Successful Solution Out-of-the-(Glass)-Box: Phillip Van Nostrand Interview

18 December 2017 2124

Phillip Van Nostrand is a photographer with over 9 years of experience. Capturing the moment and making the world stand still in his photos has been his passion throughout the life. But his talents do not end here, Phillip is also an entrepreneur who co-founded a successful profitable eCommerce.


Phillip established LaRousse - an e-shop selling glass photo boxes, in collaboration with his partner - Katie Doherty. Being a wedding photographer, she was the one who had the idea to put her photographs up in a pretty display box made from glass.

A couple of years ago the only thing that existed was just wooden boxes. Katie went on - a popular marketplace, and found a vendor that could do a glass photo box of the required size. 

The Launch

The business idea was born unintentionally, just from wanting to acquire a thing that did not exist at the time. Having figured out that there might as well be people who would enjoy the concept, Katie went and ordered about a hundred boxes of her own invention. 


Thus, the Shopify website was launched and Phillip came into the picture. He helped to start a page on Instagram and to gain an audience on Facebook. The initial traffic was gathered from the fellow photographers. 

“There's a lot of Facebook groups online that have a ton of photographers and photo communities.” - says Phillip. “So, we offered a few trades, gave out a couple free boxes and so on.”

The business brought $70,000 in sales in the first year of existence.

Following year brought $100,000 more. Notice that the initial number was made with almost no advertising. 


“We never wanted to put a bunch of advertising and stuff into it and we still haven't” - Phillip notices. “We made up little incentives; we would sell five boxes for $200 which ends up being like five dollars off each box. A bundle of five was a deal that could save you $25.”


The partners wanted to grow the traffic organically by involving various influencers and trying to get into blogs and magazines. Phillip’s extensive photographer experience helped him significantly with business development. Particularly, most of the opinion leaders helping to promote the product were his friends from the industry.

“It was easy for me to reach out to them.” - says Phillip. “I would say "Hey, are you speaking at this one conference? I'd love to give you like a couple boxes to give away and a discount code for your people". Being friends with opinion leaders is very helpful.”

The Present

Phillip’s entrepreneurial routine in regard of LaRousse nowadays consists of making a one-hour phone call every Monday night and occasional check-ins throughout the week. He makes sure that the customers are satisfied and helps Katie with any issues.


The entrepreneurs contact their customers on a daily basis to stay in tune with people’s preferences.


“We have a live chat feature on our website, so almost every other day or so we have people who use that to communicate with us.” - our hero tells. “Also, we do email exchanges with our customers on a daily basis.”

To extend the business’s reach, our hero and his partner employ email marketing. Each time a person purchases a box, they get signed up to a newsletter (unless, of course, they refuse). 

“We have about 2,000 people on our list.” - Phillip tells. “Every time we put out an email we do a huge bump in sales. So we can put out an email saying, "Here are our favorite Instagram accounts this week” or, "we have a new product" or, "We've got a sale". There's always a nice bump in sales whenever we say anything.” 


Currently, the eCommerce scales organically, however, to make the process faster, Phillip and Katie hired a PR person recently. 


“We hired a PR person to see if we can get into some magazines that I wish would cover our product like Martha Stewart Weddings, Vogue magazine, etc.” - says Phillip. 

“Being friends with opinion leaders is very helpful.”

The partners order about a thousand boxes at a time and ship them by the sea. 


“We used to be shipping out of Katie's parent's garage so we had hired two college students to help us just pack everything and then ship them out every day.” - our hero tells. “The products became too numerous and this year we started working with a shipping company in Austin, Texas. They're called “Simpl Fulfillment".” 

Lessons Learned

“We didn't do a startup, we started our project from scratch.” - Phillip notes. “For us, all we needed was a launched website and a little extra money to be able to pay for monthly expenses related to the website and supplies. But of course, if you put a lot of money into it, it’ll grow faster.” 

However, in order to advance the business to another level, additional investments are still a must, and that was a big lesson our hero learned.


“We got caught up in a cycle of buying boxes, selling boxes, paying ourselves and then doing the same thing over and over again.” - says Phillip. “So it never grew, it just stayed in the same cycle. But in order to really bump the business up, we had to put in an extra $10.000, so that we could do a larger order, ship it by sea and save more money.”

“To start a business, Shopify and an initial investment of at least $3,000 are enough.”

It is important to notice that the shipment by the sea is a great way to save money. According to our hero, it only costs 59 cents per box as opposed to 7$ shipment by air.  


The other thing that the partners learned was how important it is to be organized. The entrepreneurs used to chat over Facebook, text messages and email, and all that was quite disorganized.

“We finally started using Slack to keep all of our thoughts in one place which then grew into different Slack channels where we could put stuff about taxes, the sales ideas, and all these different things. So just organizing ourselves by using Slack was huge.” - says Phillip.


Our hero recommends the beginner entrepreneurs to start their business on the familiar market in which you are particularly interested. Otherwise, it is much harder to reach out to people while promoting the product.  

“We didn't do a startup, we started our project from scratch.”

“Selling something that has to do with wedding photos I have around nine years of experience already.” - says our hero. “I would recommend the beginners to start working in the industry that they're already involved in.”


Thus, the successful entrepreneur’s ultimate three key lessons for the ambitious beginners are as follows:


  • Make additional investments to move your business to another level
  • Organize yourself, your partners, and your business as a whole
  • Have at least one mandatory check-in per week


The co-founder’s favorite business quote is by the founder of LinkedIn and goes something like this - “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product then you waited too long to ship”. 


The company used to be called “Photo Bomb Shop” and it was selling a box in a single dimension.


“The very first product was a five by five inches square box, which is not a normal print size.” - says Phillip.


Now, the online shop offers the boxes in six different styles, three colors, and three sizes. The company has grown to bear the elegant title of LaRousse (which means a redhead in French) and as much as Phillip and Katie may be embarrassed by a bit silly initial name of the company.


Their aspiration proved to be strong enough to provide the company with the current success.


We hope that this interview inspires you on your way to a creation of your own fruitful eCommerce!

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