We caught up with Nelson Shaw, Co-founder of WheyCartel, to pick his brains on e-commerce, useful startup hacks and building a global company from New Zealand.
Nelson and his co-founder Rab Heath initially partnered to found the AgTech company Haptly. However, after identifying opportunities in the fitness industry, they made a pretty significant shift to focus on their subscription whey-protein company WheyCartel.
Q: What's the story behind WheyCartel?
A: WheyCartel delivers the worlds highest quality sports supplements on a monthly subscription. Our first product is a 97% Protein Pure Whey Isolate. We're on a mission to help people get strong, starting in sports supplements as we think there's a big gap in the market.
Q: Subscription protein is a pretty significant change from drone tech for the agriculture industry (Haptly). How did/do you know that this was the better problem for your team to solve?
A: It's not necessarily a 'better' problem, but one that's more applicable for us to solve right now. Both my co-founder and myself have a longstanding interest in the fitness industry and think there is increasing opportunity in this area.
Regarding Haptly, it is a great area and potentially a great business, but it got to the point where there were too many unknowns and the risk-reward profile didn't line up. It's possible we will revisit it in the future if the conditions are still right.
Q: Your site is slick. Nelson, I take it you coded it yourself (no Shopify!). Can you tell us what you used?
A: Of course! Funny you say that - we do actually use Shopify in the backend to manage our orders. I think it's important to have full control over optimizing every aspect of the sales funnel, which is why we decided to do a custom build.
We will test many different variations of landing pages and checkout flows in the next few months. I'm using ReactJS for the website with Firebase for authentication/database and Python for the (minimal) backend. It's my first time making a real site with ReactJS and so far seems really enjoyable to use.
Q: Setting up payment systems seems to be the bane of every kiwi e-commerce founders life. What do you recommend?
A: Why am I not surprised? We ended up going with Braintree as they offered the subscription functionality we were after and responded to emails quickly, where others didn't bother replying at all.
Q: What are your three biggest tips for people starting/growing e-commerce businesses?
A: I'm not sure I'm qualified to give tips yet, but three things we have put a lot of thought into are:
Balancing customer price appetite with the sales margin and factoring in an incentive/discount for referral growth
We have started to implement our strategy around SEO, which is really important for us given there are 10-30 million searches for "protein" each month. A lot of this is around content marketing and link building, and more articles to our WheyCartel blog coming soon.
We have also started to implement our social media strategy and will test both affiliate and 'shout out' type models with influencers
I'm constantly analysing traffic to our site, testing copy/design changes and creating experiments to run. This will intensify over the next few months
Q: Which tools do you use for your website optimisation?
A: At the moment I'm mainly just using Google Analytics and Hotjar. I use Google Analytics to monitor overall traffic and to track the results of experiments. The experiments are just coded into the site, which cheaper than using tools like Optimizely. I use Hotjar to observe how people are using the site and collect more qualitative information.
I find using the Hotjar playbacks you can get into peoples heads, understand how they interact with the site and figure out improvements to make.
Q: You've always planned to go global fast. What are the steps and considerations you've taken to "be global from day one"?
A: Related to the question above (question 5) - we've implemented pricing and currency localisation off the bat. Unfortunately shipping internationally from NZ is not cheap. This really does impact the way an ecommerce business can operate out of NZ.
Our current plan is to optimize the physical product and online conversion as much as possible in NZ before setting up manufacturing and distribution overseas. In saying that - we certainly have a focus on growing our US & Australian customer base as quickly as possible.
Q: Can we have some insights into your plans for global domination?
Sports supplements exist to supplement your food, not replace it. They only help you get stronger/faster if you are training and eating properly anyway. Without giving too much away (this is a very competitive industry), we are very interested in building technology that helps people get stronger by focussing on the quality of their training and food. We have some insight as to why we think the current solutions in this area are lacking.
Q: Here's a general startup question. What's the one piece of advice you would give to kiwi founders, that you think would have the most material impact on their performance?
A: I think it's the same with anything you do, whether it's business, sport or a hobby. Surround yourself with people better than you. It's the best way to improve your competency and also your belief in yourself (you'll eventually realise these people are just like you and there's no reason you can't do what they've done).
Q: I like WheyCartel's branding. I imagine the masculine, no bulls*!t approach to fitness and wellbeing resonates well with a lot of men. It is said that timing is everything with a startup. Do you think this is the right time for this type of community?
A: We definitely think the time is right for our product. It's not specifically aimed at men over women, it's aimed at people who care about the quality of supplement the take. For example, most other proteins have approximately 20 ingredients, ours has just 2 (the protein and something to help it mix).
Q: Lucky last, what makes WheyCartel different from other protein providers and why should we sign up?
WheyCartel offers the worlds highest quality Pure Whey Isolate at 97% Protein from grass-fed New Zealand cows. As I mentioned earlier, most other proteins have up to 20 ingredients, essentially just used as filler. If you paid for steak would you feel disgusted if it turned up with 20 different types of meat and offal? I hope so! So why do you accept anything different from your protein?
WheyCartel sends you protein once a month on a flexible subscription - you can pause at anytime. If you want to sign up, use the code MGCARTEL for a discount 🙂