Lessons learned from building $25 million company in two years by Joe Scott

Interview
 
31 January 2018 1086

The decision to become independent and start one’s own business is kind of a step into the unknown. You cannot be sure whether your project will turn out to be successful enough to justify all the means dedicated to its development and promotion. Transparency of your intentions can play a great part in the success of your business project. That is due to the fact that in the end, your business solution is going to be judged only by the people, who tend to desire the most fair attitude.

 

Hero of this interview is an experienced, established businessman who went from common full-time employment to having two successful independent online-stores. Joe Scott started both Vault Cargo Management and Alpha Dog Nutrition based on his own experience of being underserved. Particularly, having trouble finding products of decent quality in the time of need. Eventually, Mr. Scott decided to fix the low-quality products issue on his own and took the opportunity.

Now, his first online marketing project - Vault Cargo Management, which provides trip and camping related products, is looking to become a $25 million company in just three two years. His second online-store - Alpha Dog Nutrition, a website dedicated to hunting dogs’ healthcare which he started just recently, is an aspiring business with significant customer base.

 

Mr. Scott agreed to tell us about his road to success and give some pieces of advice to ambitious entrepreneurs just starting their business. So, let us start from the beginning.

Humble beginnings

“I started all my companies on my own. Vault Cargo was really intended to give us little extra spending money for the weekends. Having a full time job at the time I liked the e-commerce business model because it allowed me to make sales without the necessity to be at a certain location at any specific time. When I first started Vault Cargo I was up at 04:00 am and would work for couple hours until I had to go to full-time job. I would come home and work for a couple more hours after spending time with my wife. I used to repeat that process for a couple of months until it was time to make Vault Cargo my primary job.” - says Joe Scott.

 

According to Mr. Scott, Facebook communities helped him a lot in learning how to use digital marketing activities to one’s benefit on initial stages of business development.

 

“Networking was the biggest thing that allowed me to learn quickly about the nuances of e-commerce. I used to be an engineer before and stereotypically engineers and marketers are like polar opposites. I was always very interested in the sphere but did not really know how to go about working in it, so I joined a couple of Mastermind groups to basically get me up to speed quickly. That made a huge impact early on.”

Work with Amazon

Before building a dedicated website, Mr. Scott was implementing his initial business activities via Amazon, which, according to him, was a great place to start.

 

“The primary reason for working with Amazon was that is was something I was exposed to and my friend was doing it at the time. He knew how to work with it pretty well and that's kind of where we naturally started. I don't want to say that it's easy to sell on Amazon but it is quite simpler than starting your own website. That's probably the main reason.” - says Joe Scott.

 

During his work through Amazon, Mr. Scott realized that it was much easier for people to buy from it than from a separate site, as it was already an established platform.

 

He also shared his recommendations to those just starting their work with Amazon. “Product selection is an important component. Making sure you did good product research; studying market competition and everything related to your field of work; figuring out what people like and don't like about certain products. Reading reviews for competitors’ products  can be very helpful, particularly, in figuring out how to fix certain technical issues in your products. Regardless of your marketing ability, if you don't sell high quality products, your business isn't going to last long.”

“Another very important component is the keyword research. Selling through Amazon you have to make sure that you're doing a good job with optimization of what we call the "back end" of Amazon. The third important thing is super high quality images and making sure that it's very easy for someone to understand exactly what your product is and what can it be used for. Our initial goal was for people, when shown our Amazon listing, to be able to tell within 15 seconds what it is, what it's used for and why would they need to buy it. Amazon has more impulsive shoppers, and you need to make that easy for them.”

Choosing type of products

While choosing the products he was going to work with, our hero was coming out solely from his own experience. He shared a story that made an impact on his decision to distribute particular products via Alpha Dog Nutrition.

 

“I have a six year old English Setter hunting dog. My previous dog got a bad case of arthritis and when I started looking for products to help her, most brands out there focused on like every dog, from 10 lbs house dogs to 100 lbs hunting dogs and it was frustrating. Our dogs were underserved because of that. For Alpha Dog Nutrition, our only focus is active hunting dogs.” - states Joe Scott.

 

“The people with small house dogs and stuff require different kind of nutritional products. Big focus for us is hunting dogs' joints and cardiovascular system, replacing the nutrients they lose during the physical exertion from hunting; because their joints really take a beating over the years. They love hunting but they really get a lot of stress out there.”

“Regardless of your marketing ability, if you don't sell high quality products, your business isn't going to last long”

“Vault Cargo Management is much broader in this aspect. That's actually the reason why Vault works very well on Amazon. I feel Amazon is a good fit if your target demographic is very broad. Vault Cargo is for everyone, be it someone that is moving or simply decides to go camping.”

Successful distribution of the goods

Usually, it takes a certain amount of products sold in order for those just starting out to understand that business is doing great and there is no need to quit. Despite the fact that he did not intend his first project to grow into a large business, such realization came to Mr. Scott almost immediately after the project’s inception.

 

“What happened was we ordered the first product, ratchet straps, and I thought it was going to last us about three months’ worth of sales. Eventually, it lasted just over two weeks and we sold out. That's when I realized that I was in for something special and essentially, as soon as cash flow allowed it, I started ordering more and more products.” - says Joe Scott.

 

“That's really been the one thing that allowed us to grow as quickly as we did, simply offering more new products more frequently. We also studied the similar products people were buying from other brands. Often, clients are pairing our product A with a different company's product B. Thorough researches can help make it so that clients purchase both options via your brand.”

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Talking about humble beginnings, Mr. Scott was offering just one product during the initial stages of Vault’s development.

 

“We only had one product for the first, I'll say, six months. After one year we were up to five products. In October, it will be two years since I started Vault Cargo Management and we have 24 products, pretty explosive growth there.”

An independent full-time job

Gradually, our hero started realizing that his project becomes his new full-time job and not just something he does before going to bed. “I started realizing that it was going to be my full time job when I started hiring a couple of people. They would have questions for me because we hadn't really built all those processes yet. I realized that our main bottleneck was actually me and I needed to commit more to the business.”

 

It was getting to the point where I wasn't able to give either job a 100% of my effort. Full transparency, I actually got fired from my job, which I knew was coming. That was what kind of finally pushed me  fully into Vault Cargo Management. I got fired because they felt I couldn't handle a project, which is kind of funny, because I am about to pass them in revenue, pass the company that I used to work for to make a living.”

 

It would seem, however, that Mr. Scott did not spend much money to start a business, considering he was working on Amazon and providing just on product for sale. “For me, as for a 25 year old person, it was a significant investment. We started with about $25,000. Most of that investment was spent on a product. We have done very good job with cash flow management in order to be able to grow at the rate we have.”

Being unique

Working with an established platform, you have to differentiate yourself from other people that sell similar products. Our hero tried to focus on perspective digital marketing activities, which were, at the time, considered by few.

 

“One of the reasons I wanted to work in the cargo management industry was because I felt that most of the established companies had their marketing plans stuck in the 90s or early 2000s. They weren't doing the digital marketing very well. That's where I felt like I could step in and make pretty big splash in the industry. I was focusing on ecommerce  when  most of the existing companies weren't.”

 

“Also, I feel like we've done pretty good job differentiating product-wise. We used to have one or two products that were our main money makers. Currently, I wouldn't say there are certain products that's controlling our business or anything. Most of our products are doing equally well.“

Drawing traffic & establishing a community

According to Mr. Scott, he drew first real traffic from a Facebook group which he started. Our hero shared the key points as to how to start Facebook groups in e-commerce field for a person without any knowledge of the subject.

 

“Being real with people is crucial. Don't hide behind a computer; don't be afraid to show your face. People appreciate it when they're talking to a real person, especially over the Internet where you not necessarily know who you’re talking to all the time. Don't be afraid to show that it is an industry that you're very passionate about.”

“There are going to be many people in your community who have some additional knowledge and additional experience, don't be afraid to highlight their skills and put them on a pedestal as an expert in the community. Eventually, they are going to appreciate you because of that, and they might even carry your community forward without you needing to do anything.”

 

After establishing a dedicated community and launching a separate website, Mr. Scott needed to move forward to get even more attraction, which he did. “At that point it really became the content, the video content, the blog posts and stuff like that. We started to bring in some great freelance writers, just generating content. We also started interviewing people like veterinarians and experts in the field. Focusing hard on content got us some attraction.”

“It's worth spending extra money to increase the production value”

He also shared what used to be his biggest motivation at that time which is keeping it simple.  “Thing that motivated me the most was keeping things simple and cutting all the extra noise that was trendy.  My dad used to say: "Keep it simple, stupid". When I would try to make something too complex he would tell me to keep it simple. That's really kind of stuck with me. When you do something simple it's easier to implement and understand for your customers as well as for yourself.”

Expert recommendations to newcomers

We asked Mr. Scott to advise people just starting their business coming from his own experience, which he gladly agreed to do. Such request was quite timely as our hero started Alpha Dog Nutrition just recently.

 

“What I would do at the beginning is start with building a community, mainly through social media. Basically, try to inform as many people as possible about your mission, and eventually the development of your first product.  Product development and launch preparations can take months. During that time you can build the social media community and just engage with it like a real person, not like a big brand.”

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“We have conversations with people about Alpha Dog Nutrition where we discuss hunting on the weekends, where they go hunting and their stories and stuff. That’s really exciting because not only do they get to know us actual human beings, we get to hear their stories and what they’re passionate about. They certainly are very excited about Alpha Dog Nutrition because they can tell that there are living people standing behind our brand. We actually care. When we launched our first product, we immediately got huge bump in sales simply because we already had people interested in us, before we ever had a product.”

 

According to Mr. Scott, content management and community development are primary things to focus on initially. Such processes can significantly help in moving the business further. “Content management was really the main thing I focused on early on. I feel like, if people, initially, focus on too many different things at once, they are going to do an ok job with each of them, not a great job. In order to come out of the gate and make people take notice of you, you need to do an exceptional job in at least one area, so that people would say:  "Wow, they really know what they're doing".

Current projects’ characteristics, email marketing, advertisement and more tips

As Mr. Scott noticed, initial preparations (such as building up social media following) for Alpha Dog Nutrition launch took about three months. Now, the online-store has about 45,000 followers on one account and 13,000 followers on the other one and the numbers are similar on Facebook. With Vault Cargo Management, however, it was a different story.

 

“Vault Cargo has a little bit different business model. We didn't focus on our communities probably as much as we should have in the beginning simply because we already had the traffic from "amazon.com". Considering the number of people who were already shopping on Amazon it was easier for us to be able to attract traffic to our page. Generally, we focused on high quality photos for our listings and on making sure that we did a good job with customer service and serving our customers after the purchase.”

“There are living people standing behind our brand. We actually care”

Email marketing is another important aspect in development and promotion of one’s business project. It can help attract huge volumes of people but requires creativity and humane approach, which was a bit difficult for our hero to realize at first. Mr. Scott puts a significant focus on email marketing among other things.

 

“Once I felt that I was doing a pretty good job in other areas, I decided that it is time to improve my performance content-wise. I needed to take the next step which I felt was email marketing. Themed Facebook communities helped significantly in this case as well. I learned from the experts in the area and started gradually figuring out what works and what doesn't.”

“The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in order to implement my own approach in this aspect was to not be afraid to actually email people. Many people are very afraid of that. You have to understand that unsubscribing and stuff like that is a natural part of email marketing. A big email list is worthless if you don't actually email your potential clients.”

 

“If you email them a lot and they are staying engaged, on the other hand, don't always try to sell them something. Provide them with other useful content. It could be a good recipe to try on a weekend for the grill or good road trip paths or whatever.”

 

Email marketing skills and approaches play a big part in support of Mr. Scott’s current projects. He tries to implement different ways of email capturing on his websites as well as on Amazon. “We have couple different lead magnets. Firstly, we have pop-ups on our sites like a lot of people do, where we offer like 10% discount if you subscribe to our email list. If you do, you'll get notified about the new products' launch. That's probably the primary way; other than that, we did giveaway campaigns and stuff like that. People earned submissions to them for subscribing and for getting other people to sign up.”

 

“We found such giveaways to be not very successful methods simply because they generate lots of people looking for free stuff and not necessarily buyers.” As Mr. Scott has mentioned, one of the key points of being successful on Amazon is good images, visuals, and also keywords. However, advertising is another huge part of business management. Google or Amazon sponsored ads can help acquire additional traffic.

 

“We definitely used Amazon sponsored ads. That was another focus; I actually had a separate agency managing that for me. I think probably 85% of our traffic is organic and 15%is generated from ads advertisements. With Amazon it comes down to your keywords' ranking, very similar to Google. If people search something and you are one of the top results you've got a very good chance of capturing that customer.”

Talking about acquiring traffic, we asked our hero to share  some tips concerning getting initial traffic on the example of Alpha Dog Nutrition. “The biggest thing that drew traffic for us, initially, was social media community that we had built. We also used Facebook ads lot, which is, as I eventually found out, much more difficult than it looks. Vault Cargo Management revenue helped a lot. It was very expensive to learn Facebook ads. Eventually, It was money well spent because now we know what we are doing but Facebook is definitely large part of our traffic at this point.”

 

Mr. Scott also told us that his enterprise tries to implement referral marketing as well by having an affiliate program and reaching out to some social media influencers. He tries to feature such influencers on videos and other forms of content. According to Mr. Scott each person they asked to become a part of affiliate program loved the brand’s story and basic message.

Way of doing things in current projects

In order to create content, both Mr. Scott’s projects employ dedicated content writers and cooperate with partners that provide certain creative services. “We've got two content writers who are also like copywriters for us, so they handle most of our written content. We've developed pretty good relationships with couple of production companies, one of which is called First Productions and another one is Cana Outdoors.”

 

“They have done some incredible things from video perspective. We really try to focus on video, it's certainly not cheap, but I really feel like it's worth it. If you want to set yourself apart as a high-end brand, it's worth spending extra money to increase the production value.”

 

We asked our hero to tell us about his ordinary working day. Surely, many readers are interested in main responsibilities and basic routine of large business manager. “We use a program called Asana with which most of your community must be familiar. I go through our Asana projects and everything like that to see where we are at. If anyone needs any help in any areas I really try to help as much as possible. My employees may say differently, but I really try to serve them almost more than they are serving me.”

 

“They can be stuck at something only because I haven't provided enough information. Every other week I make sure that everyone is on the same page and is moving in the same direction.”As to a number of employees currently working on Mr. Scott’s most recent project - Alpha Dog Nutrition is managed only by himself and one other person. Chris Gezella is our hero’s business partner who owns a small share of the project. Mr. Scott also noted that they sometimes use some of their team from Vault Cargo Management, people from graphic design sort, for example.

Online marketing platform

When asked which online marketing platform does he prefer, Mr. Scott said that he uses Shopify to support and manage his online-stores and is quite satisfied with it.

 

“I really like Shopify. I am not a super technical guy. People assume that because I am in e-commerce I must be computer wizard and I am absolutely not. I like Shopify for basically allowing me to create very clean and professional looking site without the necessity to know a lot of coding and stuff like that.”

Honesty and mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. Learning from mistakes is crucial and can help significantly in business’s further development. Mr. Scott told us about his biggest business management mistake from which he learned a lot.

 

“My biggest mistake was improper approach to hiring. I had supervised people before, at my previous job but I really didn't hire people until I got my own business. I got very lucky with my first employee, she is absolutely awesome. I don't think I was super good at interviewing and seeing what people are capable of though.”

“My inexperience in hiring showed with my second employee though. It was pretty obvious once she started working that she had blatantly lied during the interview and I hadn't done enough research to notice that. I took too long to let her go and that was one of my biggest mistakes early on. One thing that really surprised me is that I actually had people from our team come up and thank me for letting her go.”

 

According to our hero’s own words, ultimate success of his projects relies on honesty and desire to not only provide people with quality product. It is also very important to make them feel that they made a right choice employing your services which they will not regret afterwards. Mr. Scott developed and promoted his businesses with only the good intentions and that is what he thinks kept him staying ahead of the competition.

 

“There are people that do things that are very shady and quite frankly illegal. There are companies out there that have popped up and trying to compete with us that are basically claiming all their stuff is made in USA and we know for a fact that it is not. We try to be very honest and upfront with our customers.”

 

“I feel like it shows but there are people out there that aren't. That's definitely one thing that keeps me up at night, we are not willing to drop to the level of those shady people. We're going to remain honest and upfront with our customers, and I truly believe we will win because of that.”

Conclusion

As we can see from Joe Scott’s example of success, mastering various marketing strategies and creative approaches to one’s project promotion is not that difficult. Making mistakes on initial stages of the project’s development is completely natural and can be helpful. Especially if you learn from them and try not repeat them in the future.

 

But the crucial thing is not letting oneself become blinded by money and opportunities and just stay human. On the road to ultimate success, do not forget that you are doing it not only for your own benefit, make your cause helpful and beneficial to other people, your customers in particular. They are the general support to your business.