This week Alex sat down with Jeff Cayley, CEO and Founder of WorldWide Cyclery, one of the largest and best online (and offline) retailers for high-end mountain bikes in the world.
There is a lot of content directed towards helping entrepreneurs launch products and brands, but Jeff has successfully launched a full-on branded marketplace with an incredible brand and some of the highest end products in the world in his niche.
He got his first experience in ecommerce selling products online on eBay as an 11-year-old kid, selling whatever he could in his house and eventually his neighbor’s houses. He then branched into the world of selling home goods like faucets, which was making him money, but not in any related to his passion for mountain biking (of which he was a professional racer for many years).
As with many entrepreneurs, Jeff started into eCommerce by looking to make some cash. He found a niche in HomeGoods where he could make quick cash, but there was no real sustainability to be found. He started to look at eCommerce in mountain biking and saw a huge opportunity where nobody was really owning the niche and building an actual brand with any real success.
Before diving in full time, Jeff did a lot of market research and got a ton of experience, working with a local mountain biking shop. He was eventually able to use his employers’ wholesale accounts through to start experiment with selling the products online and discovering even more nuances with the industry.
Because Jeff had been so ingrained in the industry, he was able to understand the landscape at a very deep level. He knew the products, the manufacturers, and most importantly, the end users and how he could create a better buying experience for them. He advises that if you are passionate about an industry and want to create a business in it, starting with a customer understanding to create an amazing experience is paramount.
Jeff’s barrier to entry was a lot higher than simply drop shipping because he had to both operate a physical location in order to buy wholesale and because his products are all high-end, high-ticket products. This may sound scary to someone in drop shipping, but when you look at the size of the company that Jeff has built by doing things right, you can see what can be gained from “going pro” with a marketplace brand that sells other companies’ products.
Jeff also discovered a massive international opportunity with the business from when he was testing out products on eBay. Being attentive to the market and testing out demand, and setting up a really solid operation affords you the opportunity to enter new markets and attract a ton of new customers. Currency rates have hurt his international business a little over time, but the early days’ success was definitely helped by his understanding of the market and ability to sell internationally.
As a retailer, Jeff says you must remain humble about your role, and so a huge way to add value is through providing an amazing experience. He saw that a really great way to differentiate from the other players was to be super customer-centric, and work from all angles (customer service, delivery time, etc) to provide that experience. A lot of his sales come from $4,000-$10,000 mountain bikes and accessories, so building trust with amazing reviews and service is key.
His customer service team is ninja trained on the nuances of his industry. When you call to talk an experienced person who knows things like the kind of tires to use for a terrain, you are able to far more quickly build trust and relationships with customers and prospects alike. He spearheaded customer service himself to really figure out how to get it right, and then trained and brought on great people one by one.
Jeff saw that a lot of entrepreneurs never get bigger with their business because they can’t relinquish control and take the time to bring on new people. Unless you are willing to make the mindset shift to being an employer, creating processes to bring new people on, and then just working hard until you find the right people…your business is never going to scale.
Having an awesome vision for his company is driving WorldWide Cyclery forward, but really it’s been falling in love with the game of business that has propelled Jeff to new heights. He now enjoys the process of building his company more than mountain biking! This is a huge truth bomb that everyone sort of needs to be smacked with every now and again when we get too focused on the destination.
Worldwide Cyclery has actually leveled up the industry in terms of how it competes on customer experience, content marketing and more. It’s a truly rewarding thing for Jeff to see as someone who cares so much about the industry and its customers.
An even more fulfilling experience has been creating a great company culture with his business and giving people jobs that they passionately love. Not only has he done great things for the industry and its customers, but he is building a truly unique working experience for all of his employees.
He is doubling down with the vision of the business into the media side of the business as well as manufacturing their own products. This allows them to build a much more dominant position in the marketplace, and something that’s more valuable to the business and to the marketplace.
Jeff has been able to assemble a really phenomenal team (I’ve met some of them). He believes that great businesses are really amazing groups of people working hard towards a common goal. A lot of his growth and development in business has been in the management of his team. It’s always a learning curve when you learn how to deal with various types of personalities, especially when you start as early as he did (21 years old).
We’ve all dealt with difficult employee situations, especially if you’ve hired friends. Its been no different for Jeff who had to part ways with an early employee who had a much different vision for the business than him. Those situations are always really tough when you have to let someone go on to something else, but they are always better for both sides in the end.
He has all kinds of incentives for his employees to continually grow and improve. One unique idea is a reading program where he pays employees $20/hour audiobook time for reading a book that will help them personally or professionally, and then summarize what that learning was. A massive sense of fulfillment he has enjoyed as an entrepreneur is committing to the development of his employees.
Another important lesson for entrepreneurs is that just because you want to work 12 hours a day because you are obsessed with building your business and learning and growing, doesn’t mean that all your employees will (and that doesn’t make them bad employees).
Jeff has an incredible presence on YouTube with the business, and passionately explains products and creates a ton of incredible content to help out customers and the industry in general. Customers need to like, know and trust you, especially if you are selling higher value products. The best way to scale the intimacy of in-person conversation has been through video, and YouTube is the king of video, and the second biggest search engine on earth!
Youtube is an incredibly powerful tool for mimicking the in-personal contact, to allow people to gravitate to the character development of you over time, and to scale intimacy. Its a way for them to add value to the industry, especially when you aren’t being salesy in the videos and entirely educational focused on a lot of the content. They then leverage that content in short form to drive people to youtube, or in retargeting ads, FAQ’s and more.
Jeff’s tip for entrepreneurs to be more effective with their time is to really simplify things. Starting organized with Gsuite across his entire team has been really critical for the team’s unified progress, but just creating structure for your day and blocking out periods of time has been massive. When you block out time to focus on specific tasks and not be distracted by anything else is key to accomplishing the things that HAVE to be done in order to move the needle.