We’ve just wrapped our fourth ever live event for eCommerceFuel community members. This time we headed west to the seaside town of Laguna Beach, which isn’t the shabbiest place we’ve ever been to.

On today’s episode, fresh off the conference, Bill D’Alessandro and I discuss the key takeaways from the event that we plan on applying to our business, and our lives, in the coming year.


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(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com and Bill D’Alessandro of ElementsBrands.com)

Andrew: Welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast. This show is dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow eCommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey, guys, Andrew here, and welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast. Thanks so much for joining me on this show today. I’m excited about the episode because I get to relive and recap my favorite business event of the whole year and that is eCommerceFuel Live. Talking about ECF Live 2018 which we just wrapped up in January of this year. If you’re not familiar with it, ECF Live is our private event for members of our eCommerceFuel community and we have it every year. This is our fourth year that we’ve had it.

We had about 150 people this year. It’s just an awesome chance to get together with people that over the years have become really good friends, in a fun place, talk shop, catch up, and have a lot of fun. So we’re going to be covering what went on, some of the fun parts of the event, what we’re going to change hopefully next year in the future and have some of those, talk about some of the big take-aways strategically and kind of business-wise that we learned, chatting with other members and listening to presentations.

So it’s a fun time. Bill D’Alessandro, a four-time member of ECF Live attendee, is going to be joining me in just a minute to talk about it. So, it’s a fun episode. I hope you enjoy it.

But first, I want to thank our sponsors for this show, who made this episode possible. First Klaviyo, who makes email marketing automation easy and incredibly profitable. They were actually a sponsor this year for the second time, so Klaviyo, thank you for helping make ECF Live possible this year. And if you’re not familiar with Klaviyo, they do email for ecommerce better than anyone else because they allow you to segment your flows with incredible precision and detail.

And they actually just came out this last week or two with their new visual flow builder, very cool. So it lets you be able to, with drag-and-drop interface, create the flows and the journeys that your customers are going to take based on what products they have or have not purchased, how many times they’ve purchased, all the attributes with Klaviyo that you’d normally set flows with are now worked into their visual flow builder.

It’s really cool. It’s very intuitive. It makes setting up powerful flows much easier. So I’ll link up to those, we’ll link up to the visual flow builder in the show notes if you want to check them out. Or if you just want to get started for free with Klaviyo, you can do that at eCommerceFuel.com/Klaviyo.

And secondly, we want to thank Liquid Web, who now offers an incredibly optimized and stable platform for hosting your WooCommerce store. And if you’re serious about ecommerce and you’re on Woo, a couple of reasons you’re going to want to consider these guys strongly. First, it’s built from the ground up for WooCommerce. Everything from the database calls to the upgrades, it’s designed to make your Woo store just fly and be incredibly efficient and fast.

It’s highly elastic, so even if you get hit with a massive traffic surge, you’re going to stay online, unlike most self-hosted options where there’s going to be, you know, a good chance you’re going to go down if you get a massive traffic surge. They automatically take care of core Word Press updates. They automatically take care of all of your plug-in updates with easy roll-back in case they don’t work.

And it’s all backed up by a world-class customer service and engineering team. So if you’re on Woo and you want the best platform possible for hosting your store, check them out at eCommerceFuel.com/LiquidWeb. All right, thank you, sponsors. We really appreciate it.

And with that being said, I’m going to go ahead and jump into my recap of ECF Live with Bill D’Alessandro.

Our Fourth Ever Live Event

Andrew: Bill, we’ve made it through yet another ECF Live. This is the fourth one, and you’ve been to every single one, right?

Bill: Yeah, do I get a badge at five events?

Andrew: We need to get something for you. That was one thing we wanted to do this year and we just ran out of time, was awards for everyone who’s been to every ECF Live. I was thinking like a huge massive Montana-style belt buckle, you know? You know, we need to do something for it because it’s awesome.

Bill: Sort it out because I’m never going to miss. So, whatever you promise I’m going to hold you to it. I’m going to hit that milestone, so I’m going to ECF every year come hell or high water, so…

Andrew: Awesome, man. At least we’ll have one attendee. That’ll give me a little bit of comfort.

Bill: That’s right.

Bill: An Original & Seasoned Keynote Speaker at ECF Live

Andrew: It was cool because you were a keynote at the very first one back in Austin. You were a keynote, you’ve talked at other ones, but then you keynoted again this year which was really cool to have you come full circle. We’ll talk about kind of some of the takeaways, but the focus of your talk was very different. I’d say your mindset was very different, you know, four years ago versus this time.

Bill: It was. I mean, I’ve come a long way in four years. My business has come a long way. It was really funny because at the first ECF Live I talked about buying a business and scaling it, with a heavy emphasis on automation, and even in between then and now I’ve talked at a number of conferences with a focus on automation. But this year at ECF the title of my talk was “The 40-Hour Work Week, Building a Big Business,” and it was all about hiring and culture and how to design the organization to be bigger than yourself.

It’s been kind of a new mindset for me, coming from four-hour work week style business to a business that now has 20 employees and, you know, we’re hiring a new person almost every month. You know, I’ve had to think about a lot of things you don’t really think about when you’re trying to figure out how best to connect different APIs together so you can go skiing on a Tuesday. It’s just a very different mindset.

And it was cool because I think it’s become relevant to our community because you mentioned that at the first ECF Live in Austin when I spoke to about 50 people, the average store owner had about $500,000 in revenue. But at this ECF where I spoke to 150 people, the average store owner had $2 million in revenue, which is an indication of how far the community has come.

Small Community, Big Revenues

Andrew: Yeah, it’s crazy. That was one of my takeaways, to jump ahead just a touch, was like how much bigger our community is getting, you know, collectively. I mentioned this in the welcome to everyone. We, like the people just in the room, that 150 people, were doing close to half a billion in sales.

So, I think like the median store owner was about $2 million, but if you average that with some of the people doing, you know, eight figures, there were some outliers there that really pushed the average of the median, but yeah, just like the size. One thing that is a theme I’m seeing much more today than even two or three years ago was people being, like, “Okay, I’ve got a team. How do I hire a COO?” Like, the needs are just very different because we’ve just gotten bigger and it’s really cool to see.

And some members from the very first ECF, four years now today, yourself included Bill, that just have grown so much that it’s the same community in a large effect, but people are in very different places with their business which is really cool to see.

Bill: Well, it’s so cool, too, that we’re all growing together, and there were a number of people at ECF this year that were at the first one, that I’ve been friends with now for four years, and we’ve grown our businesses together which makes it, you know, for me the most valuable community I’m a part of. I mean, it’s truly the only community that I have of peers.

Highlights of ECF Live 2018

Andrew: Yeah, it’s fun, man. It almost feels like you’ve got a little bit of family, which is cool, and get like a big family reunion every year, which is a lot of fun. So, speaking of like the fun parts, maybe before we get into kind of some of the strategic takeaways, you know, the big ideas that we came home with, maybe we could touch on some of like just the overall fun, your favorite parts of ECF Live in general. I’ll start with one.

Like we had it in Laguna Beach right on the ocean and the venue was the Surf & Sand. I have to say this. It was probably my favorite venue that we have ever had. Just waterside, all of the rooms had fantastic views of the ocean, pretty good weather for most of the time we were there. The venue like, especially for northerners like myself coming from Montana with a foot of snow on the ground, oh, man, I couldn’t get enough of it, the venue was amazing. Probably one of my favorite, you know, non-people part of the trip it was just the venue.

Best. Venue. Ever.

Bill: Hands down, my favorite venue too. The hotel was situated right on the beach in Southern California, Laguna Beach, and it was so close to the water that as you went out on the balcony of your hotel room it felt like you were on a cruise ship. You were almost hovering over the water, and the views were 180 degrees all the way down the beach. It was awesome.

Andrew: You were kind enough, like the closing night, you were really cool. You opened up your hotel room. You had a hotel room like with a balcony that overlooked everything and could fit a bunch of people in. You had a sweet little after-party at Bill’s suite. I was shocked we did not get shut down by somebody because we were in there until like 3:00 a.m.

Bill: Yeah, we had probably 50 people. We ordered eight pizzas, and beforehand we had had the foresight because it’s now the fourth year we have done this. Brandon, Eli, and I went out, and Mike Jackness and a few other guys, bought some alcohol, so we had shots and wine and beer, and it was a total riot. I cannot believe Security didn’t come, and actually when you mention it, now that you mentioned it before, the last night closing after-party is one of my favorite parts of ECF.

I always am one of the last people to bed and I just love knowing that, you know, we can sleep in the next day, don’t have to worry about getting up early. Just being able to stay up late at night and build some friendships with the other ECFers is my favorite part.

Andrew: Yeah, it was really fun. But the first thing, I don’t know if I’ve told you this, Bill, but the first thing I did when I walked into the after-party in your suite was I looked at the balcony and I saw like 30 people on the balcony and immediately from a business owner sense, I like just saw massive amounts of liability. I just envisioned headlines in like, you know, the Wall Street Journal, you know, “Balcony Collapses in California with 30 People Injured.” So I went downstairs and looked at the structural supports on the balcony before I could come back up and relax at the after-party.

Bill: You told me you got that in that insurance, right, so we’re fine.

Building Relationships

Andrew: Ah, yeah. Still though, I’m going to put a damper on the closing party. What about you, any other kind of highlights or fun aspects before we get serious and talk about the takeaways?

Bill: I’ve got a number of valuable, you know, business takeaways, but I mean for me it’s building relationships in person. ECF is sort of my mastermind, you know. If I want to know anybody that’s any good at anything, I can find someone at ECF and just to have them all in one room is awesome.

And to have the chance to speak and then have people come up to me afterwards and want to talk about the topic that I’m really interested in, was just a blast because the speakers were so accessible at ECF. I mean, everyone that speaks is a member so as soon as they get done talking, they just kind of walk into the audience and sit in the audience for the next talk. So everybody’s really accessible, which was awesome.

Key Takeaway #1: Amazon Is Changing, Fast

Andrew: So takeaways, why don’t you start, man? What was one of yours that we can kick things off with?

Bill: So, I’ve got four. The first one for me that hit me during a presentation on Amazon Listing Optimization is just how fast the game is changing, especially on Amazon. I had thought our listings were pretty good, and I thought I stay on top of, you know, the algorithm changes and the listing best practices, and sitting in a session with Kevin and Aaron about Amazon optimization, I would have put my listings up against anyone’s.

And then I was like covering my face as I was in the session because I realized that what I thought was good, was terrible. I mean, there are people operating at a ridiculously high level on the Amazon optimization, and stuff that was working six months ago was out of date. Stuff comes out literally weekly as people try to reverse-engineer that Amazon algorithm. So that shocked me, to be in a room with people who I really believe are the best in the world at this stuff, it’s tough to keep up unless you actively try.

Improve These Two Things Now on Your Amazon Listing

Andrew: Was there one or two things that you can kind of remember you jotted down that you were going to be making changes to specific things that you wrote down in terms of how you would improve your listings based on that presentation?

Bill: Yep. So we need to redo all of our listing images. Aaron was showing me listing images with kind of points of difference in seals and bullet points, all that stuff, in the actual image. Now you can’t put it in the primary image without going at the Terms of Service, but in the secondary, tertiary, etc, images, you know, annotating those images sells so much more. And then Carol Rand showed me her A+ Detail Page and it just blew me away, the level of care and design that she had put into the A+ Detail Page. It just indicated to me how high the bar has risen on Amazon.

Key Takeaway #2: Authenticity Is Important

Andrew: Very cool. One of my big takeaways was just the sense that being authentic pays off enormously, especially in 2018. So Michael Jamin from TwirlyGirlShop.com had one of the most popular sessions of the entire event. He is a Hollywood screenwriter. He writes for TV and Hollywood in LA, hilarious guy, and really understands storytelling very well.

And so he walked through just kind of the elements of story and some of his big takeaways were, if you’re going to tell a story you need a hero, an obstacle, and a goal. Most people tell too many stories, but you should focus on one story, and you should focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths, were some of his big, kind of over-arching thoughts from his talk.

But the big things were one, it’s more powerful, obviously. That’s pretty obvious. You know, he really tapped into a lot of things where if you can tell your brand story you resonate so much better with people, but what you wouldn’t suspect is that it’s actually a ton cheaper too. Like he showed a couple examples on Facebook videos they were running.

There was one video that just talked about the brand, and then another one where it really it’s the story behind his brand, and it was 90% cheaper from the CPA, the video that was story-based versus just telling about the company, which I thought was cool. And then Matt and Meredith also had a talk, and they talked about how they really, you know, came out of their shell and instead of trying to be careful and not offend anyone, they got very political with their beliefs with their T-shirt company.

And when they did, their sales just exploded. Especially in Amazon and today’s world in ecommerce, being authentic just pays off enormously.

Bill: It kills me that getting political is the thing that finally got people fired up to buy T-shirts, but I think the unifying point though that I took from Michael’s talk about stories that, instead of obstacle I wrote down, “Every story needs an enemy.” And that’s something I think when we’re telling, you know, feel-good stories on our About Us pages, we tend to forget.

Politics, I mean, is kind of the ultimate disgusting manifestation of that where everybody is the enemy and everybody is throwing mud at anybody, but it’s tribal and it gets people fired up. So I wrote down, “Every story needs an enemy.”

Andrew: Yeah, that’s a great way to look at it too. Bill, what’s your next one?

Key Takeaway #3: Read Traction

Bill: My next one was that I need to actually read the book “Traction,” which has been recommended to me a number of times and I’ve basically read the Cliff Notes of it and thought it seemed good. But in talking with Blair Budlong from Decks Direct and his implementation of the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which is the framework from the book “Traction,” there’s just a lot of depth there that I haven’t really gotten to, and I’ve talked to a number of members who have implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System and are using it to great effect, particularly when you get kind of north of 10 employees is when it really starts to make sense.

You won’t, I don’t think, see the value of it below that, but once you get above 10 employees you will desperately understand the value of it. So I bought the book on Amazon and I need to actually read it.

Andrew: Yeah, I actually added it to my Goodreads list as well. It’s funny, I had never even heard of “Traction,” you know, a year ago and I feel like every third person or every, you know, every other break-out session I was at somebody was mentioning it. I don’t know if they just wrote it or if it just really blew up this year, but yeah, it seemed to be everywhere.

Bill: I don’t know how old it is but I think it’s that your community is getting bigger and people need it more.

Our Sponsors Were Awesome

Andrew: People, yeah, good point. So I’ve got another takeaway but some of our sponsors I want to thank. We had a really cool, a fantastic group of people who made the event possible. And if you’re in the event world, you know, they are… if you’re looking to make money, events are usually not the way to do it. And the event would not have been possible without these guys, so I want to thank them.

So the first sponsor is Quiet Light Brokerage. Mark Daoust and Joe Valley were at the event and they have been a three-time Gold sponsor of ECF Life and I really feel like they are part of the community now given how long they’ve been with us, the help they’ve given to members. They have talked to a lot of ECF members who have had really solid positive experience with selling their business or buying businesses through Quiet Light Brokerage.

So if you’re not familiar with them, they’re the premier brokerage firm in the space of high six, seven, and eight-figure stores. Fantastic team, highly reputable brokerage firm. Can’t recommend them enough. Mark and Joe, thank you for being such great supporters of the community. It’s been great having you and if you want to get on their list and learn about new listings, or get in touch about potentially selling your business, QuietLightBrokerage.com.

Secondly, Klaviyo, who is also a sponsor of this podcast, was a sponsor of the event. This is their second time sponsoring. If you are listening, you definitely know who Klaviyo is. I gotta meet Brian Whaley who is the Director of Product Management over there, super-nice guy. And a couple cool things on the Klaviyo front was our official staff expert, Jeremy Roberts.

For a little while he was on Klaviyo, he jumped ship and he went over to Mail Chimp for a while to test them out, and just this year made the big announcement that he came back to Klaviyo because he wasn’t happy, Mail Chimp wasn’t as, the grass was greener and he officially switched back over to Klaviyo which was cool to see. So Klaviyo, thank you. We really appreciate you guys sponsoring. You can check them out at Klaviyo.com if you’re not familiar or not using them.

And then finally, 2nd Office, Carlos Silva. He’s been a long-time forum member. He’s got a staff of like over 200 VAs in the Philippines and comes from an ecommerce background, so he knows, he understands like, you know, what store owners like us need from VAs.

Not the cheapest, you know, if you’re looking for like a super-cheap VA, that’s not your guy. But if you want really high-quality VAs that can help with customer support, back-office admin, or contact creation, he’s the guy you should check out. So you can learn more about his company, 2ndOffice.co, and if you’re on the forums in ECF he’s also running specials for the month of February. You can reach out to him at @CarlosSilva to learn about those.

So we have a have a couple more sponsors but I’ll mention them later on. But again, gentlemen, Quietlight, Klaviyo, and 2nd Office, thank you so much.

Key Takeaway #4: Facebook Ads & Mobile

So getting back into the takeaways, I’ll go with one. There was a fantastic session that Mike Jackness and Miracle Wanzo did on Facebook advertising, and two things that really stood out to me from that one were one, was the stat that Mike mentioned early on and that was 88% of ad revenue for Facebook is now on mobile, which I know mobile is big but 88% just blew me away.

So thinking through how you need to target people and also design your creatives for mobile, when people are swiping and have very short attention spans, was something that stood out to me. And the second idea was you really, like Jackness and Miracle are probably two of the people that know Facebook ads better than anyone else that I know of. They’re brilliant, they really understand the space.

And Mike came in and he ran a lot of different campaigns. It was kind of a real-time checkout of Jackness’ Facebook account to see what was working, what’s not because they set up the ad campaign just a week earlier. The differences between the ones that worked and didn’t and the fact that Mike had no idea and was even surprised by what worked really well and what didn’t as he was testing, was fascinating to me.

So just coming away from, sometimes, a lot of times on Facebook you have no idea and you have to throw a lot of stuff at the wall to see what works and find stuff that’s going to pencil out.

Bill: Yep, I totally agree. And the mobile thing continues to throw me for a loop also because you hear it all the time that, you know, Google is making their mobile index the primary index, and all this traffic comes from mobile. But to see those numbers, 88%. To me I just kind of have been thinking, “Oh, mobile is something I’ll get to. It’s kinda good on mobile.”

But it kind of sunk in that if you’re kind of good on mobile that means most, if not almost all people are not experiencing the good version of your website. The good version of your website should be the mobile version, and that’s crazy to me.

Andrew: Yeah, I wonder if we as entrepreneurs, like Bill, you, and I and a lot of people listening spend most of the day, you know, seven or eight hours a day, at a computer, at a desktop, right? And so we’ve got a full keyboard, we’ve got, you know, two or three monitors and so it’s easy for us, and I wonder if, I don’t know if you feel this way, I feel like I don’t. I project what I do to the rest of the world when most people are not using the internet the way I do.

Bill: Yeah, I think our mobile time doesn’t register on our brains because it doesn’t feel like we’re on the computer. I’m like, oh yeah, I’m on the computer for eight hours a day when I’m at the office, but you don’t realize that you’re also on mobile for probably four hours a day interspersed through there and at night and in the morning.

And some of that, a lot of that actually, is reading-email time and clicking through to ecommerce websites. I buy so much stuff on the Amazon app but it doesn’t seem to register because it doesn’t feel like computer time.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s crazy. Anyway, so those are some interesting things that stood out for me. But Bill, what’s your next one?

Key Takeaway #5: Gum Tape Machines

Bill: My next one is that I need to buy a gum-tape machine for our warehouse. I got this from David Corum and he showed me that basically, if you know what these are, the gum-tape machine, they’re used in the Amazon warehouse. You know, when you get a package from Amazon and it has that preprinted Prime tape and there’s kind of that webbing throughout the tape, and it’s really, really hard to just pull off the box.

It’s incredibly more secure, and what you need is this machine that’s about $1,000 so it doesn’t make sense if you’re in a lower-volume warehouse. But in a higher-volume warehouse like ours, it has all these buttons so you just press the “12” button and it shoots out a 12″ strip of tape that’s already moistened and then you just slap it on the box, and it dries like cement. So you need to use less tape than you do with the clear PVC tape.

And you can also get it branded. It’s basically the same cost if you order enough to get your own logos printed on the tape. And the one, I’m trying to remember the model that he recommended was the Better Packaging, I think 585, which is, like I said, about $1,000. You load it up with 1000 feet of tape, and the tape is, I think, marginally more expensive than clear tape, but it’s way better, much more secure, and you also end up using less.

So a lot of people actually save money after switching to gum tape. Some people also call it water-activated tape, but you can find this, the Better Packaging, I think it’s the 585. So I need to buy one of those right away for my warehouse manager.

Andrew: Did you learn about that in the Warehouse and the Shipping break-out session with Jamie and David?

Bill: I did.

Andrew: You did? Okay. In my chops in the warehouse world are nilch, nada. I just have never run a warehouse. But that seemed like one of the most interactive sessions, like Jamie and David did an incredible job. They both have a ton of experience. Jamie just set up her first warehouse and just blew through it in about 12 months with how fast they’re growing. And then David is just like the master.

He won Fueley Award for like hardest working, most efficient guy because he’s designed. It was crazy the level of detail and the extent to which he’s gone to automate his packaging, and his pick and pack and ship methods, like creating his own tools. It just blew me away. That was one of the sessions I saw that was coolest from the interactive standpoint.

Bill: Yeah, he was very impressive, and I won’t reveal how big his business is on the podcast, but it is big. And he does it out of 2,500 sqft, which is insane. And not only does he do it out of 2500 sqft, he sells holiday lights so he does it all in like 90 days out of 2,500 sqft. He’s like got it stacked all the way to the ceiling, like not wasting an inch anywhere, all these custom tools. He’s a total maniac about it.

Incidentally, another thing that I love about ECF is just the weird stuff people will get totally obsessed and good at, you know? Like clearly David has just been in the weeds on optimizing this because, you know, it clicks in his brain and he just, he loves it. And I’m not personally that obsessed with it, but I’m personally obsessed with other things. And so to run into people who are that obsessed with what seems like such a stupid thing like gum tape, that’s one of my favorite things about ECF.

Key Takeaway #6: Focus on Profitability

Andrew: My next takeaway was Jen Geale and Blair Budlong from Decks Direct, and then Mountain Bikes Direct did a session on growing to 10 million and beyond in sales. And two things that I really pulled out of their presentation, their entire presentation, was, from Jen’s especially, was her business really picked up and started doing well when they made the very clear decision, “Are we going to focus on growth, or are we going to focus on profitability?”

And I feel like so many times, even myself included sometimes, if you ask, “Hey, Andrew, where are you trying to go?” I have goals and things I want to do, but I think more people than not, again myself included, sometimes are not crystal-clear on what they’re trying to optimize for, which is one of the reasons I love asking that question to guests.

And when they made the decision, “Hey, we’re going to focus on profitability over growth,” that’s when their business a, got more profitable and b, really started to grow ironically enough. So I thought that was an interesting point.

And the second one from Blair’s side of the talk, that I thought was really cool, was he talked about paying your bills early as a competitive advantage. You know, you go to any finance course, talk to anyone in traditional business, and they’ll say, “Oh, if you have net 90-day terms, wait until day 89 and then pay your bills, because you push those payments out, you increase your cash flow, etc, etc.”

And I’ve always hated that. I hate having money in the bank that I owe to people even if I, you know, it gives me a little extra cash flow. I like the idea of, a lot of people make fun of me for this and you probably will too, Bill, but like, if I have a big tax bill due and I don’t have to pay it for six months, I’ll write the check because I don’t want money in my bank account that is not mine. I hate that feeling.

But the flip side of that is that you really, with your suppliers, you can really build up a lot of good will paying on time, which I thought was very cool and something that helped Blair and his company as they’ve been growing. So.

Bill: And the corollary to that actually is if you want to pay on time and you’re crazy like Andrew Youderian and don’t like to use any debt, you should at the very least negotiate an early-pay discount. If you’re going to pay on time, up front, if they were willing to extend you net 30 or 60, you should ask for 1 to 2% of a discount for paying early.

Andrew: Yeah, good point, because you usually get one.

Bill: And I was going to say, my other takeaway from that, from the session with Jen and Blair from Decks Direct and Mountain Bikes Direct is that if you want your store to grow to 10 million, just add “Direct” to the end of the name.

Andrew: Perfect. eCommerceFuelDirect. We’ll be rebranding later this month. Bill, what’s your next one?

Key Takeaway #7: Commercial Real Estate as an Investment

Bill: My next one was from the Investing session with Shakil and especially with Craig Gentry. Craig talked about commercial real estate, and real estate is something I have been interested in for a while. And Craig gave just a knock-down presentation about how to invest in commercial real estate, essentially for a beginner, you know, for someone that’s wanting to invest in and not run commercial real estate because those are two very different things. You know, if you’re trying to do it as a side project versus this is your main career.

His primary takeaway was never buy for appreciation. Always buy for cash flow. And he had some really interesting tools to model out, you know, how exactly you can predict what you’ll make from a building before you can buy it, and then thus what you can afford to pay for it, lease terms, you know. He also recommended a few good books, and investing in commercial real estate is something that I’ve been interested in doing for a while.

So Craig’s talk was very, very timely, and some of the rates of return he has been able to get in commercial real estate, as far as a cash-on-cash basis, just straight cash flows, his monthly profit versus the principle that he invested, I mean, I think they were in the mid 20s on some longterm leases. And then also just the operational best practices that he had to manage it.

I think he has something like 20 or 25 houses and apartments in the college town in which he lives, and he’s got a fulltime property manager, and just the process by which he rents to all these students, you know, kind of works them through a process. He already knows they’re going to get in a fight so he already had a process for how you get someone out of the lease if there’s a fight. He tells them up front.

The level of systematization that we often think about as far as ecommerce businesses with standard operating procedures, Craig had brought to commercial real estate and being a landlord. So I found the applicability of a lot of the same mental tools that we all use in ecommerce, it was fascinating to see them brought to something very different, like commercial real estate.

Andrew: Very cool. So is it safe to say you’re going to be starting CommercialRealEstateDirect.com in near future now?

Bill: That’s right. Exactly. Exactly. I can’t miss, can’t miss.

Key Takeaway #8: Do Less, Strategize More

Andrew: My next takeaway actually comes from you, Bill, and we touched on your talk at the very top. But for me, you know, I don’t necessarily aspire. We have kind of different philosophies as anyone who’s listened to us, you know, on this show over the years has, you know, probably will notice pretty quickly.

You definitely are focused more on growing something, especially with a bigger team, and even though I don’t necessarily, you know, have quite the same thoughts on going down that track, I’ve realized coming out of your presentation that I am not leveraging enough people and probably doing way too much myself. I mean, you talked about building a team and what the CEO’s focus really should be, and the CEO’s focus should be strategy and vision and hiring.

Since I got back, I built up a spreadsheet of things that I should not be doing, and putting that down there and probably at least two or three times a day, something pops up where I think, “Why in the world am I doing this?”

And I’m writing it down with the goal of spending probably two or three or four weeks in a big chunk and then on a regular basis going forward of building out a team, even if it’s a more robust team of contractors, because I need to spend more time on the strategy and the vision, as opposed to some of the stuff that I’m doing in the weeds to get stuff done.

Bill: That’s awesome. I’m glad there was a takeaway from my talk. Yeah, the tip that I usually give to people who kind of say, “I know I want to be working less in the business and I should be doing strategy and hiring but I don’t really know how to get out from the middle.” I have people keep a task diary, so you just write down every day just what you do, and don’t do anything else besides that for kind of two weeks, and then go back through the diaries and anything that shows up more than once is something you shouldn’t be doing.

Andrew: Yeah, totally, totally helpful, and I’ve got a list that’s embarrassingly far too long based on all of that, that I’ve got to start taking care of.

Bill: Well, that’s interesting to me because you’re very good with SOPs and to-do lists and out-sourcing. I mean, I’ve seen you down at Frip. You’ve got this Word document system where you hammer it all out, and you’ve got a number of VAs. I actually think your personality is very good at this. So I’m interested to hear you say that you don’t think you are very good at this.

Andrew: Yeah, well I don’t think I’m terrible at it. There’s a lot of stuff that I get off my desk or off my plate and systematize, but I think there are some, I think as you start to grow and you aspire to get bigger, which I do, I think there are somethings where I feel like things that I have traditionally done, that only I can do, that I can’t outsource, I’m kind of stuck.

Like for example, like right now I’m going through and hammering out the State of the Merchant Survey and crunching all the data and getting ready to write the post, and it’s going to be like a week-long process. It’s just a hairy task, and for me there’s no reason that I can’t hire some smart people to go through, pull out the key insights, give them to me, coordinate with our graphic designer, and have me be able to come in and write the copy for it after a review of it and save myself, you know, let’s say, 15 to 25 hours, things like that.

Bill: I would suggest that you might not even be looking at it on an abstract enough basis, and this was kind of the crux of my talk It was that everybody tends to try to use contractors and outsourcers for everything but kind of a trap there is in order to use an outsourcer for something you have to take a bunch of time out of your day to write the SOP, hire the right contractor, interview them monop work, etc.

But if you have a fulltime or even a parttime in-person employee that comes into your office and twiddles their thumbs, asking you for stuff to do, it’s so much easier to train them on something that I actually have my employees write their own SOPs. So they can watch you do it once over the shoulder, and then they kind of attempt to do it in real time, and they can just bug you if they get lost. And before you know it they’re just doing it.

I’ve found that much more powerful because you don’t need to carve out the time as an executive to write an SOP, hire a new VA or train your existing BA, check their work, you know, wait. You have a day of lag time because of the time zone. I mean, you heard the talk. I’m just really high on in-person American or, it doesn’t have to be American, wherever you’re based, in the same building as you, speaking the same language as you, in the same time zone as you.

This has been transformative for me as far as the speed of iteration, fewer cycles. So I think you should try it. You’ve got a lot of people that need work in Bozeman, I’m sure. You could make them ride around with you in the Westphalia van, just in the back.

Andrew: Okay, that would never do. You get two people in an office, it’s hard enough. You get two people in, you know, a 10 sqft office and we’d probably last about three days before we got into a cage match fight, I’m guessing.

Bill: Can you imagine on their first day of work you just pull up in the Westphalia and you’re like, “Here we are. Welcome to work.”

Andrew: They’d last two hours and then quit. So, I love it though. We’ll have to do a little funny webisode on that.

Our Other Awesome Sponsors

A couple more shout-outs to two more sponsors that made it possible. One was Shoelace, and at Shoelace, if you’re not familiar with them, they plug into your Shopify store and they make the process of retargeting your ads on Facebook or Instagram incredibly easy. It is like hiring a real focused agency, but for a fraction of the cost.

So a lot of the things like varying up your ad creative or building out lots of campaigns to split-test, they do a lot of the heavy lifting on that to either totally automate or streamline that process. David and Florent were the two reps from Shoelace. David’s the co-founder over there, and they came out.

They wanted me to tell everyone at ECF that they had a huge amount of respect for the community and are grateful they got to hang out with us and really enjoyed getting to know everyone at Laguna Beach. So, Shoelace, David Florent, thank you, guys. And if you’re not using them and on Shopify, give them a test drive. You can get two weeks for free at Shoelace.com.

And then finally, Zipify Apps was our fifth sponsor, and Ashley and her team from Zipify came out and they also sponsored drinks on Friday night at the Rooftop Bar, so thank you, Zipify. If you don’t know Zipify, that’s actually Ezra Firestone’s company where their whole mission is to help you get more from your Shopify store, and they do that through an integrated up-sell app for Shopify, plus a custom-landing page builder so you can really convert more of the leads that you drive down.

So, they’ve got exclusive discounts for attendees, and if you’re listening right now, for about a week after this airs. And that includes both the software that I mentioned as well as a bunch of discounts on Ezra’s email marketing, Facebook ads and other training courses, and you can get hooked up with all of those discounts at SmartMarketer.com/eCommerceFuel18. I’ll link up to all of those things in the show notes.

So, sponsors, thank you guys so much for making the event possible. Bill, do you have a final takeaway?

Bill: I had four, so that was all of them.

Final Takeaway: Maybe We Don’t Understand What’s Driving Us

Andrew: Cool. So my last takeaway, this kind of comes from Kevin Stecko’s talk. And Kevin gave a really interesting talk on the mistakes he’s made over almost 20 years in business. And the biggest thing, he had a lot of interesting takeaways, the biggest one I took from his talk, though, was sometimes we don’t really understand what’s driving us.

And he talked a lot at the end about how for a while a big part of him wanting to build a big business was wanting to prove himself. You know, he talked about being in high school and being on the basketball team and not getting a ton of playing time, which is something that I, you know, relate to. I played basketball in high school, good enough to make the team, not good enough to start or play a ton.

And feeling like, you know, he wanted to have that point and business was something he could really cure that. And he wanted to be able to build something big, almost for ego’s sake. He didn’t want to hire people smarter than himself because he wanted to be the guy really in charge of driving the ship.

It took him a while to realize that was even happening, and then when he did he realized it wasn’t that important and started optimizing the business for other things, but that that mindset made him make decisions that really were not in the best interest of the company.

And I think that’s something that I like to think that I’m immune to that, like I like to think that I’m this very independent guy that really isn’t beholden to opinions of other people, but I think that’s easier said than done, even for people who have, you know, a fairly strong independent streak. And I know like, Bill, when we go out to Frip, that meet-up we have, that is one of my favorite times of the whole year, hanging out with you guys and having just masterminding and talking and building friendships.

But sometimes I come back from that and I’m really fired up, but sometimes I also come back from that and I’m like, “What am I doing with my life?” Like all these amazing guys are doing incredible things and I feel like I need to do more. And so I think there’s a good balance between really wanting to grow and improve and make sure you reach your potential, but also make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Bill: You know, I think fear of hiring people smarter than you holds a lot of entrepreneurs back because people who are smarter than you are two things a, smarter than you and b, expensive. Yes? And those are both things that the amateur entrepreneur or amateur CEO to use a different term that I don’t think people view themselves as enough, the amateur CEO will be afraid of hiring people who are smarter than them and people who are expensive.

But those people are expensive for a reason because they’re better than you. And I’ve hired a number of people. I mean, really everyone in my company is better than me at the thing that they do. And so now our company as a whole is first-class in everything we do, whereas when I was doing everything, we were B-level, you know, kind of utility-player level at everything we did.

Andrew: Yeah. Part of that, too, I think that definitely is part of an ego part of that and a little bit of a fear, but part of it also is you, the stakes are higher, right? Like if you get someone smarter than you, they are more expensive than you, and so you have less margin for error. If you allocate a VA to do something for six months and it doesn’t work out, well, maybe you lost, you know, $3,000 or $4,000.

You allocate like somebody who comes from the C-Suite doing something or someone who’s a world-class marketer and they’re costing you $115,000 a year for six months and it’s not the right thing to be working on, there’s $60,000 out the window.

Bill: Yep, that is true. Yeah. But at the same time, you got to take risks to get payoffs. I know everyone understands that. There’s a saying that I love, which is that everything you’ve ever wanted is just outside of your comfort zone, which I have found very personally true.

The Future of ECF Live

Andrew: Yeah. I’d agree with that too. So, those are big takeaways. Bill, next year some of the things that maybe we’re thinking about doing for next year, what improvements to make. Returning to the Surf & Sand, that was one of the big things that everyone, you know, on day two before the conference even ended, everyone was like, “Are we coming back here? Is this going to be the permanent venue?”

And as tempting as it would be, especially for me being kind of closer on the West Coast, I think I would love to make that our permanent West Coast location, but I do think because it is fun to go different places every year and also for the sake of the East Coasters as well to be able to find. If we could find a venue as cool as the Surf & Sand on the East Coast, especially, you know, maybe Florida or along the Gulf, somewhere really warm, that we could bounce back and forth between, I think that would be ideal.

Bill: I think that would. I mean, the Surf & Sand was fantastic. The temptation, especially when you’re there overlooking the ocean on a gorgeous day, is to say, “Why would we ever go anywhere but here?” But another member made a point to me that they really enjoy the fact that the conference bounces around and, you know, is closer to different members different years so you get a little bit of a different roster, but also you get the flavor of different parts of the country.

So I do see it both ways, which is why I’ve been trying to talk you into having it twice a year, one on the East Coast, or maybe one at Surf & Sand and one roving around. But you don’t like to make money, so you won’t do that.

Andrew: Oh man, we keep almost being on the edge of doing two per year, but one thing we were thinking about…and I think, there’s a good chance at some point we will but, man, doing one of these events, it takes up the better part of a six-month chunk of time, especially in terms of headspace, and once we start doing two there’s no going back.

And as much as I would love to, then you commit pretty much year around to planning events, which is not a bad thing but it’s just, I want to make sure we’re ready for it and have the band-width to do it really well. Because I’d much rather do one, you know, one event as well as I could per year than have two that were a little bit subpar. So…

Bill: Yeah. It does seem like it would be easier, though, if you, say, weren’t doing everything yourself. I mean, if you hired some people.

Andrew: If only someone would give like a talk about that and could guide me and give me some kind of pointers.

Bill: Yeah. Although I was very impressed, the closing party at ECF Live this year was on the beach and there was music and overhead lights and a delicious fish taco station, make your own fish tacos. It was just an incredible party, and I said to Andrew, I said to you afterwards. I said, “Andrew, where did you get the food? Those fish tacos were incredible.” And he goes, “I don’t even know. Lauren handled it.” And I was very proud of you.

The Ladies That Look Alike and Plan Alike

Andrew: Well, thanks. You should be proud of Lauren. Speaking of Lauren, Laura Serino is our community manager and Lauren Caselli is an Events Coordinator that came in to help us this year with the event, a true professional, and those two women did just a phenomenal job with this event. So I wish I could take credit for, you know, for everything they did, but they were the reason everything was as top-notch as it was and flowed as fluidly as it did. So, Laura and Lauren, thank you both for the incredible work that you guys did on that event. It was amazing.

One thing that you mentioned, Bill, I thought about and I heard from other people too, was, I think next year we’re going to make this a three-day event. Right now it’s an opening party, two full days, and then everyone goes home. I think next year we’re going to make it three days because especially given how far people come, especially if we’re, until we start doing it two times per year, it just makes more sense to do it three days.

And then plus, for me, the presentations are always, you know, you always get a lot out of them but the networking, connecting with people, just keeping everyone’s spot, that probably is… I think probably what people get the most out of any event, and particularly this event, is just that time to connect with people. And so I think we’re going to do three days the next time we do this, to be able to bake in more time for events, bonding, networking, connecting, all that kind of stuff.

Bill: Couldn’t agree more. And everybody including me felt like we were being forced to leave, you know, halfway through the ballgame after the second day. It was just so much fun. So I could see, you know, two days of keynotes was enough, but I could see maybe a third day of a little bit less structure. I mean, I don’t think you want just people bumming around, but some sort of more lightly programmed third day, but that gives people a reason to stay, and, you know, I don’t know, maybe you stick…

If you don’t lightly program it, people might skip the last day. But I think I would put the closing party at the end of the last day and then people will stay for the whole time.

Andrew: Yeah. Or even, I can’t remember, this might have been your recommendation, even have all the sessions in the morning when you’re fresh and your mind is sharp, have lunch, and then in the afternoon do stuff that’s more casual. We did a surfing, everyone got together. Probably 20 or 25 people that came together and all went out surfing together. And that was, in terms of feedback, people loved that.

I wished I could have gone. I couldn’t for some logistical reasons, but more things like that. So have the afternoons where you’re really getting together with people, maybe small just very small conversations or events like that I think in the afternoons would be cool.

Bill: Yeah, that would be awesome. So you’ve just got morning of academics every day and afternoon of socializing. That would be great.

Just The Right Size

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. Anything else you think… Oh, one thing was the size of the conference. So we’ve gone from I think the first ECF Live I think was about 60, second was about, you know, 75 or 80, third year was about 115, and this year we were right at I think 140ish or 150ish. And keeping the size small I think is going to be increasingly a challenge to do, but I think that’s pretty important going forward.

Bill: Yeah, I mean I thought 150, interestingly I didn’t think 150 felt much bigger than I think you had 110 or something last year?

Andrew: I think it was actually 120ish or 125ish.

Bill: Well, I was going to say I barely noticed the difference at all. So I thought 150 was good. I mean if you let it get, at some point there’s an upper bound, right, where it starts to feel big. I think you could even go on to 175 and, you know, I would just inch it up a little bit each year.

Andrew: One thing that’s nice is the longer you have it, the more you stretch out the size, the more time people have to know each other from previous meetings, so it’s easier to connect right away. You feel like you know more, you don’t have to meet 175 new people. You can meet 40 new people as opposed to trying to do the whole group.

Bill: And if you do three days instead of two, you got more time.

Andrew: Exactly. Yeah. So I hope we find some tweaks to make for next year but Bill, Amen. I appreciate you being one of those original gangsters to come all four years, coming back to keynote again, hosting the closing party in your hotel room and putting your, you know, credit card deposit on the line. Fun is always hanging out, and thanks for coming and making it a great event.

Bill: Glad to do it.

Andrew: That’s going to do it for this week’s episode, but if you enjoyed what you heard, check us out at eCommerceFuel.com where you will find a private vetted community for online store owners. So what makes us different from other online communities or forums is that we heavily vet everyone who joins to make sure that they have a meaningful experience to contribute to the broader conversation.

Everyone who we accept has to be doing at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales on their store, and our average member does seven figures plus in sales via their business. And so if that sounds interesting to you, if you want to get, you know, with a group of experienced store owners online, check us out at eCommerceFuel.com where you can learn more about membership as well as apply.

And I have to again thank our sponsors who helped make this show possible, Klaviyo who makes email segmentation easy and powerful. The cool thing about Klaviyo is they pull in your entire catalog, customer, and sales history to help you build out incredibly powerful automated segments that make you money on autopilot. If you’re not using them, check them out and try them for free at Klaviyo.com.

And finally, Liquid Web. If you’re on WooCommerce, if you’re thinking about getting on WooCommerce, Liquid Web is the absolute best hosting platform for three reasons. One, it’s built from the ground up for WooCommerce and optimized by some of the best industry professionals in the WooCommerce or Word Press space.

They really know the stuff, and it’s highly elastic and scalable, as well as comes with a whole suite of tools and performance tests to optimize your store. You can check them out and learn more about their hosted WooCommerce offering at eCommerceTool.com/Liquid Web.

Thanks so much for listening. We really appreciate you tuning in, and looking forward to talking to you again next Friday.

Do you want to connect with and learn from other proven ecommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at eCommerceFuel.com. Thanks so much for listening, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.


What Was Mentioned

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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