Today we are talking with Mark Patchett who runs Mighty Little Startups & World Survival Gear.
G'day Mark! Can you give us some background as to how you arrived to where you are now within the startup and online business world?
From as young an age as I can remember I’ve loved conjuring up business ideas, from selling Guatemalan coffee beans at local markets to a fireworks business whereby I created a local high school distribution network- a venture that was quite quickly shut down!
At 16 or so I then turned to the Internet as I realised I could access millions of people without even having to jump out of my pyjamas. I was hooked. I grabbed all the “Dummies how to” books on HTML/CSS and anything else I could find. I loved that on the Internet it was a more level playing field. I couldn’t afford to spend $1,000,000 setting up a big retail store, but I could afford $500 to setup an awesome E-commerce site - so i’ve never looked back!
What drew you towards startups and e-commerce?
There’s something so exciting about starting a business. You get to transform an idea into something tangible and then expose the world to it. And I love E-commerce specifically based on all the numbers and strategy; from what products generate the most interest, through to which attract the highest profit margins even down to what items are most enticing and profitable as a last minute up sell on the cart - much like the chocolate bars displayed at the supermarket counter. With all that data you spend hours analysing to then find some actionable tactics, you then implement them and then your bank balance gets healthier - and it’s all yours. Unlike typical jobs where you’re paid for your time, with your own startup you’re paid for your strategy and execution.
Can you tell us a little bit about Mighty Little Startups, how did they idea come about?
Mighty Little Startups is a resource for those looking to start their own business. It’s basically the byproduct of all my learnings and mistakes. When I first started it took me hours and hours to learn often the smallest things, and I knew I could transfer my learnings to others so it would take them 10 minutes. I’ve just released a start to finish course named The Rapid Startup Sequence, it takes people all the way from registering a domain through to driving traffic, so if you’re thinking of getting started it would be well worth checking out!
MLS is chock full of quality and informative content tailored towards providing an easy to follow platform for new comers in pursuit of the startup dream. It’s also a handy tool for those who already have some skin in the game but want to further develop and fine tune some key areas to make their startups and online businesses a real success. How long did it take you to gather this knowledge? Was there a particular point or moment where this all began to click?
Gathering the content and answers in MLS has literally been the culmination of learning from every time I’ve been on a computer for the last decade! There’s something to be learned on every website you visit, if you’re looking for it, e.g. how are they making money, how are they making you engage with more content, how is the navigational structure setup etc.
The success of a startup comes down to the culmination of many elements coming together but what do you think is perhaps the most crucial?
Execution. A guy fired up at me the other day on Twitter disagreeing, saying that capital is the most important. I agree that capital is so essential and can make or break a startup, but if the founders don’t know how to use that money, they’re just digging themselves deeper. No amount of money will help profitably sell 6 fingered gloves. I highly recommend those starting out to read “The Lean Startup” which talks all about how to get your business model right before trying to scale.
What is the most common mistake you see people make when it comes to startups?
They invest way too much money and time into an idea before they’ve actually tested whether there’s demand. I’ve been just as guilty of this, as it’s so easy to get excited by an idea and launch into full force. And also people bailing out too fast. It’s often not the idea that is failing it’s the communication of that idea. Instead of giving up, start talking to your target market and asking them what their frustrations are, then try and target your products around that.
At what point did you decide that this is what you wanted to do, that you wanted to create your own path and control your own destiny?
I think it was when I sold my first jumping jack firework set. I paid $5 for it and I sold it for $15. A tidy $10 profit. Around that time I was working at good old McDonalds at $5.15 an hour, so it was a no brainer!
What advice would you give to people who are at a fork in the road, where one path leads to life on the 9-5 treadmill and the other is a path untrodden and full of uncertainty but aims towards the goal of self-employment?
The good thing about online business is that you don’t need to choose just one path. I made the mistake of quitting a great 9-5 job to start an online business when I really didn’t need to. We built the business so it could be run from an iPhone, and I had ample time at night and before work to get things started. We thought we were awesome entrepreneurs for quitting yet ended up playing golf and going out to lunch rather than working - we learnt a very important and costly lesson quite quickly!
A 9-5 job provides a very nice monthly cushion which gives you enough time and capital to get started. It’s so unlikely that your startup will bring in hoards of cash from the get go. And if you need your startup to bring in enough money so you can even pay rent, you’re not going to be able to reinvest profits into the business so you can grow - your business will become stagnant. I think you should only quit if you’ve been consistently making enough money so that you can reinvest for growth and take out enough to live. If you’re growth is also bound by your time, e.g. making sales calls, consider trying to go part time, then slowly take off more time.
The success of a startup firstly stems from a quality idea, aside from that what do you think would give startup companies the biggest edge?
Speed of execution. The most exciting strategic advantage small startups have is their ability to implement their ideas. People are often scared of big corporates stealing their ideas. I’ve worked with lots of these big corporates and it can take them 4 weeks just to add a tracking code to their site, let alone implement an idea. The fundamental aspect of speed is to not aim for perfection, because you’re idea of perfection is often wrong, which you discover after testing. Just get live as fast as you can, get feedback and optimise around that.
You are also working on an e-commerce business called World Survival Kits, can you tell us a bit about that?
World Survival Kits (recently renamed World Survival Gear) is a co-venture with one of my closest mates who lives in Montreal. We wanted to launch a dropshipped based company, whereby we take the orders then get a company to mailout the products on our behalf. It’s such a cool concept as you get the benefit of running a huge warehouse with hundreds of products without having to front up the capital. We started the business as we love working together and wanted a low maintenance project that we could ideally flip in 3 or so years for a nice little profit and to then use the model as a template for dropshipping other products.
What will your approach be to driving sales with WSK?
Promoting dropshipped products is often tricky as many competitors have access to the exact same products. We’ll be focusing on Product Listing Ads with Google AdWords, social media via Facebook and Twitter and also Comparison Shopping Sites like Shopping.com - these networks are brilliant for product based businesses as you get low cost and highly targeted clicks.
Can you tell us how keyword research and SEO plays a vital role in making an e-commerce site like WSK successful?
Keyword research is the backbone of all SEO strategies. It plays such an important role that you’ll often rename products based on what keywords drive the most traffic. For example, our supplier calls some of our products “Survival Kits” but we found a higher search volume for “Bug Out Bugs” - which is just another name for what we have. We’re not actually going to be running SEO, so we didn’t end up changing the name, but we would. Because the results of SEO can take anywhere from 6 months to 12 months, I prefer to run paid traffic campaigns first to determine what works, then consider commencing a campaign from there.
You have a lot on your plate, how did you stay on top of productivity?
I have you guys to thank for part of this! Earlier I mentioned that execution is the most important component when starting out - with time management being one the biggest aspects of execution. You wear so many hats when starting out, so mapping out what you need to do is crucial. Prior to using Stepsie I was using Asana to manage all my projects, but that turned into a pile of fat lists, so now i’m happily using Stepsie to run my projects. Whenever I start a new project I break everything down into Steps and allocate the work load to myself, partners, freelancers etc. I then set rough time frames for doing tasks. I don’t bother setting them all, as if one tasks blows out I don’t want to have to update everything else, so only for the next week or so. I’ve found the most important thing is to stick to your deadlines. If I haven’t finished what I said I would I don’t kick back to watch Game of Thrones, or head to the pub until it’s done.
How do you think Australia is positioned within the startup world? Do you think we can expect much from us Aussies in the future?
I think Aussies have a brilliant competitive attitude that wants to prove themselves to the world. The investment capital attitude here is still really behind here in contrast to the USA, which is why so many startups flock over there. However, with all the recent inspiring acquisitions like Whatsapp I feel Aussie investors are starting to see just how big the potential is. So I expect things to really heat up soon!
Ok, time to put your oracle hat on, do you have any predictions on future global economies and where will the internet be in all of this?
I see the next few years becoming on all about multi device tracking. A challenge for marketers is that people may first find out about your product from a paid ad on Facebook while browsing on their phone on the way to work, yet when they get home they jump on their laptop and head directly to your website and signup for a trial. Your data may tell you that your Facebook campaigns are no good, yet they were really responsible for driving that lead. The Google AdWords team is currently developing a way to track people that click on an online ad yet then buy from a physical retail store. That sort of data attribution will be a game changer. If you feel you have this problem, consider assign different coupon codes to each traffic source, e.g. “FB-SAVE50” for Facebook, so you know the source regardless of what device they end up signing up with.
Do you have any key influencers or stories that you can relate to and or find inspirational from?
I have so many key influencers! I love constantly learning about new and old tactics more than anything, so I sometimes end up spending more time reading then executing!
Lastly, I have been reading a lot of comments and articles lately where people are saying that everyone wants to create a startup in this era and it’s similar to everyone wanting to start a band in the 70’s. What are your thoughts on this? What band or artist do you think you would be?
Haha I love that comparison! I agree, it’s become very much a buzz, but as with the bands, I feel there are people that may do it as a fun project, then there are those that have it in their blood.
And what band, tricky question! Perhaps the Buena Vista Social Club. Their music makes me feel positive and happy and that’s why I’m in the game.