to track; challenges and opportunities for growth during a pandemic; or other tactical tips for creating points of difference, driving qualified traffic, or omnichannel strategies, he has you covered. William also shares his predictions on the future of eCommerce, which he calls “wild” (spoiler alert – NFTs also make a cameo 😉). Watch the full interview for all of this and much more – we guarantee you will leave with at least one takeaway!
Check out the full interview below:
Q1: Why did you gravitate towards eCommerce and SaaS in your professional journey? (00:15)
“There are two different parts of me that really like helping to build and scale eCommerce and SaaS businesses. On one hand, I like helping people. But the other part of that is that I’m also a complete nerd – driving to work one day, I memorized Pi up to 59 digits, just for the fun of it. Within growing something from an advertising perspective, there’s a lot of different metrics and I think sometimes people get stuck on just a couple of these KPIs and they don’t know how to dig deeper into those. But it’s a really complex math problem and I think that’s fun; I like digging into it.“
Q2: How did you scale your startup, Elumynt? (01:00)
“I didn’t actually set out to build an agency. When I started this, I was just a guy who had done a lot of really great things for a couple of businesses and was writing about it on Entrepreneur and Fast Company. People then said “Hey, could you help me grow my business?” and going back to that first question, I like helping people. I started putting pieces together and helping people and then I was like “Wow, I guess I have an agency now.
How do you scale it? I think it comes down to just doing great work. If you start doing those things, then you don’t have customer churn. In fact, we get our biggest growth from our current clients – the average, of all of our clients’ growth in November of 2020, year over year, was about 280%. When that’s what you’re doing, you don’t actually need to source new businesses as much. You just focus on the ones that you have, do really great work for them and, by default, you end up growing.”
Q3: What would you say are the ingredients to a sustainable business? (02:25)
“Sustainability is based on the idea of something being stable even when it gets shaken. So if you’re in Commerce, your products have to live up to the hype of what you’re saying. Your shipping, customer service – all those need to affirm the positioning that you’ve taken in the market.
It’s important to remember that things will be shaky, we will go through pandemics or recessions – but if you set up a system that’s stable you can usually find ways to ride through that and you will have a loyal base of customers who will understand that and stick with you through those hiccups. So, it comes down to doing great work or having great products or doing the right thing“
Q4: How can businesses drive qualified traffic to their website and convert it into sales? (03:25)
“Let’s look at it from the awareness, consideration, and decision funnel. First, they have to be aware that you exist. But if they’re just aware that you exist and that you’re just like everybody else, that’s not helpful either – so it’s the right kind of awareness and being aware that you are different, and then what makes you different is important, and creating that intrigue to get them to that next step.
But when we go to the decision part, have you actually conveyed that value? It’s amazing how many times I will land on an eCommerce website, and they’ve done so much work to get the customer there, their ads are amazing and exciting – and when you get to the website it’s meh. There’s no video about the product, barely an explanation about it. You haven’t conveyed what’s in it, that emotional response. When you get to that product page, make sure that is what’s being conveyed, that they understand what’s in it for them beyond just buying a product.”
Q5: What are the metrics you track to evaluate how a company is doing? (04:51)
“On our site, we’re focused a lot more on growth because we do the advertising, the SEO, the growth side of things. So, we’re looking at ROAS – I don’t dislike it, I don’t love it. I don’t dislike it, it has a place, but it can also be very limited.
Let’s look beyond just basic ROAS, let’s look at MER (Media Efficiency Rate), meaning total revenue divided by total ad spend. There’s a lot of times when people get hung up just on the in–platform numbers. But those are all numbers that are based on algorithmic data, right? Google, Facebook, or your email platforms could all take credit for and it’s still one sale, but they all took credit for it. Whereas MER is going to just say what’s the holistic nature of what you’re doing.
But the other one that I really like to look at is LTV:CAC ratio. It’s something that I borrowed from the SaaS world, it wasn’t used a ton in eCommerce, but I think it holds a lot more value sometimes than just looking straight at ROAS. There’s a different amount that you’re willing to pay for new customers, and that you’re willing to pay for somebody who’s already your customer.”
Q6: How does an online business stand out these days? (06:16)
“People need to be aware of you, but if they’re just aware that you’re like everybody else, then they don’t want to do business with you necessarily. So, it’s the right kind of awareness – being able to create that awareness in a way that’s different, I think that’s the key.
One of the easiest ways people do this is through founder stories. Every single founder is a unique individual, their story, reason and inspiration for creating the business are going to be different. And a lot of times, people can just align with you and your reason for starting a business – that’s a great place to start sounding a little bit different from everybody else.”
Q7: What have been the main challenges you’ve seen businesses deal with during the pandemic? (07:02)
“In eCommerce, I’d say the challenges are the opposite of what a lot of people have faced. For the most part, eCommerce grew significantly and the challenge there was keeping up with the growth – keeping up with inventory, when maybe you can’t get the inventory across the sea. You actually don’t want to spend as much on advertising, knowing that you’re going to stock out in about 45 days. Think ahead of where that stock is going to run out, rather than reducing your ad spend once you’ve run out. So, looking at that from an inventory, planning and advertising perspective, and then the other one would be customer service and shipping.
So I think the biggest challenge from an eCommerce perspective is moderating that growth, making sure you don’t grow too quickly, and making sure that as you scale up advertising and growth–related activities, you’re also maintaining the effectiveness on the back–end side of things.”
Q8: Any advice for eCommerce businesses that are struggling with sales, especially during these unprecedented times? (08:16)
“eCommerce, for the most part, is not struggling right now. If you are struggling though, then you have to look at this and say there’s a mismatch somewhere. Often that could mean that you’re not saying the right things, you’re not differentiating enough. The other part of that is that maybe you are saying the right things, but not to the right audience. Something there isn’t aligned. Try to figure out where that is and then how do you tell that story.
Are you asking people when they return stuff, why they’re returning it and dig through that data? Maybe look at some of the comments that are on Facebook, you need to dig back into that – that’s more likely the issue than some kind of SEO issue or a massive advertising setup issue. It’s usually going to be along the lines of the story or the message or the connection to the right audience.”
Q9: How can businesses create an awesome, personalized omnichannel strategy? (09:24)
“As you grow, the need to have a presence across several different channels is important. But I think it’s less about having the exact same presence across all of the different channels, and more about finding new ways to show off your voice that are relevant to that platform.
Be the same in essence. That means that your positioning statement needs to come through on that platform. I think about it like an artist, right? Let’s say that you’re a minimalist artist. Well, whether you’re working on construction paper, digitally, or it’s painting a wall in your house, that minimalism should translate through all of those different mediums. The same is true for you as a business – it’s that essence of what it is that you’re communicating, but the way that you do it across all of those different channels should be different. It should represent that platform well.”
Q10: What is an online tool you rely on the most, and can recommend further? (10:42)
“There are probably two that I absolutely love and feel like I probably couldn’t live without – Asana and Notion.
And that’s because they’re the backbone of what we do – Asana for project management and tasks, so that way, when something comes through, how do we know who’s doing it, when they’re doing it, are there other dependencies, can we get it done in that amount of timeframe? And then Notion for organizing a lot more complex stuff like our processes and how things are going to get done, and why and when and how.”
Q11: Who are some inspirational people that you look up to, and why? (11:28)
“One of the people that I look up to the most right now is David Mortensen. He is the co-founder of Anytime Fitness, which is, I believe, still considered the largest gym franchise in the entire world. He has a way of keeping my problems light. There was a moment where I was talking to him about a problem that I was running through with the agency. And to me, it felt like a pretty big problem. But he starts laughing, and initially, you’re like “Wait, what?” and you can’t help but start laughing yourself. And it’s in those moments that you can realize that the problem is not as big as you think it is. It feels like it is but when you’ve talked to somebody who’s been there, and experienced those types of problems, it’s funny to them in the right way because they get it.
He gives me a lot of other really great inspiration. There was a book he wrote called “Love Work” that goes into a lot of really great examples of how to set up a work environment that people enjoy being a part of, to the point where, in their case, they have even clients and staff members that will get tattoos of their logo. That’s inspirational.”
Q12: What is the best book you’ve read? (13:15)
“One book that has changed my life, more than any other book, is the Bible. Let’s look at it from a marketing perspective – the book has a ton of really great context into psychology, the human mind, the way things work, and why we do some of the things we do or how we think about things and how we’re going to make decisions.”
Q13: What’s the best advice you ever received? (13:43)
“I would have to say, hands down, the best advice is focus. I realized that when I started this agency, and even in many other previous jobs. The key to being able to find that success is being able to say this is the roadmap, how can I go after it? If you change directions every couple of steps, you might not get very far, right? And so, I think focus is probably the best advice that I’ve ever received.”
Q14: What are some of the factors that will shape the future of eCommerce? (14:26)
“On the eCommerce side, we’re already seeing this where going to a physical store is less important and we already were seeing that before we went into this pandemic. We’re seeing it even more now. What I do think though is that there is still sometimes an appreciation for in-person events. I think there’s an element and a place for that in-person experience from a commerce perspective as well. But it might not be the traditional way that we’re used to looking at, you know, aisles and aisles of stuff.
And then that brings me into the AR, VR experience. I think we are going to see more rich environments for testing, seeing and using products in AR and VR. We’re seeing a bit of it now and a lot of it it’s mostly gimmicky, but I think that it’s going to get more and more that way where you will really feel like you can experience the product or the service that you’re buying.
And then the final piece of that is that just more and more purchases of digital stuff, right? We’re seeing that NFT is really skyrocketing right now. I think that we’re going to continue to see more and more of those types of digital transactions that have no need to ever have a physical presence or physical goods at all. As more of our identity does merge into this online world, more money will be spent on that identity as well.”
Q15: What have you learned about yourself from running your own business? (16:19)
“Some of the things that I’ve learned about myself from running this is that you’re stronger than you think you are. Running a business is really hard. You hear people say that all the time until you experience it in all the ways that there’s going to be a pushback against continuing down that path – working sometimes weeks that are 100 hours/week as you’re trying to grow and scale, you can’t quite hire this yet and then you’ve got maybe social pressure of, you know, you work too much.
There are days I’ll break down and cry about it. But I think it’s that idea of resolve – you never know if you really truly have it, you think maybe you do, you’re like “I can do it. I can go all through all of this and do that.” But until you go through it, I think you’re never quite sure. But being through this now and having ridden through a lot of storms, I realized that I can do it, I can keep pushing. I think that’s probably the thing that I’m most excited about – seeing that validation. keep going, you can do this, don’t give up!”
Stay in the know
We hope that you were able to identify many useful ideas and tips to sustain your growth journey. Until our next episode, you can (re)watch our previous 2Inspire interviews:
- 2Inspire Series – Interview with Matt Bilotti, Product Lead at Drift
- 2Inspire Interview with Matthew Howells-Barby, VP of Marketing at HubSpot
- 2Inspire Interview with Will Critchlow, Founder of Distilled and SearchPilot