Power Up Case Profile: Interview with Brad Lindenberg

Brad Lindenberg’s path to online success began when he started a computer support company after finishing high school in the late nineties. In 2006, he began selling golf clubs on eBay – a move that would develop into a successful e-commerce enterprise, Lind Golf.

Lindenberg (pictured above with Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh) has since moved beyond selling online and has begun developing tools to aid others in their own virtual ventures. He recently shared his experiences with us.

How did you start out online? How did things develop?

Lind Golf - customised golf clubs
Lind Golf was started as an eBay store by Brad Lindenberg but quickly grew into something more.

In 2006 I started selling putters on eBay and within two weeks had sold out of 50 putters. One thing led to another, and within eight months I’d filled up my parents garage, and three storage facilities at Kennard’s Self Storage. eBay was becoming competitive and I wanted to build value in a brand, which is why I started Lind Golf. We lead the online golf game and offered customers the ability to customise their equipment. Lind Golf was part of the mass-customisation movement and was like Shoes of Prey, but for golf. I grew Lind Golf over four years, and OO.com.au acquired it at the end of 2010.

Now that you’ve moved on from selling golf equipment online, what’s next for you?

Having exited Lind Golf, I am now able to focus on my real passion, which is developing technology for the web and mobile space. I designed the Lind Golf eCommerce platform, which was custom-built from the ground up. We built it ourselves because nothing really good existed in 2007 and because the customisation of golf clubs is a tricky process, which I felt would create a barrier to entry.

My plan now is to build a company that enables e-commerce. The platform we are creating is called BuyReply. It is a fully featured e-commerce platform designed to bridge the online to offline worlds of commerce.

Currently, all e-commerce occurs within the web browser, however online retail is around five percent of global retail GDP, and offline retail is the rest. What I am building is a platform that enables e-commerce and frictionless payments in the real world. It is a payment platform, e-commerce platform and m-commerce platform all rolled into one. It will enable consumers to buy from television, radio, print, the web, email and twitter with a frictionless one-click payment method. It’s a bit like PayPal, Magento and Square together. I haven’t seen anything like it before and we believe we have solved some huge problems, such as facilitating e-commerce over Twitter.

Given your experience in the industry, can you tell us about the different types of online retailers according to the solutions they require? 

Standard Shopping Carts
The most obvious winner has been Magento and I see this platform accelerating as eBay puts their resources behind them. Smaller operators like Big Commerce and Shopify are doing well too. Today, the standard mix involves a platform where you can sell, manage orders and inventory, process payments and of course, your platform should support a mobile style sheet. This is the standard offering.

When I started out, technology was a differentiator. Today it is price and product – e-commerce technology has become commoditised.

Temple & Webster website
Temple & Webster, an Australian example of the private sales model specialising in furniture and home wares.

Private Sales
New online retailers have emerged, such as private sales groups, requiring platforms that lend themselves to a member’s-only format for buying. These guys are doing really well, however they are only as good as their last deal. If they can keep the deals flowing, they will continue to prosper.

Social Commerce
There has been a bit of buzz around f-commerce, which is e-commerce via Facebook. I think Facebook is excellent for branding and listening to your customers. It gives them a voice and it gives you a voice. In the online world, where you never see your customers, having that dialogue is really valuable for a company. I know Mark Zuckerberg is working on branded Facebook pages that resemble the timeline format of the new Facebook layout, however I don’t know if he is planning to build commerce capabilities into that.

I see a huge opportunity in twitter commerce too. We are building this into BuyReply and we feel that the social dynamics that occur on Twitter, such as a celebrity tweeting a comment (then that being retweeted to their followers, then their friends, then their friends of friends), can be extended to product sales. If Snoop Dogg tweeted that he just bought some new Nikes, and it was possible to buy with zero friction directly from a tweet, I believe many people would.

Offline Commerce (e-commerce outside the web browser)
We believe that the BuyReply platform is the first of its kind within this category. Recently, we’ve seen a little activity here in Australia, off the back of the QR code video that came out of Tesco in Korea. Sportsgirl and Woolworths are trialling this kind of buying, however I view their trials as the tip of the iceberg.

How would a new retailer go about choosing the ideal solution for them?

It comes down to what they need and the resources they have, as well as the stage of business they are at. Merchants just starting out have amazing options these days. They should consider a hosted solution like Shopify, BigCommerce or Magento Go. These platforms also offer easily installable themes which gets rid of the need for expensive designers and developers to get the platform working.

From there, they will need to consider their payment processing and logistics solutions. At Lind Golf we used eWay for payments. More recently, merchants are turning to Temando for logistics.

eWay payments securities
Lind Golf used eWay to provide security for online payments.

Today’s platforms are highly extensible. Shopify has its own app store and Magento has Magento Connect. You can download plugins that do amazing things and save days and money in development costs that you’d otherwise have to spend if you used a different type of solution.

Is it possible to be a large pureplay retailer selling only via an eBay store?

You can have a business that generates revenue from the eBay audience, but I don’t think you are building value by only selling on eBay. It depends what you are trying to achieve. If you want to build a brand and business for the long term then you should definitely consider setting up a dedicated e-commerce site that can grow over time. Lind Golf started on eBay and morphed into a brand – setting up a separate identity off of eBay was an excellent decision looking back.

Are there problems inherent with some kinds of platforms? How would you go about moving from one to the other?

I’m a firm believer in getting traction and sales, then worrying about automation or moving to a “bigger and better” system. Scale when you need to, not before you need to.

Lind Golf started with a great front-end website, but credit cards used to get processed manually. We used to key every order into MYOB. It was over a year before we automated the processes and built integrations. Our platform had a lot of problems, but we only addressed them when we could justify the costs.

We actually had a near-death experience contracting an agency to migrate us to a new platform. It was in 2009 and they advertised themselves as ‘experts’ but had no idea what they were doing. We thought a better platform would be better suited to our needs and allow us to grow, however after six months we had to move back to our original platform, which is the one that Lind Golf runs on today. It has been extended since to incorporate new features and requirements, however the migration from one platform to another should not be underestimated. For a small business there are many implications to consider before you pull the trigger.

Furthermore, today’s platforms come with literally hundreds of incredible features built-in. Sophisticated features like rules-based coupon codes and private sale modules are available on hosted platforms. Competing platforms offer ways of migrating between each other. I’d speak to pre-sales about this if you want to migrate. However, get your sales happening first and then worry about scaling once the costs can be justified.

Seeking more information on how to get an online retail venture off to a flying start? See our complete A-Z guide, Power Up: The Online Retail Entrepreneur’s Guide.

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