In this interview series, we are talking to leaders of ecommerce businesses who can share their strategies for creating a successful ecommerce website. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Brax.
Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
Like many youths, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My parents were always urging me to find a job and figure out what I was passionate about. The issue is I really wasn’t passionate about any school or work.
I jumped around from a variety of jobs, including serving, bartending, psychiatric counselor, and door-to-door salesman, to name a few. I was always good at talking to people and gravitated toward jobs that harnessed these skills.
I recall being fascinated by computers and technology. I remember the first computer I ever saw in kindergarten. I was the kid who would play around in DOS to try to figure out what I could learn. As a kid in the early 90s, I remember cracking the parental software my parents installed on the family computer.
I ended up going to college at Loyola University. I drifted around classes trying to figure out what motivated me. The problem is, none of them really did. I was always interested in the Internet, but Loyola didn’t offer any type of ecommerce classes.
Around my junior year, my laptop broke, and I decided to look for a used MacBook Pro. I scoured Craigslist for a deal and ended up with my first 2009 MacBook Pro 15-inch. I loved it. I ended up selling this MacBook Pro for $100 more than I spent on it and found a good deal on a 2010 MacBook Pro 15-inch.
What started as a search for necessity turned into a game to see how many times I could replicate this. I navigated and analyzed all of the second-hand Apple products until I found one that had the potential to resell.
I started “flipping” these computers and saw that I could actually make enough money to get by in school. I moved on to flipping DSLR, XBOX, and about every Apple product in existence. I was meeting random people and making some cash while doing it. Much easier than the dreaded 9-5.
I told my family and friends what I was doing, and of course, I got a lot of pessimism. I was told that I should focus on a “real job” and focus on school. I was told it was dangerous, and I had a couple of instances that would qualify as such.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I started my first company, Great Buy Electronics, I knew nothing about ecommerce, web development, or business. I just had an idea.
One of my lifelong friends invested in the development of Great Buy Electronics, and we started actually getting orders. Customers were sending us their tech products through FedEx.
Not long after that, I met my ex-business partner. He contacted me to buy five Macs (one of my bigger sales at the time). After numerous conversations spanning two years, we ended up merging companies and later bought my friend out of the company.
It’s easy to think that having a partner is the right call, but not in my experience. There were twice the ideas but twice the disputes. For example, he decided he wanted to have a company car lease, and so should I. He had a spending problem and would spend his days watching British Soap Operas. I ended up selling my shares to him, along with my original website.
It’s funny how the world works, but I ended up buying the “Great Buy Electronics” site back in 2017 after he shut down. The site was built on CakePHP, so we had to revamp it completely. Today, it’s SellMac. SellMac is a buyback site that offers instant quotes for used tech. Users can print prepaid labels and sell their devices safely and easily.
I learned a lot from that experience, but mainly to find the right people to partner with and trust my gut. I knew from the start I had a great thing going and never needed a partner.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Both of my parents are entrepreneurs. I often would hear them discussing different ideas in the morning before heading off to school.
When I was a teen, I was at a grocery store with my father. We saw some digital binoculars that were being blown out, like 75% off MSRP. We threw them on eBay and doubled our money. We started traveling to all of the surrounding stores and buying up all of the discounted binoculars. That was my first true taste of the ecommerce world.
What does your ecommerce company do? What was the “aha moment” that led to the idea for your current ecommerce business?
Techable was created as a transparent marketplace to buy and sell tech products. Throughout my early days in the industry, I saw a lot of misinformation and deception in the ITAD space. Many sellers completely misrepresent their products, and there are many fly-by-night “companies.”
We want to change the way the world looks at tech. We want to create a home for every piece of tech, including the used, old, and discarded tech. We see every piece of tech as an opportunity.
I’m not sure if I had a single “aha moment” it was more like many over my years in the ITAD space. I like to continuously study the industry and figure out the needs that aren’t being met and how I can solve the issues that exist.
What was your original vision for your company? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
In a world of the newest and best, I thought there should be a better way to handle the used, forgotten about, and discarded tech. There’s marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, but they’re the jack-of-all-trades, masters of none. I wanted to create a company that specializes in tech. It’s rarely spoken about, but the push for shiny new tech is creating devastating effects. E-waste represents 2% of America's trash in landfills, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste. I knew there had to be a better way. I set out to create a platform that gives tech a second life.
There are more than 12 million ecommerce businesses out there. What do you think makes your company stand out?
Every day we have morning meetings and discuss our goals and the progress of previous goals. There are many companies that prioritize short-term profits over creating a reputable brand. Our goals are to build a brand of recognition. We also have some of the best reviews and most loyal customers in the industry.
I built it on a platform of information about every Apple device Apple created. We even have a serial number decoder. This was all a huge undertaking, and we are still working to improve it today. My goal was to create a wealth of information where users could learn, buy, and sell Apple products. It’s around six years in the making now, but our database brings in 10s of thousands of users per month organically.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things you need to know to build a highly successful ecommerce website?
1. Build a brand
Creating a brand is exponentially more important than making a quick buck. A brand will turn your customers into repeat customers and lead to referrals. Our repeat customers and referrals are the backbones of our company. The Internet is full of fly-by-night “companies'' looking for a quick buck. A brand will make you continuous bucks. Creating a company culture and reputation is what sets the two apart. We strive to build a brand that has morals, creates lifelong customers, and prioritizes the customer.
2. Create and maintain relationships
Our relationships with our customers are the core of our success. A few years back, I received an email with just a couple of sentences and a phone number. They were asking if we could supply a small number of Mac Minis. I was busy, but I made the time to give the number a call. It just so happened that the email was from one of the largest social media companies in the world. This one email, which I almost ignored, ended up being a repeat customer, and we’ve currently processed thousands of high-end Apple products for app testing. We’ve had many similar situations that landed us large deals from a variety of businesses, schools, and government organizations. That one call or email you choose not to ignore could change your business and, in return, your life.
3. Exceed expectations
People often think our reviews are fake since we have nearly all five stars across all platforms. We have a simple motto that I think sets us apart from the rest, and that is: if you’re not happy, neither are we. We want our customers to come back and refer us to their colleagues and friends. This all starts by exceeding the customer's expectations. Every aspect of our process is catered to giving our customers the best experience possible. We make ourselves very accessible through phone, email, and chat to make sure our customers feel taken care of.
I’m a firm believer in reinvesting in my company. Our profits are always reinvested back into the company in terms of web development, marketing, SEO, and hiring new contractors and employees.
Staying ahead of the curve is extremely important. When you make a profit, it’s easy to want to go out and buy yourself a new car or a new house, but that’s not how I operate. I believe in using that profit to make yourself more money down the road.
5 . Analyze, learn, and grow
If you’re not learning, you’re losing. Once you’ve been successful in ecommerce, it’s easy to become complacent and forget the steps that have made you successful. It’s at this point when we need to push ourselves to stay hungry.
It’s all about the numbers. I strive to learn everything I can about my successes and failures. I love to learn what we’re doing well and what we can improve on.
If there were one part of the ecommerce website development process you would have spent 50% more time on, what would it be and why?
The thing that can really set you apart is creating a strong brand that conveys trust. Once you have that type of brand, it’s all about marketing and building.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging ecommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
AI and machine learning will make things very interesting in the coming years. This type of software will revolutionize the way we create ecommerce.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start an ecommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
When you’re first starting, you have a tight budget. I have seen countless entrepreneurs think they need a business license, office space, employees, etc., before even proving their concept. It’s important to grow, but there are no shortcuts to creating a long-lasting business.
In your experience, which aspect of running an ecommerce brand tends to be most underestimated?
One of the most underestimated aspects of running an ecommerce brand is being able to effectively juggle a multitude of tasks and communicate with many people. It takes a lot of time and proper communication to juggle relationships with employees, vendors, customers, logistics managers, shipping companies, freight companies, accountants, etc.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
I want to create a world of sustainability. Our economy has been built around the concept that the newest is the best. This mindset has led us to pollute our landfills with toxic waste and our atmosphere with CO2.
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