Shopify merchant interview with Tim Polmear from Founded Ventures

Introduction

This is an interview we did for The Cut’s podcast, with Shopify merchant and ecomm entrepreneur Tim Polmear, from Founded Ventures.

Our Shopify podcasts are great for people who want to learn from merchants, hear ecommerce business stories, find tips and tricks, or even just expand their knowledge about the Shopify ecommerce platform.

We were passionate about social media marketing. It was more of an emerging thing back then and something which was foreign to us was influencer marketing. I think it’s probably fair to say it was foreign to everybody back then.

— Tim Polmear, Director, Founded Ventures

Interview

The Cut

In this podcast, we interview Tim Polmear from Founded Ventures who are based in Tasmania. Founded Ventures have been involved in some very successful ecommerce startups, and have used Shopify for every one of them. So let's speak to Tim and see what he has to share with us.

So hi Tim. Thanks for joining us today. It's going to be really interesting to chat with you. Can you please kick us off by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about yourself personally and your business history, particularly with Shopify.

Tim from Founded Ventures

No worries. Thanks Ben. Thanks for having me today. I'm I guess what you would call an ecommerce entrepreneur. I'm more of the marketer than maybe some other types of entrepreneurs that might be into the tech side or the web side of things. So to set the context, I’m definitely no web expert.

The Cut

Okay, understood.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yep. I’m from Australia and I'm actually based down in Tasmania these days, which is probably a land far from where the internet was created, but if you think about it these days, it can be anywhere. So I was very much into social media marketing, still am, found some great traction through that. And through influencer marketing as well.

The Cut

And your story in business, and with Shopify in particularly started was with that, those influencers, and that direction to using influencers on social channels to market your business. Is that fair to say?

And can you tell us a little bit about those first ideas and those first businesses that you started off with on, on your sort of entrepreneurial and a show before our journey?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, sure. Back in what, 2013, my wife and I started a business called Flat Tummy Tea, and at the time, you know, we were working in marketing jobs and sort of working in online and for some software companies and that sort of thing. And like many, we didn't really know what we were doing. We didn't have a great strategy for how we're going to go to market. We had a bit of an idea and we had a product that my wife was using, for her bloating, and digestion, this type of tea detox. And we got into that. We started the business, working after hours packaging it, on the kitchen table.

The Cut

It was very much a cottage industry done from home and on the side in the beginning, wasn't it?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Absolutely. And I guess it, you know, on the first day it was, it was amazing. We got 11 orders and I remember feeling over the moon about it. I think on the second day we got two orders and on the third day we got zero and that's when we knew that's when we really had to buckle up and and find an avenue of how to sell this stuff.

We were passionate about trying and social media marketing was just, I guess it had been around, but it was more of an emerging thing back then to be using it in a smart way for business and something which was foreign to us, which was influencer marketing. And I think it’s probably fair to say it was foreign to everybody back then.

Back then we didn't, we didn't really know about it a whole lot, but we had a beginning clean. We'd seen a few other brands. you know, having these influencers promote their products online.

And we followed our noses with that and sent our products out to some of these influencers, really small -time ones to start, you know, maybe they have 5,000 followers or 10,000, 50,000. Some of them would do it. And it was just for free at that point. You know, it was just in exchange for our product.

We had a bit of a light bulb moment though where we got this girl that was really great. she was a health freak. She was, she was a great influencer there with a good engagement. She had a 100,000 followers and she agreed to promote our product, just in return for some product in Australia. She was based in New Zealand but we were shipping around Australia into New Zealand. It wasn't much of an effort for us to ship this stuff around the world at that point, just slower shipping tong friends.

Anyway, we had a light bulb moment when she promoted our product and I think we had about 15 orders within the first few hours of her promotion, and that light bulb moment went off when we went wow, we need more of this, that was amazing. And there were more sales to follow, but the initial traction, especially the way the Instagram algorithm worked back then in the chronological timeframe. It was all about the initial, when the post went up, it was bang then that was the time that you were going to get the maxim reach.

The Cut

And how far into the business were you at that stage, Tim?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Probably about three months. Very, very early on. And that little light bulb moment when we need more of this and we just decided, and it wasn't easy to get that sort of thing. So that's when we decided to just continue reaching out to more of these guys and I'm trying to incentivise them even with payment and that sort of thing to do more of it. So to cut a long story short, we've done this hundreds and hundreds of times over and learned a lot about it and and it was a great scalable platform to reach our market. And in those days it was very new to everybody. These days you wouldn't meet too many people that wouldn't know what influencer marketing was, everybody knows what it is I mean. There’s platforms that you can join, like Tribe in Australia.

The Cut

You guys are really trail blazing and particularly in the Australian market, I would have thought at that time, which is what, six or so years ago. So I'm sure we'll come back to your marketing, your marketing tactics and potentially the influencer stuff. Can you tell us about your company now in the context of what you're doing right now? it's called Founded Ventures and what you guys do now.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Sure, yeah. With Founded Ventures. we find new ideas and just build new ecommerce brands, so all the way from the idea, then we source products, we build websites. We organise photography, the distribution and then launch the product and then a part of the strategy can be to actually sell these brands off to a company that we have been dealing with for awhile. So we are then able to move on and create another brand for that same company.

The Cut

So you’re sort of replicating the strategies that you learned with Flat Tummy Tea and you've found a partner who is interested in scaling them and taking them into international markets. It's a pretty exciting space to be in and a long, long way from the kitchen bench.

So what's your connection between Founded Ventures and Shopify? I mean, I know there's no sort of official partnership there, but are you still exclusively using Shopify?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, we are and we've just found that it suits all our needs and there's been no need to change. So no, Absolutely no partnership between us. I'm sure they don't know us, but you know, we've always enjoyed using the Shopify platform.

The Cut

And you started using it right from the very beginning with that first business, is that correct?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, that's right. Back in 2013 we started using it.

When I did find Shopify it was very much tailored towards ecommerce, whereas some of these other ones were tailored towards blogs and that sort of thing. I've found Shopify to be super easy to use. It was very much a click and drag, tweak and touch up and it was all set up.

— Tim Polmear, Director, Founded Ventures

The Cut

And so I think Shopify launched in ’04. We started using it in about 2010. So you would have been fairly early on in the curve. How did you find Shopify and choose it? And did you go through sort of an assessment process with other ecommerce options at that time?

Tim from Founded Ventures

I'd been involved in a startup or two before 2013 and I'd had a dabble in playing around with building websites myself for them. Like I said, I'm no website developer, but I did love trying to get into it and designing it up a little and I was using Wordpress and some other platforms which were quite clunky.

When I did find Shopify and it seemed like that was very much tailored towards ecommerce, whereas some of these other ones were tailored towards blogs and that sort of thing. I've found Shopify to be super easy to use. It was very much a click and drag, tweak and touch up and it was all set up.

You could literally get a template for free or you could pay 50 bucks and get something much better and you're away. You could be set up, with no word of a lie, you know, you can be set up in a few hours. So it was just an easy choice I guess at the time.

The Cut

I think despite your comments to the contrary, that you possibly are a little more experienced with building websites than maybe your average startup Shopify merchant. But yeah, not withstanding that, you’re exactly right. They are fast to set up and you obviously found it super easy, if it was a few hours. Can I ask, did you use a paid theme or a free theme at that time?

Tim from Founded Ventures

I actually can't remember. I'm pretty sure I experimented around with a couple of different ones and I remember paying about 80 bucks. But I do remember thinking that the free ones were just as good. You know, just depends on what you're trying to sell. In our case it was a single kind of product and some of the themes are better suited when you've got lots more SKUs.

The Cut

Sure, and I know because The Cut helped you with your sort of second generation site, but once the business was generating good revenue, was the decision to invest in a custom Shopify website part of a natural progression for you?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah. It was exciting to do something new. Like I said, I'm no guru, but it was exciting to learn that we could customise it so easily, but using the same backend that we'd been using for quite a while at that point. I think it was a year or so into our Shopify journey when we decided to customise it and it was a reasonably simple process for the other gurus that know how to customise it.

The Cut

Tim, I think we should stop throwing around this word ‘Gurus’ (laughs). Can you remember, I mean, you've already touched on this, but can you remember what it felt like when you made or had your first sale? It's quite funny, I guess, that you got 11 in your first day, but what was that feeling like when you actually had people ordering your products for the first time?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, it's kind of surreal and exciting. It's like an addiction. Once you've got that first sale, it's sort of, it is really is. It's been like an addiction that you just keep coming back for more, you know. it's an adrenaline rush or something. I've had a friend recently build a Shopify website, literally just launched a couple of weeks ago and he's got this app. I think it's a plugin where, and I remember I used to have this too, and it's every time you get a sale you can get a notification and it kind of comes up ‘cha-ching’ on your phone.

The Cut

Yeah, I know. I know a few merchants that use that and I can definitely understand the appeal. It's a bit like Pavlov's dog, isn't it? You're reacting to that audio trigger. ‘Yes! I've got more money in the bank.’ It's a great idea for a plugin that one.

So let's look at some challenges that you guys might have experienced that you can share with our community. So what are you one of the biggest one or two challenges you've experienced? Like not in a broad business sense, but specifically with an ecommerce business because you've never been bricks and mortar, you’ve always just been digital.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, that's right. I think that some of the general challenges would apply to a bricks and mortar though in the same way almost in general in business. Some of the challenges you face, you know, hiring great people as you grow and retaining a culture. and everybody out there listening that has been in business, whether they're working for someone else or having founded a company would agree to this one. It's, you know, great people are a real asset and it's not easy to maintain a high standard, and it’s not easy to maintain a culture. So it's something you've got to work hard at. but it makes a difference.

The Cut

Yeah. One hundred percent agree with you there. So what about for merchants who are faced with the challenges of managing ecommerce, whether it be marketing, or their products or even choosing a platform for the first time, do you have any insights into what the things that you’re up against early on with the site and the online business itself in the early days?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, in terms of challenges. So, let me think about that one for a second. I guess the biggest challenge most people have got when it comes to starting a new business and I think that you know, setting up a Shopify site is one of the easier things that you can do. It's a nice feeling to get that up and live. The biggest challenge you've got after that point is when you have that initial couple of days where you get 11 orders and it's probably your aunt and uncle and your brother and your pop and grandma. You might get those orders the second day maybe your friend orders and then on the third day nobody's ordering.

The Cut

‘Where are the rest of my buddies?’ (laughs)

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, exactly. That's where the challenge lies, so that's how you're going to get this thing out there and it comes down to getting a little creative with marketing and all sorts of things, depending on the product and business of course.

The Cut

Yeah 100 percent. So talking about technology specifically, what are the most effective or valuable apps and plugins that you've used over your experience with Shopify?

Tim from Founded Ventures

I'm probably a little outdated now because they really do come up with new valuable apps and plugins all the time They are great. They really did make quite a bit different in our business. One I was particularly fond of was Yotpo, the review app. The amount of people using that these days is incredible.

For those that don't know Yotpo is an app, a plugin for Shopify where, it'll automatically send out an email to when you purchase a week ago, say after they've purchased to say, ‘hey, how was your purchase? Like how was it, how's the product going?’

And so automatically they get a quite a high response of customers sending in a quick review, and it’s an easy little reply back, you know, they can give your four or five stars or whatever you want to give it and you can write a long one too and a lot of customers do it. It's a really great way to get them and then display reviews on your site through this little plugin and that really did make a big difference to us because of that.

The Cut

You get to benefit from the people that you've got, a community of real people who are using and enjoying your product, and that's very powerful.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Absolutely. There's nothing worse than a consumer getting to a website and thinking, ‘I'm the first person to ever see this site, or am I the 15,000 person?’ Because sometimes those sites that look literally stagnant, like there's nothing alive and interesting happening. It literally, you could be for all you know, the first person ever on this site. If you'd come across 600 reviews or even 13 reviews, at least you've got some reference from other people that have experienced these guys and yeah, like the community aspect goes a long way.

Another app that I loved was a similar concept to this was Fomo, which was one of those pop up notifications that just said, you know, ‘Ben from Perth, just ordered or just purchased a product’ and it was live. And that's all about social credibility. You're on their site, you see other people have purchased and you've got that fear of missing out. Hence the name, Fomo.

The Cut

For sure. It's very immediate. It struck me when I first looked at your website and saw those pop-ups and you spend some time on there and they were popping up all the time and it delivers that idea of urgency, because someone else is buying this, right now. ‘Why, why am I not buying it myself?’ I mean, they operate like little micro influencers in a way, don't they? Because they're all a testimonial or an endorsement of what you're doing as a business.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, definitely. And there's so many different apps and the Shopify app store’s really well structured where you can sort by popularity and you know, you'd be crazy not to throw on a bunch of those apps. It's so easy to connect and often not very costly tool until perhaps you get bigger and then, you know, maybe there's some costs coming into it, but by then you'll be more than willing to throw them the money because it will be returning for you.

Sometimes you've just got to get yourself out there and just go, you got this. It's all about hard work, but you've just got to get out there and start and and you know, test different things and it's never been easier to get out there and start an ecommerce brand.

— Tim Polmear, Director, Founded Ventures

The Cut

Absolutely. The return on the investment’s there. Otherwise you wouldn't be moving ahead with it or know it can make a massive, massive difference, that sort of thing. That's, awesome.

Here's an interesting one for you, Tim. If you could give your young Shopify self some advice today, what would it be?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Good question. My young Shopify self… I’d say, this is not always an easy one, but it's one of those ones where you could go back and say to myself, just take more risks. I would like that because sometimes you can, you know, when everything's so uncertain about what's happening, how am I going to sell is like sometimes you’ve just got to get yourself out there and just go, you got this. It's all about hard work, but you've just got to get out there and start and and you know, test different things and it's never been easier to get out there and start an ecommerce brand. So I'll tell my young self just do it, get there and have a crack.

The Cut

It's all accessible now, isn't that true? There are more young people going into business at a younger age than probably ever before and probably because of that more and more young people are succeeding in the digital space. And your case, you as a young person has definitely made it happen.

So in terms of looking ahead, for a business who might be launching on Shopify. And you're the perfect example for this because if we look at Flat Tummy Tea again, that business had to scale very, very quickly. So with Shopify, and allowing for scalability for any business, is the potential there in the platform to allow that?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Well, it certainly is in my experience, like I said a few times, I'm no expert, but from what I've been told, there was a massive amount of scalability and I've tested the Shopify backend pretty well actually. We've had a couple of occasions where we had thousands on the site at any one point and that was a real test to see if anything would crash. And Shopify handled it absolutely, so we had the numbers on the site, that was fine.

In terms of scalability with more SKUs and that sort of thing. I think from a back end point of view again, it's been absolutely fine. So I would've thought, you know, I often refer my friends to Shopify knowing that it's going to be a a pretty scalable platform for them.

The Cut

And I think if you do have a large number of SKUs, you can start to look at Shopify Plus or other options around that. You've never, as far as I know, and you have pushed the platform maybe to its limits, but it's never let you down, has it?

Tim from Founded Ventures

No, it really hasn't. I'm surprised, you know, you hear people breaking the Internet. (laughs).

The Cut

The Kardashians?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, that's right. I mean we've literally had the Kardashians promoting our products and Shopify has handled it fine.

The Cut

And then you're talking about millions and millions of followers for an individual and I guess the traffic that directs to your businesses is on a par with the millions of followers they’ve got, would that be right?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, it can be. There can be an awful lot of people on site at once.

The Cut

So have you run into any limitations or frustrations with Shopify that you thought, oh, I can't do this or I'd like to do that or

Tim from Founded Ventures

I don't think so. I think it'd be fair to say no, not really. There's a couple of things, I mean there's always a few things you'd like to see.

The Cut

My next question, which is, if you've got a Shopify wish list, what would be the three things that you would want to see added to the platform?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah. Okay. A good question that one because, like I said, Shopify really does do most things that I require, the apps that you can plug in and it's really great. And I guess, one thing that it'd be nice in a way would be, I'm not sure if this is how this works with Shopify and the app developers and that sort of thing. I sorta did wonder why Shopify didn't develop these apps themselves rather than third parties developing them, so that it was just a more streamlined, you know, it was just a core feature.

So the review side of things, Shopify could just do that themselves potentially. But I understand Shopify want to stick to what they're good at and that's creating an ecommerce platform and then they can, you know, open up that development platform for these third parties to create these apps.

I guess it could save money though for the customer, or the merchant being me, if I was to go through Shopify and they weren't to charge, like a third party app developer would. You know, that's sort of one thing you said three things…

Another one. I mean everyone always wants more analytics and the analytics are great. It's easy to pull analytics. I think Shopify’s analytics are quite good, but you know, you can always improve on those. And as things like social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook release more analytics, then Shopify can build them into the reports and that'd be great.

You know, one of the great things about Shopify that it was quite simple just to grab a template and you know, click and drag and change your photo and change the text and change the font and that sort of thing. But you know, that that's a really great feature. So I think, if they could improve that even more, then I think most merchants are going to appreciate that. if I could just click and drag things easier, if I could resize things even easier, then that’d be great.

The Cut

Yeah. So, that DIY side of their functionality.

I mean, as an agency owner, I would, uh, I would disagree with you entirely there, Tim, but, uh, I can see what you're saying (laughs).

No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. You’re quite right. And look, as I said earlier, I know that most of your average merchant who are starting out with Shopify probably don’t find it quite as easy as you did yourself because you had some sort of level of experience in and around that. But you know, even the simplest CMSs can be intimidating for people who are taking that first step into it.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Yeah, absolutely.

The Cut

So we might wrap it up now mate if we can, but have you got any final thoughts for any young or older business people who might be considering Shopify or just looking at starting up their ecommerce business or evolving it, or taking to the next level. Do you have any other thoughts for people who are out there having a listen?

Tim from Founded Ventures

Just to repeat what I was saying earlier, just to give it a go. It's never been easier to get yourself set up on Shopify or set up on anything given the Internet and this modern day and age, you can literally be in Antarctica and giving this a crack and just getting out there and trying it.

A lot of people will be sitting back thinking ‘We don’t know how Facebook ads work, I don't know how Adwords works, what even is that?’

But you're never going to know until you just go and try, and these platforms have been set up for even beginners to get on and just experiment. There is so much information online these days, just get out there and give it a go.

In the early days someone said this to me, and I was a little overwhelmed with that. Where do I start? Like, what do I do? Do I try to sell something on Ebay? I don't know. But it really is just a matter of getting out there and, you know, if it takes that then do it, but I can at least say you will have learned something and then you can move on and apply those learnings to the next thing.

There's never been easier and you won't regret giving it a go.

The Cut

Absolutely. Very, very, very solid entrepreneurial advice, whether it's a commerce or bricks and mortar or any other sort of business, I would have thought.

Tim we’ll let you go. So thank you very much for joining us and sharing your Flat Tummy Tea and Founded Ventures stories. Really appreciate it. I'm sure a bunch of people out there will get heaps of value from it and I know a lot of them are already aware of some of your business successes, so thanks again and all the very best for the next things that are in the pipeline for you and your team down there in Tassie. Thank you very much again.

Tim from Founded Ventures

Thanks Ben. My pleasure and thanks for having me.

That’s a wrap

If you’d like to be involved in The Cut’s podcast, just get in touch. We’d love to talk to you about your Shopify ecommerce story.