I'm a former athlete turned maker whose e-commerce products have sold close to $1B globally. AMA!

surgieboi
39 replies
Hi all, I’m Sergio, the founder of Elliot 🐄 I’m a former athlete, turned software engineer & now entrepreneur. Over the last 10 years I’ve built technology exclusively for e-commerce, & for brands such as Anastasia Beverly Hills, Buscemi, Crocs, Rag & Bone, Sonos & more. In that time, my solutions have generated close to $1B in e-commerce sales & accounted for go-to-markets for the United States, China, Korea & Japan. I’ve also launched my own products, most recently Faux Freckles, which won the trendiest beauty product of the year in 2016, according to New Beauty Magazine. I’m here to answer any & all questions on e-commerce, cross border, retail, software, start-up life & transitioning between different phases of life. If you guess what our cow logo means, I’ll buy you lunch today!

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Founder & CEO, Hustle Crew
Pretty impressive stats! With all your experience building successful consumer brands - what do you think are the common mistakes lots of founders make in the early stages that they should aim to avoid?
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founder @ drooler
@abadesi great question & I've made so many of these mistakes myself! Below are common ones & real life repercussions from making them first-hand: 1. Build just enough to test: The biggest mistake you can make is spending 6-8 months heads down & not get any feedback on what you're building. No matter the circumstance, get what you're building out fast, so you can validate the need for it faster! My mistake w/ #1: Elliot had just pivoted - April 2018 - & I felt the need to go right into product development because we had just fired 14 people, shut down our pipeline & were fresh off of a $3M seed. I spent 8 months working on what we "thought" was a better version of our 1st product, & it was an absolute mess. In my gut, I knew the product sucked, & within 5 demos, that feeling was validated. 2. Not having your back office in order: As you scale, setup your back office with tools that make your life easier from an ops perspective (ie. Accounting, Employee On-boarding, Legal & Taxes). As you build momentum, you don't want to waste time, or resources on gaps due to a poorly constructed back office. Here’s back office stack at Elliot: - Accounting (Bench) - HR & Payroll (Justworks) - Expenses (Expensify) - Credit Cards (Brex + Stripe) - Legal (Gunderson Dettmer) My mistake w/ #2: When we launched Elliot - August 2017 - we partnered with a "family friend" HR & Payroll provider. For a remote team, across 4 states & international, this meant that our employees federal & state payroll services, plus insurance was not properly setup. Aside from being out of compliance, & posing a liability to our company; we also had to spend 4 months post-pivot cleaning up liens, & other ramifications because of our choice in provider. 3. Hiring based on resume logos versus early stage intangibles: As a founder you always want the best talent & in many cases that leads you to hiring for logos. Typically this goes into telling a bigger story (ie. being able to recruit top talent, etc.); however, it can also "bite you in the butt" when the "going gets tough". Ensure that you screen early stage candidates by asking them "what they specifically did" & whether or not they had a support team to-do so; plus, their appetite for a fast moving environment. Here are some good questions to ask: - "While you were at Company X, what was your day-to-day like?" - "As you executed your strategy, did you act autonomously, or did you have a support team to do so?" - "What was your biggest personal failure? How did you resolve it? Or if you haven't, what are you doing to-do so?" - "What is your appetite for working is a rapidly changing environment where the needs may shift by the hour?" My mistake w/ #3: I was bad at screening candidates when I started Elliot & placed too much emphasis on hiring what looked good on paper. Granted, we had accomplished C & SVP-level employees from Amazon, DHL, LYFT & Salesforce, the landscape of "start-up life" doesn't always play well with seasoned vets. Once we hit rough waters, or things had to be executed, we ran into roadblocks because of my failure to properly screen for candidates that matched the state of our company. These are just some mistakes; however, if you have questions or want more from my laundry list of mistakes, please email me at: sergio@helloiamelliot.com.
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Founder & CEO, Hustle Crew
@helloiamelliot @sergio_villasenor this is a super helpful and detailed response, thank you!
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founder @ drooler
@helloiamelliot @abadesi You're welcome & I've been getting DM'ed on PH & Twitter; here's a couple that I can add here. 👉Question #1: I'd like to know 4 ways that you created awareness and drove traffic for your product? ✅Community First Approach: Being a tech start-up we focused on building our first 50-100 community members. This included advisors, customers, employees, industry experts, investors & partners. ✅Community Buy-in on Product: Everyone within the Elliot community is a user of our product. If you first 50-100 community members don't use the product, what makes you think the next 1,000, or 1,000,000 will? They won't. ✅Turn Industry Experts into Advisors: Nothing better than getting industry, or vertical-specific influencers engaged in your community & championing your product. Their buy-in on social, or with content on your behalf will start the buzz. ✅ Freemium for Early Adopters: We basically said, first 5-10 customers, this is free but we are going to blow your mind & in return just "share the shit out of" Elliot, & how awesome it makes your business / life. 👉Question #2: How did you pitch to potential adopters, advisor, customer? Throwing events? Emails? ✅Despite 2020 approaching & everyone thinking cold outreach is dead, IT'S NOT!!!! In many cases, I'll inbox a prospective advisor, or partner, a one-to-two liner. It's personal, yet simple & if its crafted good enough will get you a 5-10 minute call. ✅Another way is identifying an influencer, or someone you want to work with, & start engaging on social with people from their audience / network. Easy way of getting on their radar.
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Founder and DEO
@helloiamelliot @sergio_villasenor Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed response, it's super helpful! So many great lessons.
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founder @ drooler
@helloiamelliot @rhona_aylward you’re welcome! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to fire them my way!!!
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CEO, Infinimedia
What sport did you play?
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CEO, Infinimedia
my guess regarding the cow: it continues to give milk which = money for ages.
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founder @ drooler
@brianbreslin I played football, free safety, at the University of Nevada, Reno!
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founder @ drooler
@brianbreslin Ha, nice guess but nope!
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Founder
When did you play? I played for UC Davis, we may have played against each other. Would love to connect if interested!
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founder @ drooler
@russellreeder 2005-2009; however, I was placed on a medical scholarship after 2007 due to an injury I sustained during my junior-year fall camp.
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Market Researcher & Application Tester
@surgeeeeeeee That sounds amazing! We are a Start-Up. We have created Ring n Bring. A Smart Service Bell for internal ordering at homes and households. We have launched a campaign to UAE, getting so many visitors however no sale no followups. How do we know if its the Product or something else? What do you recommend in order to generate our first few sales? Please check www.ringnbring.com to know more Any comment would be greatly appreciated!
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founder @ drooler
@surgeeeeeeee @walid_shaar Walid, First off, I love what you are trying to accomplish with your product. When I looked at it, it immediately reminded me of a project I was lightly involved in while consulting for Sonos, the "Roominess" project. It was a project dedicated to how the Sonos controller, & speakers, could be controlled across rooms. However, while I know that, I do not believe your website conveys the simplicity your product brings. It talks a lot about technical use cases; however, from a consumer perspective, they'd probably feel overwhelmed - which is inline with your slow start to sales. If I was in your shoes, this is what I'd do: ✅Get 10 of your friends, or pay for testers of the product, shadow them while they use it for the first time & gather notes on user behavior, ✅At the end of these user sessions, have a list of 5-7 questions (ie. Did you like the products, how did the product make you feel, what ordering services would be cool to have integrated, etc.) I believe to start, your site's copy has to be more reflective of the simplicity you're bringing to the user of your product, & how it makes them feel. I also get mixed messaging from your product name, "Ring N Bring". I'm not one for "cliche" names & feel it can be improved in parallel with messaging. Examples: Look at how Sonos takes user through their "Learn" section of their website: https://www.sonos.com/en-nz/list... Also, how they bridge the easy of music control & great sound across any room: https://www.sonos.com/en/shop/tw..., "Brilliant sound for every bathroom". In short, I like your product & would use it, but I'm not your average consumer. You have a solid product, but your messaging needs to be more consumer focused & how it makes thier life easier.
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founder @ drooler
@surgeeeeeeee @walid_shaar 1. One problem we are facing is that sometimes the message that the solution consists of both "The App + Ring n Bring Device" for it to function. How do we make sure viewers are understanding that part? or How do we go about it, without sounding too formal? 👉I think trying to tell stories about each one is a problem. Technically, they go hand-in-hand in the overall experience. For example, everyone knows you need the Sonos Controller App, but no where in their speaker sections is it a focal point: https://www.sonos.com/en/shop/on.... Most of the emphasis is surrounding great sound, what the speaker & Sonos experience bring to you. That's what you're currently missing. 2. About the website, you are right 100%. We are currently working on fixing the whole template and the messaging. Making it more simple, personal and emotional since it should have this "Homey" feeling. 👉Happy to help here, I honestly do so much pro-bono work on weekends, I think I've secretly designed 20+ sites this year. 3. For the name "Ring n Bring". We actually see where you are coming from, and thought about it too. However, we have put loads of money on marketing campaigns running currently with the name "Ring n Bring". Changing the brand name, will make the campaign invalid. Currently, we cant handle that with 0 sales. 👉My question to you is, "If you've already spent money, what's the future loss revenue opportunity of not changing it?" Food for thought. 4. We know we are working with a Niche Market as a Main Target- Elderly people with large homes that have helpers - do you recommend other segments? or do you think people in USA/Europe would use such a solution? 👉 I recommend changing the entire vibe & going after an affluent buyer. Also, I do not have enough data points to suggest different markets. However, with Elliot for example, the United States is only 40% of our focus. 60% is in West Africa & the Nordic / Scandinavian region given market factors. What I'm implying is, be open to the fact that MENA may not be your best market. Also, that's okay, it's your job as the business owner to find which one & why.
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Human
@surgeeeeeeee @sergio_villasenor @walid_shaar I was just looking your website and i think your product would be great for room service in hotels, maybe thats a segment that you wanna try.
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founder @ drooler
@surgeeeeeeee @walid_shaar @thiago_sardim Thiago, Interesting that you say that! We are determining the "how" with regards to hotels. We've kicked around several go-to-market concepts that we will be trying in Q1/2 2020, with hotels in NYC. Also, within apartment / condo high-rises. More to come!!!
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Hey Sergio, thanks for leading this valuable discussion - super insightful! My background's in ecom/digital marketing but I have an idea for a Retail/Ecom AI product. 1. In your opinion, what's the best way to recruit specialist engineers to build an MVP? 2. You mentioned building a community first, how do you do this when you are pre-MVP? RE: Elliot Cow - is it a cash cow project? Cheers! Mark
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founder @ drooler
@marksnowdon1 Good questions, & while we are making a cash cow, $$$$$$$ wasn't behind the iconography lol. 1️⃣In your opinion, what's the best way to recruit specialist engineers to build an MVP? 👉There are a variety of Marketplaces, & affordable solutions for pre-market product builds. At Elliot, we actually used specialists from Andela, & we conduct pre-screening using tools like Codility. This allows us to create pre-screening code tests that are specific to our technology stack & use cases. Having a pre-screening test will help you weed out potential mis-hires. 2️⃣You mentioned building a community first, how do you do this when you are pre-MVP? 👉This is tough; however, you said you, "My background's in ecom/digital marketing". So why not start writing about you, your experience, the pain-point & start to become a thought leader in your software category first? This will allow you to begin to edify yourself & then introduce a problem later to the following you've built via this content. This approach will likely help you with messaging, etc. because you would have already discussed pain-points, use cases & depending on your audience, personas.
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Mobile Developer @ NOCD Inc
Just wanted to say that this is one of the most thoughtful and helpful QAs I've ever seen! Thanks @surgeeeeeeee for taking the time to share your knowledge and putting so much effort into your answers. Your answers are really really good :) Followed!
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founder @ drooler
@surgeeeeeeee @rayliverified Ray, Thank you for the appreciation 😊👍🏼👍🏼 & @abadesi for the opp 🏄‍♂️
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Hi Sergio, I'm currently working on an open-source fulfillment system for e-commerce shops: openship.org. So far it only works with Shopify, but would love to integrate with Elliot. Would this be possible at this stage? Regards, Junaid
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founder @ drooler
@junaid33 This is awesome! Yes, we can certainly chat on how / what an integration would look like. Shoot me an email: sergio@helloiamelliot.com
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🤝 komunity.io 🎨 barneda.com
You had a pet cow as a child.
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founder @ drooler
@barneda lol I wish but no 🤣
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AMA: Segio, why did you choose a cow as a logo for Elliot? 😉
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founder @ drooler
@boundal That's a slick question! I chose it cause the meaning of it, & behind it, meant the world to me.
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@sergio_villasenor Thinking outside the box is what it takes to succeed. You proved it yourself by creating Elliot. Which ever the reason is, this is a great logo if it means the world to you, and it is catching the eyes. Good luck with your projects.
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founder @ drooler
@boundal Thanks Simon!
Founder & CEO, Hustle Crew
Thanks Sergio for your time. Makers this discussion is now closed.
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founder @ drooler
@abadesi It's been real ✌️
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