People start their own business for various reasons with one common denominator, a ‘light bulb’ moment which in their eyes screams success. We had that ‘light bulb’ moment in October 2016 following several discussions with friends who were new parents and complaining about the lack of time to shop and variety of choice for children’s products in Gibraltar. We took on board their feedback and conducted independent research to ascertain demand as well as looking at factors such as demographics, logistics, profit margins and the competition. We concluded we wanted to be part of the e-commerce industry which in the EU alone is projected to be worth £530 billion at the end of 2017.
We agreed upon and purchased a generic domain www.ibuy.gi which allows us to expand our product range in the future. We started shaping our product and service offering before the real work began, building the website. We sourced a platform provider and located a reliable server whilst at the same time sending many tens of emails to popular children’s brands to pitch ourselves as their Gibraltar representative. Through the excitement, we started purchasing large quantities of stock without even a store room, let alone a website. This was our short-lived honeymoon period before reality set in. Our expectations of what was required to build the site couldn’t have been further from reality. The result was months of seven-day-working weeks, often into the early hours of the morning as well as cramming in 15 hour days on the weekend. We were literally living, breathing and even dreaming ibuy and every element that went into getting it to launch; colour themes, returns policy, secure payment gateways, legal framework just to mention a few. With time catching up on us and a deadline looming to launch in time for the Spring/Summer season, we moved on to marketing using Facebook as our main medium.
Ibuy was born, an e-commerce site fully focused on children’s fashion and accessories and representing global leading brands such as Joules, Molo, Wheat and Indikidual. Our aim is to support the busy professional or CEO of a young household who finds it challenging to pop to the shops even when they are just a stone throw away. Our ambition is to bring about a more convenient and modern shopping experience to Gibraltar which aligns us to other developed economies. Ibuy’s model allows customers to shop 24/7, on the go anywhere, anytime. Shopping can be done in minutes with PayPal Express checkout, saving time and avoiding crowds. Ibuy offers variety, quality and originality to suit all tastes and budgets. Mindful of Gibraltarian’s growing love for healthy options and individuality, we’ve even incorporated an extensive organic cotton and unisex clothing range which is available up to ten years of age. Furthermore, we restrict quantities so that Gibraltar’s children dress uniquely. With same day delivery available on all items, customers can order and take delivery at home, their business or even send a gift to a friend or relative without delay.
We launched our e-tailer in April this year with eight customer orders on day one, smashing our expectations. Since then, demand has fluctuated and we’re yet to see a pattern, however, we continue to build momentum in terms of followers with over 1,000 and growing.
The startup journey is not proving to be a walk in the park. At the beginning, there was only the two of us and our idea, fighting with doubt; the financial risk we were taking, questioning whether Gibraltar was ready for a new shopping custom, the long hours required, the sacrifices needed and ultimately without any certainty of success. These doubts and concerns were underpinned by the worry of failure and the stigma that would be attached if we were to fail, and to a large extent, they still remain today.
Besides starting an e-commerce business with no IT background and having to learn everything from coding to design, our three main challenges are as follows:
- Turning our followers into ‘ibuyers’ and getting them to love our products just as much as we do. A key barrier to customers shopping online is their inability to try on goods prior to purchasing and the cumbersome and costly process of returning goods. To overcome this we have incorporated a collection service for goods requiring exchange as well as providing a convenient Main Street drop off location for returns.
- Keeping up with technology advancements. With so many different ways to shop online, we have to remain relevant and ensure our customers can access our services on whatever device or social platform they prefer to browse. To do so, we’ve selected a platform that is both flexible and scalable so that we can adapt quickly. But even with a leading technology platform, it requires nurturing and almost weekly modification.
- Scaling up our business through cross-border sales is a challenge due to a lack of cost effective logistics as well as import/export regulations, taxes and tariffs. This is an ongoing concern for our business and something which Brexit may add to.
What was and remains apparent is that we have belief in our product ourselves and we have the support and encouragement from those we love. Equally as important, we have created a driven team with a desire to push boundaries and remove a ceiling on their own personal success who we feel a great deal of responsibility towards.
Starting a business has been life changing. Our startup journey sees us working two jobs, a full-time job and building an e-commerce startup. Having a full-time job and supportive organisations have allowed us to self-fund and learn valuable first time entrepreneurial lessons without serious financial worries.
Amongst the lessons learnt and advice received thus far, here are the ones that stand out:
1) Start-ups require more perspiration than inspiration.
2) There’s no room for doubt. It’s about investing in yourself and believing in what you are doing.
3) You have to be organised and lean to survive.
4) You have to innovate and push yourself beyond unimaginable limits as well as wear many hats; CEO, COO, marketing manager, purchasing manager, content creator, accountant and of course, social media strategist.
Yes, there have been lots of challenges and mistakes made and likely more are to come but we are learning, developing and most importantly, enjoying the grind. If it would have been easy, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity. What’s ahead is the ambition to expand our platform to provide a wider service offering and be a one stop shop for anything our customers need.
If you want to reach new levels of independence, do it. If you want to truly find out where your breaking point is, do it. If you want to remove the ceiling on your potential, do it. To anybody considering joining or creating a startup for the glory; there are easier ways to make money.
words | Katie Muldoon & Natalie Perez