This is a follow up story for Matboard & More. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey! I’m Mehdi Kajbaf, CEO of Matboard and More. We are the number one retailer of custom matting and framing products in the USA. We are doing really well and 2019 has been a big year for us so I’m glad to hear from you again Pat. I’m especially proud that we never took a dollar from outside funds and we’re able to generate over $250k/month with a very healthy profit margin.
As I mentioned before, the key measures of success for me are the amazing lifestyle this business affords. We are always looking for ways to grow, but at this point in time, our founders all have great lives and a thriving business. We do need to decide if it’s time to raise funds and try to scale much faster, or if we want to continue moving forward steadily and enjoy the benefits of our work.
I get at least an hour of Yoga each day and normally play hockey or some other sport and to me, having time for personal leisure and health is a huge priority. It used to be that I wanted a lot of adventure and travel, but as I get older there is more of a priority on staying healthy and without my own business I don’t think I’d have that opportunity.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
We got back on a growth trajectory in 2019 after a fairly stagnant 2018 and we are very proud of ourselves for that! In the first 6 years of Matboard and More growth was organic and easy but we certainly hit a wall after that due to three primary factors.
Happiness is a requirement for success, not a result. You’ve gotta love the process and believe in it otherwise you’ll get nowhere.
There was increased competition, our main channels (AdWords and SEO) were mostly maxed out and mobile traffic became much more prominent.
We put a new responsive website and it was an incredible success. Mobile traffic was up 44% YOY, but transactions were up 93% and revenue was up 77%. On desktop, traffic was basically the same, but we saw a 15% growth in revenue as well. If we had not gotten out of the new site though, our business would have imploded in 2019 and we would be having a very different conversation now.
I just want to point out that while it is fairly obvious that having a responsive site in 2019 is mandatory, we spent pretty much our entire technical budget in 2018 on building out this website. At the time, we dropped all other priorities to focus on this responsive website and that wasn’t an easy decision because mobile revenue was only 10% of our total revenue. Now it’s 15% but it’s the fastest-growing part of our business.
Besides that, we put a lot of effort into revisiting our pricing model and picture frames business. 2019 was the year of A/B testing. We spent a lot of time testing out new pricing models including free shipping pricing, volume discount manipulations, and product-specific analysis. Our customer mix has changed a lot since we first started and our initial assumptions didn’t make sense anymore.
For example, our plan initially was to gain a lot of large volume customers including artists so we had a lot of emphasis on volume discounts. Over the years though, our brand has expanded to include a lot of retail consumers buying one or two mats. We increased prices on those customers in such a way to maximize profits. Turns out the retail consumers are willing to pay a lot more and we tested this out over many tests.
We did a lot of other A/B tests as well with our picture frames and we’ve nearly doubled sales of picture frames. We added upselling, modified our pricing and increased our framing options. Over time we see framing as the biggest opportunity for growth.
One last point of focus was e-mail marketing. This was mostly over the past couple of months but we’ve put work into our abandoned cart chain as well as providing more impactful emails.
Over the past couple of months revenue from e-mails has increased by 80% and transactions have increased by 240%. This is mainly from a more effective abandoned cart process which was suggested to me by WaveBreak. We included an FAQ in some more reviews in our abandoned cart process essentially answering the most common objections people had to order which was mostly around our shipping policy.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The number one lesson for me is that you have to work at staying passionate. A lot of that work is ensuring you take care of your personal health and well being, get in a positive frame of mind before you tackle the challenges you face.
There were many times this year where I felt a lot of frustration because growth becomes harder and harder as time passes in a business. There is less low hanging fruit and quick solutions. The thing is you get caught up in that frustration and that starts a negative cycle where your ideas are less inspired, your effort is weaker and your teamwork suffers.
So I spent a lot of time this year refocusing on my own mental health and happiness. Exercising more, doing yoga and other activities so that I could get back to a good state of mind. From that position, the ideas flowed much more smoothly and the work seemed a lot less frustrating.
So my advice is, if you are in a rut, make sure you take at least an hour a day for meditation, exercise or whatever helps you disconnect put stay active. That positivity will flow through the rest of your work.
Another key lesson is to go back and test our initial assumptions regularly. We started this business assuming we’d get a lot more wholesale customers and priced as such. Turns out those pricing models were inefficient for consumers and we were leaving a lot of money on the table, so went back and changed our curves. We also realized that our frame pricing was poorly done, and we were able to nearly double our frame sales with some simple pricing adjustments.
Even just simple wording is important to test. For example, we changed BUY NOW to START FRAMING and saw a 2% increase in sales. That’s amazing for such a small change.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We are in an interesting position right now where we have an amazing base of loyal customers and well-established channels for steady but slow growth. We’ve nearly perfected our core business and so we need to decide if we are happy to continue moving forward at this pace, making solid money and having amazing lifestyles or if we should raise some funds, and pivot into a heavy growth and spending phase.
If we do go that route and get big money, we could fast track the development of many new products including prints and a custom design-builder. We could also put more money into professional PR and marketers to get our name out. It’s a big risk though and a big move.
Much safer is to simply keep moving forward as I don’t foresee any significant disruption in the next few years.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Both challenged me to live my life differently. Nothing is more valuable than your personal mental health, and our crazy world is so incompatible with our fundamental need for calm and peace. The number one source of the hectic and busy mind is our attachment to our phones. In 2019 I have tried to create space for myself by disconnecting.
Both of these books help provide a new way of understanding the damage of constantly thinking and having an overactive mind. Humans simply aren’t designed to do that so take some time everyday to breathe, put the phone away, empty your mind.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
As I mentioned earlier, always take care of your health first. You lose so much just by being frustrated and unhappy. Happiness is a requirement for success, not a result. You’ve gotta love the process and believe in it otherwise you’ll get nowhere.
When I first started this business I was so happy all the time. I had no money, very minimal results but every order was like a rush of energy. Even if it was one a day! Now we get a hundred orders a day and I hardly feel it. Results only give a short term motivation and push.
You’ve gotta find your happiness and peace, love yourself and feel good about who you are and what you’re doing. From there, you will achieve amazing success and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
For me, that’s meant a big focus on yoga, meditation, and exercise. I got a FitBit, joined a Yoga Studio and took time for myself.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We could use help with social media marketing. We’ve still not been able to figure out how to maximize those channels and frankly I’ve come to despise Facebook and Instagram. Beyond them being evil companies, they also just suck at getting us, customers! Maybe there is somebody out there that can help us through. If you are that person, please reach out!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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