From zero to $1.5m in 18 months


NZ Business - - EXPORT REPORT -

MANY KIWI com­pa­nies are re­al­is­ing the huge ben­e­fits to be gained by e-commerce, es­pe­cially given our ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tance from mar­kets. How­ever, not every­one is max­imis­ing the po­ten­tial to sell on­line glob­ally, as So­phie Howard found out when she ven­tured into the world of Ama­zon and made $1.5 mil­lion in sales in her first 18 months!

When I spoke to So­phie she was lit­er­ally on the road to Wanaka from Welling­ton, mov­ing her fam­ily to a house in their dream lo­ca­tion.

This was made pos­si­ble by the suc­cess­ful sale of her very first Ama­zon e-store, which sold New Zealand wool prod­ucts to the US and Europe.

So­phie got into e-commerce after hav­ing her sec­ond child. She had a choice: ei­ther go back to her day job and em­ploy a nanny, or start her own busi­ness.

After tak­ing an Ama­zon course, de­vel­op­ing her own unique ap­proach, and draw­ing on her back­ground in work­ing with star­tups, within a year she had built up a high-value busi­ness.

“I had just done my tax re­turns in April and thought ‘I won­der what my friend Jock the bro­ker in LA would say this is worth’. So I con­tacted him and he found me a US seven-fig­ure of­fer the next day! From there it was all amaz­ingly straight­for­ward over­all.”

So­phie’s hus­band has now also quit his day job run­ning the busi­ness im­prove­ment team at Sport New Zealand, and has joined her in run­ning As­pir­ing En­trepreneurs and Sell Global. She also has two Ama­zon e-stores – one sell­ing or­ganic loose leaf tea and the other sell­ing in­con­ti­nence prod­ucts.

“I came up with the idea for sell­ing in­con­ti­nence prod­ucts after hear­ing Bernard Hickey talk about how in Ja­pan they sell more adult di­a­pers than baby di­a­pers. Mine have a point of dif­fer­ence in that they are black in­stead of white, have higher ab­sorbency and char­coal in them to take away the odour. All very glam­orous!” laughs So­phie.

So­phie has a team all around the world – two in Canada, one in the US, a Kiwi who’s on his OE based in the Philip­pines and a friend at Massey Univer­sity. They take care of cus­tomer ser­vice, Ama­zon ship­ments, in­ven­tory or­ders, stock-tak­ing, tech sup­port, pric­ing and sup­plier re­search, and de­sign.

“De­sign has been re­ally im­por­tant, es­pe­cially with the tea,” ex­plains So­phie. “The pack­ag­ing is what’s got the tea no­ticed. Be­cause you’re sell­ing it on­line, cus­tomers can’t smell it or taste it – all you’ve got is some­thing to look at. So I’ve spent a lot of money on brand­in­gre­lated things and not a lot on much else!

“Every­one who works for me is on a re­mote, free­lanc­ing ar­range­ment, so I don’t re­ally have any over­heads. Lots of New Zealand com­pa­nies pay quite a lot for the ser­vices I out­source. “It’s not per­fect but it al­lows me to go fast. If you fo­cus on every­thing be­ing per­fect, you might not ever get any­thing done! Out­sourc­ing every­thing has been quite lib­er­at­ing and al­lowed me to just fo­cus on new prod­ucts.”


So­phie be­lieves that if you want to be a prof­itable ex­porter, it pays to min­imise of­fice costs.

“It’s nice to be able to work any­where you are in the world with your lap­top and know that every­thing still hap­pens.

“My plan now is to keep life sim­ple,” says So­phie. This in­cludes fo­cus­ing on their Sell Global busi­ness – Im­part­ing the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence gained from sell­ing on Ama­zon over the past few years to other Kiwi busi­nesses.

“My hus­band will be work­ing on the New Zealand client side, scal­ing up our op­er­a­tions to sup­port Kiwi ex­porters.

“A lot of New Zealand com­pa­nies have got prod­ucts that would sell well in the mar­kets we’ve got to know, so we’re keen to help them. Our team ba­si­cally treat clients’ prod­ucts as if they’re our own. We write their list­ings and man­age all their dayto-day ac­counts.

“We’ve al­ready got clients pulling in US$40k a month just on Ama­zon within their third or fourth month. It’s such a cheap ex­per­i­ment, com­pared to set­ting up a sales team, dis­trib­u­tors and send­ing peo­ple overseas. You know within the first six months it’s go­ing to work or not.

“In the next year we’ll be build­ing our team, and get­ting out there telling Kiwi ex­porters more about the joys of sell­ing on­line.”

I came up with the idea for sell­ing in­con­ti­nence prod­ucts after hear­ing Bernard Hickey talk about how in Ja­pan they sell more adult di­a­pers than baby di­a­pers.”

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