This is a follow up story for ByteStand. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m Todd, the owner, accountant, head of PR, Ruby developer, part-time help desk rep, tax negotiator, and head cheerleader for ByteStand. I have an oversize head, so all those hats fit nicely.
In a former life, I sold overstock inventory on Amazon, thought of Ruby as the birthstone for July, and had a need to diversify my business away from selling exclusively on Amazon. From these beginnings, ByteStand was born.
ByteStand is a public and private app developer with apps on both the Shopify and BigCommerce platforms. We have three apps in total. Two focus on the connection between Amazon and those eCommerce platforms.
Specifically, our namesake app Bytestand is for shop owners who want to quickly create their shop catalog based on their Amazon inventory. Secondly, we have our FBA Shipping app which provides real-time shipping rates from Amazon to a store’s checkout, then keeps customers up to date on the shipping progress all the way to fulfillment. Lastly, we have FreshCredit which is the only app on Shopify that allows for cash-based store credit. Think real money instead of all those crazy coupon codes and gift certificates.
It blows me away to say, but since our last article, ByteStand the company has seen monthly revenue grow from $17,000 a month to just over $25,000.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
ByteStand has been the best business I’ve ever run. And I’ve run my fair share.
My businesses have run the gamut from selling unlocked cell phones online, publishing a glossy lifestyle magazine, to selling Dickies workwear on Amazon. I’ve sold two of those previous endeavors for low to mid 5 figure amounts. But none compare to ByteStand.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, do this for me, write down what you plan on doing in one sentence. It will be your one-sentence business plan.
A huge source of revenue for us that I never foresaw has been custom work and large projects. I didn’t think about this at all and it came from simply providing a quality app that people like. It's been a wonderful source of revenue in the low six digits. I didn’t plan for it, never thought about it. It just happened and it has helped fund our growth.
In just one year we’ve grown our subscription business almost 50%. In my mind, those are numbers I read about, not ones that I own. But we did it, and I believe that a lot of our success is simply being a part of the Shopify ecosystem.
With that said, we have not been complacent. We have leveraged everything that’s come our way into something more. For instance, a huge part of our success is due to our placement in the Shopify app store.
If you open the Shopify app store and search for “cats driving cars” you won’t see us, but if you search on “Amazon” or “amazon fba” or some derivation thereof you’ll be assaulted by our apps. We were able to accomplish this primarily through a constant campaign of killer customer service. We try to talk to people like normal human beings who are in need of our help vs some metric that measures hold time divided by the square root of happiness. We help people like we would like to be helped, that’s it.
Furthermore, we tag and categorize all the feedback we receive from customers and implement the changes that people want. It's this amazing open secret. Our customers, the people that pay us, also give us all our best ideas, for free. All we have to do is listen. It's amazing, our customers will often volunteer to test for us as well. I’m laughing while typing this because it's so incredible. Over the last year we’ve received 100’s of ideas in the form of, “can you do this” or “can your app do that”. We capture those suggestions, total them up, and the ones with the most votes get implemented. No rocket surgery needed.
We continue to grow our website traffic through the most awesome content on the Internet. It's informative, snarky, occasionally foul-mouthed, and fun. Just like us. I can’t stand stale corporate-speak from manilla folder beige writers. I want information, but I also want to be entertained, otherwise, I’m off to watch the latest episode of Tiger King.
On the PR front, we did just get featured on the Fastlane podcast series. (I wasn’t kidding, my head is enormous)
Lastly, we have tried paid advertising, and to be honest almost nothing has worked. I have yet to crack that safe. We’ve tried Facebook, Instagram, and Google all with little to no effect other than reducing the number of bills in my wallet. I’ve been a Ruby developer now for four years so my technology game is on point. I feel like the Facebook and Google advertising dashboards are like trying to send a nuclear power plant to space, I just don’t get the complexity of it all.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
To get a competent help desk person, the absolute minimum you can expect to pay is $25/hour. That’s $50k a year! I was blown away. I had no idea a US-based person would be so expensive. Anything less and you’ll be either lottery winning level luckily, or simply wasting your time. I fell in the wasting time category, and have gone through about ten people in the last year. I finally found Nicole, who is currently womaning our amazing help desk right now.
The second biggest thing I had to wrap my head around was how I approached my competition. To put it mildly, I hated them, wanted them to die, and if their dogs died I’d probably be happy too. I would obsessively check to search engines, and the Shopify app store rankings on a daily basis. Plotting nefarious things to move a couple of spots ahead if we fell behind.
It was all a complete waste of precious time. Because a year later who I thought was my competition isn’t even my competition anymore, it's a completely new set of actors. The lesson I learned here was to simply focus on what I can control, and continue to push. Push performance, push your feature set, push customer service, basically push and grow all the things you can control, and stop wasting time on issues outside of that.
Lastly, I’ve come to realize, with the help of my lovely wife, that I need to get out and move. I’ve played some sport, in some form, at various levels basically my entire life. And with ByteStand I would find myself sitting in the same position for HOURS. So long that my butt would fall asleep. I could easily stay in almost the same position for eight to ten hours a day. Skipping lunch and losing all touch with reality. It wasn’t healthy, for my body or my mind. Issues and anxieties would build up and by the end of the day, everyday, I was in a foul mood. Helping no one with nothing.
To relieve myself of these tensions I took up CrossFit. Which serves many purposes. Mainly it gets my butt and my heart rate to about 165 bpm, soothes my competitive spirit and lets me hang out with quite a few other entrepreneurs who are going through a lot of the same turmoil as me. It's been a savior.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We are super excited about FreshCredit. Up until now, it's been the step-child we’ve locked in the closet. I’ve been bringing him food and water, but I’ve definitely been negligent. But no more! FreshCredit’s user base has been stagnant for some time now, so to get things moving again we are nervously embracing a freemium model in the coming months.
Right now we charge shops by the number of total customers who have accounts on a particular store. In the new release, that same functionality will be free. We won’t charge anything, instead, we’ve introduced what I hope to be a well-received set of new features, including:
- the ability to email customers when they receive credit
- a completely customizable customer-facing front end
- In-depth reporting
- and the ability to mass email all your customers with marketing messages that contain a users current credit balance
It’s a significant risk for us, but we’re hoping one that pays dividends.
Outside of FreshCredit we continue to push our Amazon-related business and hope to grow our custom work.
Five years from now I hope to be out of the COVID-19 quarantine and I hope my three kids are back in school and not quietly tapping my shoulder asking me to open their Caprisun’s while I talk to potential clients.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Yes! I can’t stand business books! At the end of the day, my brain is worked over like chewing gum that’s been in your mouth for a few too many chews. I probably should do it, but I can’t bring myself to. Instead, I like to escape, which is important. I think your brain needs some downtime. So in that vein here are some engrossing books I’ve inhaled recently:
- My Friend the Mercenary - by James Brabazon
- One Second After - by William R. Forstchen
- The Extinction Series - by AG Riddle
- Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout - by Phillip Connors
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Focus, focus focus. I see so many shops that want to sell everything to everyone. It's a losing proposition. Amazon and Wal-mart can do it, but that’s about it. Otherwise mere mortals like us, need to hyperfocus on a specific niche.
I think the issue is that folks don’t want to be looked at as “small” or not offering a wide variety of products. But that’s not important, what is important is offering a product that people understand, and that has value to them. Here is one of our shop’s Ullo Wine. They sell basically one thing, a wine filter. That’s it, and they are a global brand with enormous sales and placement in national retail chains. They could branch out into everything wine, but they don’t they successfully focus solely on wine filters.
Here is another of our successful shops, Brooklyn Biltong. They sell a unique style of beef jerky. Nothing else, and they make it clear on the front page.
Let’s look at someone enormous like Nike, they sell athletic gear. But they started by selling one running shoe, just one. Made in a waffle iron out of the back of their car trunk. One running shoe, that’s it.
How about another fun brand, Manscaped.com which is another shop that could expand their offerings, but instead they focus on cutting men’s body hair, that’s it. Not women, not kids, adult men looking to clean things up. It's easy to understand and you know exactly what to expect when you get to their site.
So if you’re thinking of starting a business, do this for me, write down what you plan on doing in one sentence. It will be your one-sentence business plan.
If you can’t, then don’t.
But if you can, then write down your plan and keep it close when making major decisions.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
No, not at this time. Potentially some more Ruby devs, but nothing too pressing at the moment.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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