Andrew Smith | Entrepreneur and Owner of Yuppie Chef
Andrew is the co-founder and Managing Director of Yuppiechef, and heads up their strategy and technology. After developing websites and intranets for clients since 1999, he founded Yuppiechef in 2006 with Shane Dryden as a part-time venture while they continued to run a small web agency. Yuppiechef has since grown in to one of South Africa’s leading online retailers, winning the country’s E-commerce Awards for best overall site each year since 2010.
How We Got Started | The way we decided to do it was to take out 3 days, which was a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and just start something. And this was in 2005 and there were 4 of us involved, Shane and myself and 2 others and we each came with a product, so we had to come with something that we could sell online. The product we ended up choosing was called Bug Zapper which was a, you’ll have to search what a bug zapper is. It’s a racket for swatting flies and mosquitoes. ……With the Thursday, Friday, Saturday we found a courier company, we hooked up some credit card facilities, we built a website, and we made it live on Saturday and we only sold one, which was to my mom, and we kind of forgot about the marketing part, which was a bit of an oversight. But we sold over a million rand in Bug Zappers in 8 years before handing the site over!
The Formation of Yuppiechef | The idea started in 2006… Shane had the idea to start selling kitchen tools and he asked a chef friend of his, “What are a handful of kitchen tools that you couldn’t live without?” Then we’ll put up a site and we’ll sell those. And so she said, “Well I don’t know about a whole lot, but there’s this one,” which was a brand but you couldn’t easily get in South Africa. We happened to know the importer of that brand so we saw there was a disconnect between the kitchen products or the brands that people wanted to buy and the stores that were selling them…
So we started the site with one brand, not even any credit card facilities; you shopped through a shopping cart and you paid through a bank transfer and we launched it in August 2006.
The Importance of Timing | We have benefitted a lot from good timing. And I think a lot of successful people can point to their hard work and their genius and their great team but they leave out the fact that you have to be in the right place at the right time. And really the last six years in South Africa have been an excellent time to start something in ecommerce. Plus we were riding the wave of Masterchef and Jamie Oliver and just that cooking is sexy and cool.
Seeing the Future | The future’s already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed. The great thing about online is that we can see the future. You just have to look at other countries and that is the future. Traditional retailers and other people in South Africa are saying, “Ah, nobody shops online…”, but that’s ridiculous. Nobody shops online today, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. So it’s like having a crystal ball, but it should be plain for everyone to see. Everyone who’s ever been overseas or lived overseas will say all they do is shop online and why do we think that’s not going to happen here? So there are so many opportunities to be taken.
The First And Most Important Ingredient | To being successful is to just get into the kitchen.
Cash Flow Benefits of Ecommerce | Fortunately the nice thing about the economics of selling physical products is that the customer can pay you today and you can order from the supplier and pay the supplier in 30 days’ time, so you can effectively have a positive cash flow from the beginning because you are being funded by your customers’ cash.
Ecommerce Is Really Retail | You think ecommerce and you think credit card facilities and shopping carts and we forget that ecommerce is retail. And retail is really supply chain management and branding and marketing and customer service and selling. So it’s sourcing the right products and then having them on the shelf to be able to start marketing, telling people about it and then serving the customers. You are dealing with all the same things as traditional retailers, your shop front just happens to be a technical store.
Customer Service Is Key | I couldn’t imagine running a business and not focusing on customer service. It’s a big part of what we believe is important for online because there is no physical interaction with the customer.
So we try in all our interactions to prove that we are real people. The handwritten card is really about showing it wasn’t robotic and that if something goes wrong you’ll be able to phone and make contact. And so if you order a 60 rand spatula and we deliver it to you with a handwritten card, and you’re blown away and you’re more likely to come back and by a 5,000 rand set of cookware, because you believe that there’s going to be a human being to help you out.
How We Get Customer Service Right | Most of our customer service is just employing people who care and creating a culture of really genuinely caring about customers. Customer service is so bad in South Africa that we’re coming off a ridiculously low base. Customers who have a problem and get it solved have a bigger lifetime value than customers who never have a problem.
Finding Your Niche | You need to find the intersection between an opportunity that exists in the market and something you’re good at and something you enjoy.
Money Can’t Be The Focus | If you wouldn’t want to do what you’re doing without money, or at least without much money, it’s going to be very difficult, because so few businesses get off the ground as quickly as the founders think they’re going to. They might be doing work that they don’t enjoy but they think it’s okay because just around the corner is all this money that’s going to come from it, but there very seldom is. A lot of the time in your own business it’s years and years and years before you make any money. And then more years before you make enough money to stop doing whatever your other work is. And if you don’t actually enjoy the process and enjoy the journey of what you’re doing then you’re lost.
The Meaning of Life | A big part of the meaning of everything for me is finding out what am I uniquely supposed to be doing. What is unique in me that’s not in anyone else. And you can call that “what have I been created to do”, or “what am I destined to do”, or “what has luck made me good at doing”? But whatever it is, to understand yourself and understand what you offer to the world is something I don’t think a lot of people do. if I understand who am I and what am I better at than anyone else at doing and what should I avoid doing because I really suck at it, I’m going to be the biggest contribution to the world around me. Very often that journey of self-discovery leads to the discovery of an even bigger meaning and purpose in life.