Ronnie Teja immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 2008. He was 22. Fast-forward to 2020, and he owns and operates a thriving ecommerce company that sells watches and related accessories across 15 websites, including Branzio.com. His team consists of 30 employees in a dozen countries.
I recently spoke with him about launching his company, acquiring sites, and the challenges of managing it remotely. What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your business.
Ronnie Teja: I run about 15 websites. We do mid-eight figures in revenue. The primary product that we sell is men’s watches. We sell them in 50-plus countries at the moment. The idea is to scale to about 120 countries at the end of the year. I’m Canadian. I travel the world and have a team of about 30 employees.
Bandholz: I can’t imagine 15 different websites. Are they on the same platform?
Teja: No. Some are on Shopify. Some are Magento. Some are BigCommerce.
Bandholz: Did you acquire them?
Bandholz: I interviewed last year Shakil Prasla, with Pro Click Ventures. He has a similar business model where he acquires ecommerce businesses. How do you find candidates to acquire?
Teja: Some of them approach us. Others I’ll find from Googling. I might acquire a content site that ranks highly for watch terms or watch reviews. I’ll start a conversation via an email to see if there’s an opportunity for us to work together. Sometimes I’ll look at a successful competitor and try to follow its model. If I can’t replicate it, I might acquire attempt to acquire the company.
Bandholz: So you focus primarily on watches and accessories.
Teja: Yes. There are a lot of accessories, such as straps and software. I ended up acquiring a site in South Africa. That country is a goldmine for ecommerce. I don’t know why more people are not investing there. An acquisition in the U.S. for $20 or $30 is about $2 in South Africa. And the margins are much better. We bought a website there for $50,000 that would have cost $300,000 in the U.S.
Bandholz: Do you have other business partners?
Teja: No. I’m the sole owner and operator.
Bandholz: How do you deal with the self-doubt or the depression that comes along when things are going flat? I get those dark days all the time.
Teja: Everybody has those days. Reading helps me. Or calling a friend.
Bandholz: Do you have a family?
Teja: I have my girlfriend. I’ve been with her for four years. My parents live in Vancouver. We immigrated there when I was about 22 — about 12 years ago. So coming to Canada was starting life from scratch.
Bandholz: That’s cool. Where did you move from?
Teja: Mumbai, India, a city of about 22 million people.
Bandholz: How do you, as an immigrant, arrive in Canada, and build a successful business?
Teja: My mother applied [for immigration] because we had family in Vancouver. In 2005, I was working on my master’s degree. I got a call from my parents saying, “We’ve got a golden ticket.” It was our opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. or Canada, or Australia, the U.K. —wherever. It’s a chance to move to a first-world country with an honest system and little red tape compared to India.
When we landed in Vancouver I needed to make money. So I started working for a small radio station, selling ads. In 2015, I said to myself, “Wait a second. I’ve been working for all these people, making them a bunch of money.” That’s when I started my own business.
Bandholz: So you picked watches and found a vendor?
Teja: I’d done some digital-marketing contract work for MVMT Watches. And then I decide to make and sell watches directly. I failed at first. I almost ran out of money because I tried to source from Vancouver, hire a designer in Vancouver — everything in Vancouver. I did about six months of work in Vancouver to make a watch, and then I discovered someone in Vancouver, who I’d never met, had a Kickstarter campaign using the same logo as the watches I had just made. I didn’t know this person. He had already raised $150,000 on Kickstarter.
So it’s back to the drawing board. I bought a ticket from Vancouver to Hong Kong to attend the massive watch fair there. I hoped to meet suppliers, obtain credit with them, and finalize a design — all within three months. And that’s what happened, versus doing it all in Vancouver.
Bandholz: You’ve now acquired companies. You have 30 team members in different locations.
Teja: That’s correct. It’s exciting to work with 30 team members, to be awake in all these different time zones. I like making my own schedule. It’s not 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I can work at nighttime, in the morning, at the gym, whenever.
I’ve just started implemented EOS [Entrepreneurial Operating System] or a variation of it. I’ve been able to step back from everything over the last 30 days. I recently went on a vacation to the Komodo Islands [in Indonesia]. I hadn’t taken time off for over five years.
It’s interesting how different teams interact. We’ve decided to shut down our Vancouver office, laying off the employees there. They were nice people, but unfortunately not in our long-term vision. We are now going through the process of determining who identifies with our core values and building a team around that.
Bandholz: So, EOS is a blueprint for running a business.
Teja: Yes. I recommend “Get a Grip,” a book that explains it. There are many similar books.
Bandholz: Let’s address your team. You have 30 people. How many different cities are they located?
Teja: The development team is on Eastern Time in South America. Customer service is in 10 different countries, including Nicaragua, Colombia, Serbia, Montenegro, the Philippines, and India. We’ve got a couple of people in the U.K. And I’m in Canada.
All employees communicate with each other. We have a single Slack channel where everybody can chat. I have recently started weekly video updates for my team.
The thing that I’ve done wrong in the last five years is offering salary bonuses to motivate. It definitely did not do that. It’s not the way to go. A much better motivational tool is a personalized gift or a letter, or even a nice postcard from a trip. We still offer bonuses, but only to employees who share our values.
Twenty to thirty percent of our bonus structure is on the performance of the company. But the other 70 to 80 percent is focused on the employee, depending on the key performance indicators of that department. For example, KPIs for the customer service team include customer reviews, missed call rates, customer dissatisfaction rates. So company revenue plays a role, but not as much as the KPIs for the individual.
Bandholz: How can readers connect with you?
Teja: They can add me on Twitter, @roaringronnie. Or add me on LinkedIn, at Ronnie Teja. Or send me an email. My primary ecommerce site is Branzio.com.