We connected with Luis Salazar from Oubly some time ago and he was generous enough to share the journey so far in his online print business based in California. In this our Inspiring Entrepreneurs series, we’ve asked people to share their highs and lows and Luis hasn’t disappointed. Thank You Luis, knowing someone’s been there before, always helps.
Let’s start with who you are and what’s your business.
My name is Luis, and I am the co-creator of Oubly, an online eCommerce website dedicated to producing high end business cards at affordable prices.
We are a successful & mature printing company that has a thoughtful bunch of individuals with passion for print, art, design, technology, fine papers, and collaborative culture.
Our website, Oubly.com, offers a wide selection of beautifully designed and crafted print items for business, or occasions that call for connection and celebration between you, your friends, and family.
Where did you get the original inspiration to start Oubly?
Oubly as it currently stands came about by accident. Our investor was initially interested in creating an eCommerce website similar to Tiny Prints and Minted. These two companies are giants in the personalized card and personalized gift market.
My team and I had previous experience and success working at another online printing eCommerce business. With our printing and marketing knowledge, we figured we could penetrate the market and deliver a similar product with higher quality and at lower prices. The website and all the branding was created to cater to that specific market.
Tell us about your journey so far as an entrepreneur.
I don’t really consider myself an entrepreneur. For the longest time I was trying to get into the CGI animation industry, to little or no avail. By accident I stumbled upon my former partner on Craigslist. He said he needed someone who was willing to learn about online marketing.
I figured it was time to switch careers. My former partner was working at another printing company who needed help with increasing their online presence. I started out as an intern without any marketing or business experience whatsoever. It didn’t take too long to learn the in’s and out’s of online marketing. After a successful relaunch my former partner asked if I was interested in helping him create an eCommerce company, this time for ourselves.
After seeing how successful the previous attempt was, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Can you share a low point?
Boy, oh boy. We were extremely confident that our product would resonate with our target audience. We had spent seven months developing the website, products, and building an online presence.
It was a sobering experience when we had a very lukewarm reception.
We had to let go of pretty much all our team.
How did you make it through that low point?
We almost didn’t. We were on the verge of shutting down Oubly two months after the site launched in March of 2014. We had to pivot or risk closing down for good.
Our designer had an idea of adding premium business cards with a colored edge. This was something that our competitors weren’t offering. We decided to offer free sets to the first 200 customers who placed an order. It worked!
Can you share a high point with us in that journey?
For me the high point was when I started noticing repeat orders, as well as positive customer reviews.
That was enough proof for me to realize that the product we were offering was worthwhile, and that we were meeting the expectations of our customers.
How important was building brand to your success so far?
Identifying our point of difference was more important to firstly our survival and then our success. Adding edge colored business cards to our products has been critical. Not too many online printing companies offer edge colored business cards. Even if they do, based on conversation rate data, I like to think that we provide a well designed and very easy to use interface.
Would you like to share a picture of your products so we can get a sense of what you do?
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out?
Don’t spend too much time perfecting your website or product. Launch your project ASAP.
Making adjustments or adding features is easier once you get feedback from your customers.
If you could ask for help in 3 areas of your business right now and you knew you would get it what would they be?
- How could I improve my customer retention?
- What percentage of revenue should go back into investing in marketing?
- How do you initiate partnerships with other companies?
Let’s Answer Those Questions for you
Answering real life questions from real life business is what we do. If we can help, we like to. Here are our thoughts on Luis’ questions:
Q1 – How could I improve my customer retention?
A1 – This is a common challenge in business. Retaining customers is always cheaper than sourcing new ones. The answer always lies in building relationships and mapping the journey of the customer beyond the sale and discovering what is needed at each point in the journey. Your opportunity lies in inserting yourself into this journey at key trigger points. Feedback at each point is critical.
We have an entire module dedicated to this question in How Great Marketing Works. It’s Module 7 – Map the Journey.
Q2 – What percentage of revenue should go back into investing in marketing?
A2 – I’m asked this question a lot and there are no hard and fast answers.
It’s a combination of how much is required to meet your goals and what makes sense financially.
Some years you will be willing to invest heavily and you provide for that. Heavy investment usually occurs when the business wants to push through to the next level of their growth. This is why goal setting around budget is really important. And of course, this is always in an environment of what can the business afford. Use these pointers to help you unravel the answer.
- Start with a budget for the year based on what needs to be done (i.e. to meet goals).
- How much is that?
- What % of your revenue is that?
- What is the expected return?
- Now review – does it make sense?
Don’t look for the easy answer of X% – that doesn’t make sense.
Then see where the percentages lie so you can plan going forward.
For more information, Module 12 – Your Plan of How Great Marketing Works addresses this question in more detail when we work through Your Business Model and How the Money Flows.
Q3 – How do you initiate partnerships with other companies?
A3 – Business today is always about partnership. You partner with customers, investors, suppliers and your own team. The same rules apply, always and you need to be clear on what you want in each case.
- So what kind of partnership are you looking for?
- What does it look like in practical terms.
- Who matches that profile?
- What can they bring to the relationship?
- What’s in it for them?
- How do you create a win / win for every person in the relationship.
You will need to decide on what you are willing to compromise on and where you draw a line. Once you can answer those questions, the initiation is easy.
Both Module 4 – Choose Your Customers and Module 7 – Understand Your Marketplace of How Great Marketing Works addresses this question in more detail.
It’s all about choosing who fits best and how to be ready for them.
Our thanks again to Luis Salazar of Oubly.com for sharing his journey with us. We wish you all the best in the future and look forward to hearing more as the business grows.