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In this insightful interview, Aalap Shah, CEO at 1o8, shares his journey from CPA to e-commerce entrepreneur. He discusses pivotal strategies for leveraging data, optimizing omni-channel presence, and nurturing customer loyalty in the ever-evolving e-commerce landscape. Aalap’s expertise sheds light on the future of marketing and the importance of data-driven, customer-centric approaches.
Watch the episode now for more insights!
80% of revenue often comes from 20% of returning customers.
Hey, hi everyone. This is Ranmay here on your show E-Coffee with Experts. Today, we have Aalap Shah who is the founder and CEO at 1o8. Welcome Aalap to our show today.
Thanks, Ranmay for having me. Appreciate it.
Now before we move forward, why don’t you talk to me about your journey this far and what 1o8 is all about? How is it formed? What are your primary offerings? And we can take it forward from there.
Absolutely. And again, thanks for hosting me and allowing me to share a little bit about my journey today. I’m all up, as you mentioned, and my journey started from being inspired by my parents who came to the US over 40 years ago. And they are fantastic entrepreneurs. I got to grow up watching them build various businesses supporting them and working with them. I decided that might not be the right path for me. I went into becoming a CPA and worked at Deloitte for a little bit before realizing that entrepreneurship runs in my blood switching gears and building a retail business around specialty toys, which I later sold, really sparked my curiosity because Amazon Borders and Target were all getting into the specialty online business and my customers were walking in with their mobile devices asking me to match prices. That sparked an idea in my head about how are brands going to navigate this landscape. How are break-and-mortar businesses going to be able to compete? And got interested in SEO and social media.
If all these customers are shopping, and searching online, how do we, as a toy store, survive that environment?
I just started experimenting and learning back in those days. Seo meant that you did a lot of transparent text on white backgrounds, and PPC was very nascent in those days and had commands to use some of these services for my business to become viable again. I had an opportunity to exit and sell, which gave me some time months. I love to travel, so we got to travel. And then really started thinking about building a social media agency, which was my original agency for about seven years, and centered around providing social media, SEO, and PPC services to businesses. Again, had an opportunity to exit because I became deeply interested in e-commerce. Again, saw those trends of Amazon dominating the market. So these themes resurfaced again where Amazon became the retailer of choice for many consumers and many brands were thinking about how to leverage and harness that platform. I bought an Amazon business in the fishing gear space. I don’t fish and I’m a vegetarian. It was quite a challenge to learn, but I learned by doing. I’m a super curious person and I knew that I needed to own an Amazon business to truly out for that as a service.
And also at the same time, I love Shopify. When I had the opportunity to exit my previous agency, I built the initial foundation on Amazon, Shopify, and email marketing, really thinking that we could bring to market service that touches these main pain points that my clients often have. And then started adding in, again, the bread and butter of SEO, paid media, paid social content, and creative across the board.
Lovely, quite a journey. Aalap, before we move forward, I would like to congratulate you and the 1o8 team for making it to this year’s 5,000 list. It has been a significant achievement, I must say. So looking back at your journey, the way you started 1o8. Could you please share some pivotal decisions that you made on your VR strategies, which you guys implemented, that have played a significant role in achieving the success that you have been able to during this journey till here?
Thanks so much for mentioning that. I am proud of the journey that it took. We’re a little bit under five years old. I started my company in November 2018.
And it’s been quite the ride. When I initially started my company, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was confident that I could be a solo consultant, like a fraction CMO or chief digital officer for brands that came to me. I built a small business based on that idea and did some consulting work. I feel like the most pivotal moment was around March 14th of 2020 when COVID truly shut down the world. I lost all my clients. I had no go-forward revenue. I remember just being super stunned. What do I do now? I have to, of course, support my family, and the team that I built. It was a very small team. That opportunity, though, allowed me to pivot into what I wanted to do, which was e-commerce. Up until then, I’ve been doing B2B consulting, and B2C consulting, even though I had this idea that I wanted to do and combine Amazon, Shopify, and these other services for consumer brands. The consumer brands didn’t feel that keen just yet because people were still largely going into stores.
I know that has come around again. It has boomeranged again that retail is again dominant in 2023. But at least in that time frame, most consumer brands were focused on retail. What the pandemic did was force everyone to start shopping on Instacart and online. That gave us our biggest break to lean into helping consumer brands target that online shopper or that at-home shopper who now had no way to pick up a box or read ingredient labels, supply chain issues, of course, being chosen when something ran out. I’m jumping ahead, but March 14th was such a pivotal moment because it broke my business again and I felt like I had to start over. The only thing I really could do was start writing about how these brands could reach someone at home like me and my family or others like me. It’s one of those moments that happen in life, that door that opens that allows our business to not only thrive in what it does, but it allows you to step in and bring that knowledge to the table for these great brands across the board.
So that helped us accelerate and take off. Even though it meant that the business that I was running had to almost close to start a new journey altogether.
Yeah, you have seen it all. It’s been great. E-commerce has seen such explicit growth, particularly in the last few years across the globe, not only in the United States. Could you shed light on the most impactful print you have observed in the e-commerce space? And how, as per you, CPG brands can leverage these prints to amplify their growth strategies?
I love this question because,e to me, I think about it from a very unique perspective. I am a CPA. I love numbers. I love Excel spreadsheets. And so for ten years in my career in the marketing space, I always go into data and think about how data can help us achieve the outcomes that we’re looking for. Right now, as trends are still from the past three years when Facebook changed the privacy and made those updates all of a sudden, cheap acquisition of traffic or customer growth is no longer achievable, at least what it used to be or what it used to look like. So when I look at my 10 years of experience in using data, the most salient thing I found is that 80 % of revenue often comes from 20 % of returning customers. I find that a lot of CPG and e-commerce brands almost not necessarily take it for granted, but they are very interested in new customer growth. I feel the gold or the largest opportunity for these brands is to tap into that loyalty to ensure that the rich customers already have ample opportunity to try new products drive trials or add more.
And a lot of this comes down to how we merchandise and bundle a site, which is not necessarily as exciting as thinking about Facebook and Google ads. I think that Facebook, Google, and all these different PPC platforms or SEO, yes, bring a customer to the table. But how do I set that table? How do I make it visually appealing? How do I help guide that customer to buy on our site? And that’s where I’m seeing the most growth from my clients. I strongly believe that we retain our clients because we create sustainable opportunities and thinking about lowering cat and driving that lifetime value higher is my main goal. It’s just that trend doesn’t seem to be talked about because it’s way more exciting to think about all the fun stuff like creative and influencer marketing. I strongly believe in all those tactics, but when we bring someone to our storefront when you invite them to shop at our location online at least, we want to make it as inviting as possible, as intuitive as possible. And we want to make sure that customers when they come back, we’re catering to how they want to buy from us.
Lovely. And talking about CPG brands, CPG brands often need to balance their presence across traditional retail and the moving e-commerce landscape. So how do you approach the strategy interplay between these channels to ensure holistic growth?
What I love about what has been happening to our agency and our clients over the last 18 months is, that as shopper behavior has certainly shifted since the pandemic, people are very comfortable buying Omni channel. That retail location, Brick & Mortar, is vital for a D to C brand or a retail brand to create that experience. People are looking for experiences, people want to touch and feel the product. They want to be able to be able to return it very easily. So our services are oriented towards that consumer who might pick up a bar of soap at Whole Foods and then go home, use the product, and try it. And then I decided to gift it from the dot com to someone that might not be near that location. We want to make sure we’re following that customer. And the way that we use retail is how do we drive trial? How do we incite that customer to go in and try our products? Because we can’t provide that experience online necessarily, especially for food and beverage. How do we support our retail partners? These folks do the bulk of the work and generally have most of the sales velocity.
We want to make sure that not only are we driving to the dot com and Amazon, but our advertising efforts also have store locators that were on Instacart, that we use geo-targeting to help that customer understand where we are, that we want to be available to them when it’s most convenient. Of course, most brands want to keep that sale on that dot com. It’s the most profitable. We get a lot of CRM data if people buy from our website. But to me, whaveot to think about all the partners in the ecosystem and think about how we deploy our creative and our targeting to support our goals across all different channels.
And having witnessed the evolution of marketing and e-commerce firsthand, how do you envision the convergence of BACN in the next 5-10 years? And what strategies do you believe will be essential for marketing leaders to themselves and the rapidly changing plan scale?
I consider myself to be somewhat of a dinosaur in the space because I used to own a brick and mortar and at a much smaller scale compared to a Target or a Whole Foods or scope. But just really understanding and I feel like being grounded and thinking about experiences that our customers want to have that we want to complement and make sure that we’re enhancing each channel. So if I just say a brick and mortar, when someone walks in, it’s because of convenience or they’re looking for discovery or it just happens to be on a way home. And so how do I take that touch point and collect data at that point? To me, the most important trend and opportunity for our clients and businesses out there is to collect as much data as you can first-party because you can’t rely on these other platforms, as we’ve seen, that will always have access to that. Let’s own that customer relationship as much as we can. At retail, it might be a sweepstake of some sort for your brand where you can enter an email address or phone number, you may be getting a QR code.
I’m so thankful that those are back and have a use case in 2023. So how do we excite that customer at the point of purchase at retail? Then how do we use that data? What are those email automation and flows, remarketing display campaigns that we can just be a bridge magnet for our customers? I want to be seen, I don’t want to be annoying, but I want to make sure that my customer has options to buy me at retail, on Amazon,n or on D2C. And I thought about merchandising on each of those platforms to make sure that I’m adding value. So on Amazon, it could be a variety pack. On dot com, it could be my full range. At a retailer, it could be a select amount of skews that are turning on the shelf. That’s why I feel like the biggest opportunity for our clients and manufacturers out there is how to create product sets that live in each of these channels. Because our customers want that curation and that experience to try it their way.
Yeah, absolutely. A lot before we move forward we wrap this up, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it. Yes. Okay, great. So your favorite book?
Let’s say we were to make a movie on what genre would be.
I think it’d be like a romantic comedy.
Okay, lovely. Okay. And your last Google search. You can check this. It is an open book. Don’t worry.
I don’t know. It’s a good question, my last Google search. I was looking at type forms or personality quizzes because I’m working on a subscription-oriented client and just trying to think about how we collect data to give the right recommendations.
Okay. What day of the week are you like the most?
Okay. Typical entrepreneur answer to that. And where do you find yourself on Friday evenings post-work?
I always do a movie night with the kids and we order in and it’s our tradition since the pandemic.
Lovely, Aalap. I will not grill you any further, but yeah, thank you so much for taking your time and doing this with us. I’m sure our audience would have benefited a lot from the insights shared by you. But yeah, appreciate you taking our time and doing this one.
Thank you for hosting me. It’s so good to meet you.
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