The dream for many entrepreneurs is to start a business they can step away from and watch it run itself. Better still is when that business is born out of a favorite pastime.
Shazim Mohammad is the founder of Glorious PC Gaming Race, a store that sells top of the line PC gaming modification hardware and accessories.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear how he built one of the chillest 7 figure businesses where he doesn't have to work every day.
- Why your business becomes less flexible when you increase your product catalog.
- How getting creative with themed promo codes helps drive sales.
- How to attract customers to buy directly from you instead of another marketplace by offering bundle deals.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Felix: Today, I’m joined by Shazim Mohammad from Glorious PC Gaming Race at PCGamingRace.com. Glorious PC Gaming Race brings top-of-the-line PC gaming modification, hardware, and accessories and was started in 2014 and based out of Dallas, Texas. Welcome.
Shazim: Hey, nice to be on.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about your story. What are some of the most popular products that you sell?
Shazim: I’m 26 years old. I graduated last year from college. I’m one of those guys that realized when I was in school that the corporate life really wasn’t for me. During my last year doing my Masters, I jumped into the ecommerce business world. I came across … Basically founded my company, Glorious PC Gaming Race. I’m going to explain what it is, because people that aren’t gamers don’t typically know what it is. It actually was inspired … There’s something known as the PC Master Race, which … I don’t know. Felix, are you a PC gamer?
Felix: I’m not a PC gamer, but I know of this meme or this … Like you’re saying, it’s an inside thing within PC gaming. Yeah, elaborate for the audience.
Shazim: The PC Master Race … It’s really popular on reddit as a community. On reddit it was really popular, but the origins were from somewhere else, but it’s the idea that PC gamers are the elite upper class of gaming, that is the true way to properly be a gamer, whereas console gamers are more like peasants, per se. It’s the inferior form of gaming. It’s our task, our duty as PC gamers to guide these peasants or console gamers to the “path of enlightenment” and find the true way to game.
Like you said, there’s lots of memes and puns associated with this theme. For example, our PC setup that we have, we typically refer to them as our battlestation or our shrines, some people call that. It’s cool because it’s very thematic and we have this little hierarchy of types of gamers. At the lowest branch, you have the filthy console peasants, which are the console gamers that refuse to believe that PC gaming is anything better. Then on up we’ll have the Apple heathens, which are … Apple gaming is not really … There’s not that many games for Apple products so it’s there. Then one up from that you have the Notebook nobles, which are the guys that think gaming on a laptop nowadays as technology becomes better. It’s changing, but it’s one step below the ultimate, which would be PC gaming, which you have unlimited freedom, full modularity, and it’s the true way of gaming.
That is the theme behind all of this. What I did was I … I was a PC gamer and I was inspired by this. I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” I branched it off to a different brand on this Glorious PC Gaming Race, trying to keeping it politically correct and trying to differentiate myself from the community just a little bit so I’m not jumping on something that was already created.
Felix: Makes sense.
Shazim: As Glorious PC Gaming Race, we create products for PC gamers such as … Our most popular items are extended mouse pads and wrist pads. These aren’t like your normal small mouse pads. These are three foot by two foot mouse pads. These are huge and it appeals to a variety of gamers and a lot of graphic designers and stuff like that. There’s various uses for a superly large mouse pad. Recently, we launched our first tech product, which is a mechanical keyboard. We’ve been excited about that.
Felix: Very cool. I’m an avid redditor, so I follow a lot of the … Like you were saying, the battle stations, the subreddit, and probably there are tons of other ones that I’m sure you’re a part of, but just your explanation just now explained so much about that whole ecosystem. I think that’s really cool that you’ve been able to locate, identify such a passionate niche. Because there’s all of these, like you were saying, all of these names that they give themselves, and all of these hierarchies, even though it’s tongue in cheek in some regards, it’s still very passionate that they’ve been able to build all of these nicknames for each other. I think that’s very cool that you’ve been able to identify this and build a business off of it.
Did you have experience prior to launching Glorious PC Gaming Race or did you … Was this your very first entrepreneurial pursuit?
Shazim: For specifically ecommerce, yeah, this was my first experience. Throughout college, I ran several websites and worked on some PC games and stuff like that so there wasn’t any kind of … This was my real first entrepreneur/ecommerce type focus going forward.
Felix: You mentioned a bunch of different products. I’m seeing here that the mouse mat like you were saying, the keyboards. Did you start with a bunch of products at once or did you focus on just one product at launch?
Shazim: How I found my first product … My first product was my extended mouse mat and I was browsing reddit and I think it was actually on the battlestation subreddit where I saw some guy was using a gun mat, which is basically … It’s used for guns, how to assemble or clean a gun or something like that. People were using that as a mouse pad. I was like, “Yo, this is interesting. People are using a gun mat as a mouse pad. Why isn’t there something specifically focused … Why isn’t there a real big market for it?”
There was already an existing market. By no means, is it a new inventive idea. It’s an existing idea, but I looked at the current extended mats that were out there and I basically looked to see what was wrong with them. I was just collecting what people were complaining about. There was just different types of surfaces. There’s different weaves. Different quality control issues and stuff like that. I took a chance. I was like, “Hey, you know what? Let me just try this out. See where it takes me.”
Settled with the brand name. Found a good brand name, which is Glorious PC Gaming Race and rolled with it. I started off with one product. When that started being successful, I scaled to five or six products. When that became successful, I doubled and then it grew from there.
Felix: That’s awesome.
Shazim: Okay, in about two years … This is the second year. We started in August 2014 so it’s been about two years. We went from one product to about 25, 26 products.
Felix: Wow. Definitely want to talk a little bit more in a bit about the difficulties and the challenges about doing that because I know a lot of stores … First a lot of stores do make the mistake, I think, of launching with too many things at once. It sounded like you just tried to get your feet wet at first, found success, and then started scaling up from there.
Definitely want to talk about that in a second, but you mentioned that in order to first find your very first product … You didn’t take an innovative idea. Like you were saying, it already existed. There was already a market for it. There were already people using alternatives like these gun mats that you saw people using for their mouse mats. You also mentioned that you were able to identify what people were complaining about and then building a product around solving those complaints. Tell us a little bit more about it. How did you find out what people were complaining about? How did you use that information to influence the direction of your company?
Shazim: Being a PC gamer myself, it wasn’t hard for me to see what people were complaining about. I bought the products that people were using. I was like, “Ooo, I can improve it this way.” It was almost to the point where … It was like what would I want to see or how would I be using my product? I use all my products I create because I’m a gamer and this is what I like to see.
I don’t like saying that price was one of the issues, because you can find similar products for like $40 when I first started out, but price was an issue. One of the things that we did differently was a lot of … I play a lot of SPF games like Counter-Strike and when you’re playing Counter-Strike on lower sensitivities for your mouse, you move your mouse … You need more surface area and depending on your mouse, it becomes really, really sensitive.
Everything becomes really, really sensitive. How much friction there is? How smooth is it from left to right as compared to up and down? Do you have more control one way as compared to another way? How does the cloth develop over time as you break into it? There’s a lot of factors like that that were really important to consider when designing a mouse pad. Someone that isn’t in that market or never even think about it like, “Wow, breaking into a mouse pad. I’ve never … ” It wouldn’t even cross your mind, but those are all important things that you have to consider and play around with.
It was just a matter of honestly just experimentation and contacted a bunch of suppliers and I was like, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s make it this way.” They made it. I tried it for a little bit. If I didn’t like it, I would be like, “Okay, I want to change this, this, and this, and this,” and changed it and refined it to what we liked. Luckily for the market that I’m catering to, it’s a bunch of tech dudes like you and me. We’re pretty vocal. We’re pretty tech savvy so getting feedback from these customers is really, really easy.
They’re gamers. If you talk to a gamer like a gamer they’re going to give you the response. What I think we’re lucky with is that we get really, really good feedback and really, really good suggestions from our customers. We take that into account and we’re constantly improving our products based off what people are saying to us. Being a small company, we’re more flexible so we were able to quickly release Version 1, make the changes we needed, and then come out with Version 2, and Version 3 and so forth as time went on.
Felix: I think there’s something to be said there about looking for a market that will give you that kind of feedback, like the blunt feedback I think you’re referring to that gamers, anybody that’s in the tech industry … They’ve very vocal. They’re very opinionated and ready to offer their opinions, even if sometimes one is not solicited. I think you fell into this because you are already a member of that community, but if someone out there is looking for a business to start, yeah, I think it is important to find an audience or a particular market that is going to help you develop your product and it is going to be willing to give you that feedback.
When you were working with these suppliers to build out the first product, the mouse mat, where you the only beta tester or did you have other people that you wanted to get these mats out to for them to try it out as well?
Shazim: I was the only one. I knew what I was looking for. For a mouse pad, it wasn’t really necessary. We sent out a bunch of review samples when we got our first batch, per se, to get interest and taking pre-orders and stuff like that, but for the most part, it’s always been my decision on testing and what I felt like was appropriate.
Felix: One of the gifts and a curse was, again, this audience of techies is that they are also hesitant or at least cautionary when it comes to businesses, right? They’re always thinking about are a business trying to … Not necessarily have a negative outlook on businesses, but at least a little more suspicious of businesses and marketing, all that. Did you encounter those kind of issues early on? People were wondering, “Is this guy actually a part of the community or not or is he just trying to come in here and make a buck?”
Shazim: I was always part of the community when I started. I’ve always been a redditor, per se, and I wasn’t a guy trying to advertise my business on reddit. I was a redditor that started a business through reddit. Most people were actually surprisingly very receptive. For example, when I started off … When I was thinking of the logo for my company, I posted it on PC Master Race. I was like, “Hey, what do you guys think? I’m thinking about starting a store themed around the PC Master Race. What are you guys’ thoughts?”
From there, people gave me feedback on my logo. People suggested, “Hey, maybe you should drop the Master Race part, because it’s not really politically correct and stuff.” Of course, there was some people that were like, “No. Get out.” Pretty negative, but for the most part, people were fairly receptive and I’m surprised … I remember that post. I’m surprised to this day, when people on reddit are talking about my product, they always reference that I came in two years ago. Some redditor started it up. It’s always been part of the community. I’ve never really faced any type of resistance, per se.
Felix: I think it helps then that you are a part of the community. You can’t just drop in. I’m sure if you just sign up for an account on reddit and all of a sudden just started talking about your business without having some of that history with the community, you would have a different … They would receive you differently, but I think you put in the work early on just by being a part of that community, which helped a lot when you wanted to eventually sell to that community.
You mentioned that this wasn’t an innovative idea. There were already other products out on the market for this. Why did you feel like you could compete? Did you ever worry about I’m going up against … Not necessarily giants, but you’re going up against people that … In a marketplace that already has competition in there.
Shazim: Yeah. Just jumping into a gaming category is pretty risky. I didn’t really get into too much of what if it fails, because if you’re too scared to do something, then … You don’t know til you try. I really feel like I did the branding really, really well. I really captured that audience that likes this type of branding and this theme and I felt like it’s helped me a lot because when I started …
Now for example on Amazon, right? Amazon’s one of the places we sell. At the time we had a few … Maybe four or five companies selling them. They were the big companies and I was the new guy on the block that came in. Now on Amazon, there’s hundreds of Chinese sellers that flood it with similar products for a fraction of the cost that we sell it for. Obviously, they’re different products and different things, but for us, we never saw a dip in our sales, because … I strongly feel like it was due to the branding and how we presented the products and having extremely high-quality pictures and stuff like that.
I think that helped a lot.
Felix: I think that that brand that you’re talking about is one of those assets that will just continue to pay off for you in the long run. That’s one of the things you mentioned in the pre-interview about one of the keys to your success is your ability to build this brand. Can you say a little more about that? What does it mean to you to build a brand? Did you come out purposefully in your head that this is the brand and then executed on that? Tell us about your thought process when it comes to building a brand.
Shazim: Branding? I think branding is everything. If you don’t have a brand, you don’t have a business. I would argue that if you sold a thousand products and made pennies on it, but had the prospects of growing into a bigger brand base in the future, it would be worth it, because you are creating your brand. Any negative complaint or criticism you get is an opportunity for you to handle that customer, make them happy, and they’ll be like, “Amazing customer service. Awesome people.”
It’s like the Amazon philosophy, right? Everyone knows on Amazon that, hey, Amazon has the best returns ever because you can literally return anything. That’s what we do. We just take a return for whatever. We don’t question it. Most of the time, the customers really … At the end of the day, if you ever have a complaint, the customer is … They’re looking for a refund and they’re happy about it. That customer would go on a reddit or whatever community they’re from and go like, “Dude, they have the best customer service ever,” or whatnot.
Branding, I think, is the key to everything. We had issues when we first started off because Glorious PC Gaming Race and our logo in itself isn’t really standard. It’s loud. It’s not very minimalistic per se. It’s not simple and people were like, “This isn’t going to work. This is stupid.” Anyone you would show they would be like, “This isn’t how you run a business. You can’t have this.” I was thinking, “Why not?” If everyone in the world is going to a minimalist logo, let me be different and have something that’s a little bit louder and a little bit eye catching.
As I expected, our customers responded. Most of the customers are like, “Yeah, we bought product because of your branding,” or, “I love your branding. It made me laugh,” or something like that. I used it to my advantage. I tried to be a little bit different, tried to be a little bit loud and people really liked it.
One of the things we do and it works out really well for us is that anytime we have a sale or something, we use a relative promo code, which people like. For example, back when DJ Khaled was really popular, we had a promo code with YOUDABEST or something for one of our promo codes. People on reddit were chewing that up. They were like, “Oh my God, he’s hilarious,” and we would get views just because of the promo code. Having that type of presence of being different and loud, people really respond to it. Yeah, branding, I think, is everything.
Felix: Did you purposefully and did you take a calculated approach to building your brand or was this something that organically developed over time?
Shazim: What do you mean calculated?
Felix: Let’s say someone just started their business and they listen to this podcast and hear about the importance of brand building, which is something that a lot of entrepreneurs talk about as well. It’s definitely … I’ve heard time and time again, it’s a key aspect of building a sustainable and offensable business, but when they sit down and say, “Okay, I want to build a brand. Where do I begin? How do I even …” It’s such a large undertaking.
Let me ask a different way then. What do you on a daily basis to ensure that you are building a brand?
Shazim: I didn’t have a grand plan when I started. There wasn’t a definite approach, but I did the stuff that I know I needed to do. For example, obviously anyone going to ecommerce would be a fool not to get on Amazon, but that being said, building your business on Amazon, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can’t build a business in someone else’s playground. When I started off, I always had my site, my Shopify site and my Amazon store. I had both of ’em updated at all times. You just can’t. That helped a lot.
You have Instagram and Facebook and you’re building an email list. On our Instagram page, we post pictures of people’s gaming setups, but only if people that are using our products. We started off slowly. People on reddit post setups on battle stations. Most [inaudible 00:22:53] people use our products. We just take it and credited them and then upload to Instagram. We just decided to do a picture a day. We grew from zero followers to 35k about followers and people found us through that. You start seeing it pay off. When you integrated within the community and take part in discussions and stuff like that … A lot of people are always recommending our brand because they’ve heard about us through reddit and stuff like that. A lot of word of mouth is being used to build a brand.
There’s not a magic bullet or formula. It really depends on your type of audience. For me, I have a really, really techie audience so it wasn’t too bad to cater to that crowd because I was like them and I was in the place that they were at.
Felix: It sounds like when you’re building a brand … Is it just an extension of who you already are or do you have to … Not necessarily do things that don’t represent you, but for example, when you came to this crossroads with your logo and you said minimalism, minimalist designs/logos were in, but you decided to go for something louder, was that decision just based on doing something different than what other people were doing or was it an extension of yourself?
Shazim: It was an extension of myself. I was like, “Hey, if I saw this, I’d buy it,” or, “Hey, if I put this in a group, would this stick out?” Yeah, why not. It’s a little bit different. I wouldn’t have an issue just because some professional running some company thinks that it has to be minimalistic for whatever reason. I never saw it as an issue.
Felix: Makes sense. Cool. Yeah, you mentioned that you also sell on Amazon. Was this something that you launched at the same time as your store or did you do one before the other?
Shazim: Same time. I always had the Shopify side and the Amazon at the same time.
Felix: Cool. For anyone else out there that is thinking about, that has their store for example, and they’re thinking about opening up another sales channel by going Amazon or some other marketplace, what’s your experience been on there? How’s selling on Amazon different than selling through your own store?
Shazim: Amazon is like a necessary evil. It’s one of those things that right now you just have to be on there. It will be guaranteed to increase your sales, but you’re never going to really build your customer base and audience. That being said, our Amazon, our products, we have about like 2,000 reviews that aren’t fake, by the way, and stuff so we’re actually … We’re doing really well on Amazon.
FBA is so hard to compete with. It is so difficult to compete with FBA. Our products are stored in a fulfillment center in Salt Lake City, but FBA’s reach is so powerful and so many people use Amazon just to search for products that it can’t be ignored. That being said, we have had our share of headaches on Amazon. You send an inventory. It takes forever. Your product doesn’t change. Something hijacked. You go out of stock. You lose money. You can’t pre-orders. There’s been its slew of headaches that come with Amazon that Shopify does not have, but we still have both stores open. We have a lot of international customers that buy through our site, our Shopify site. We are able to do more such as combo deals and flexible pricing and flexible promo code and stuff like that through our site directly.
Felix: One thing that I’ve heard from other stores that have done this combination of Shopify plus Amazon is that their customers that buy on Amazon are die hard, hardcore Amazon shoppers and they will always buy on Amazon and even if they bought ten products from this company, they’ll never come over and buy directly from the store. Do you have this experience as well? Do you find people that buy on Amazon and then eventually check out your store and buy directly from your store or do they tend to stick with one channel versus the other?
Shazim: Being a techie audience, they usually look to see where it’s cheaper. Everyone does window shopping, especially gamers. They’re going to look to see … Gamers usually buy stuff online and they’ll look to compare … Shop around and see where they can find the cheapest price. They see the store is taking PayPal and it’s cheaper than they usually would go for whatever option is cheaper. We don’t really have any allegiance per se to Amazon as compared to Shopify, our Shopify store. Of course, there are some people that would really be willing to support a small business and buy directly from us, which is always appreciated, but we don’t really have anything like that.
We have noticed that when we do go out of stock on something on Amazon, we do see an increase in our own sites, sales on our sites of that particular SKU, but for the most part, it’s not any brand allegiance or anything like that.
Felix: Makes sense. This issue, not necessarily an issue, but this trait of your customers where they are super price sensitive where they will hunt for the cheaper price, even if it’s just a couple dollars, how do you manage that? Do you constantly try to adjust prices to make sure that things are always matched up? How do you manage running a business on two different sales channels where the customers are going to be looking around for a cheaper price?
Shazim: We price our products the same on Amazon and our own site. For example, one of our mouse pads is $23.99 on Amazon with free Prime shipping and the same product is $23.99 on our own site, plus shipping. It’s about five bucks. If you don’t have Prime, it doesn’t really make a difference for you. I think it’s actually cheaper on our site by a few cents, but we just … If you’re searching on Amazon, we’re not even catering to you on our site. There’s people that don’t use Amazon, that use Google exclusively to find our products and stuff like that. We just cater to people that find us through Google. We don’t really try to take customers from Amazon that are using Amazon to find us per se.
Felix: I was going to ask, if people are searching for your products through Google, are you competing in search rankings between your Amazon listing and your product page on your site?
Shazim: Yeah, we do. I think our Amazon page is listed higher, but it depends on what you’re searching for usually. People come across us. One thing we do is we try to offer a bundle deal, usually. Hey, buy this, this, and this item and you get a bundle deal and stuff like that. There are things we use to try to persuade people to buy from us directly as compared to Amazon, but we don’t really make much of an effort to take Amazon customers and have ’em come to us.
Felix: Makes sense. You mentioned earlier that it’s so hard to compete with FBA or fulfillment by Amazon. Can you say a little bit more about that? What do you mean by competing and why is it difficult?
Shazim: Mainly for shipping logistics wise. When you send inventory to Amazon, Amazon distributes it towards their warehouses along the US and because of that, they are able to keep their prices lower whereas if someone is using … People always say, “Ooo, but FBA fees are so high, so high.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re not including shipping costs.” For us, our warehouse is in Utah, the West Coast. It’s basically West Coast so anything going from Utah to someone in New York, it’s really, really expensive to send it out. We send all of our stuff through DHL so it’s 10 or 11 bucks whereas if we’re sending it on Amazon, it’s five bucks or something like that.
That difference does make a huge disparity because I would think most of our items on our site actually go for more … They cost more to ship out than it does on Amazon, which is … It’s not really a problem people consider until they scale large enough. One way to counter that would be to have two warehouses, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast and filter out which way to do it, but secluding your inventory like that is very difficult to manage.
Felix: Yeah, I can imagine. I want to talk a little bit about scaling up the product line. You started out with the extended mouse mat. What was the next product that you added and how did you know what product to roll out next?
Shazim: We wanted to synergize all of our products. Luckily, a lot of people always give us recommendations. They say, “Hey, you could come out with this. You could come out with this.” A lot of people asked us to come out with some kind of wrist pad or a wrist rest for a keyboard and a mouse. We’re like, “Hey, yeah, sure we’ll file something like that.” We looked at the competitors. We looked at the current ones available on the market and they were just … They were so ugly. Who wants a long banana shaped wrist pad on the computer? It looks disgusting. It looks ugly. We’re like, “Hey, let’s make something cooler. Let’s make something nicer. Let’s make something different.”
We came out with one of our wrist pad specifically for people that use a mechanical keyboard. I used to have carpal tunnel so I knew what I was … Any gamer guy that’s sitting at the computer all day would eventually develop carpal tunnel at some point. We looked into proper ergonomics, this and that, to see what would make a good wrist pad. Yeah, we came out with a product. People really, really liked it and it’s one of our strongest selling products currently available. It’s nice because same rending as our mouse pad and everything looks really good together.
Felix: Yeah, I guess that’s the best way to get ideas on what to launch next just based on what your customers are practically demanding from you. Once you decided based on the feedback, based on customers emailing you, reaching out to you that wrist pads were the next thing to go for, how did you roll it out? How did you introduce this new product to your customers when they’ve only known you at that time for mouse mats?
Shazim: Just posted on reddit, man. I was like, “Hey, we came out with a new wrist pad,” and I think we did a giveaway. We were like, “Hey, we came out with a new wrist pad and we’re giving away [inaudible 00:34:22] for free. If you’re interested, comment. Here it is for sale if you want to just buy one. Here’s a promo code that gives you like 50% off.” At that point, the point wasn’t to make money. It was more mainly to get traction going and that’s what we did.
People started looking at it and people asked. People started reviewing it and contacted by redditors and said like, “Hey, I’ll send you a free sample if you post a review about our wrist pad,” and people started doing that. Word spread from there. It’s really just word of mouth. Most of our stuff that we did has been successful through word of mouth and integrating into the community. People post their experiences and feedback and stuff like that.
Felix: One of the other products that you now have in your line of products is the mechanical keyboard. This seems like a big step up in manufacturing, in technology above what you’re doing before. Was it just as easy to just roll this out? What was the process behind that product?
Shazim: Yeah, it’s one of those things that you have to build up to. I would never recommend anyone starting off to ever do an electronic product because of all the certificates and hoops you have to jump through, unless you have a lot of capital to work with. This keyboard is innovative. It’s our first patent-pending product.
This was the difference to me … This is the r/mechanicalkeyboards community and I had always been a part of it and it’s a very passionate community about keyboards. One of the things that I noticed was … I was like, “Hey, every keyboard is locked …” There’s different types of switches available for mechanical keyboards, different flavors that alter your typing experience and all of them are hardwired so if you wanted to try a different typing experience with a mechanical keyboard, you would have to buy a completely new keyboard. What we did was make it modular where you could just buy a switch and just easily swap ’em out by yourself without having to buy another keyboard.
We had to jump through a bunch of samples and testing over and over again and quality control issues and then licensing like FCC certification and all that good stuff. A lot of legalities and stuff to go through to make this happen, but we did and it came out and we’re working on promoting it right now. It’s a little bit harder to sell than a mouse pad or a wrist pad which are like $20 products, like a $100 product range. We contacted a bunch of YouTube reviewers and stuff like that. We have gotten the word out there about it.
Already people are asking us for, “Hey, can we have this type of product now?” and stuff like that. Alterations to this product, which we eventually will roll out with in the future. People like it and it’s a little bit slower to sell, but with our current existing line and synergy with our products, we were able to offer a combo deal which people really react to really well. Yeah, it’s definitely a step up, but once you get through it, it’s not that bad.
Felix: Why do you think it is harder to sell a product like this? Do you find that it is because it is a more complicated product? What is it about a product like this that’s harder to sell than what you were selling before?
Shazim: I would argue partially that mechanical keyboards is a more saturated market than mouse pads, surprisingly. There are more options available and there’s just a lot of … You’re comparing a lot of different features with a lot of different features. You have Keyboard A that has features A through Z and you have Keyboard B that has features 1 through 26 and it’s more research and slower on that part for a customer to mix and match. There’s a lot of options the user has to consider and it’s harder to capture what someone is specifically looking for.
Felix: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point about the more features there are, the harder it can be to sell just because you have to hit on so many different things because people just have so many preferences once they have all these options available and all these features that they can look at that then, they’re comparing yours against so many other possibilities. I think that that’s a really good point. When the gaming mat and the wrist pad, those are solving one key problem that someone has and I think makes it a lot easier to sell than a keyboard, which could be solving for different markets. I think that’s a really good point.
When you did start adding these more products, maybe not even the mechanical keyboards, but all these different products that you’re building up to the keyboard, did you run into any problems that you maybe didn’t expect before you started expanded the product line?
Shazim: No, not particularly. I would say the hardest thing about having a larger product line is managing stock and inventory levels. That becomes increasingly more complicated, but apart from that, no. I would also say that the bigger your product line, the less flexible you are. For example, if at some point we decided, hey, we need to change our logo or make a refinement to our logo, well, that meant okay we have to go through like 20 different products, 20 different packaging. It’s a lot of work to make a small change to something so critical that spans all your product lines. It makes you less flexible and inventory management becomes even a bigger concern if you’re not organized.
Felix: What about when it comes to the marketing and advertising? I know that you said that word of mouth seems to be the key for you guys, but when you’re on Instagram or putting your stuff out there maybe organically, does it become harder when you have so many different products that you could be promoting?
Shazim: We don’t actually ever specifically promote one product, not til this keyboard came into existence that we didn’t heavily start promoting the keyboard. Never had to actually go out of my way to shove a product down my Instagram followers’ throats or anything like that. Don’t really post any kind of sales on there. We could. I haven’t experimented with that. We have started playing around with Google Ads and Facebook Ads and stuff like that, but for the most part, it’s the idea that if you have a good product, people will come to you. Presented in a proper way and get some traction, a little bit of traction going and it helps a lot. No, we never really specifically push the product with heavy advertising.
Felix: Yeah, if you’re not promoting or pushing these products, what are you putting out there? What kind of content are you putting out there that gets people to eventually check out the site, the store, and then hopefully eventually buy?
Shazim: One of the largest places that people find us is on r/battlestation. People that buy our product would … People post a picture of their setup and you’ll see a picture of a mouse pad or a wrist pad. They’re like, “Ooo, where’d you get that? Ooo, where’d you get that?” It’s not very common to see a two foot by three foot mouse pad and someone immediately is going to be like, “Look at … Hey, what’s this?” Then usually the redditor will be like, “Oh, I got it from reddit. Here’s a link to buy it.” Several hundred people read that and come to us. They’ll buy it. They’ll post it on r/battlestation or whatever and it works like that.
In a way, it’s made my life easier because I don’t have to specifically go out of my way to do any kind of marketing to try and pull in more people. That being said, if I did, it probably would help even more, but I’m fine the way business is going right now where I feel that I don’t need to be doing that. I can focus on expanding my product line and making … Having a complete set of products out I’d like to have.
Felix: I think that’s another key thing to consider when you are starting a business or thinking about what kind of business or what kind of market to get into. You are selling a product to people that are excited to share that product.
Felix: You’re essentially selling to passionate gear heads. It doesn’t have to be gaming accessories. It could be photography. Anything that people are super excited to talk about the products themselves and they’re not just buying it and using it without being excited to talk about or share. I think because you’re able to sell a product that makes people excited to share, makes a lot easier for you to market for free by word of mouth.
Shazim: It does, yeah. It does.
Felix: Cool. Can you give us an idea of how successful the business is today two years in? Give us an idea of the growth or success of the business.
Shazim: We started off with one product and it became largely successful. We introduced a couple more products. All of those become successful and now we have about 20, 25 products and all of those became successful. For 2016, we’ve broken the seven figure line and we’re going into Q4 really, really strong and so far so good. It just keeps growing.
Felix: Very cool. Speaking of Q4, obviously a very big season a lot of listeners that have stores that are preparing for. Anything that you are doing in preparation for this holiday shopping season?
Shazim: Yeah. Last year we had the misfortune of going out of stock around early November, so it was really hard to gauge because you didn’t really have the data … The first year you don’t really have the data to understand what the Q4 is and then your second time you are scared. You’re like, “Okay, it’s going to go out of stock again.” You order a lot of inventory.
At this point, if you haven’t ordered by now it’s too late mostly likely for Q4 or it’s just getting just about there, but what we did was we ordered just a crapton of inventory in August and it’ll be here by October and we’re just going to send it off where it needs to go and prepared for the various promotions that Amazon does and the various promotions that we’re going to have on our site on like Cyber Monday and stuff like that, which is our biggest days.
Felix: Very cool. What kind of tools and apps do you use to help run the business, whether it be the store? I see a couple of things on the site now like a help chat. I see this thing on the side too where it says … It gives notifications when someone purchases a product on the site. Can you share what apps you use to help run or help automate pieces of the store?
Shazim: Yeah, the one really big one we use is Stitch Labs. Stitch Labs we use to manage our inventory. That’s pretty popular. It is pricey, but I think once you get to the level where losing inventory hurts you a lot, I think it’s really beneficial. We use that. We use Google Shopping to sync all of our feeds to our Google Store, which helps a lot. That thing that was popping up, it shows the sales made most recently [inaudible 00:46:18]. We’re just playing around with that. That’s a new item.
We use Bench to do all of our accounting, which is really cool. It’s an outsourced bookkeeper essentially. It’s nice because they pull all the information from Shopify and Amazon and our credit cards and PayPal and any tech purchase that you make. Any electronic purchase that you do, they consolidate all of that and do your books for you essentially which is really important for tax time.
Felix: Bench, I’ve heard good things about them. Did you have a bookkeeper from the get go or is that something that you think entrepreneurs should consider at the very beginning?
Shazim: I used to do it on an Excel sheet and I quickly realized that that’s a nightmare to do just because … For example on Shopify, if you make a purchase on PayPal, then you have to take into account the Shopify if there’s any or the PayPal cut that it’s taking the part of and the various fees or if someone returns something. It’s a lot of manual work.
It’s super organized to be on top of your taxes, because people don’t realize how much they cost at the end of the year. My first year, I was doing my bookkeeping and I was just like, “Oh my God.” When tax time came, I was talking to my CPO and I was like, “This can’t be right.” I immediately was just like, “All right, this is not something you can skimp out on.” Bench helped a lot because I needed something that was … Most bookkeepers, if you go to a CPA are like, “Yeah, send me this and send me this and send me this data. Send me this data. Send me this data.” I was like, “Yo, man, this is like 2015. I don’t have time to be sending you random documents. Is there an automated solution?”
That’s when I came across Bench. They automatically pull everything through their API feed and stuff through the major ecommerce stuff, Amazon and Shopify. Anything that you want to basically … You would be selling with. It’s been really, really, really organized and helpful to have that there.
Felix: Cool. You have the outsource fulfillment. You have the outsource bookkeeping. Do you have an in-house team? Is anyone else working on this besides you?
Shazim: I just have one VA and the VA … He’s awesome. I use him to really answer customer emails and support and stuff like that. He pretty much does that exclusively. He does some of the Instagram posting or the post scheduling for like finding people that are using our set ups and stuff and getting ’em posted. Yeah, that’s a good chunk of work he does.
Felix: Wow. You have a seven-figure business with pretty much just one virtual assistant on your team. That’s amazing. How do you spend your days? What are you focused on once you wake up in the morning and are ready to start working on the business?
Shazim: Some days I work. Some days I don’t. It’s literally a four-hour workweek per se because when I started the business I was like, “Yo, this needs to be as turnkey as possible,” because if I’m not able to take off when I want to take off, then what’s the point of me doing the business?
Shazim: When I started working … So I interned one summer at some IT company and I quickly realized … I was like, “Yo, man, this is not the life for me.” I literally feel like a slave trapped and this sucks if it’s the rest of my life. When I started my business I was like, “All right. This can’t feel like a job for me.” It’s one of those things that you’re always thinking about when you have a business, you know? You’re always thinking about it. Always freaking out. Always oh I could do this or I could do this or I could do this.
Typically I wake up, check my email. I’ll browse reddit. I’ll see if there’s any critical tasks that need to be done like day-to-day tasks and stuff like that. I pretty much do whatever for the rest of the day. Usually by the evening, that’s usually when the suppliers are awake and that’s when we’re either discussing a new product to be made or talking to the suppliers to figure out any issues or make any improvements or do some kind of order management and stuff like that. It’s fairly relaxed per se.
Felix: Yeah, I’m sure you made a lot of people jealous by saying, explaining your lifestyle there. I think one issue that people run into that they say they want this four-hour work week as well, but they always have … They start making progress towards it and offload things and delegate things, but once they do that, they just fill up their time with other stuff too at the same time. Do you ever feel this urge or maybe even bordering on guilt to be doing something when you’re not doing something for your business?
Shazim: Sometimes. I was like, “Hey, man, am I …” It’s weird because when you’re working, you’re getting a paycheck every two weeks or whatnot and be like, “Okay, cool, I’m doing something useful.” But when you’re doing a business, there’s time when you’re just chilling. You’re like, “Am I okay? Am I making correct decisions?” Because the business doesn’t really grow until you actually put effort into it. Then you look at the sales you have for today and you’re like, “All right, I’m doing good.” You just chill out and you just go back to chill.
I’m organized and I’m motivated and I know what I need to do and when I need to be doing it. There’s periods of time where it’s just like, “All right,” new product is being developed or a new product is coming out. It’s time to work, work, work, work, work and other times it’s like, “Everything’s good. Just chill. It’s maintenance mode. Just keep an eye on stuff and make sure everything’s okay,” and stuff like that.
Felix: You might be the chillest seven-figure business owner I’ve ever had on this podcast. I think it’s funny that you’ve been able to do all this and still maintain that lifestyle that you originally wanted from the get go. I think that’s important to stick to the reason why you got started in the first place.
Thanks so much for your time, Shazim. PCGamingRace.com again is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out if they want to follow along with what you’re up to?
Shazim: Nah, man. Just PC Gaming Race. I’m on social media.
Felix: Cool. Awesome. Thanks so much for your time.
Shazim: All right, thank you, Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.