Nathan: What’s up, how’s it going? Welcome to another episode of e-Commerce OnTop brought to you by Sourcified; today we have Tyler Sullivan he owns one of the fastest growing ecommerce businesses in the world all across the media, we are so excited to have you today, Tyler how’s it going?
Tyler: Another day living the dream man selling golf clubs, I cannot complain.
Nathan: Amazing, before we dive into BombTech Golf, I really want to learn more about you, tell me more about your background and how you first heard about e-Commerce.
Tyler: Well, I don’t know how long this podcast is,but I’ll give the cliff notes so I’m kind of a dinosaur now compared to a lot of these young kids jumping in ecommerce. I started in 2011 and I was a slow learner for sure but I was doing sales for medical devices, pharmaceutical sales and the pharmaceutical sales job I was just bored out of my min.
I could sell anything but I was like dude I got to do something else with my life so I started my first website and it did not do well. This was like before Facebook had video or Facebook Live; I’m really dating myself – even before selfie existed.
I just feel like, you know, I got to sell something other than rely on someone else’s job or a paycheck. So, I started a website and I was actually doing custom golf drivers where I would wholesale different components and build them. I got into that because I was obessed with long drive for golf.
It’s like a homerun derby of golf I was like the worst competitor but I loved it so I would go to these different competitions and I had all these custom drivers made for me and I end up breaking all of them, 15 drivers; it cost me like a couple of grand.
So, I was like, “Dude, what is going on with this?” so I was like I gotta figure out how to build my own. I had a local builder build them and I started breaking them.
So I decided to start building them out of my garage and then my buddy said “Dude, can you make me one of those crazy custom drivers?” and I said “Yeah dude, no problem.”. I thought I should start selling these things, so I started building wholesaling custom drivers.
And I’ll never forget I had the world’s worst website, I had like 200 likes on Facebook. And I was actually on boat at the time, it’s not a yacht more like a dingy, and I was with my girlfriend at the time, I think this was before we got married, and I was looking at my phone and a sale popped in while I was on my boat.
I was like, it just blew my mind, I just made money sold something made money while I was on my boat. That was kinda Aha! moment, you know what? I can do this, I’m going to figure out somehow how to do it.
So from there, I struggled like I dude I started building these clubs started to get some sales and then you know all the wholesalers dealing with different brands would sell out of something and I was like “Dude, I need to make my own product.”
So I was talking to a buddy of mine that I went to college with at the University of Vermont which is like 10 minutes from my house where I was potentially one of the worst students but I did graduate in 5 years.
So I graduated. I was just talking to my buddy, “Dude I’m doing these golf clubs, I’ve sold a couple of them, but I want to make my own designs.” He was like “Call up the University of Vermont, maybe they will help you design something.” and I was like “Bro, there’s no way they’re going to help me.” You know, I barely graduated.
So I called them up and they were like “Yea we have a capstone project, you work with a group of students every year, but you’ve got to apply.” So I applied and I got chosen, because they thought I was cool. So I worked with 4 students in 2012 for 2 semesters and they designed our first ever BombTech Driver, the dual cavity grenade.
They designed, I got an introduction that I paid pretty well for, to a manufacturer overseas and I brought it to market man. Then I learned all the marketing and back then Facebook was full reach I could scale it up pretty aggressively and since then we’ve sold I almost 200,000 golf clubs or something like that.
Nathan: It’s amazing how you did the product development right there at local University; I mean a lot of people think you have to hire all these industrial engineers and designers.
for you, you are really creating a genuinely new product where a lot of companies are just going to privately or putting their brand logo on existing products. You actually went through product development right off the bat.
I’m kinda curious what was the timeline where you get your initial prototypes from your factory so you’re not you know let’s see a sample from the team members that you’re working with that University you send over the designs and maybe that sample is well you know what was that I want your first sample, your productions sample.
Tyler: It was very long. So let me press this when I was doing this private label doing this stuff that are popular terms that stuff really didn’t exist it wasn’t even an option.
So what we did is students made a couple different designs we actually made different, some were they made a couple plastic molds and so we sent those to the manufacturer and they had a billion question and we had a really, really work with the manufacturer and the students. I took a serious risk early on. It took about 3 months to get the tooling. So, we got the tooling done with the design on then after the tooling, we had samples you know like 60 days right then so why didn’t it I kind of went ballsy cause that was my style.
So, instead of making like two samples or five samples, I made 100 samples; I wanted to sell something, I was like, “If we’re going to make something I’m confident that the kids did a design that was worth bringing to market; I don’t have a ton of money but I’ve got enough to make say 100”. So we had a hundred samples made and I think we started them in December and I was swinging one of the hundred samples in April.
So, it’s something like that I can’t remember the exact timeline and what I actually did is, as soon as I hit one of them I put them on pre-order and we sold and that helped us pay for the round one; you just kept doing pre-orders which helped us cash-flow the business you know what I mean?
But it was a crazy process where I was doing early on the ramp a lot about it but I was assembling the clubs because we had just the head there and we sourced the shafts from a different companies.
Dude if you can imagine this I was doing customer service, social media, live chat, email while assembling clubs in my basement.
And then packing them up so I’m assembling with epoxy, I got chop saws going and sanding belts, I’ve got a newborn upstairs and I’m packing them up in my beat up Subaru Legacy and driving them to the post office everyday like emailing customers on the drive.
It was a crazy time now the clubs are fully assembled, all screwed up bar coded goes directly to a warehouse and we can scale but I would never have had that whole experience that’s quite unique that allow me really appreciate where we’re at now.
Nathan: I mean it’s kind interesting to hear your story, a lot of time, you see these entrepreneurs who is joining in today’s world where you have tools like Shopify which made it easy to put your store online, big Commerce who sort of find humans you manufacture your products actively. It’s time we transition from back when you were star now we’re you know I don’t even know if Shopify was a big thing back then, I mean how did you first put your website up?
Tyler: I went through Intuit, then volusion, then BigCommerce now I’m on Shopify. It’s such a different world, I think I would say the one thing I did that was smart back then that someone could relate to now is all I did was, I documented my journey [right] what did, I was literally at the University like meeting with the students and I would just post it up it’s on Facebook like guys, “I’m at the college designing what do you think of the shape?” you know what that did what I brought a small group I think we had like 2000 likes or like really small group but you’re full reach on Facebook have brought them along the journey of like actually making the club.
Like, what color shaft? What color head? Designing all this stuff. And they felt like they were part of that that first driver ever made; when we went to pre-order, I had like you know I mean the website was terrible I don’t you know if I didn’t like all the proper pop up, emails, it was a mess like old school.
Just because I feared that people that came along that journey, I think the first day pre-order the part I did like 12 grand. I was like, “Oh my God, I can do this” but yes so it now it’s so much just different world it’s so much easier to like at least hit the marketing with tools set up. But I’m glad I had those struggles because there’s so much I learned during that process that’s make things easy now you know?
Nathan: What we’re kind of the next steps, I mean once you’ve got you know missile clubs in from your factory oversees? What were the next nerves of scaling up? The bigger question here is was there any turning points that really helped you scale up?
Tyler: 100%, the biggest thing for us is video Facebook is just watch video and I really accidentally but I had no choice, I started putting myself on camera so I made a video in my backyard. In like literally there’s a net I put up in my backyard with this real crappy camera I made a video of me here now you see you know it are pretty hard it sounds like a shotgun goes off. I tossed it up on Facebook, I I boosted it for like 300 bucks and I got like 400,000 views and on that video, I got 10,000 comments so if you know what I did I went through every single comment, no matter what the comment was and I communicated and engaged with that person.
Literally slowly but surely, I built one-to-one relationship via Facebook like at scale and that allowed us a lot of a lot of meat to grow and I was going from like 3xing the company like every year just because the use of video use of engaging with social media like social life, it gets read and personal and humanizing the brand.
If you’re on our website today you’ll see, I’m all over the website you know first like I’m Sully and I’m the owner. It’s like everyone I talk to now that’s new school is like you know what product or like you know what ad trick or what hack can I use?
No, people buy from people and not just BombTech, but people buy from Sully and my story. And we do a lot of things that make people feel like they’re a part of that. We do voicemails and I personally thank people for their orders to make them feel apart of the team.
It’s a lot different from what I’m seeing out there. It’s all about the product it’s all about the ad. Yea that will help you get there but it’s all about offer, email and person. You get those 3 things right and get your email dialed in with the right copy, you have personal ties to the brand and you have the right offer then you can use tools like Facebook ads and other ways to get traffic.
Nathan: That’s incredible I mean I love that people buy from people even online you know I think it’s really missed down a lot of time through people think you know even Gleeson I don’t use you know sales funnel, they don’t think that you know people are going to be behind this it’s a great way to put the point and I love it.
Next steps, you’re still up let’s say you know men sixty years or zero How do you break that you know next rational you know a few million in sales, I mean you diversify across channels you start selling across retail website, on Amazon what kind of those next steps? Are you to expand? Walk me through kind of your channel sales dynamics and you know, you’re selling on Amazon, you’re selling on retailers, how many channel, sales, set up channels, how do you manage all that?
Tyler: Yes so, I think that scale is really interesting I pride myself on it took me years to figure this out but like the biggest thing you need to scale it to delegate. So, I when I first started I think I did it 1.2m by myself what I was there, I was that guy and it was stupid but I should have delegated earlier. But I just you know it’s too stubborn to do that so what I was able to scale you know like what I consider a real volume is delegate customer service or it’s really simple but this allowed everything else actually.
I was always on impression I’ve been in sales my whole life, no one’s been built some better than I can, there’s no way I’m going to let someone else answer the phone and so on to me and it’s like they can do even 80% as well as you are that frees you up to do bigger lever activities that move the needle in a bigger way. Scaling up the first thing I did was hire customer service to answer the phone, email and live chat.
The second thing was delegating fulfillment, this was my biggest and still got it figured out now but probably the hardest challenge for me to learn was, we were doing all custom drivers because that’s what I thought the customer wanted, right?
When I first hired a customer service guy everyone was asking me what shaft length and what flex and what grip and they kept doing it. Then the first customer service guy when I first hired Chris they kept doing this. I was like “Wait, why are we doing this everyone is confused.”
I’m not right, my opinion doesn’t matter. So I said let’s not go custom. And I did that so we could then go fulfillment, so now we do fulfillment and we can spend all of our time on marketing, outreach, social media; things that generate money.
I think this is the biggest thing, sub-7-figure ecommerce stores always focus on the wrong stuff, myself included. So fulfillment number 2.
The third thing I delegated, things I was not the best at. One of those was ads. Facebook ads, Google. There are people out there better at that than you are. Can you find that partner that is actually elite or worthy of spending your money.
When I delegated those three things, I had told freedom to focus on the stuff that actually mattered and move in a big way; I was channeled you know we talked about influence or marking, offer, emails, product launches like just not like shifting the company so when I heard it was going to do that we could spend more now you know quicker, launch quicker you know I don’t really just have this feedback loop of like.
Now, we have a system, so we can bring product into it how do we figure out what people actually want and what we do we were doing a mockup of the product right we wouldn’t even launch it and we put a sign up form there and we would run traffic to it and if people signed up at a good enough percent, we’d launch it, that’s a launch formula, so I wouldn’t launch a product that wouldn’t sell.
Nathan: That’s smart.
Tyler: But that would have never happened if I was still in business you know if I was still doing the ads, shipping the product you know customer service, then email, all the stuff that really should either you can hire or hire an expert; you know you can hire in-house or so right now, you know last year I think yeah 6.3m I was hoping to do more but I did that with three employees.
Nathan: That’s amazing!
Tyler: Every time I say it, “People freak out” I’m like why? you’re spending time on stuff it doesn’t matter so we run super lean but I know and I’ll be honest you so work 20 hours/day, 7 days/ week for 5 years I now work on BombTech 1-2 hours a week.
Nathan: That’s incredible; walk me through, I want to touch on kind of the fulfillment side of the business because I know you said you were struggling a bit with that and had some challenges can we touch on that process and understand #1, what stage did it get to when you decided to outsource fulfillment and #2 want troubles do you face with some of the partners?
Tyler: Yes, it is a long in-depth struggle that we had figured out it took me a lot, every day for me it seems like you think well you’re. Joking aside, the first move was I was still doing custom right and then I found a Vermont place assembly plant that tried to do the fulfillment. That’s what they did they were not a fulfillment house they were assembly plant that tried to do fulfillment. Picture this we got different shafts, different types, different grips, different heads, they’re not only in charge of assembling the right pieces, and they’re in charge of fulfilling and shipping correctly. How well do you think that went?
So, we were operating all customs on 6-8 weeks lead time for a year. Every order, think about that took 6-8 weeks to ship out. And I think that was like right around like I was failing the million dollar mark were like I would go to this it was an hour and a half away assembly plant I would drive down there like three times a week check in, it was a nightmare we did it product was good, results were good and then when I finally had an epiphany of like why are we doing customs with standard? That was the moment where I was like alright we can take it to a real fulfillment plant, not an assembly plant and give it a go.
So, I was like all right where should we go? And I was like; let’s go somewhere close to us so I could have my hand in the business still right I’m still in that narrow mindset where I have to be involved. So I went to Massachusetts.
Pretty good service there but we sure are getting the bills from there I got a bill one month for not too many clubs for shipment and I almost threw up when I was like I’m like how is that possible? So, I called the owner up of the fulfilment center who I chose because they’re close, I like, “What happened?” he gave me the breakdown I looked at it and I go through numbers like what I got for shipping, and I’m like, “Where do you think my number one state was?” and we’re shipping from Massachussets.
Nathan: I’m going to guess it’s on the West Coast.
Tyler: California, dude! The farthest possible place was 8% of our sales were in Cali. So I was like Strike One. So first up was going to the fulfillment house to get some scale that was not an assembly plant. Next step let’s find fulfillment center number two other I Let’s go to a big boy doesn’t matter we’ll find a location that’s good, California is number one so I went with the excellent fulfillment center and went out to them and our shipping from overseas was quicker there we were with them for about a year and a half and they did a great job you know 99.9% accuracy like no issues with customers.
It was excellent we’re doing now in your letter their annual loading up forty four hours couple minutes ruins a real lawyer and then just this January and we had serious inventory where I look at the bill on our storage like astronomical because of California they ran the numbers again reading hours. Yeah and I’m like, we need to find a place. So now, we move to Wisconsin. I quit.
So, Wisconsin got this location after all this effort shipping location quicker shipping times based on already. I said stuff late but it didn’t take that much data really figure out all right throughout the whole year where is our OP point that can give us the best shipping rates, it can it wasn’t bad it was a perfect right to have a Westerner where shipping rates are better.
You know we expects far post got such a good rate there, shipping rates are quicker, shipping times are quicker and then our costs overall we don’t have any real high zone, it’s better now and now so much in Africa like so many before now it’s like I never want to hear about fulfillment; if we actually hear from fulfillment we know it’s an issue.
Are Forever So it’s now it set up a system they can go up we have a huge day and we’ve been emailing skills that we felt orders or whatever issues go up we don’t have to think about yeah I mean I was out there
Nathan: I want to make it known because I think what super cool that I see listening audience, you know your data, you know your numbers and you knew that 8% of your customers are in California so you took that data and made the most of it and made a transition, I think your business and I think a lot of times, overlook the data and overlooked the numbers which is really what business comes down to and kind of you know transition and you know I know one of the you know main role strategies that you have is around email and I know you run a really cool email marketing agency as well they’re not so much in e-Commerce entrepreneurs on yours I handle him as the e-mail so you know listeners if guys are looking for help with emails 
I just want to touch on your email strategy briefly, kind of what advice you have and what you see successfully you know implemented to invite customers with emails at a higher percent.
Tyler: Yes so the last couple of years where everyone focuses on ads which I call shiny ball syndrome. Where and I used to get this when I say they go full circle with that it’s like I used to work all the time but it was on stuff like a tweaking button color, or tweaking a page color and it’s like well what are the big levels?
Offer, email, person, right? And this last year, a year and a half inch book at which with a large driver of traffic sources will change it’s expensive and it’s getting more expensive right so we take a look internally and said alright guys Facebook we’re huge on Facebook we’ve got three Facebook groups about like 30,000 people. 110,000 people on facebook page. But really like what is our biggest asset? And it’s like this is so in my face but it took me so long in our ad costs to go up really realize this but what’s our assets?
At the end of the day BombTech Golf is only as good as, what you truly control, you don’t control your Facebook page, you can control ads but costs are going up, the only true asset you have is your email list and your customer list and that’s it.
So, when ads started to go up, we gotta figure this out because Facebook ads are going up and I guess all have gone up we’re screwed as they are bigger step back and look at an issue I share a big lever stop the worry, it doesn’t move a needle. What moves a needle oh let’s see what actually move the needle this month OK we sent an email on Monday and sales Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were insane and our ad guy will be like, every, It’s funny, he’d be like “Dude, our ad spend is like 100x” and I would say “Dude, it’s because we sent an email.”.
Email allows us to do a couple of things, allows the cost of ads to be lower. Allows us to spend more on ads so we can still survive in a world where ad costs are going up, right? So, and like really the third thing I will say is person right? All emails we write, it comes out to not only copy subject line all the things that you know we do as experts for other companies now which have been kind of accidental is cool but it’s from an individual right buying people. So many brands that we now have access which is so cool we just how conversations with the re-selling products and there is no person but your right sect if you know flaws accept and
People buy from people so write the copy like that has such a crazy impact and like Klavio, this is how Klavio did a case study on us. Then we started getting hit up by a bucnh of ecom clients and they asked us to run email for them. First like I don’t know if we should do that and I really realized.
I can help change the world by selling products or goal that are horrible and live that way or I can try to help e-Commerce owners that may not have had my. Journey is prophesying and growing for and hire more people I got really excited about that so now what we’re doing is we’re doing free email audit actually Chris who does all the you know expert does it all got a revenue perspective if I’m sort of you know I would do it for e-mail on it for any.
I just my personal website right now only hire doc and also you know any company just want to talk me out of you know I mean I love just enough. You know I love talking about delegation you know all the stuff that seems boring actually to work what I do a couple hours a week not being your business I’ve been there I struggled and did that fought that battle.
And it’s what it’s actually having my kids made me figure that out you know and it’s like if I can teach anyone else how to get outside their business live a life they actually want and it’s not like I’m a guru but it’s a pretty powerful thing. And you know I invite anyone that’s interested in that stuff can hit me up directly via my email at email@example.com I actually love talking about this stuff.
But yeah man, no, email right now with traffic sources becoming more expensive we’re trying Snapchat ads, different thing having emauls flows and automation setup which will allow your traffic to work better. That’s what people “Oh man my ad didn’t work, my retargeting didn’t work.”
Well okay, but you guys have 10 flows set up and you have these campaigns that are killing it which will allow you to spend more on your ads to convert a customer because you know you’ll get them on email 2, 3, 4, 20, 900, whatever.
And that’s the exciting part, the biggest months ever are always going to be email. It’s such a cold boring, email, people don’t look at it as a lever. As a business owner that’s the view you need, what moves the needle?
Shipping your products doesn’t, designing your cool grams doesn’t. You don’t need to go on your website every day and tweak stuff. It’s crazy to have this view and perspective now. It’s a crazy world to live in I’m very fortunate and lucky to live the life I have.
Nathan: Yes I’m so wrapped up here you know I mean where do you see e-commerce now under you as a whole you know as a gonna continue not demise Shopify stores is going to you let me you know offline online you know what are you excited and who are specifically on time call and who are generally what do you use and who are in the e-commerce industry as a whole.
Tyler: For us right now we know growing our customer list every year and managing that asset is the most exciting thing because we spend so much time effort and money just to make sure every single person that buys is so happy so when we launch something new you know you know they’re going to buy.
That’s exciting part is just really nurturing that list so you’ve got that asset that’s real right because when we launch a new driver you are or whatever now our email list so much bigger so much more engaged those launches just become exponentially larger
That’s first thing direct through Shopify or your own channel the second thing that’s interesting is Amazon we never really messed with because I want to own customer info I wanted to go as big as I could with the hardest thing I could do which was that.
This year we’re actually doing FBA on Amazon for the first time ever now we’re getting, really, what I would call measurable revenues from that with not much effort so I do see the appeal as an income stream and not an asset.
Can we pay the employees and can we pay the overhead with Amazon, that was the goal. We’ve done and now it’s a nice income stream. I don’t like Amazon because you’re playing on their turf and you get banned and your income is gone.
I always go, ecommerce first, own the assets then if you get multiple resllers Amazon, Walmart, Omnia channel as income streams thats the way to do it.
My future is, we did design a ski, with the University of Vermont I’m a huge skier. I only launch products I know or brands I know. We’re going to launch a ski this fall or next fall. It’s pretty crazy because my dad and I grew up skiing together since I was like 2.
This past winter we went skiing on a ski I designed with UBM and it was such a cool thing. It’s only stuff I know and can talk about. With products I used to have these guys hit me up “Oh well, leggings are hot I’m going to sell leggings.” Like dude, what do you know about leggings?
It’s an exicting time no matter what you’re doing no matter as long sa you love it, put a person to it enjoy what you do and care about your customer.