This is a follow up story for PureFilters. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Jay Vasantharajah and my business partner Nadir Chaudhry and I are the Co-Founders of PureFilters. PureFilters is an eCommerce business that sells air and water filters direct-to-consumer. We save homeowners a ton of time and money by allowing them to order their filters online and having it delivered directly from the factory to their doorstep.
We have grown our business from $0 to $200k/mo over the past 5 years and we have no plans of slowing down!
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The business has grown fairly steadily since our last interview with Starter Story and has recently spiked due to COVID. A couple of major events happened like failing to raise VC money and receiving a lucrative acquisition offer from a large company. I’ll touch more upon both later.
You need to enjoy being an entrepreneur. I am not talking about pursuing your passion, but rather, you need to enjoy building stuff and solving problems for your customers. A key part of this is not to burn out, learn to take breaks, and reassess what you are doing every now and then.
PureFilters started off selling just air filters but since then we have expanded into water filters as well. Water filters are very complimentary to air filters, so many of our existing air filter customers now buy water filters from us too.
We have hired a couple of new employees to help us out in the customer service department and this has been a huge help for us. We are committed to continuing investing in customer service going forward, I feel that it's critical for any eCommerce business to do so.
In terms of marketing channels, we dabbled in a bunch of different channels which all basically failed. We tried investing in social media, direct mail, and partnerships (we are still working on this one, it might pay off eventually). In all honesty, none of it delivered any tangible ROI. I have colleagues in eCommerce that have seen a ton of success in these channels, especially social media, but it’s just not for PureFilters. I guess you just have to know your customers/niche and understand where to allocate your marketing funds efficiently. That is why we decided to double down on what is working well, which is SEO, search PPC, and email marketing.
Email marketing delivers incredibly high ROI for us and it keeps bringing our existing customers back. We have invested heavily in this area using tools like Klaviyo to help deliver results.
We modified our approach for SEO quite a bit. I know it sounds cliche, but we realized that we needed to prioritize quality over quantity. The way we approach content now is not “how do we game search engines?” but rather “what would be really useful content for our customers?”. As a result, we’ve grown our organic traffic by about 100% year over year.
Search PPC probably provides us with the worst ROI of the 3 channels we focus on. Each year the CPCs increase and the return on your time spent managing the account diminishes. However, it still drives about 50% of our sales, so we can’t exactly move away from it, but we have taken steps to significantly reduce our reliance on it. For reference, the last time we spoke, search PPC drove around 85% of our sales.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Last year we decided we wanted to raise capital to fuel growth and take PureFilters to the next level. We saw some US filter companies do this and figured it would be a good idea to follow suit. It was a really cool experience, we met a lot of amazing people and connected with several promising startups and prominent investors. We made it to the final rounds of top accelerators and even had the opportunity to pitch one of the biggest startup investors in Silicon Valley (he was a seed investor in Uber and 7 other unicorns).
However, this went on for months, and we started to neglect the business in favor of trying to close investors. We got to a point where we really were not enjoying pitching VCs and it really put a strain on us and started to chip away at our motivation.
In the end, we were unsuccessful at closing the round and the entire process took a toll on both us and the business.
I think the biggest lesson we took away from it was that you really need to enjoy whatever you’re doing. Before trying to raise money, we were growing at a fair pace and having a good time doing it. There really wasn’t a need or fit for us to try and pursue venture capital in order to grow even faster. We put a hard stop to trying to raise money, focused on our customers, employees, and suppliers and things started improving again.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
As any entrepreneur will tell you, things can change very quickly. It’s hard to predict what the next 5 years will look like but here are some things that we know for sure we will do.
We will continue to add more filtration products to our store that will provide value to our customers. We will continue investing in customer service as much as we can. We focus on things we enjoy doing and cut out, outsource, or hire for things we don’t.
We received an offer earlier this year to sell PureFilters to a large US company (hundreds of millions in revenue, thousands of employees). We danced around it for a bit but ultimately we turned down the offer. We wanted to sell it under the terms that made sense to us, and the interested party didn’t want to meet us halfway.
We do plan to sell PureFilters eventually, but we are not sure if we will sell the business within the next 5 years or not, we’ll see! Nadir and I are entrepreneurs for the long haul and we are having a blast working on PureFilters.
We’re also looking for new ways to expand and help more customers. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic spreading we realized we could repurpose our MERV 13 air filters, capable of trapping virus carriers, to utilize in face masks. So we decided to launch Maskwell, a reusable mask that uses our MERV 13 air filter insert. These masks are meant to protect non-healthcare workers while providing maximum comfort and style. We are donating 10% of all sales to The Homefront, a volunteer organization acting as a central hub to help frontline healthcare workers get the support they need during COVID-19. They will be facilitating contributions from Maskwell to purchase PPE, supplies, and support charities that are responding on the front lines.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
The best podcast I listened to in the past year was probably Naval Ravikant on The Joe Rogan Experience. Naval gives incredible insight and advice not only on business, but for relationships, health, and just general life advice.
I actually wrote a quick blog post on the top 3 books I read in 2019, but If I had to pick one to recommend to an entrepreneur, I’d pick Thinking in Bets. It gives you an incredible framework for decision making and will change the way you look at and evaluate decision outcomes.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
You need to enjoy being an entrepreneur. I am not talking about pursuing your passion, but rather, you need to enjoy building stuff and solving problems for your customers. A key part of this is not to burn out, learn to take breaks, and reassess what you are doing every now and then. Understand that you will make plenty of mistakes, it’s never a straight line. If I had to list all the setbacks, mistakes, and blunders we made at PureFilters, I would be here for days.
Things are given to you, things are taken from you - the key is to stay focused and not let it get to you. That’s entrepreneurship. It’s volatile, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions but it’s just so damn rewarding.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking for talented freelance writers. We welcome all applications. :)
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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