Hi! I’m Matt, the co-founder of Pela Case, a business on a mission to reduce plastic on the planet. We started out making iPhone cases since this is a large market with a ton of plastic waste due to the regular upgrade cycle of smartphones. I’m also the co-founder of Demac Media, an eCommerce agency helping brands and retailers grow their eCommerce businesses.
Pela has recently become a 7 figure direct to consumer brand (in sales, not enterprise value) and is growing quickly. At the time of this writing we are mostly a single channel brand but are expanding into our next channels quickly. We have a direct line of sight to scaling this into a much larger, meaningful brand.
I’m writing this because I want to share everything we’re learning building Pela Case into a world class company.
Why give away our methods? Our secrets? Doesn’t that invite more competition? Hurt our business?
I don’t believe that for one second. The retail industry is undergoing a massive, transformational shift. One of the things I see missing every day is the people required to build this new generation of retailer. I hope to help this transformation by sharing our experiences so that others can use them and build better commerce businesses.
Contrary to what most of the “internet business” people like to sell you, the process of creating, building, and scaling/growing a physical products business is not as simple as following some checklist or course. There’s no 5 part framework that works across the board.
Simply put, there’s just a lot of moving pieces and those pieces tend to change a lot as you go from startup to growing business to “real brand”. There are most certainly common strategies and tactics you can deploy, but how and when you do things is a lot more important than the individual tasks on their own.
While there is a ton of content out there (i.e. – courses), I’ve found very little of it to be created by people that are building world class brands and companies.
Most of the content that pollutes the eCommerce space at the moment is focused on getting started, be it on Shopify or Amazon.
I also find the content focuses on simply private labeling product that already exists and just selling it at a lower price. That’s not building a real business, that’s just arbitrage and there’s been many forms of it during the modern internet’s short history. Google Adwords vs. Adsense anyone?
What we’d love to do is share our experiences in building our own in-house brands, Pela Case and World of Angus, but also all of the things we’ve experienced and learned from over the last 10+ years.
So, in this post I’m going to focus on laying out our framework for how we’ve been growing Pela Case from a small, $1,500 / mo. Shopify store into a 7 figure business that’s growing at 10-20% per month.
This post is going to serve as a bit of an anchor post that I’ll come back to and update with links to deeper dive posts as we create and publish those over the coming months. Consider it the overview and the index all wrapped up into one thing you can bookmark and reference back to.
The Product, Pela Case
At first I wasn’t overly thrilled at the idea of selling phone cases. I saw it as a race to the bottom commodity type of item that was a big red ocean (tons of competition).
What originally attracted me to the business was the unique story behind the product. Jeremy (my co-founder) has created a product that was truly zero waste. A plastic alternative in a world literally swimming in plastic waste. I was hooked on the brand story and I just couldn’t see it not connecting with a loud and passionate customer around the world.
I’m of the belief that great products aren’t something you set out to find, as many, many “build an Ecommerce business” marketing material and courses would have you think. The very best brands that you read about had a strong conviction about the product they wanted to build a business around. The product was first, not the business model (in this case, eCommerce).
Pela was one of these stories. Jeremy scratched his own itch. He wanted to help solve a large, global problem that he only saw getting worse. This mission is what I bought into. I didn’t buy into an eCommerce business, I bought into a purpose.
Right people, right seats. This is something I’ve had to learn the hard way and something that we focus quite a bit on now in all of our businesses.
The first challenge we saw when building Pela Case was the ratio of work to be completed by human hours available was way out of whack. There was so much to do and we had 1 full time person working exclusively on this brand, our Merchant in Residence Sunta Sem.
When you’re in startup mode, you do everything as scrappy as you possibly can. That meant that myself and my co-founder Jeremy were putting in a ton of sweat equity to get this thing off the ground and find its momentum. Unless you have a ton of capital behind you, this is what most startups need to do. You’re rich in time, poor in resources (funds).
To be completely transparent, the one VERY large point of leverage we did have was my team at Demac. Due to the nature of Demac’s business, there are times when we have some downtime and we decided to tap into the much larger team of specialists at our disposal inside of Demac. Often this just meant having someone to review something we were trying (i.e. – Facebook ads) or help us build out an email flow (developer, email marketer).
You can read more about our Merchant in Residence program here directly from the perspective of Sunta, the entrepreneur charged with growing Pela.
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Operating Systems & Processes
Since we’ve only recently started to achieve some meaningful scale in the business, we’re now putting a little operating system into place. Demac Media runs on Traction, so we’re going to be following the same operating system for continuity sake, and frankly my own sanity.
Customer Centered Systems First
We’ve recently put a lot of effort into creating and refining a customer experience playbook. We want our customers to feel a connection with us and the only way to do that is to treat them as fellow human beings instead of transactions. We put great thought and care into every communication with our customers since without them, there is no business. This is an example of a customer centred system.
During this process of documenting our customer experience playbook (which is in Google Drive), we also put ZenDesk in place and got it integrated with Shopify. Pretty easy process that almost anybody can do. Now we are translating our playbook into ZenDesk macros and standards of communication (i.e. – messages) so that we can impress our customers in a consistent and repeatable way.
This will be an area that we intend on sharing quite a bit about. It’s not the sexiest of topics to cover, but beneath every great brand there is a way of doing things that is repeatable, scalable, and focused. That focus is where we really think a lot of the content being peddled about is distracting. We believe that entrepreneurs need deeper, more tactical content instead of more high level lists and marketing jargon.
If you’ve read my book, Anything Anywhere: The Future of Retail and how to build a digital first roadmap to growth you know that I believe in using channels as leverage while you scale your business. This is a relatively easy concept to think about but very difficult to put into practice during the day to day grind of growing one of these companies.
For Pela Case, we wanted to focus on building our direct to consumer sales channel. We decided to focus even more narrowly on our own site, pelacase.com, and use Instagram as our main channel to acquire new customers. We approached Instagram with a combination of organic and paid advertising and have been “stepping” these two tactics up one at a time. Sort of like climbing stairs, one foot in front of the other, not moving the other foot upward until the last foot was firmly planted.
This is where a strong roadmap really comes into effect. We need to really think about which channels we’re putting our limited resources (time, money) into so that we don’t die of indigestion. In other words, our roadmap will be how we maintain focus on the right things at the right time. This idea of doing things in the right order will also be consistent as we talk about technology and team building.
We’ve been helping brands and retailers build eCommerce businesses for 10 years at Demac. We’ve seen a lot of permutations of business models and a common theme with great companies is that they use each channel for very specific reasons. This is something I intend on diving super deep into with more and more examples. I intend on not just using Pela Case but will share experiences from working with dozens of companies.
As we build out the business, we’re going to also have to build out the technology we need at the various stages of growth and optimization. We’ll take you through our approach to technology evaluation, implementation, and overall integration.
We’re living in a world where there is seemingly endless options available to us at lower and lower costs. This looks like a great thing on the surface because it means software that used to be super expensive is now much, much more cost friendly. However, it also means that the average eCommerce merchant / retailer is now using dozens of pieces of software, making integration a giant mess.
This presents a unique set of challenges for the growing eCommerce business that is very different than how bricks born retailers and brands used to use software. They got away with buying big systems and only replacing them every decade or 3. They spent a fortune to build tech that we get for pennies comparatively. But they didn’t have to change it or swap it out very quickly either. And that’s the big difference.
Now, with the “appification” of eCommerce software, we’re able to plug in anything we think we need or want. The result is most eCommerce businesses now have dozens of apps that they aren’t even using to any amount of effectiveness.
With this in mind, I want to share our approach for how we figure out what solutions we need and what we can do without. We’re going to talk a lot about the order in which you should admin the software you need. Basically, doing the right thing at the right time instead of doing all the things all the time.
More To Come!
Keep checking back on the Demac blog, I have more to share about building Pela and other major projects so stay tuned!