Chris Peters & Rob Ward, Co-founders, Quad Lock
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Trendsetters and Go-Getters:
How Quad Lock founders Chris Peters and Rob Ward and carved out a new audience.
Your smartphone is likely one of the most valuable things you own, both in the monetary and sentimental sense. It’s kind of amazing and a little scary that pretty much all of us own pricey little supercomputers, stuffed into our pockets or tossed haphazardly into our bags.
Chris Peters and Rob Ward recognized exactly that when they started not one, but two successful ecommerce companies selling products to protect and travel with smartphones. This turned out to be a market with huge potential, and today, Quad Lock is one of the best-known device mount and accessory companies around.
When they started out, however, the smartphone wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, and consumers were just figuring out how to integrate the device into their daily lives. That meant users weren’t always sure what they were looking for, so the duo had to carve out a new market.
Today Quad Lock targets a wide variety of users—whether car commuters, cyclists, hang gliders, or kayakers—tapping into valuable pockets of potential customers that didn’t always exist.
Over the past seven years, Peters and Ward have built an impressive case study of a company that not only called attention to a huge market need as it evolved, but also developed a top-notch line of products to resolve it. Here’s how they did it.
From Opena to Quad Lock
Quad Lock wasn’t Peters and Ward’s first rodeo. Before the device-mounting brand came Opena, a smartphone case that doubled as a bottle opener.
Although Peters and Ward had the idea for Quad Lock first, they saw instant opportunity with Opena. They came up with the idea on a quick Sunday night phone call and moved forward with device as their very first Kickstarter project. In 2011, 578 backers pledged over $28,000 to bring the project to life.
In a way, Opena was a guinea pig for Peters and Ward. The team didn’t have to create a market for Opena (like they later did for Quad Lock), so the product was a much easier idea to execute. This was one of the main ways that Opena varied from Quad Lock.
“People had iPhones and they drank beers they couldn’t open,” Ward says. Because of that, Opena entered the market and was welcomed immediately.
Consumers also approached Opena in a different way than they eventually would Quad Lock. “It was a very different purchase,” Peters said. “It was an impulsive buy…a conversation starter.” Because the price was so low, people stumbled across Opena and made a quick purchase. Peters and Ward didn’t have to explain why consumers might need their product. The purpose was very clear.
The team had an entirely different experience with Quad Lock.
The idea was not radically different from their first success—both attempting to improve the experience of owning a smartphone. But Quad Lock, a range of products that would help users mount their phones in several modes of transportation, would prove a bigger challenge to sell.
There was a six-month window between the Opena and Quad Lock campaigns, and by the time Quad Lock came on the scene, Peters and Ward felt they had mastered Kickstarter and ecommerce. But it took some time for the product to stick.
“ was more slow burn,” Peters says. “It didn’t have that initial massive spike in attention, and it didn’t get the media attention that the Opena did.”
But good things take time, as Peters and Ward both learned from their second campaign. Whereas Opena was an impulse buy, Quad Lock solved a real problem — although early on, Peters and Ward had to do some consumer education in order to emphasize that problem and distinguish Quad Lock as the solution.
Accessories for mounting smart devices are more common today than in the early days of iPhones. In the beginning, the team had to carve out a new market and invest in promotion that detailed why consumers needed Quad Lock.
“, ‘This is what you should be doing, this is what you should be using, this a cool way of solving this issue that you have,’” Ward says. “Because if you’re not aware that there’s something out there, you’re not actually seeing the issue. And if no one is searching for the solution, you’ve got to tell them that.”
The team refused to wait around for consumers to come to them, taking a more aggressive approach to outreach than they had before.
One way in which Peters and Ward increased visibility was by using Google Trends to determine product names and consumers’ paths to purchase. They found that although we may speak the same language, we say things differently, meaning we also search for things differently. That’s especially true when customers are still wrapping their heads around an emerging problem and solution.
“Is it a ‘smartphone bike mount’…or ‘a bike mount for iPhone’?” Ward says. “You can’t expect any customer to join the dots anymore, because they’re getting so much information all the time. You’ve got to join all the dots, you’ve got to give them the solution, and you’ve got to make them be able to check out in a single tap, if possible.”
As the duo were adapting to meet their new product’s particular challenges, sadly, the time came for Opena’s chapter to be closed. The tipping point was when a beverage company ripped off the product, and Peters and Ward chose not to collaborate. The company secured manufacturers to mimic their design for cheap, shouldering Opena off the market.
“It was a lesson in making sure you’ve got good IP protection, trademarks, and all that in place to prevent those things from happening,” Peters says.
Still, Peters and Ward said they wouldn’t have done things any differently if given the chance. They didn’t have the funds to invest in IP protection, and if they had, they wouldn’t have had the money to take Opena to market.
“We would have had to protect an idea with no product, rather than having a product with no IP,” Peters says.
The Importance of Branding
The biggest lesson Peters and Ward learned from the fall of Opena was to invest heavily in branding, which can be even more powerful than any intellectual property. “If you can, you just want to make people want your brand,” Ward says.
While branding might have saved Opena, Ward and Peters have found it to be even more crucial with Quad Lock.
“With something like Quad Lock, you’re putting a fairly expensive device in a potentially high-risk situation, so you want to make sure you’re buying a quality, trusted product,” Peters says.
This is where the Quad Lock branding has contributed so much to the product’s success, so much so that Apple itself is a reseller.
When it comes to branding a new product, Peters and Ward have a couple pointers. First and foremost, they encourage companies to truly understand every single user of the product. With the Quad Lock bike mount as an example, one user might be a road cyclist, so you need to know their age, who they are, and what they like. Same goes for the mountain biker, and the commuter, etc.—all different markets you can tailor content to.
One single product might tell different stories as it applies to different users. That’s where positioning comes into play. Quad Lock might sell their bike mount to a commuter in a completely different way than they’d market to a casual Sunday afternoon cruiser.
But the Quad Lock brand remains the same across the board, which gets to their second branding pointer: consistency.
“You say ‘Quad Lock’ to someone who knows us and that means secure mounting—the best on the market,” Ward says. “They have all these kind of assumptions about the product because it’s been told consistently over time in a way that they understand.”
For Quad Lock, great branding is providing an understanding of your company and product as it applies to its users and doing that consistently over time. “You don’t build a brand overnight,” Peters says.
Lastly, Peters and Ward are adamant about producing quality products. If they don’t think their product is the best on the market—one they are personally happy to use—they step up and improve.
Great products also encourage a great reputation, reviews, and feedback from customers. This is important to Quad Lock because they sell thousands of products by word of mouth alone. “The amount of people that buy just because their mate started using it and said, ‘This thing is the best. You’ve got to get one.’ You can’t beat that,” Peters says.
Quality doesn’t only apply to the product itself, though. It’s also in the overall experience of ordering, receiving, and using the product. Anything from shipping notifications to promotional videos can contribute to a memorable user experience. And memorable experiences lead to reviews, word of mouth, repeat purchases, and brand loyalty.
“When the new iPhone or Samsung comes out, we’ll get people sending us photos of their phone in a box saying, ‘I can’t open it until my new Quad Lock gets here because I can’t live without it,’” Ward says. Excellent branding helps products integrate themselves into consumers’ lives.
Selling high-quality products with consistent, excellent user experiences can be hard to maintain over time. Meeting customer expectations can be even harder. But memorable branding that makes for loyal customers isn’t supposed to be easy. “If you drop the quality or start skimping when expecting this level of quality, that’s when you’re going to start losing your reputation for the brand,” Ward says.
Taking the Road Less Traveled
Peters and Ward haven’t followed many trends in their time as entrepreneurs. Instead, they’ve set them. From Kickstarter to Facebook ads and more, the duo has a knack for spotting trends before they happen.
Opena was the pair’s first Kickstarter, soon followed by Quad Lock. Crowdfunding was still brand new, and Peters and Ward were able to use Kickstarter for its intended purpose—raising money to validate a market gap and to pay for a product that would ship in perhaps two to three months.
Today, the platform is very different. “ has changed a lot since when we first used it. It’s a very competitive space now,” Peters says.
Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms are now used more like marketing platforms. Brands often have already-made products to ship immediately. If you succeed too quickly, you won’t be ready to handle growth. Ideas get ripped off all the time because brands aren’t prepared to scale.
The platform still works to validate ideas, but brands can’t simply start campaigns and expect immediate traffic and sales. There’s a lot of noise to break through to become really popular, meaning brands need to bring their own audiences.
As for Facebook advertising, the pair stumbled upon it by simply asking “What if?”
“I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if people click on these little things,’ because it was so basic. It was like a tiny little thumbnail. I wondered if people click on that and would buy something from an ecommerce website,” Ward says.
At the time, he remembers it felt silly to be curious about that, but he took the chance and tried it anyway. They eventually learned more about advertising and targeting on the platform, an opportunity they stumbled upon simply because they were curious.
“When you’re curious, and you’re looking for things that have changed, you’re going to trip over opportunity,” Ward says. “It’s just the curiosity, I think, and looking and playing and, you know, looking under the hood. But coming at it with no preconception.”
For Peters and Ward, that open-minded attitude very often underlies success. In fact, it’s what helped them develop Quad Lock in the first place.
When the first iPhone was released, it wasn’t shipping to Australia yet. Peters had it imported just to brainstorm product ideas. Had he not taken the chance and experimented with the newest smartphone, Quad Lock wouldn’t exist.
Over time, Peters and Ward have talked to a lot of entrepreneurs who are hesitant to make mistakes along the way. They want everything right from the start. “But that’s a crazy idea,” Ward says. “Something done is better than not doing it at all, because then you get a chance to do it better again.”
They encourage entrepreneurs to not prioritize perfection, especially the first time around. To them, it’s better to ship product at 70 percent and learn how to make it better rather wait until everything is at 100 percent, which ultimately means not shipping at all.
“If you get everything working okay, you get a chance to make one of them better. You get it working better, you get a bit more of a chance to make another part of it better,” Ward says.
To learn more about Quad Lock, visit http://quadlockcase.com. You can also find Rob Ward and Chris Peters on Twitter at @robyward and @cplicious.
- What you need to build a physical-products brand with a strong reputation
- Why Kickstarter is a good way to introduce your brand to the market, as long as you do it right
- How to get started and maintain manufacturing out of China
- Quad Lock’s biggest challenges around scaling, and how they have overcome them
- Quad Lock’s philosophy on hiring A-players
Full Transcript of Podcast with Chris Peters & Rob Ward
Nathan: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to be here, guys, it’s great to catch up.And you guys are only just down the road, so it’s awesome. So kind of the first question I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Chris: It’s a job, is it? I think we did this to get away from jobs.
Rob: Yeah, I think we stumbled into this by doing multiple things that then ended up here. Because at the start it wasn’t this. It was, you know…it was like from SEO Web-designy stuff to seeing, like, a gap in the market for a product, which was a big, sort of more heavy…
Not heavy machine, but a bigger product that we could source, take to market, do that, 3D printers, that kind of thing. See a gap, do something there. And just learn and find out parts of business that we didn’t like, I think.
Chris: Definitely, yeah.
Rob: And then we sort of narrowed it in from there to be, “Actually, something we would like to do would look a bit like this.” And then it was probably also, I’ve said this before, but is seeing, you know, what’s possible. Because it’s like the dream of what you want to do, but then there’s what is achievable at that time with the resources you’ve got, with the tools that are out there.
And there’s a lot of good, free, you know, tools. And at the time we started this I think a lot of the barriers to entry were falling down. Like crowdfunding. Shopify with, you know, e-comm.
Rob: Payment gateways.
Chris: 3PLs. Shipping.
Rob: 3PLs is a massive one.
Chris: Manufacturing in China. It’s more accessible, manufacturing.
Yeah. Like I look back at the three years before we did that and a lot of stuff I tried, got to a point and went, “No, it’s not right. Don’t enjoy that aspect of it.” Put it to the side, tried something else. And you spend a lot of time going through ideas that you think might be right, but when you get into them you’re like, “Actually, there’s no way I’m going to do this full-time, it’s going to drive me nuts.” So you cross that one of, and then you, “All right, what’s the one beyond that that means I don’t have to do that aspect of it?”
So a lot of learning and doing more so than, you know, just reading about it.
Rob: I think the other thing is being from Melbourne and Australia, not the biggest country in the world. Having the ability to be, like, that global from day one kind of thing. We sort of almost had that mentality. Because just the numbers work out that, doing what we do, you had to have had that. And it’s not that many years before you wouldn’t have been able to do it, not without a lot more cash than we had.
Chris: Yeah. And a lot harder.
Rob: A lot harder.
Chirs: Like you could have done it, but it would be 10 times harder. Probably would have given up.
Rob: I mean it’s even…I’d say it’s 10 times easier now than when we started. You know, look at so many things we had to hack together and now you can just…you can do it literally within a couple of hours online.
Nathan: Yeah. So you guys are bootstrapped.
Nathan: When did you guys start? And you guys started with a Kickstarter, right?
Rob: Yeah. Yeah, this part of our business, yeah.
Nathan: Yeah. Yeah, so you started the Quad Lock with a Kickstarter. And how long ago was that? 2000…
Chris: End of 2011.
Nathan: End of 2011. You were one of the first… Were you one of the first Australian Kickstarters?
Rob: Yeah, but not for Quad Lock. Opener, the one we did before, was one of the first. There was a play that had been on.
Chris: We were the first…we were one of the first products.
Rob: I think we were.
Chris: Yeah, but we were also one of the top five funded products in Australia for like a few years, I think.
Rob: Yeah, on Kickstarter.
Chris: And it wasn’t that big. Like, you know, that was mid-2011.
Rob: This is back when $20,000, $30,000 was a good project. Now it’s a bit different.
Chris: And we literally used Kickstarter for what it was worth, it was funding a product to validate that there was a market for it and raise the money to go ahead and make it. Whereas now you see people, you know, going multimillion-dollar projects, but that’s more of a marketing campaign. They’ve actually already manufactured it, got it ready to go. So as soon as that campaign is finished, they start shipping. Whereas we were the ones that if you get the money, then you order the toy and you wait three months down the track.
And you took the people through that journey of manufacturing it with all the ups and downs and getting the product out. Whereas these days if you do that, people just start screaming, saying, “Why haven’t you shipped? Because I’m sick of waiting for months and months for you guys to send this product out.”
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, got you.
Rob: If you watch our first Kickstarter video… It’s not very good, so probably don’t bother.
Nathan: We might put it up on the screen.
Rob: I think we spend like half the time explaining what crowdfunding is.
Chris: Yeah, yeah.
Rob:You know, it was like, “We’re doing this project and it’s going to look like this and we’re making this thing that’s called…And we’re going to crowdfund it. And this is what it is.”
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Rob: Like, you know, no one really knew what that was, especially at the time. After we did that project, the Opener, and even after Quad Lock came out, then Kickstarter built their back end and you could see the stats. And it was like 99% of the people who backed Opener were all new.
Rob: First time they’d ever been on Kickstarter.
Chris: And a big Aussie contingency, as well, which had to back it in USD
Rob: And at that time you had to do it through an Amazon Payments account. You couldn’t do it through PayPal or credit card or any of this stuff, yeah. It was a nightmare.
Nathan: Yeah. No, that’s crazy. So talk to me about, like, Opener, and then you guys have moved on to Quad Lock. Kind of the commonality is working with basically iPhones and using the iPhone case as a way for people to solve another problem they might have in their life. Opener was with opening your bottle.
Nathan: Yeah. Your bottle or, you know, beers. And then Quad Lock is, like, mounting a device to your bike. Because we all know that if you want to get around, how do you get around without it? Like it is such a smart, useful product. Like I ride a bike and I don’t know where to go if I’m lost. And I can’t get it if you don’t use a Quad Lock because you need it mounted in, right?
Chris: Well, that’s literally, you know, where the idea sprang from, or sprung from. You know, was iPhones launched back in 2007. Google Maps, a really good way to get around, but you need some way to secure it to, attach this to… It’s not just bikes now, we do it for motorbikes, for cars, for, you know, people running, jogging. So it’s really the smartphone, you know, I see, has become such a key, integral part of everyone’s life.
You know, it’s almost negative to a point where you see people just face-down looking at a phone walking down the street. But you rely on this thing so much to do so many things. And there’s applications where you need to use it that you can’t use your hands to hold it, so you have to have somewhere securely mounting it to whatever you’re doing, whatever activity that be. And that’s where we fit in, is providing that really secure, stable mount to securely hold your phone doing whatever activity you choose to be doing.
We’ve got our core markets that we’re pushing into, but we’ve got people using it on hang gliders, kayaks.
Chris: All kinds of stuff. Like you name it, someone has done it and they’ve used our product to mount their phone to it.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s crazy. So tell me, before we move to Quad Lock, which is kind of your biggest focus, right? What happened with Opener, why did you pivot, how did you decide to move and focus on Quad Lock?
Rob: We saw Opener as a bit of, I don’t know, like a guinea pig. A bit of an experiment.
Nathan: So there was an idea for Quad Lock before Opener?
Rob: There was, actually, yeah. Yeah. But it seemed bigger and harder to get off the ground at that time. And Opener was literally there’s all these tools, there’s all these cool things we could use, there’s an opportunity there. What would the product look like that would fulfill an opportunity? And then we sort of come up with the Opener. It was literally a phone call like on a Sunday night.
Chris: “How about this?”
Rob: Yeah, “How about… This would be cool.” “Yeah, that would be cool.” But I think the two commonalities, like, getting back to your original question, is that we’re solving a problem, but we’re piggybacking off something that’s much bigger than we are and much larger. So there’s a pull for this from a market that’s already made, it’s already there.
We’re not making the market, so to speak. And I think with the Opener we definitely didn’t have to make the market, people had iPhones and they drank beers and they couldn’t open. We did actually have to make the market a bit with Quad Lock, probably more than we expected.
Chris: Yes. There a very different purchase, as well.
Rob: Yeah, very different.
Chris: Because, like, the Opener was a very…
Rob: Was fatty.
Chris: It’s an impulsive buy.
Chris: People saw the ad and it was a price point where, you know, it was just impulse.
Rob: They loved it or they hated it. Some people hated it.
Chris: “I’ll buy that for the weekend because I’m going to a mate’s barbie. And if I can whip out my iPhone and crack open a beer, it’s going to be great fun and, you know, a conversation starter,” things like that. But that was where it started and kind of finished, it was very impulsive. You’d show your friends, people might buy that. With Quad Lock they’re actually out there searching for a solution. They’ve got a problem, they want to mount their phone or whatever they want to do, so they’re out looking for a solution.
So that’s something they actively go and look for, whereas Opener was something they’d stumble across or they’d be told about. So very different purchasing decision.
Rob: Well, we put it in front of them mainly.
Chris: Yeah. But, you know, they are still…people are still trying to solve a problem in that case. You don’t have a problem of needing to open a beer with your phone all the time.
Rob: I think it’s even a lot of the time it’s if they’re not searching for the problem, they realize the problems exist, they may not realize there’s a solution. But when you show them the solution, they’re like, “Actually, I have that problem.” And then they grab it.
Nathan: So did you guys identify this problem, that there was a market, in Google Search trends?
Rob: We do use trends a lot for different, more specific. Because now we do so many different things. So when we’re looking at, you know… Like one of my favorite trends if for is like what should I call something. Is it a, you know, smartphone bike mount? Is it, you know, a bike mount for iPhone?
Is it, you know… And it turns out it’s the iPhone bike mount. You now, and how people refer to things. Because, you know, we can all…like, I could…you know, we all speak the same language, but we say things differently. If we say it in a different order than you’re expecting to hear it, sometimes it will just go over your head.
And with today we’re going through stuff so fast. If you don’t… You can’t expect any customer to join the dots anymore. Because they’re getting so much information all the time. You’ve got to join all the dots, you’ve got to give them the solution, and you’ve got to make them be able to check out in a single tap, if possible. Like you got to do everything you can to make it super easy.
So that’s where we like, like, trends and things like that. I think more so than, yeah, it’s good as a bit of a validation of an idea sometimes. But we’ve tended to go into markets a lot of the time where if we wanted to only sell to the people looking for it, the markets wouldn’t have probably been big enough at the time because it’s too early.
So we spent a lot of time, energy, and money building a market, especially for Quad Lock. You know, it was, you know, “This is what you should be doing, this is what you should be using, this a cool way of, you know, solving this issue that you have.” Because sometimes, you know, if you’re not aware that there’s something out there, you’re not actually seeing the issue.
So I think it’s one of those things where you’ve got a solution. And if, you know, no one is searching for the solution, you’ve got to tell them that, “Hey, there’s this thing that’s the way you should be doing it.” But if you sat there just waiting to be found, not enough people would find you to make it a scalable, viable business.
Nathan: So I guess one thing that I’m…a crossroad that a lot of people go by, you guys obviously went by, was you had Opener, but you still had the idea for Quad Lock. How did you determine to position and move your focus towards Quad Lock and how did you know to give it up, right? You know, like, and to move on. Like, because that’s a really difficult thing, how do you know.
Rob: It wasn’t really a… We had a lot of things overlapping. Yeah. Like lots of things.
Chris: So like we never intended to stop doing the Opener, the Quad Lock was just something that… You know, there was about six months between the two projects. It was like, “Cool, we’ve learned how to get things up on Kickstarter, we’ve sorted out the e-commerce side of things.”
Rob: The filming.
Chris: The filming, everything else. Now let’s roll this one in and roll it out.” And that one, with Quad Lock, it was more the slow burn, it didn’t have that initial massive spike in attention and it didn’t get the media attention that the Opener did. It didn’t have that kind of resonating thing.
Rob: X factor.
Chris: Like at the time…
Rob: It wasn’t quirky.
Chris: Yeah. iPhones were still new, crowdfunding was still new. Put a bottle opener on an iPhone case by Aussies, it was pretty cliché so it got a lot of media attention. Whereas Quad Lock was a slow growth up in, you know, building that market for us. Like, you know, people weren’t actively looking for it at that point in time. But I guess the real tipping point for the Opener was really just being ripped off.
Nathan: Oh, really?
Chris: So we were dealing with a, I won’t name names, but a beverage marketing company that wanted to use our product to market a certain beer. And they kept pushing and pushing. And obviously we were naive at the time and we weren’t pricing it at the correct point to make it suitable for them.
And in the end they just went off and found a manufacturer that could do it dirt cheap. And that manufacturer obviously did do it dirt cheap and didn’t make much money out of it, but had the tool. So took all the branding off and just started flooding the market, piggybacking off our marketing. So that was kind of a deep lesson in making sure you’ve got good IP protection, trademarks, all those in place to prevent those things happening.
Rob: The other part to it is just invest in the brand. Because you got your trademark, you got your IP. And we’re used to them and we’ve done a lot with them.
Rob: But, if you can, you just want to make people want your brand. So, you know, there’s this product here, this product here. And someone wants to put something on their bike or in their car or on their motorcycle. And they see all the cool kids are using this.
Rob: And they read our blog and they see that you’re putting out quality content, they watch your videos and they look at the product and they see it’s considered, and then they go, “Actually, no, this is where you want to go and get this kind of product.” And they’re the people that come back and continue to buy from you year in, year out.
Chris: And that’s where there’s differences in the two products, as well. Like the Opener being an impulsive product, you didn’t really care so much for the brand. If it broke, it didn’t matter because, you know, maybe you can’t open beers, but it’s no drama. With something like Quad Lock you’re putting a fairly expensive phone in a potentially high-risk situation, so you want to make sure you’re buying a quality, trusted product.
And that’s where the brand has really, you know, been so crucial to helping Quad Lock achieve the success it’s got. That wouldn’t have really applied so much with the Opener because of the different styles of products.
Rob: I think with the Opener people were more bought into, like, us as the brand. Like two guys just having a crack at something, that was the brand.
Rob: Where Quad Lock now is just a stand-alone thing.
Chris: I don’t think there’s even that much of a brand behind it. Maybe that’s why it sold so well as a cheap product.
Rob: No, no, true. I mean the better the following we did have was because of that is what I mean. Yeah, yeah. Where I think, you know, now, yeah, Quad Lock is just… You know, if you…it pops up on Reddit, like, “Oh, I’ve got a Ducati,” this, that, like, “What’s the coolest way?” Like, “Quad Lock,” “Quad Lock,” “Quad Lock,””Quad Lock,” “Quad Lock,” “Quad Lock.” You know.
Chris: But just on that, too. Like, yeah, we didn’t have the patents or trademarks… We had trademarks for Opener. But if we had our time again, I don’t think we would have done anything differently. Because we didn’t have, like, money to go spend on all this IP protection as the first product we ever did. And if we invested all that money in IP and trademarks and everything to protect it, we wouldn’t have had the money to actually take it to market.
So we would have had to protect an idea with no product, rather than having a product with no IP.
Rob: A lot of crazy inventors walking around with the best idea in their brain and they’re never going to tell anyone. And no one will ever know about it. No one will ever see it. At least they won’t get ripped off though.
Chris: Well, eventually someone will come up with the same idea and they’ll be kicking themselves.
Rob: Yeah. It’s the serendipity of the world.
Rob: People have same ideas, similar ideas, at the same time just because everyone has got similar influences these days.
Nathan: Yeah, that makes sense. So let’s go back to the branding piece around Quad Lock. Because I agree, you guys have done an exceptional job with the brand. And you guys are the market leaders in your space, you’ve invented this category. You know, Apple even stock you guys, which I think is like a testament to itself. Like Apple would only be a reseller for a really high-tech product. So, you know, what kind of advice, besides, obviously, you know, you guys have a really, really high-quality product.
What kind of stuff would you…advice would you give to people that are starting to launch their physical-product-based business and want to build, like, a brand that has really strong reputation in the marketplace, besides the quality of the product? Like what else have you guys done?
Rob: I think, like, right at the base of it is just understanding the user, understanding the customer really well. And I think… You know, we learned this as we went. I think early on we just, you know, “Oh, we’re just showing this widget doing this thing.” But you’ve got to be so considered about everything around that widget and what’s happening and you’ve got to make content almost for, like, one person.
So, you know, if we’re doing… A good example is our bike mount. We know, like, there’s a few different markets that it fits into. You know, one is a road cyclist, and you know their age and you know who they are and what they like. And then you’ve got a mountain biker, and then you’ve got a commuter. And we’ve got these different markets that we can tailor content to.
So that when you watch one of our videos, let’s say you watch one of our lead gen kind of things, we may just be having a very short lead gen and it’s just focused at you, the, you know…
Nathan: The commuter.
Rob: The commuter, yeah. And you’ll go, “Actually, that’s me, that’s what I do.I get my coffee and I click it on, and then I ride to work.Like that’s who I am.” But then if the road cyclist says that, it’s not going to…it’s the same widget. It’s not going to convert. Even though it’s serving the same problem, it’s the same thing. But then when he sees, you know, a dude all in Lycra getting on a really nice bike, click it on, and jet off, he’s like, “Actually, yeah, that’s me on a Sunday, that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to go get the same product as the commuter.”
But it’s positioned differently. And so when you start understanding what the customer…who they are and what they like and what they do and what they’re into, and then you take the widget itself and everything around that widget and you tailor everything around it to them, straight away in their… You know, because there’s a lot of…in what we do, accessories, especially, there’s a lot of junk out there, and then there’s a lot of stuff that’s okay-ish, but it’s not taken…
You know, they’ll show the same ad to everyone. Or they’ll have, you now, when you land on their website, it’s one of a million products and you’ve got to find it to put it together yourself. It’s not…and it’s not that…you know, you say “Quad Lock” to someone who knows us and that means, you know, secure mounting, the best on the market. They have all these kind of assumptions about the product because it’s been, you know, told consistently over time in a way that they understand and that they accept and that they want to see.
And then they want to see more of it and they want to know what else is available and they want to learn more about it. And so I think it’s that understanding, and then the consistency behind it. And it’s…you know, it’s not something we were awesome at, but I’ve definitely seen as we’ve got better at it the results get much better. And consistency and time in the market, I think it is hard to go, “Now I’ve got a strong brand.”
Chris: You don’t.
Rob: You can’t. You can’t.
Chris: You don’t build a brand overnight.
Rob: You can’t.
Chris: I think Seth Godin told us that the other day in his little e-mail things he sends out. And it’s like, he goes, “Your brand isn’t your name and your logo, it’s what you’ve represented over time.” And if you don’t have that consistency… Like you were saying before, quality is one thing. I think there’s two core things to it, and the one is to have the best product on the market with the highest quality.
And we all use our own products. And, you know, we look at a competitor’s products like everyone else would do, too. But if we don’t think that our product is better than the competitor’s products, we need to improve ours. So I think that’s one key. If you’re not hitting high quality and you don’t think you’ve got the best product that you personally are happy using and saying, “This is the best stuff out there,” then you need to step up. And then it’s doing that consistently over time.
Because, you know, like Rob was saying, you don’t build your brand up overnight. But if you are consistently putting out good products, you’ll build the reputation, you’ll get the reviews, you’ll get the feedback. And it’s word of mouth. Like there’s so many products we sell from word of mouth. You know, we’ve got people that come in and say, “Look, I’ve researched your product and I’ve seen thousands of positive reviews online, I’ve spoke to my mates who use it”
Rob: Tens of thousands of reviews, yeah.
Chris: The amount of people that buy just because their mate started using it and they said, “This thing is the best, you’ve got to get one.” You can’t beat that.
Rob: I think the other thing is, along with the quality of the product, is the experience, the overall experience. Like buy it, have it arrive, put it on the bike, use it, and then… Because, you know, we all buy something, we’re pumped about it, and then it comes and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, it’s all right,” or whatever. But, you know, when someone…like, you know, we know that if we ask for a review two weeks after someone buys it, we’re much more likely to get the review.
But then, you know, we get really solid reviews like, you know, every single day, they just flood in every day. People generally do feel really good about it after they’ve had the product. And it becomes part of what they do, part of their life. And then when the new iPhone comes out, they just…they’re going to buy it. And they’re so sort of, you know, brand-loyal to Quad Lock now.
When the new Quad Lock… “When the new Quad Lock.” When the new iPhone comes out, or Samsung or whatever, we’ll get people sending us photos of their phone in a box saying, “I can’t open it until my new Quad Lock gets here because I can’t live without it.”
Nathan: Wow. That’s crazy.
Rob: Yeah. It is really cool. And it’s that consistency that CP is talking about.
Chris: And that goes…like if they’ve had the product before, they’re expecting that same level of consistency on the next case they buy.
Rob: Or maybe a bit better.
Chris: Yeah. And we’ve managed to step it up each time we do a product. And if you get to the point where… You know, you can probably reach a plateau where you can’t make it any better. But if you drop down in the quality or you start skimping on things when they’re expecting this level of quality, that’s when you’re going to start losing your reputation for the brand. You do set a pretty high bar that you have to maintain.
Rob: And I think that goes throughout, once again, the whole experience. Like, you know, just things, you know, like shipping notifications. Like these are small things, but it’s the whole experience. It’s that they’ve already got a Quad Lock, but then they see the next video come out and they watch it and like, “Oh, that’s even better again.” Like, “Yeah, I’m into this, like, this brand and what they do and what they put out.”
They go to the website and, you know, “Oh,” it’s the next level up again. And it’s just, you know, because we have lots of people chasing us and copying us.
Nathan: Yeah, I can imagine so.
Rob: In this market, right? But it’s what do we do to always… You know, they’re aiming for where we are now.
Rob: So we’ve got to be working on being here. So then when they do get where we are now, we’re already ahead.
Chris: Yeah, they’re replicating and we’re innovating. So we’re looking at what’s possible and they’re looking like, “We’ve got to catch up to this.”
Nathan: Yeah, I see. So I think there is a lot to be said about what you were saying, Rob, around just really knowing your customer avatars and the people buying the product and tailoring your marketing to them. We’ve had a lot of success by really reverse engineering that. We’ve found that getting that super dialed in…
Rob: Hard to do when you’re brand new.
Nathan: Yeah, hard to do when you’re brand new.
Rob: Very hard. We did it… You make assumptions, then you prove yourself wrong after you’ve made the assumption and you’ve sold some units and you’ve got some customers, and then you work it out. And then you go back and make it better. I mean, you know, we’re all going to be wrong. The quicker we find out how wrong we are, the quicker we can get more right, but we’ll never be right.
Chris: 100% right, yeah.
Nathan: So coming back, like let’s say somebody has an idea for a physical product. What do they do? Kickstarter, you guys recommend Kickstarter, you know, the first way to validate it? How come you guys haven’t done another Kickstarter in a while? Like you guys know that whole game. Some might say you’d be crazy not to, right? Because you know that whole game and it’s super powerful to validate any of these innovative ideas that you have.
Chris: We’ve got a pretty big market ourself that, you know, you can kind of use to validate your own products, so we don’t need to go fresh to a blank market. But Kickstarter is definitely hugely valuable. I think that’s the first step in any new product idea, is to validate it. Don’t go throwing huge amounts of money at an idea until you actually know there’s a market for it.
And that’s the first mistake I think a lot of people make. And we’re probably guilty of a bit of that now, of going too deep on some things before we validate it because we’ve got the ability to do so.
Nathan: Yeah, you got the workshop out the back.
Chris: Yeah. As long as you’ve got the finances and you got the resources to experiment and play with things. Sometimes you do have to kind of slap yourself and go, “Hang on a minute. You know, we may not be right here, let’s actually start testing the waters and talking to our customers and finding out if that’s something they would really want.
Rob: We weren’t… Because of the scale though of the business you learn things that we wouldn’t be able to learn, like, fast. Which is something like when we went into Moto you’d say, “Oh, do you think people want to use your product on their motorcycle?,” or whatever.
Chris: It’s not too far from what we’ve got.
Rob: It’s not too far from what we’re doing. And we even did things like, “Okay, so, yeah, people want to do it, but does the way we sell it convert to motorcycle people?” Like, that’s an assumption. But then we can do things really quickly like, “Okay, we’ve got a bike mount and we know people are using it on a motorcycle. Well, that triggers our interest.” But then we go, “What if we tried to sell our bicycle product to some motorcycle people the way we sell it now?”
Make a product page, run some ads, put people to it, and go, “Oh, Jeez, this is really interesting.” Not the perfect product yet for them, but you go straight away. It’s better than a Kickstarter. You go, “Under real market conditions people want to buy this through the system we already have, we just need to get that widget right, we need to get that product right.”
And then we go get the product right, and then you could Kickstarter that at that stage, right, once you’ve got it all done. But I sort of think at a certain point, it depends on where you are in the journey, but we could kick-start it or we could just launch the thing. And, you know, no one knows your sales, no one knows what’s going on.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s true.
Rob: But, you know, it would be a pretty massive kick. Like you don’t…to do a half a million dollars’ worth of sales a million dollars’ worth of sales you don’t have to do it. You can just launch it like a normal product and start selling it through your normal channels. Because I think if we were to kick-start a product like that, you’re thinking Kickstarter, you’re thinking…
Rob:…going to blogs, you’re thinking launch, you’re thinking rewards, you’re thinking updates, you’re thinking all this stuff.
Rob: Yeah, press.
Chris: A lot of extra work, yeah.
Rob: And how many times do you see Kickstarters go, and they get into the real world where they have to start going, “Okay, today I have to wake up and go and find another 300 customers,” or something, or 1,000 customers, or whatever they need to keep going. They don’t find them like they used to. Because they know how to run Kickstarters. Where as soon as you get to market, under market conditions, you start learning, “Hang on, this is how we launch this product, this is how we convert these people.”
And I know, like, when we did Moto, I think we changed the video like a bunch of times until it started working. All we would have done is pushed back a couple of months on that. And then we get to what’s really interesting. Whereas we have, you know, this sort of system running and it’s producing big results every day in a scalable way which we can just keep running.
And, if anything, we can add into that. Where, you know, it’s not that big spike with a Kickstarter and a big stop. You know, so I think that’s where now that’s…I find that part of it really interesting. And I also find it really interesting that it’s talked about less a lot of the time. Because it’s public, “Oh, you see, you know, half a million dollars come in in 30 days,” and this, that, and the other thing.
But all that’s possible just without a Kickstarter, you can do it all just the same.
Chris: It’s changed a lot since when we first used it, like it’s a very competitive space now with Kickstarter.
Nathan: For sure.
Chris: Like we chat to a lot of people that are putting Kickstarter projects together and help them out with a bit of advice.
Nathan: Yeah. Me and you sat down when we did ours. Yeah. Yeah, you were kind enough to sit down with us.
Chris: You talk to them about, you know, the time of when they’ve put up their first draft. They, you know, look in the search results and by the time they’ve gone through, checked a few things, and refreshed, like 1,500 other projects have gone up in the last five minutes.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Chris: It’s insane the volume. So there’s a lot of noise on there you’ve got to break through to really become popular. And you’ve got to put so much more effort in it, and even money now, to the marketing side of it to get that traffic.
Nathan: Yeah, you got to do a polished video, you got to do it really right.
Chris: And when you are getting successful, these other marketing companies will come out of the woodwork saying, “We’ll take X amount of your campaign if we can help you promote it.”
Chris: So it is a very…you know, more marketing-focused engine now, more so than just validation.
And I think that there’s also downsides to becoming super popular if it’s your first product, as well. Like I’ve seen a lot of products that have gone exceptionally well and the guys just weren’t ready to take it to market as quickly as they should have. And before they can get it to market someone else has come along with a competitive product or a dead rip-off and just taken the carpet, the rug, out from under their feet because they just weren’t prepared for it.
Nathan: Yeah, like Fidget Cube.
Nathan: Fidget Cube.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, they got smashed.
Rob: Oh, there’s tons of them, there’s a long list. Yeah, yeah.
Chris: So, yeah, you got to be…you got to make sure it’s the right platform and the right time for you.
Nathan: So you guys would still say though if you were just getting started maybe Kickstarter is a good potential opportunity?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Definitely, yeah. For market valuation it still does what it needs to do, but just make sure you’re prepared for it.
Chris: Yeah. And you can’t just… I think a lot of people just think you can put an idea on Kickstarter and it becomes successful. There’s a whole lot more work behind the scenes to get the traffic.
Rob: Yeah. Expect to have to bring your own audience. That’s what we tell everyone all day long.
Nathan: Even if you can have a launch party with some friends, that all helps.
Rob: Everything helps.
Chris: Definitely. Build the audience as big as you can before you launch.
Nathan: Interesting. So talk to me around manufacturing. You guys manufacture out of China. Like how would you recommend someone get started? Do they go to China? Do they just go on Alibaba, do a small MOQ? Like what’s your thoughts, takes on all that side of things?
Chris: Okay, the initial…the first part is probably Alibaba is a good place to start looking. If you know what you’re manufacturing, there’s going to be similar products out there already. Alibaba is a good place to find manufacturers that already make those types of products, that’s your best starting point. Find as many, contact as many as you can and just find out, you know, what they do, what they can produce, get some idea of costings.
But before you even get to that level you’ve obviously, you know, done your groundwork on your design, and so you’ve got a finished product ready to go. And then once you’ve narrowed down, you know, 5, 10 manufacturers, if you’ve never been to China, it’s definitely worth going over there and sussing them out. Because I know Alibaba is not just manufacturers, there’s people posing as manufacturers.
So they may be…
Nathan: Or sourcing agents.
Chris: Sourcing agents or marketing agents.
Chris: There’s lots of opportunities to guys out there that know how to market, but are not necessarily manufacturers. And there’s a lot of manufacturers that don’t know how to market. So you get that guy in between who sees the opportunity and he says, “Hey, so you’re making toothbrushes?” This guy says, “Yeah, we’re the biggest toothbrush manufacturing company in Shenzhen.” He’ll take your part, get a quote from a few suppliers and put his margin on it and go back and say, “Yeah, we can make them for you.”
Chris: But you don’t know how many people are in that chain. So by going there and meeting with the suppliers you’ve met on Alibaba, checking out the factories…
Rob: Or if you use a sourcing agent, knowing they’re a sourcing agent.
Chris: Totally, yeah. If they’re being honest about it. Which there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Sourcing agents are great, we use one. You know, they can definitely help with the communication. And especially, you know, like us, we’re dealing with so many factories. Having that central point…
Nathan: Yeah, you guys have serious volume.
Chris: And as times change we’ve moved through different manufacturers, as well.
Nathan: Yeah? Okay.
Chris: Yeah, you think it would get easier, but it seems to just keep getting harder.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. So you guys use multiple different factories?
Rob: Oh yeah, yeah.
Chris: I think there’s probably…I was going through the list the other day, and I haven’t even finished yet, there’s like at least 15, 20 for different things we use, yeah.
Nathan: Wow. And how do you maintain quality control?
Chris: Yeah, it’s tough. Yeah. You got to have good processes in place, multiple checkpoints where it’s QCing. And just the first part of it is vetoing your factories in the first place to make sure you’re dealing factories that make quality parts. So the simplest way to do that is, if you’re finding a factory that makes similar products to what you want to produce, is look at the brand name companies they make parts for.
But that also has a seesaw effect. If, you know, you’re dealing with companies or factories that make big brands, they’re going to want decent quantities. So you may not be at a point where…
Nathan: So you’re competing for resource.
Chris: Yeah. And you may not be at a point where you can justify their minimum quantities. So they may not be interested in quoting on your product because they know you’re starting out. So you’ve really got to find a balance between quality and price point and factory size, and also communication and all that that adds into the equation, too. And how we output the product you need at the quantities and at the price point and at the quality. So it’s all just…there’s a lot of factors that go into it.
But, yeah, Alibaba is a great starting point.
Nathan: Yeah. And I’m curious. Like during… Obviously one thing I think is brilliant about your guys’ product is you guys coincide off the iPhone launches. Even Samsung. But more so Apple. When these new products go out, they do the big product launch which means you guys got to gear up for that, too.
And, you know, that would be, I’m assuming, quite stressful and you’ve got a lot going on and you’re going to have to preorder crap tons of stock in anticipation for this. Do you guys…like do one of you guys go over and oversee or…usually to China or Shenzhen or oversee manufacturing or you don’t have to or you’ve got it to a point where you’re…
Chris: We’ve gone over many times, you know, to check out factories and, you know, talk to our agent over there.
Chris: It’s difficult to be there for the manufacturing cycles because just there’s so many variables, it could span from, you know, a week to a month or so and it’s hard to get as much work done over there as it is being over here with having the whole team. So we probably should be there more often than we are. But the guys that we have over there we trust and we’re in daily communication with them, we use a good project management tool where we’re constantly sharing updates and photos and videos and schedules and things like that.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Chris: But that’s always a balancing act. But, yeah, getting the stuff out at the timing point. Because it’s not just us that want to make cases. There’s lots of other manufacturers that want to make cases.
Rob: All at the same time.
Chris: And the pressure is on. So it’s in the factories over in China that manufacture any iPhone-related products at the moment, they’re at peak capacity just trying to schedule machines and get people in.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. That’s crazy.
Chris: Even getting stuff shipped out is a nightmare. Like people are booking…
Rob: Getting spaces.
Chris: …space on ships and planes to know they can move their product out before the timing for iPhone launches. Conveniently China goes on a week-long… What’s it? Golden Week, coming up before the iPhone launch. I don’t know if Apple planned that on purpose, but that happens every year. So that’s something you got to take into account.
Nathan: Yeah, those Chinese holidays. Yeah, they get you.
Chris: They seem to have more and more each year, it’s amazing.
Nathan: Yeah, interesting. So another thing I wanted to talk to you guys about is one thing you guys are quite good at, is identifying trends. Obviously, you picked the trend of crowdfunding and Kickstarter and you were some of the first to market there. But then you guys were actually also, you know, some of the first to start using Facebook ads for marketing, and even Facebook did a case study on you guys.
So I’m just…
Nathan: Yeah, trendsetters, that’s what I’m really curious around. Like what do you think is next on the horizon? What interests you guys in terms of marketing and getting your products out there? And in the cryptocurrency space, blockchain technology? Like, I’m curious. I saw you did a funny video.
Chris: Yeah. Quad Coin.
Yeah. It was garbage.
Rob: I think… I spent a fair bit of time thinking about this and I think that there’s…you know, the disruption that’s happened in media and that kind of thing, at the moment, you know, probably… But things happen fast when they happen these days.
You know, when print came about, the Gutenberg press, it wouldn’t happen that fast, right? People couldn’t read, you know, they put out printing. When radio came around, that took off pretty quick. TV took off quicker again. And, you know, like the Web 2.0 and things like that, social, that just took off super quick. So whatever happens happens in a really short amount of time.
But if you think about these, the big, big, big shifts don’t happen all the time. You know, like there might be a platform shift where, you know, that sort of social Web stuff goes from one platform to another, just like people went from, you know, watching, I don’t know, something to watching HBO.
Nathan: Myspace to Facebook.
Rob: Myspace to Facebook. All that kind of thing, right? That stuff has always happened. But when you talk about, like, new channels coming out, that doesn’t happen that often. Like we’re talking maybe four times the last 100 years or something like that, it’s not often these things happen. So I think what this is looking for, when things change in the world, and then looking for what opportunity does that open up.
Because… And I think a part of it is, so, you know, things change, you know, the crowdfunding is one. That was a new-ish idea. And we’re not doing it to be trendy, we’re doing it because it’s just…it seems like a way of getting something done. Getting from here to where we need to be.
And I think…
Nathan: And not as much noise.
Rob: And not as much noise. Facebook has this perfect example. I remember thinking, “I wonder if people click on these little things on the site.” Because it was so basic, it was like a tiny little thumbnail, blue text at the top and a little bit of black writing underneath it. “I wonder if people click on that and would buy something from an e-commerce website.” Like it seemed stupid to say, but I was thinking, “I wonder if that would happen.” And so we played with it, try and learn.
And I think what happens is there’s all these experts out there working at these big agencies that have to buy a certain amount of media from Ten or from, you know, Austereo or someone and they’ve got these quotas to fill and they pitch it to their clients. And there’s this whole backbone and there’s this whole system set up selling, you know, air time to corporate and all this.
And they’re not even thinking about, you know, putting these little ads on Facebook or even what Facebook is going to be.
Rob: So there’s opportunity. Yeah. And you’re thinking, “Wow, there’s so many people out here.” Then you look into it and you go, “You can target people. Jeez, I can show my ads to people who actually care about this. Jeez, I can start with $20 if I want.” So you’re just being curious.
Chris: Yeah, totally.
Rob: And you’re looking for things that have changed. And when you’re curious and you’re looking for things that have changed, you’re going to trip over the opportunity. And then when you trip over the opportunity, like, “Well, if we did that, and then we had a product and we made a cool product, and then we put it on a website.And how much is an e-commerce website?” And you see, you know, something like Shopify come on. You’re like, “Jeez, like for $30 bucks a month,” or probably $19, I don’t know what it was, “we can be online selling something.”
And then you find that there’s 3PLs out there. And then it’s just the curiosity, I think, and looking and playing and, you know, looking under the hood. But coming at it with no preconception.
Chris: Yeah, definitely.
Rob: So maybe if we had a marketing background or a logistics background or a retail background you would have all these other preconceived ideas and you dismiss half, “No, no, no, people want to go to a store to buy this. No, no, no, people buy stuff that’s on”… I remember talking to Christopher Pyne and he said, “I still believe you communicate to people through newspaper, radio, and TV.”
This is only maybe two years ago. I don’t know what planet he’s on, but, you know, there’s a lot of people on the Internet now and a lot of people
Chris:… a computer in their home either. So, you know.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. So I think at the end of the day it’s that curiosity, the willingness to be wrong, just trying stuff.
Chris: Trying new things, experimenting.
Chris: And not really worrying about which way they’ll go.
Rob: Yeah, just learning, really, as quick as you can.
Chris: You know, this business wouldn’t have existed if… You know, I managed to import one of the original iPhones from America because they didn’t launch in Australia for the first version of it. And, you know, within a few days of using that I’d come up with an idea for a product, which ultimately has become what Quad Lock is. But it’s just that interest in new…inventive new things, whether it be technology, be it marketing.
Just being aware of what’s going around and jumping on things early to try them out because you just don’t know where they’ll take off.
Yeah, get in there early.
Rob: Yeah. And I think there’s a…you know, you talk to a lot of people and people want to get things right from the start. And that’s, like, a crazy idea, I don’t know how… It’s impossible to do it.
Rob: You know, something done is better than not doing it at all, because then you get a chance to do it better again. And that’s…yeah, that’s…I think that holds up a lot of people when you’re talking about starting.
Nathan: Yeah, of course, that perfectionism, you know?
Rob: Yeah, yeah. But, I mean, you got to ship it at some stage.
Chris: And you learn so much more by shipping your first product, even it’s only like 70% as good as you want it to be. If it’s still right, people hopefully will buy it, and then you’ll get so much more valuable feedback from them to make your second version ten times better than what your first version would have been if you tried to hold out and made it 100%. Because your ideas and your conceptions may not be right.
Rob: But you apply that to the whole business model.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah.
Rob: Like the product is just one part. And I see so many people get stuck on that, like just that one part. Because a business doesn’t work without multiple parts of it working. So, you know, it’s easy to have the best marketing in the world with the worst product and go nowhere. Have the best marketing, have the worst website to convert on. Have the best website, have shit marketing and no traffic. Like you can skew it every different way you want and it can not work.
If you get everything working okay, you get a chance to make one of them better. You get it working better, you get a bit more of a chance to make another part of it better. And then you can get on this way where you just every single day… Like we went and did a shoot this morning. We have a list of stuff that we’re going to do different. We’ve done heaps of shoots, but…
And we got there like, “Oh, we should have done this, we should have done that. All right, get back, this goes on our list, we’re going to make it better.” And if you just do that every time, like, you’re just getting a bit better, a bit better, a bit better, a bit better. You know, converting better. And because often things don’t get easier. And so now, you know, we used to be able to find…I remember when we would…when I’d be looking, I’d be finding big wins everywhere all the time.
Chris: And it’s easy to make…it’s so much easy to make those changes early on, yeah. It’s kind of like when you’re small you’re this real nimble speedboat that’s zipping along and you can change direction. As you get into this big, heavy container ship, it’s so much harder to change direction and implement change as quick as you could.
Rob: I think I was speaking with, I would say it was, someone two days ago. They said, “Oh, you know, you just have to accept as you get bigger it’s harder to change, you can’t react.” I said, “No, I don’t accept it.You can choose not to.” And he’s, “Oh, but, you know, other companies…” I’m like, “Well, that’s good for other companies, they can be like that.” “But what we’re doing, we want to be like this and we want to be able to adapt quickly and we’re going to change it.
So you’re saying you can’t do that for us?” “Oh no, we can do that.” So, I mean, you can accept or you can try and, you know, push. Because, I think, that’s why we’re here in the first place.
Chris: The impact of the scale of those changes seems much greater when you’re bigger.
Rob: Oh, it is, yeah.
Chris: But if you weigh the percentages, they’re probably a similar percentage impact. But, you know, it’s got more zeros attached to it, so it’s a harder decision to make and you’ve got to be able to stomach changes that will make…have an impact short-term for a longer term gain. But it’s a bigger decision to make because it has a…it puts a bigger dent in things when you make that call.
Nathan: Yeah, speed. Speed is everything.
Rob: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: Well, time is the one resource you can’t get more of.
Nathan: Yeah. And when you’re competing and, like you said, you guys got so many…
Rob: So many people chasing.
Nathan: Yeah, copying. Your competitive advantage is often speed and the marketing and the brand and your community and that loyalty.
Rob: But one thing, even if they have… You know, they can outdo us in a certain way because they have more money or more whatever. What they don’t have is, you know, six, seven years in the market. They can’t just… No matter how much money they have, they can’t click their fingers and have that.
Nathan: Yeah, totally understand. So we have to work towards wrapping up. A few final questions just around scale. Because you guys are growing quite fast, you would have scaling challenges. Talk to us around that. Like, you know, with the amount of, like, volume of units that you’re moving. And to keep building upon that, it gets harder and harder, right?
So tell us around some of your problems around scale, or challenges, that you’ve had at the moment that you’re working on overcoming.
Chris: It’s a few.
Rob: Well, a really practical one is we got a call from our 3PL the other day and said, “We need to move…ship your warehouse, you’re going to be down for three days in the U.S.” This is just the U.S. I’m like, “What are you talking about? Down for three days? We can’t do that.” Straight away I’m like, “No, can’t do it.” You know, it’s coming at the busiest time. We’re moving all of the heaviest pick and pack people that they have in one of their oldest warehouse, they’re going to move to one of their newest warehouses.
Because effectively if they didn’t move us coming into this season, we’re coming up with Black Friday and iPhone launches and Christmas time and all that, it’s going to break, it’s not going to work. So things like that are like, you know, you think you get to a scale where those kind of little things don’t come up.
You know, you’ve got…like, you’re still working with partners and all that and you think that, you know, they’re looking ahead, but they’re not necessarily. And they get surprises and, you know, people get acquired. And then when you’re talking about being down for three days, that’s a lot of money for us these days. But at the same time it’s like, “Right, if you don’t do it, we won’t move you.
If we don’t move you,” we’re the ones that have to wear the consequences, you know, two, three months from now when we could really be screwed. It’s like, “Right now how do we minimize the impact of this? What are we going to do to come up with a creative idea to try and still get people in the car, but, you know, when they’re in the car make sure they absolutely have to know that there’s a three-day shipping delay. We count that three days down, we’re communicating with them trying to work out when it is.
Like when you’re selling 20, 30 units a day, you could just be like, “Oh”…you could e-mail every one of them or you could…
Chris: Call them up.
Rob: You know, there’s something else you can do. When now we can’t, two days into this, have 500 tickets coming through from support saying, “I don’t think my order has shipped,” and this is going on. Like you’ve got to manage it in a whole different way.
Chris: Yeah, I think the flow-on effects of some of these things wouldn’t have affected us back then, but now you’ve got to really take them into account when you make any kind of assumption or change on that. Because, you know, you do that long wrong and all of a sudden the huge amount of load that that throws on the customer support team is massive. And if you did a few things differently, you would have avoided that. So you got to be real smart about that. And I think also one thing that’s got us recently is how fast things can change and shift.
Like ordering stock, you’re based off, you know, your run rates and you’re looking at your historical data of how that goes. And then you go, “Well, that stock, we’ll order that many stock, that will get us through to that month.”
Rob: That’s been from day one though really.
Chris: Yeah, but you can see it recently. Like, you know, you’re, “Ah, but it didn’t take account for this last month.” Where, you know, if you look, run right over the past three months, you might have a certain number. But if you look at it like that, those last few weeks is what you should really be going off. And then you should have ordered heaps more because of the way that product is growing. So you got to be aware of, you know, the small changes as well as the big changes.
Rob: We’ve had the chat where it goes, “Actually, can we make as many as we’re selling at a certain point?” It’s like, “Actually, no.” Like it could be that getting sales isn’t the actual, you know, what’s stopping you. It could be that now we’re at a point where, “Can we make enough units per day to keep up with even more?” Like we’re ordering as many as we can, but we haven’t kept up.
So there’s, like, lots of different things.
Chris: Maxing out supply. And also, you know, working with our partners to make sure they are able to grow with us. And, if they’re not willing to, find…definitely find alternatives. Because, you know, if they’re going to be a bottleneck to a certain aspect of your business, you don’t want it to be them the reason why you can’t continue to scale.
Nathan: Yeah, that sounds scary, to be honest.
Chris: It is.
Nathan: I think the thing with business is you don’t talk to many businesses and say, “We’re going to give you shitloads more work. Like, are you okay?” No one says, “No.” Has anyone ever said “no” to you? “We’re going to pay you heaps more.” “No.” But what happens is do they put in the measures to be in the position where, you know… Like this is right from the top of the business to the bottom of the business.
Do they put in the measures to be in the position that they should be in to keep giving you the level of service that they need to give you? Like the shipping one is a perfect example. It’s “no.” It gets to crisis point, something breaks. Admittedly they’re trying to fix it and you have to try and help them fix it because…
Chris: And you also help them by painting the picture of what their future looks like, too. So forecasting volumes and when you’re going to have big flows of massive stock moves and things like that. You’ve got to help them help themselves as much as you can. And, yeah, you can give them a bit of rope. But if they don’t follow through a few times, then you’ve got to have a backup plan, you need a plan B.
Rob: It’s an awareness thing, as well. I know we’ve had some meetings and I still think of us as sort of a small company, which we are. But then you hear, and we’re like, “We’re doing this at that level.” And you go, “Well, that’s more than another company that you hear about.” And you’re like, “Oh.Oh, okay.” That sort of puts it in scale. You know, if you’re…
Chris: I think you said it a few times, by default you automatically think that you’re doing not as good as everyone else, but then you start seeing things…
Rob: Well, I think you just presume everyone is…I just presume everyone is doing really well and everyone is, you know, doing that, doing this, having that work, having this pay off. You know, struggling with these things. And then you start…the more you start talking, and, you know, you talk to different suppliers, then you’re like, “Okay, that’s not your issue, that’s your issue. Okay, that’s…Yeah, we do a lot more than that.”
Chris: I think one thing I’ve learned is that no matter how big the business is, nothing is working in pure unison.
Everything is in chaos.
Nathan: Everyone has got issues, challenges.
Chris: It’s like reading The Everything Store book about Amazon. You know, they’ve been in chaos forever, and I don’t think they’ll ever get out of it.
Rob: Oh, we do, like… Literally we would send, Ben would send, multiple e-mails to Amazon every single day trying to get stuff fixed.
Rob: Because they’re in chaos.
Chris: They always have been though, yeah.
Rob: It’s just a nightmare.
Chris: It’s just nothing is ever…
Rob: Nothing works.
Chris: You just assume, you look at good companies and you’re like, “Oh, everything must be running like clockwork.”
Chris: But it’s like the swan on top of the water is all nice and calm, but down below kicking like crazy trying to keep things afloat.
Chris: I think that just applies to about every person I’ve spoken to.
Rob: And I think you think as you grow you’ll be able to smooth these things out.
Nathan: That’s what you tell yourself.
Rob: Yeah. It doesn’t work like that. The problems just get bigger.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, that’s what you tell yourself. That’s what you work towards. “Yeah, we’ll get these amount of people.”
Rob: Yeah, you think, “Oh, we’ll get this agency involved to do this, we’ll get these people to do that.” Then you realize you might have to work harder to get it to achieve what you need to achieve. You can’t just…you know, no one is every going to care as much as you do, I think that’s the other thing.
Nathan: So talk to me around team building and your leadership team. You guys would be starting to build out your leadership team now.
Rob: We’re a pretty flat structure.
Nathan: Okay. So one thing I find interesting is basically most of your team is here, yeah, in Melbourne, right?
Nathan: Yeah, for Foundr, for us, I’ve personally found it’s hard to find great talent. So I actually don’t care now where somebody is from. I’ll hire them and make them a remote person and just kind of slowly make it work. How have you guys kind of dealt with kind of resource and finding…
Rob: management style.
Chris: Well, we have our core team here of stuff that we…
Rob: All do here.
Chris: We’ve definitely got a lot of stuff that we outsource. And they’re more remote workers. It depends on the task that you’re doing. I think having someone in-house is definitely more efficient to get things done for what we…the core aspects of the business.
But for things that can be outsourced, yeah, we definitely would do so when the opportunity arises.
But it is tricky to find good people out there. You know, recruitment is a tough part for any company.
Rob: But you also got to be willing to, like, put into the people, as well.
Chris: Yeah, train them up.
Rob: That’s a big one.
Nathan: Yeah. So you guys, you find that you look to find people with experience or people that you can mold from the ground up?
Chris: It depends on the role.
Rob: Yeah, it depends on the role. Often we’ve gone out to try to get a whole heap of experience. And then you… I remember a job description we had and I think I just was shopping around with people. And, like, it was three or four people in a row told me, like, “No one does that.”
“No one does all that.”
Chris: Yeah, one person.
Rob: One person. And you’re like, “Okay,” and you sort of ignore it, keep looking, someone else says the exact same, “Oh, no. not one person will do all that.” And then you realize…
Chris: They might, they’re just extremely hard to find.
Rob: Yeah. And then you realize, or people just tell you, like, “No, there’s none in Melbourne that you’ll get out of people here. There’s none here, there’s none here.” But then you can find someone that is keen or interested. And, you know, try and work it out together. Because I think the main thing is that, you know, everything is changing all the time.
There’s parts of the business that are more, I don’t know what you call it.
Rob: Yeah, traditional.
Chris: Or conventional, yeah.
Rob: Maybe traditional, conventional. And then there’s other parts that are changing all the time and it’s trying to work out how to do that. But then even in the…you know, you could say something like accounting. Like we have to account. But then when we started this, I just think you go to an accountant, you go to a big accounting firm, and they’ll help you out. And then it’s like, “Oh, well, we’ve got to do that tax.
We’re selling from, you know, UK into the EU and we’re doing it”… And then you realize these are big companies and they’re working it out for the first time for you on your dollar. Because at the end of the day actually, you know, 10 years ago it was only, you know, big multinational, big companies that had that kind of, you know, reach in the world.
And now, you know, we’re probably, you know, only a couple-million-dollar… Well, when we started, whatever we were, selling to 150 countries in our first three months.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Rob: And that’s normal now. So, you know, it’s a normal job, accounting. But nowadays you’ve got to understand tax law all throughout the world, you’ve got to, you know, be more analytical, you want to be able to learn stuff that you never would have before.
Chris: But you have to learn stuff though, you can’t rely on these people. Oh, I remember one time we had an accountancy firm that we were using and we were asking them some international taxation questions and they got their international taxation expert in. And he’s come back with his big spiel. And obviously he didn’t do as much googling as we did because we’ve come back and go, “Actually, you’ll find that what you just reported was superseded in 2008, this is the new law, here’s the link.” And he’s like, “Oh yeah. Yeah, no, you’re right.”
Even though we’ve just paid them thousands of dollars for this expert to tell us stuff that we found out ourselves.
Rob: But at the end of the day no one is an expert, we’re all just working it out as we go along.
Chris: It’s like how far did they…how deep do they want to go in this and how much care they put into it.
Rob: It’s totally like that. So I think as soon as you realize that, you realize that it could be that…you know, that… I don’t know, what’s… It could be that we have a part-time cleaner on the weekend and actually he’s got potential to be the best GM out of everyone here. We don’t know. Because I don’t think going and doing an MBA puts you in a better spot to…
Chris: That would be a pretty good candidate.
Rob: Yeah, I think he’d be great. You now, he’s a good guy, he’s got a good business. But what I mean is, you know, subscribing to the old way that, “Okay, they’ve gone and they’ve studied this and they’ve ticked these boxes, therefore they do this role.” I don’t necessarily believe that’s accurate and I don’t necessarily believe someone is better for that. Do they have experience?
Yeah, that can be great. With experience comes a lot of preconceived ideas and assumptions, as well. So what you want is people who are willing to, you know, buck the status quo, work things out as they go, want to get better, want to learn, realize that we’re in a constant state of flux and that things are going to change and that we just have to do the best we can with that situation that we’re in at that time, and realize in six months it’s going to be different again.
Nathan: Awesome, guys. So, look, this has been an awesome conversation. Kind of the last question I want to ask you guys is, yeah, where is the best place people can find out more about yourselves and your work?
Chris: Quadlockcase.com is a good starting point for the product.
Rob: Definitely, yeah. I’m @robyward and…
Chris: I’m @cplicious. Can you spell that one?
Rob: Yeah. On Twitter, Instagram.
Chris: Yeah, all the same.
Rob: All the same.
Chris: Check out Robert’s blog, robyward.com.
Rob: No, don’t do that. There’s not much content.
Chris: Hasn’t been updated in a while.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, thank you so much, fellows, for having us. And, yeah, a great conversation, thanks so much for sharing and taking the time.
Chris: Awesome, man.
Chris: Thanks, man.
Nathan: Thanks so much, you guys.
Rob: We’ll do it over beer next time.