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My ecommerce canon

I always enjoy discussing ecommerce and entrepreneurship with friends and other people. I love helping them.

I’m frequently asked about resources for folks that are interested in learning more about ecommerce. There are a lot of good options for how to build a site on Shopify (the platform I use) or the nuts and bolts of ecommerce. In fact, Practical Ecommerce is a good source.

In terms of mindset and strategy, however, there are fewer choices. But they still exist. Here are a few articles, videos, and books that I revisit several times a year when I’m considering how to build FringeSport.

The first is a post on Medium called “E-Commerce is a Bear” by Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos. Dunn address ecommerce being a bear in a sense that it can kill you. He begins the article discussing Amazon and how difficult it is to compete with it. He states, towards the end, “E-commerce is great. Only three problems: no IPOs, no M&A, no EBITDA.” He is referring to ecommerce at a billion-dollar scale, which is different from what many entrepreneurs are trying to accomplish.

For the positive aspects, Dunn addresses four strategies to compete with Amazon: proprietary pricing, proprietary selection, proprietary experience, and proprietary merchandise. Proprietary pricing is mainly referring to flash sale sites and similar. Proprietary selection is about understanding your category and knowing your customers well. Proprietary experience is about ecommerce subscriptions and other non-traditional forms of selling. The most interesting to me is the proprietary merchandise approach, where you’re building your own brand with ecommerce as a channel.

Another helpful Medium post from Dunn is about the trend of “v-commerce.” He titled the article “What’s a Digitally-Native Vertical Brand? Only the Future.” He has subsequently changed his nomenclature from “digitally-native vertical brand,” which is a mouthful, to “v-commerce.” Dunn says that v-commerce is a brand that primarily sells on the web. It’s a vertical brand, wherein the website and the product have the same name. It’s laser-focused on customer experience and customer intimacy, and while it focuses on the web, it can extend offline as well.

That is an excellent article for what we’re building at FringeSport and what most ecommerce entrepreneurs should do, too.

The next great article is “1,000 True Fans” by author and futurist Kevin Kelly. It’s a short post that was initially focused on artists and musicians. Its thrust is that if you’re an artist, you need to cultivate only 1,000 fanatical “true fans” and you’ll be able to survive. What I take from the article is the idea that barriers between you and your customers are toxic to your ability to inspire and grab their emotions. It’s a helpful reminder of the benefits of maniacally focusing on your customers.

Next is a TEDx talk on YouTube called “Start With Why.” The presenter is Simon Sinek, a prominent author and consultant. In the presentation, Sinek states, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” His point is why you do something is the most important from a customer and marketing standpoint. It leads to how you do it, and then finally, to what you are doing or what you are selling. Sinek addresses the importance of grabbing consumers’ emotions. He cites the difference between Apple’s customers versus those of other computers and smartphone companies.

Another terrific article is “Do Things That Don’t Scale” by Paul Graham, a venture capitalist and founder of Y Combinator, the tech incubator. The article runs counter to the views of many entrepreneurs. But his point is that many important tasks of business owners do not scale.

For example, I receive many emails from FringeSport’s customers. I encourage our customers to email me directly and I also often provide my personal cell phone number. I strive to answer every email, call, and text I receive from customers. A lot of people tell me, “You can’t scale that.” The reality is that I can scale it far more than they think. And even if I can’t, eventually, it will be a wonderful problem: We will have so many customers reaching out to me that I can’t respond to them all. When that point happens, I’ll worry about how I scale it.

It’s difficult to address ecommerce entrepreneurship and not mention “The 4-Hour Workweek,” the book by Tim Ferriss. It was first published in 2007; many of Ferriss’s points are now outdated. But his broader ideas of not having to obey other people’s rules and not working a job you hate are solid.

Finally, I often revisit “Start-up Drugs,” another Medium post by Andy Dunn. He states in that post, “Spending a lot of money on paid marketing is a great way to scale a bad business.” It reminds me of FringeSport’s decision to stop advertising. I addressed it a few months ago, at “Our experiment in eliminating AdWords.”

Peter Keller
Peter Keller
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