Landon Kahn CEO of Todae Online Eco-Store

In this interview, I’m pleased to speak with Landon Kahn, the CEO of Todae.com.au and TodaeSolar.com.au.  Todae is Australia’s #1 Eco-Store.  They are an ecommerce site specializing in lifestyle products from kitchenware to gadgets.  Landon has helped grow the Todae.com.au revenues to around 1 million dollars per year.

In this interview Landon will be sharing a lot of tips on how Todae has become #1 in its space and hit it’s high revenue. Here’s just a few things he’ll share with you:

  • Suggestions for creating you branding elements.
  • Tactics for increasing revenues including a few split testing insights.
  • Tips for how Todae has grown their subscriber base to over 70,000 subscribers.
  • 3 core elements Landon feels new businesses need to set themselves up for success.
  • Simple ways to find out if your target market responds well to your logo and branding elements before you go live with them.

I learned a lot from Landon and I think you will too.

Landon Kahn Interview

Lisa:  Hi, this is Lisa Parmley, founder of Businessbolts.com where we help people start and grow their small business. Today I have Landon Kahn on the line with us. Landon is the CEO of todae.com.au which is Australia’s number one eco-store. “Todae.com.au” originated in 2006 and it is a well-known brand that offers about two thousand different eco-products. The site brings in about one million dollars in annual revenue off of under fifty thousand unique visitors per month which is a phenomenal conversion.

Right? Is that correct, Landon?

Landon:  Yes.

Lisa:  Okay, just wanted to make sure. They have over seventy thousand subscribers on their newsletter. Landon is the current CEO of todae.com.au and he has had an integral role in developing the brand. He was 2011’s B.M.T.’s thirty under thirty winners which B.M.T., which if you don’t know, is Australia’s leading magazine for marketing, advertising. That is a pretty big deal which I thought that was very cool. Landon has a lot of solid experience running and growing an e-commerce site and again today brings in about one million dollars in revenues yearly. That is pretty major and that is why I was interested in seeing what I can learn from him and just share that with everyone listening. How are you today, Landon?

Landon:  Good, glad to be speaking with you.

Lisa:  Thank you. I just want to thank you again for doing this interview with me. I really appreciate it and know my listeners do as well. I know we will all learn some great stuff from you.

Landon:  Yes, hopefully.

Lisa:   I am sure we will. I will just jump right into the interview so that we can start learning from you. How long have you been the CEO of “Todae.com.au”?

Landon:  I’ve been the CEO for about three years now. I’ve been involved with the business since 2007. I came on board as the third employee and I’ve been pretty much having a hands-on job in running it since that date. Officially as the CEO for about three year but it’s been a management role for since effectively day one.

Lisa:  Okay, so like five years.

Landon:  Yeah.

Lisa:  Yes, that’s a long time. What are the things that you’ve seen help increase revenues with the company?

Landon:  [Laughter] It is a difficult question to answer because it has been a long time and hopefully everything you are doing increases revenue. I would say the key thing that has helped us increase revenue over, say, those five years is growing a diverse product offering, so always having new products for customers. It is interesting. Often the newsletters or promotions we have done with new products do it better for us than sales or things like that. That’s definitely one of the key elements in growing the revenue.

Another part of that is the marketing that we do and that is my background. I am a pretty passionate marketer and we’ve always prided ourselves on our communication to our customers. In our newsletters always trying to have relevant content, exciting content and not just trying to push products as well, engaging with the customers. An example of that is our newsletter is not a do-not-reply email address. We look at every reply that comes through to our newsletter and reply to them. We actually ask people for feedback and suggestions and comments and ideas in every newsletter. That has been another key part of our growth.

Then the biggest part or one of the main elements of why is there increased revenues is SEO? We spend a lot of time and effort on that. It was the foundation that the business was built on. Five years ago it was definitely less competitive than it is now but that enabled us to get a foothold in the market.

There were some bigger players than us when we started but by working really diligently with optimization we were able to achieve pretty good rankings in all the key areas we wanted to achieve rankings. Then we built our site with that in mind and it just organically enabled us to get rankings for new products and categories and things like that. I definitely say the three key things would be a diverse product range, an ever-growing product range, newsletter marketing but engaging newsletter marketing and then SEO.

Lisa:  Great! You have used SEO to kind of bring in the visitors and then you just have a great newsletter follow up system and customer support. That helps you with your conversions, I am sure.

Landon:  Yes. One of the things that we did was offering people a voucher to sign up to the newsletter. We were getting all this traffic coming to the website, so why not enable them to experience being a customer? Then as an incentive for them to sign up to our newsletter we can market to them on an ongoing basis and that worked really well for us.

Lisa:  To get them to sign up, they get kind of something for free.

Landon:  Yes.

Lisa:  Like a free product or discount.

Landon:  The $10 discount voucher so they could spend that on whatever they wanted.

Lisa:  Yes, that is a great idea. Great! That is all wonderful stuff, thank you. I know you had said that you did a lot with the branding of “Todae.com.au”. What exactly are some of the things you did that kind of helped build the brand?

Landon:   Well, the founder of “Todae” actually has a design background, so that was always very important to him. We developed a brand early on with, it was actually some rolling hills and a sky and a woman walking towards a tree in the horizon. That was actually a really, really strong brand.

We were very considerate in making sure that even from day one that the brand always made the business look like it was a lot bigger than it actually was. Even when we had three employees, with the branding and the website, people always thought that the business was a lot bigger. That was key to our moving forward and to our growth, was having a brand that was really big and conveyed an organization that not only believed in the products that we were selling but it was a big company doing it. That gave people a lot of confidence and that was how we grew the business in terms of the brand.

Then probably about just under a year ago we did do a re-brand, just a little bit of a refresher and we expanded our product range to not just eco but lifestyle products. Then it was a similar thing, we wanted something funky, something a bit different. Then we came up with the little icons that we now have on the website, the little cartoon icons. Again they embodied what the business was founded on and built on and effectively that led to the products that we sell. For any online store branding is pretty important.

There are so many competitors out there and it is very easy to go onto a site and buy the products and not even really noticing the brandings. For us that was really key in differentiation and not just having a white plain kind of site with a small logo, but it was actually having something that was captivating.

Lisa:  That is great. You’ve spent a lot of time and probably even money on just the design, the logo, the look of the site. All of that just to kind of set yourselves apart. Is that right?

Landon:  Yes. Everything was, you know, there was time and our effort put into all elements about the brand, about the name, the logo and the branding. That was reflecting in all the messaging that we did and used that, etc. We were very careful to ensure consistency and that is really important. You don’t want to be, unless that is your brand, you don’t want to be having your brand be all over the place, or sending something that looks different every single time you email out. You want have consistency so your consumer or your customers start to relate to the brand. It is also a means of conditioning customers.

An example was that initially all of our branding was blue and very earthy colors. Then we started to incorporate our call to actions as orange to not only make them stand out from the brand but also to maintain that consistency. Over the years we’ve always had calls to action as orange and our consumers or customers have become used to seeing our communication and knowing when there is something that is orange, it is either very important or it is a call to action, something to click on. That helped us improve conversions as well.

Lisa:  Really just even the color.

Landon:  Yep.

Lisa:  That is great.

Landon:  It is important to do testing. For every business we have a mentality to test, learn, and refine and when you’ve done that, you do it again. There is no silver bullet for everyone, for each organization it is different. For some companies they might find that having a red button or a red call to action converts better than an orange one or a green one or whatever it is, but it is very important to test and find out what works best for your customers or target market.

Lisa:  Right. I know so many people don’t think that much about just the look and the design of the site. That is interesting, that is something that you guys have spent so much time on and it has definitely worked.

Landon:  Yes. We did a lot of testing. I mean I am pretty passionate about online retail and the thing that I find amazing is it is almost like no other business. We can make a change and get instant results and see instant results. We’ve done a lot of testing, things to the minute level, so for example putting a little image of a padlock next to the checkout button.

Lisa:  Just to show that it is secure.

Landon:  Exactly, and seeing what increase that makes, or changing the checkout button from orange to green and just always continually testing to see what works better. The thing with all this test, learn, and refine is one, you’re improving your business and your offering but it is all compounds. If you make a small test on your home page that increases clicks to by one percent then that takes one percent more people to your product page. If you do something there that increases things three percent then it takes three percent more people to checkout. Then you do something in checkout and it flows on. It is all compound. In the end it can have a big impact on your bottom line.

Lisa:  Definitely, yes, all those little changes definitely can add up and I am sure you guys probably, you know, for the people listening they didn’t start at one million dollars a year in revenue. [Laughter] You all have to start small and then work your way up and just doing little things like that helps.

Landon:  Yes. A good example of one of the tests that we did was on an actual checkout page. We have a one page checkout and we literally just changed the flow of that page, so we made it a little bit more simplified. That immediately had a, I believe it was 11% increase in conversions, so a really small change had a massive impact on the bottom line.

Lisa:  Yes, that is great. How do you set up your testing? Do you use special software for that?

Landon:  We actually use the website optimizer from Google which is a free tool. Yes, there are better tools out there but we’ve used that and that has worked very well for us.

Lisa:  That is good to know. You are just using the free website optimizer and you are able to do all this on your site. You have, I am sure, hundreds and thousands, probably, of pages.

Landon:  Yes, we have.

Lisa:  [Laughter] If it works for you I am sure that would work for most people. [Laughter] Great! Then just to move on because I know for me building a subscriber list has been a huge turning point in the businesses that I’ve run, so I just want to ask you how important the subscriber list has been for “Todae.com.au”.

Landon:  Extremely important. As I mentioned, the newsletter has been a big part of how we’ve grown the business. I do know that the statistic is up now but when I was learning about it, it cost five times more to get a new customer than to keep an old customer. The newsletter has been vital for us, vital for the business in growing revenues but also maintaining customer relationships. If I had to say one key point for businesses would be to try to grow your database, but having said that you want to grow with quality subscribers because you can go out there and you can get people who are going to subscribe but they will never ever open an email. That just costs you money. Then that is also going to affect your statistics and your analytics and your ability to get a good understanding of how your newsletter communications are working for you. We have always had the mentality that if we get someone to our newsletter eventually they will become our customer. That was, as I mentioned, the $10 voucher that we offered was a good way to do that, an incentive.

Lisa:  Yes, that is a great idea. Then I am sure just over time with the different newsletters you’ve sent out you end up with a lot more repeat buyers which like you said it cost five times more to bring in a new subscriber. You must be getting a lot of repeat buyers then.

Landon:  Yes and with every newsletter that we send out, we analyze and look at the success and what products are clicked on and, etc., etc., to know what customers are responding to. There were some products that we marketed early this year that did really well for us. Then we put a plan together over the next short while to market them more frequently than we had previously done to our database and that did really well for us.

Lisa:  Great! If I can ask another question, what would you say are the most important things to work on for a new business that is starting out?

Landon:  Well, it depends at what actual stage it is, if it is idea…

Lisa:  If it is brand new and yes, they have things started. They have a site.

Landon:  Okay. I’d probably say, if they do have a site I’d say having a strong brand is important, so making sure you have the right brand and two is a strong business plan, a strong plan to move forward. How are they going to achieve their goals or objective, what they set out to? And then having hopefully the funding to do that. A lot of businesses set out with great ideas and fail not because it is a bad business or bad idea or the people running it are bad entrepreneurs or business people, they simply fail because they just don’t have enough runway. It costs money to start up a business.

The key thing I’d say to people is to make sure there is funding behind the business because very, very, very few businesses are profitable from day one, so they are going to need money to start up and you don’t want to put your heart and soul into something, and three months down the track or six months down the track you have no money left. That also comes back to the plan, is having a really good plan, that you know where you are going to be in three, six, twelve months. Between the brand and a strong plan and funding that should take you a long way to building something hopefully successful.

The other thing I’d suggest is to be creative. There are a lot of companies out there. A good example is the daily deals or group-buying websites or the Groupon copies. The first couple copies were successful but people that have come into the market six months, twelve months, two years later, are thinking, “These businesses are making millions of dollars, I’ll just copy it and make some money too.” There are not very many success stories of those types of businesses anymore.

My suggestion is be creative and do things differently and if you are able to do that, that will help you to solidify your place in the market that is different from other people. If there are already people out there doing what you do better with more money then it is pretty difficult for you to compete with them.

Lisa:  Definitely, yes. Definitely I can see that with an e-commerce store especially since there is kind of a set thing everybody expects from a store when they land on it. Yes, you do have to come up with something unique about, but not change everything about it so that the customers don’t know what is going on the site. Yes, I think that is great advice, just coming up with a unique angle. Then about the funding, I mean I guess it probably depends on what type of business you’re starting but I know I did start mine without much money. It just grew from there but it did take a lot longer that way. The more money the better though. [Laughter]

Landon:  Exactly. It is possible to do it without funding but it just makes it more difficult.

Lisa:  It takes longer.

Landon:  As I said I know a lot of businesses that have started with great ideas and they just ran out of money and they had to shut the business down.

Lisa:  Right, I completely agree, especially if you’re doing the same types of tasks over and over to try to build the momentum. It can get old especially at the beginning if you don’t see anything happening. So having money even for outsourcing so you don’t have to do those repetitive tasks or for ads to gain attention … that is a good strategy.

Has the company taken any risks that paid off or done anything they would consider a mistake?

Landon:  We did have some retail stores and we closed those to focus more on the online.

Lisa:  The website.

Landon:  Yes. That definitely helped us with focus and that is another piece of advice I would give to people is to focus on one sort of… I suppose one revenue line. The more revenue lines that you have the more difficult it is going to be.

Other risks that I can think of, I’d probably say early on we took a lot of risks with marketing. We are just a little bit boisterous in our marketing and went out there and said, “We are creative and we come up with ideas and we can do stuff that is going to you know make a splash.” Basically we did some things where we partnered with, for example in Sydney, the biggest newspaper in Sydney. We got our brand on the front page of the newspaper which no other business had ever really done that before and that was—we took a big risk with that. That paid off and that worked very well for us and got our name in front of a lot of people.

I would say be risky in marketing. [Laughter] You need to be risky but take calculated risks where you can test the waters and that also comes back to differentiation and doing things a bit differently. You can have the same offering as everyone else but your if marketing is crazy that often just gets people talking and that works for you.

Lisa:  Okay, well that is a good tip. I know we’ve talked about branding. You’ve mentioned it and I’ve brought it up a little in our interview. It is definitely something that we can all benefit from learning. It is kind of an art form and it is very important. Do you have any specific branding tips for those starting up new companies or looking to increase the reach of an existing company, just anything specific that people can take away from this?

Landon:  It depends what they’re selling and what their industry is, especially target market. Okay, that is probably the key thing I’d say, is make sure your brand relates to you, or your target market can relate to your brand. If your target market doesn’t relate to your brand then your branding is wrong.

An example is one the bigger online retailers in Australia launched a new site a short while ago. It was tailored to mothers with young children. What they did is they designed five or six logos and then they put it out to their subscriber base, to their target base and said, “Vote for what your favorite logo is and that is the one we will use.” They actually incorporated their target market into their branding but it just meant that the target market would relate to their brand, would relate to the logo. I think I read a quote, I can’t remember exactly word-for-word but nowadays your brand is not what you tell your customers it is, it is what your customers think it is, or tell you it is because of social media, word-to-mouth, etc. You can spend a lot of money on branding but your customers can have a different perception, so you need to make sure they relate to your brand and that you have something strong that they can not only relate to but remember. Then that should help you create a successful brand.

Lisa:  Yes, I like the idea of getting feedback if you have a subscriber base already. That is a really good idea.

Landon:  You don’t even need to have a subscriber base because most likely if you start a business you are going to know some people in that target market, so you can go to them and ask them for feedback. You don’t need to have a massive subscriber base to do that at all. Friends and family or acquaintances probably is even better to get feedback, that will help you refine your brand. Often you might think something is the best thing since sliced bread, but a different perspective can show that it might not be so.

Lisa:  Okay. Great! I think you’ve given us some really great advice here and stuff that a lot of people can apply, so thank you.

Landon:  My pleasure.

Lisa:  Thanks so much for spending time with us today. If people want to learn more about you, where should they go to find you?

Landon:  Where should they go to find me? I’d probably say linkedin is probably the best place to find me, yes.

Lisa:  Okay. Linkedin and search for Landon Kahn. I just want to put that out there. Awesome. Great. Thank you, Landon. I really appreciate it and I’ve learned a lot from you, so thank you again and I’ll talk to you soon.

Landon:  Thank you! All right. Great.

Lisa:  Bye!

Landon:  Bye!

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