Ronnie Teja immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 2008. He was 22. Flushable until 2020, and he owns and operates a thriving e-commerce company that sells watches and accessories on 15 websites, including Branzio.com. His team consists of 30 employees in a dozen countries.
I recently talked to him about starting his business, getting websites and the challenges of managing it remotely.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your business.
Ronnie Teja: I run about 15 websites. We make the middle of eight figures in revenue. The primary product we sell is men's watches. We sell them in 50-plus countries right now. The idea is to scale to about 120 countries at the end of the year. I'm Canadian. I travel the world and have a team of about 30 employees.
Bandholz: I can't imagine 15 different websites. Are they on the same platform?
Teja: No. Some are on Shopify. Some are Magento. Some are BigCommerce.
Bandholz: Did you acquire them?
Bandholz: Last year I interviewed Shakil Prasla with Pro Click Ventures. He has a similar business model where he acquires e-commerce. How do you find candidates to acquire?
Teja: Some of them are approaching us. Others I find from Googling. I might buy a content site that is highly rated for looking at terms or looking at reviews. I will start a conversation through an email to see if there is an opportunity for us to work together. Sometimes I look at a successful competitor and try to follow its model. If I can't copy it, I might try to acquire the company.
Bandholz: So you focus mainly on watches and accessories.
Teja: Yes. There are many accessories, such as straps and software. I ended up acquiring a website in South Africa. That country is a gold mine for e-commerce. I don't know why more people aren't investing there. An acquisition in the US for $ 20 or $ 30 is about $ 2 in South Africa. And the margins are much better. We bought a site there for $ 50,000 that would have cost $ 300,000 in the United States.
Bandholz: Do you have other business partners?
Teja: No. I am the sole owner and operator.
Bandholz: How do you handle the self-doubt or depression that comes when things go flat? I get the dark days all the time.
Teja: Everyone has those days. Reading helps me. Or call a friend.
Bandholz: Do you have a family?
Teja: I have my girlfriend. I've been with her for four years. My parents live in Vancouver. We immigrated there when I was about 22 – about 12 years ago. So coming to Canada began life from the beginning.
Bandholz: It's cool. Where did you move from?
Teja: Mumbai, India, a city of about 22 million people.
Bandholz: How do you arrive as an immigrant to Canada and build a successful business?
Teja: My mom applied [for immigration] because we had family in Vancouver. In 2005 I worked with my master's degree. I got a call from my parents and said, "We have a golden ticket." It was our opportunity to immigrate to the US or Canada, or Australia, the UK – anywhere. It is a chance to move to a first world country with an honest system and a little bureaucracy compared to India.
When we landed in Vancouver, I needed to make money. So I started working for a small radio station and selling ads. In 2015 I said to myself: “Wait a second. I've worked for all these people and made them a lot of money. “That's when I started my own business.
Bandholz: So you chose watches and found a supplier?
Teja: I have made some digital marketing agreements for MVMT Watches. And then I decide to create and sell watches directly. I failed first. I almost ran out of money because I was trying to source from Vancouver, hire a designer in Vancouver – everything in Vancouver. I did about six months of work in Vancouver to create a watch, and then I discovered someone in Vancouver who I had never met had a Kickstarter campaign with the same logo as the watches I had just made. I didn't know this person. He had already raised $ 150,000 on Kickstarter.
So it's back to the drawing board. I bought a ticket from Vancouver to Hong Kong to attend the massive bell fair there. I hoped to meet suppliers, get credit from them and complete a design – all within three months. And that's what happened, against doing everything in Vancouver.
Bandholz: You have now acquired a company. You have 30 team members in different locations.
Teja: That's right. It is exciting to work with 30 team members, to be awake in all these different time zones. I like to create my own schedule. The time is not between 09:00 and 17:00. I can work at night, in the morning, in the gym, at any time.
I've just started implementing EOS [entrepreneur Operating System] or a variant of it. I have been able to go back from everything for the past 30 days. I recently went on a vacation to the Komodo Islands [in Indonesia]. I had not taken leave in over five years.
It is interesting how different teams interact. We have decided to close our Vancouver office and terminate employees there. They were nice people, but unfortunately not in our long-term vision. We are now going through the process of deciding who identifies with our core values and building a team around it.
Bandholz: So EOS is a plan to run a business.
Teja: Yes. I recommend "Get a grip,"A book that explains it. There are many similar books.
Bandholz: Let's address your team. You have 30 people. How many different cities are there?
Teja: The development team is at Eastern Time in South America. Customer service is available in ten different countries, including Nicaragua, Colombia, Serbia, Montenegro, the Philippines and India. We have a couple of people in the UK. And I'm in Canada.
All employees communicate with each other. We have a single Slack channel where everyone can chat. I have recently started weekly video updates for my team.
What I have done wrong in the last five years is to offer salary bonuses to motivate. It definitely didn't. That's not the way to go. A much better motivational tool is a personalized gift or letter or even a nice postcard from a trip. We still offer bonuses, but only to employees who share our values.
Twenty to thirty percent of our bonus structure is on the company's earnings. But the other 70 to 80 percent are targeted at the employee, depending on the key performance indicators for that department. For example, CPIs for the customer service group include customer reviews, missed call rates, customer satisfaction rates. So corporate income plays a role, but not as much as CPIs for the individual.
Bandholz: How can readers connect with you?