I have admired the work of Raaja Nemani for a while. I had the good fortune of interning for him in 2011, right as he was launching Bucketfeet, an early DTC footwear brand. We were both the same age. I was in between years at business school, and had this opportunity to work right alongside he and co-founder Aaron Firestein. And I was literally right beside them — I’d take the bus every day to their home, in Ukranian Village in Chicago, which doubled as their office and inventory (all of the sneakers were stored in their 3rd floor attic). Since launching, Raaja helped grow Bucketfeet into an ecommerce pioneer, opening up retail outlets, raising tens of millions of dollars in venture capital, and eventually exiting to Threadless in 2017. Raaja has since gone on to co-found MarketerHire, a network of expert marketers on demand, with over 1000 customers within just a couple years. I have learned a ton from Raaja over the years — he is thoughtful, strategic, and has the experience to lend credence to his talk. The world of ecommerce marketing was very different in 2011 when Bucketfeet launched — paid social was in the nascent stages, much of the growth came from organic facebook posts and page likes. A few of the things that we cover in this conversation: Key To Success in eCommerce Focus. Avoid what other are doing—understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. and execute on that. Don’t shift your strategy based on what you’re seeing the competition do. every company is different, capitalized differently, and understand why you’re making the decisions that you are. The unsexy fundamentals - the importance of margin and unit economics. When you have solid margins, you are able to pour more into marketing and have more aggressive marekting campaigns. Surprisingly, a lot of companies don’t think about unit economics early on, which is a key to building a successful business. Brands in niches like watches, glasses, skincare, can have high margins. It is harder in footwear, where margins are less. On Retail & DTC eCommerce eCommerce is not fundamentally innovative. At the end of the day, it’s just another sales channel. In the same way that selling wholesale via Nordstrom or selling on Amazon is a sales channel. If you are going to be a big brand, I think you need to be everywhere. THat includes in-person retail. Your consumers are both online and in person. Some brands aim to generate profits on those in-person retail sales. But for some, especially if you’re based in like SoHo in New York, then you have to have a massive retail strategy. that store may not ever aim to be profitable, because the real estate and rent is too expensive. and those economics don’t work. These landmark properties obviously are trying to build a brand presence, which supports the rest of the business. For us, I’m glad that we did it. It was mixed results, and ultimately it was a lot of testing. just like you’d test Facebook as an acquisistion strategy, you’re testing retail as an acquisition strategy. So it’s why pop ups became so popular, because you could test it with a bit less financial risk with the short term leases that are month to month. so fur us, we thought about it fro a branding and marketing perspective. what’s interesting though is that the conversion rate was through the roof! so some of those stores were operating at close to break even, if not a bit profitable over those time periods, because we could sell a lot of shoes. and that’s one of the things that is hard with our brand, is that not everyone understands the product until they see it in person. The Importance of Consistency in Storytelling and Brand One of the big lessons that we learned was to create a simple value proposition. there should be no confusion of what the brnad is about. people should know exactly why they should care the second that they are on your site. It’s hard to be concise and clear—whether that’s writing, creative, messaging, or whatever. We started with a more complicated brand story, trying to stay true to how Aaron (my co-founder) and I first connected in the slums of Argentina. We wanted to be true to that story, but our message became overly complex and verbose. and people just didn’t understand the brand story. We evolved into a more simple story, but I advise other brands to focus on being clear and focused.
Raaja on Twitter: https://twitter.com/raajanemani
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2:40 - The launch of Bucketfeet
9:15 - The biggest takeaways from having great mentors
16:03 - On retail vs. Direct To Consumer, and how the metrics are measured differently
25:32 - The importance of hiring the right people, and the launch of MarketerHire
32:25 - Where companies go wrong in their marketing hires
40:34 - Where Raaja sees marketing opportunities today