Learn how Ann Phan took her organic food and product marketplace from $0 to $10,000 in revenue in only 3 months.
What’s your background, and what are you working on?
My name is Ann and I’m from Sydney, Australia. I’m a software developer, business analyst, and a mumpreneur. I’ve been in the IT industry for over 10 years, working for different companies in Telecommunication, Finance, and Education. Each of my job opportunity built out a unique skillset of interpersonal, entrepreneurship, problem-solving, human management, which later served as a solid foundation when I started my own company, Naturely Shop, early this year.
Naturely Shop is the bridge to connect local producers of organic food, natural, and eco-friendly products to local consumers. We’re a one-stop destination for all organic shopping needs, from groceries to eco clothing, from food to supplements, from skincare to home care.
With a wide variety of product range, we make it easier to shop organically for everyone, especially mums and the health-conscious consumers. They don’t have to go from one store to another to pick the right organic product for their families. Naturely Shop gathers all they need in one place. All they need is just a few clicks away.
We have generated $10,000 in revenue in the first three months and 15 sellers have joined our platform. We are always in the process of looking for more sellers and currently negotiating with a few sellers in organic skincare and health foods. We’re very excited to have them joined us in the next two months.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
It sparked from a personal yet unforgettable experience with my little daughter, Lucy. A few years ago, Lucy suffered from severe eczema all over her body. We were advised to apply many different topical steroid creams on her. It didn’t take me long to realise that steroid creams have lots of adverse effects on babies. I was destined to search for natural alternatives to control her skin rashes and the results exceeded my expectations.
My interests gradually became wider as I started to learn more about the detrimental effects of pesticides and chemicals in our daily products, from foods to personal care and home care. The deeper I read, the more I understood that mainstream products grown or produced by non-organic methods were not only harmful to our health, but also to our environment.
I felt the calling of doing something to change users’ mindsets about organic products. Hence, I decided to build an online community marketplace platform to encourage a wider use of organic, natural and sustainable products.
I tested the idea with my network of friends and school mums and they all showed strong interests. They also shared their real-life experiences when they struggled to find organic products from different stores. Apparently, these mums don’t have time to source for every single organic product from one store to another. They were all excited to know that I’m keen on building a platform that aggregates all organic and natural products in one place. So it was clear that the need for such a platform was real among my targets.
I myself also actively contacted some sellers such as health food brands to see if they’re interested. They were keen on joining the platform once it was available and that helped build up my confidence.
From a broader perspective, the organic market in Australia is increasing every year. It has increased by 88% compared to the year 2012 (1). More than six in ten Australian households buy organic products every year (2). These are all positive signals in the market that justify my business idea.
I studied Software Engineering and worked as a Developer and Business Analyst for different companies and gained valuable experience in programming languages such as PHP, Java and C#. With a solid background in IT, building an e-commerce marketplace platform based on Magento was an enjoyable journey. It was rewarding to be able to utilise all of my skills and experience gained over the years to build a platform of my own.
What went into building the initial product?
Lots of time, patience and perseverance. I spent over a year to get the planning, initial content for the website and MVP done. The initial platform has the essential features of a marketplace where sellers can list their products and track orders. Revenues can be sent directly to sellers while we keep the commission. Over time we added more extensions for the marketplace functionalities as our numbers of sellers are growing.
Patience and persistence to take many small and even tedious steps in inviting sellers to join our platform. From sending out cold emails to connecting with them on Instagram and Facebook groups, we search for all channels to connect with local sellers. From joining local farmers markets to get to know smaller sellers, understand their products, their challenges to building long-term relationships with them. Once they agree to join, we actively help them to set up profile and list products.
Our initial intention was to operate as an online marketplace, meaning we are the middleman that help sellers sell their products and we take the commission. For a brand-new marketplace, however, it’s a real challenge to invite sellers in as we haven’t got any products yet. So we decided to open our own store called “Simple and Safe” right on Naturely Shop platform to sell directly to customers.
This has proved to be a good decision regarding business scope. Slightly adjusting the line of business at the right time helped us to learn about our sellers’ products better. Once we put ourselves in their shoes, we understand their pains, know how to help them to streamline their selling process and thereby improve their sales. At the same time, we have chances to deal directly with customers, which mean that we understand their needs better.
We have a team of well-trained, experienced and dedicated freelancers that work with us closely on a daily basis. Developers help us to build different parts of our platform. A group of writers work efficiently in contributing content for our site. A social media manager helps us in building our strong presence on social media channels and draw more audiences to our platform.
How have you attracted users and grown your company?
Our first customers came to us via Google organic and paid search. Apparently, for a new e-commerce site, investing in Google search is vital as it’s a powerful search tool that everyone uses.
We’re extensively working on a content marketing strategy to plan, create and deliver our content. We aim to ensure that we have the useful, well-structured content to improve our users’ experience. These contents are properly planned to reach our customers via different channels:
• Social Media: We use daily posts on both Facebook and Instagram to educate users about the benefits of organic ingredients in our products and subtly insert posts about our products. Initial feedback about this approach was quite positive, we have more engagement via these posts, more online inquiries on our site, too.
• Guest posts via other bloggers: Sending cold emails to bloggers to ask for collaboration is what we usually do. Though the results were not always positive, it’s worth the efforts as once we can connect with them, there are different areas we can collaborate.
• Newsletters: We’re finalising on a few final details of newsletters and will get it rolling pretty soon.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
We’re an online marketplace that connects sellers with buyers. Our revenue comes from:
• Sales from products on Simple & Safe store: owned and operated by Naturely Shop right on our platform. We sell and delivers a wide range of products directly to our customers.
• Sales from products of other sellers: This operates like Etsy or Amazon. We help sellers sell their products and take the commissions.
We’re not making profits yet but we’re making good progress in getting more sellers on our site and higher revenue growth month on month. As a two-sided marketplace, it’s important to have a wide range of products available on our platform from different sellers. We’re confident that we’re currently on the right track. Customers’ mindset about organic and sustainable products has significantly changed. They care more about their families’ health and the environment and thus willing to spend more. Organics will soon become mainstream, I believe.
What are your goals for the future?
We’re expecting to expand our business scope by offering wellness services such as nutrition advice and yoga classes. These are perfectly in-line with our original business objective which was to encourage a healthier lifestyle among our community. These services also complement our healthy food selection, and thus it will support each other in the long run.
We aim to increase our revenue by 400% next year with a strategic content marketing plan across different channels, from SEO to social media and newsletter.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We knew that SEO is relatively cost-free but it takes time to have an impact on organic rankings. So, when we just launched, we started a Google Shopping ad campaign instead of focusing too much on SEO. This proved to be the right decision as sales started coming straight away from day one. So we’ve learned that it’s important to take different priorities on different online marketing tools, depending on our goals and timing.
A few weeks after launch, we started to invest in building a step by step long-term content marketing strategy that fits in with our broader integrated marketing strategy. This includes, but not limited to, social media marketing, email marketing and partnership with famous bloggers in the industry. SEO was also one of our key priorities as it can help us to get customers in the long term.
One of our biggest advantages was that we started our business at the right time. The needs for organics is growing as more people are concerned about their health and the impact of what they use every day on the environment. According to the Australian Organic Market Report 2018, the Australian organic food market was estimated at A$2.4 billion in 2018 and it’s expected to grow even faster.
In our strategic approach in content marketing, we always ensure we play our part in contributing to the change of consumers’ mindset about organics. We extensively educate users about the benefits of organics to our health and our environment via different campaigns. The more well-informed our buyers are, the better our community’s health will be. And of course, our business will benefit in the long run.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
For a startup, making mistakes is unavoidable, making senseless decisions is sometimes common, too. We’re all human, so we’re not immune to mistakes, but I think it’s important to learn from them. Even though I’m extremely busy, I often spend the time to analyse my mistakes honestly and objectively to avoid repeating them.
Recently, I’ve learned to take time out for myself. I love reading good books as they are my mental health’s friends. Interesting interviews from successful entrepreneurs are a great source of inspiration. “Secrets of Online Entrepreneurs” by Bernadette Schwerdt is one of my favourites as I feel connected with real stories from Australian household brands that I often use like Catch of The Day and Appliances Online.
Where can we go to learn more?
Visit us at www.naturelyshop.com.au. You can also follow us on Instagram @naturelyshop and our blog. We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to share with us your thoughts, ideas and questions regarding our company. If you would like to connect, you can find me on LinkedIn as well: Ann Phan.