Ask Simon Slade why he has had such quick success in the web app development market and he’ll recite his tried-and-true motto. It goes like this: “Build it, test it, learn from it, fix it. Then rinse and repeat as fast as possible!”
He says this procedure allows his Christchurch-based company Doubledot Media to test a lot of ideas, check there is market validation early in the process and make any improvements without spending too much time in development wasting money.
That philosophy was born out of several unsuccessful new product and service attempts, and Simon admits that his toughest challenge as an entrepreneur has been in executing his business ideas. An example is an idea he had for a personalised start web page. “We fell short in developing an adequate strategy to support it, or a method for monetising it.”
The aforementioned motto now applies to every new project they take on. Simon also avoids any temptation to take shortcuts. “Shortcuts are really just quicker paths to failure.”
So how did this 32 year old graduate in business management and marketing end up in the highly challenging app development market?
In 2004 Simon was South Island territory manager for Hewlett Packard, selling on Trade Me in his spare time, and was amazed by the number of people asking him where he sourced his suppliers. “I saw the need for an online database of trusted suppliers.”
He partnered with Mark Ling, who has extensive experience in web marketing, and created SaleHoo (salehoo.com), an online wholesale directory which had 10,000 members subscribing to it just eight months after its creation.
Success with SaleHoo motivated the pair to launch Affilorana the following year – an affiliate marketing training portal that now has more than 100 free video lessons and 230,000 members. The idea for Affilorama was Mark’s. “His family and friends had witnessed his success with affiliate marketing and requested he share his secrets and strategies,” says Simon.
Doubledot Media is the parent company and products and services are now being developed for all three brands.
Of course that ‘rinse and repeat’ philosophy isn’t the only reason for Doubledot’s success – outsourcing has also played an important role, explains Simon. “In the beginning, it can be scary to relinquish control, but it’s essential to expanding your company and freeing your time for more important tasks.
“Although SaleHoo is not the only directory of its kind, we pride ourselves on being the most trusted,” adds Simon. “All 8,000 members have undergone a rigorous screening process to ensure they are legitimate, trustworthy companies. We only recommend the best, and I think that has been our key competitive differentiator.”
Simon says affiliate marketing is such a fun industry because it is filled with so many possibilities. “Once you’ve worked in a particular niche for a while and researched your competition, reviewed products and read pertinent blogs, you’ve already accomplished the necessary prerequisites to be an expert in the field. Between website design and contributing content to the niche, affiliate marketing also provides plenty of opportunities to employ your creative prowess. If you tire of a niche, start over with a new website in a new niche. The possibilities are truly endless,” he says.
Getting back to business philosophies, Simon’s primary one is to keep his customers at the forefront of everything that he does. “If you always keep your customers’ interests at the forefront, you’ll produce quality products and services, and success will naturally follow,” he explains. “Contrary to what some may believe, success is not the end goal; it’s a by-product.”
Along the same lines, delivering quality customer service is paramount, he says. “With technology making communication easier than ever, every customer deserves some type of response in 24 hours or less. If you can’t provide that level of customer service, your customers will move on to someone who can.
“My view on putting the customer first stems from my days as a cleaner at a bakery. I didn’t like how they treated their staff or customers, and after seeing the error in their ways, I vowed to never make the same mistake.”
Simon has employees in Christchurch and around the world, including the Philippines.
“My staff are my number one asset, so I take great care to treat them well and I plan team-bonding events to build camaraderie.
“Because a sizeable group of my employees work in the Philippines, but not in an office together, once a year I fly there and take them and their families on an all-expenses-paid vacation. We’ve gone four-wheeling, boating, swimming, hiking and just generally enjoying the beautiful country and one another’s company.
“It’s money well-spent because it affords our employees the opportunity to bond, which not only helps them work better together but better understand who to contact for which topics.
“It all instils company pride, which translates into greater pride in one’s work and greater effectiveness overall.”
Looking back, Simon regrets not taking more risks in the early stages of the business.
“As an early entrepreneur, I had no family obligations, no employees and very few assets to lose. Now I have a wife, daughter and employees depending on me and our companies to support their livelihoods. So now I don’t feel so free to take big risks because I care deeply about my family and employees.”
But he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. Doubledot Media was recently named the 23rd fastest-growing company in New Zealand on the Deloitte/Unlimited Fast 50 Index, earning a spot on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific.
Going forward there’re plans to further develop his SaleHoo and Afflilorama offerings, but it’s the possibility of creating new e-commerce products and services through the Doubledot Media site that he finds particularly exciting.
“E-commerce is such a fluid and exciting industry, and I plan to stay with it as much as the fast-paced industry allows. If that means creating a brand new website to meet the demands, so be it. We’re here to serve those in e-commerce, and I am open to allowing the industry to take me wherever it is headed.”
November 24, 2014