Business Journey: John Cave – Shoptimised
While searching for an affordable software that offered clients at his Pay-Per Click agency the control to optimise their Google Shopping Product Feed - the information the search engine uses to build shopping ads or listings - John Cave and his business partner, John Oram, noticed a gap in the market.
In a ‘scratch your own itch’ moment, the entrepreneurial pair bootstrapped a new company and began building the technology they were looking for. Three years on, Shoptimised is one of the fastest growing feed optimisation businesses in the UK and has won countless awards. Here, John Cave tells his story.
When and why did you decide to launch Shoptimised?
John Oram and I launched Shoptimised in February 2018 after a ‘scratch your own itch’ moment running a dedicated Pay Per Click (PPC) agency.
We had grown a great portfolio of e-commerce clients that were generating most of their revenue from Google Shopping but we found the lack of control over our clients’ product feeds extremely frustrating. It’s impossible to fully manage and optimise Google Shopping without that control as the product feed is responsible for every search term your Google Shopping Ads appear for.
We looked at all the solutions on offer but found they either didn’t offer the required control or were extremely expensive.
We decided to build our own technology and Shoptimised grew from there.
What services does Shoptimised offer, and to whom?
Shoptimised has three core service offerings: Product Feed Optimisation Software, Google Comparison Shopping Service (CSS) and a unique software called Incremental Sales, which focuses on generating revenue from products that retailers have not sold in the past 30 days.
We offer our product feed optimisation software on a free subscription and provide Google CSS at no cost to our users.
Our clients are mainly digital agencies and online retailers that want to grow their online sales. We work with a mixture of clients, ranging from ambitious SMEs to major brands such as Schuh, Moonpig and ScS.
What is Shoptimised’s USP?
Initially, our USP was a combination of how powerful yet affordable our software was.
While that is still very much at the heart of what we do, we have been constantly innovating to create new tools, additional functionality and ultimately offer software that nobody else does.
I’m also incredibly proud of our service. Our team, led by the amazing Beth Appleby, always go above and beyond to provide the best possible support to every Shoptimised client. This has helped us to develop great relationships with our users, who in return offer us great ideas and feedback, which help us continuously improve our platform.
How have you seen PPC marketing change and evolve over the years?
When I started in PPC, just over 15 years ago, not much used to change. But over the past few years, the volume and speed of change is incredible.
A big part of my role at Shoptimised is watching and listening what the ‘big four’ tech companies (Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon) are saying and doing. This understanding has helped plot a course for our business as we feel we have a very good sense of where PPC will be in the future. In five years’ time, PPC will be unrecognisable from where it was when I started.
What challenges did you face when starting Shoptimised, and how did you overcome them?
We are a bootstrap start-up, so the challenges were always time and money - we never had enough of either. But that forces you to be creative, driven and to put the work in.
We were coming into a market that had established companies and we had to demonstrate why we were better, from both a service and technology perspective. We were confident we had great tech and a brilliant service, but we needed to get the word out.
Our first hire was a part-time business development manager. We knew this role was going to be key to the longevity of Shoptimised and something we had to get right first time. Luckily, we did. Our first employee, Nick McQue, helped us to grow the business from the ground up. Nick is now our Commercial Director and plays a huge part of our continued growth.
If you were to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
Honestly, no. We have made mistakes, but we’ve owned them and, without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Our mistakes have led us to make better decisions that have ended up being really good for the business. We learn something new every day and are open to making new mistakes, as long as we keep learning from them. As we grow, we evolve.
Since it was founded, Shoptimised has been recognised with several awards and has grown significantly – what has the experience of growing the business been like for you?
Awards are nice, growth is great, but the experience is the best part. Shoptimised is my second business, and I am much more relaxed this time around. My first business wasn’t a failure, nor was it a success. We exited with just enough to finance Shoptimised. The value and the experience I gained from founding and running a PPC agency has been priceless, and it has helped me so much with Shoptimised.
There are existing and new challenges every day. We work in an ever-evolving industry that moves at breakneck speed, but we are enjoying every minute of it.
What are you most proud of in creating Shoptimised?
I have always been very proud of being in a position where John and I can create jobs. We have been able to take that even further in Shoptimised. We are putting much more focus into creating careers and a healthy working culture.
For our team, we reiterate one simple rule - family comes first. We understand that everybody who comes to work at Shoptimised is doing it so they can improve their life and that of their families. So, it is our responsibility to make sure working at the company does that.
We try to enforce a few rules to promote this such as it’s ok to come in 30 minutes late if you need to take your child to school. Also don’t work more hours than you are contracted to. There are no medals for that, just burnout. We also don’t put emails on your mobile phone so that when you close the laptop, you are done. These are simple things, but they really do create a positive place to work, and our people respond well to that.
What are the short- and long-term plans for the business?
This year, we are looking to grow our team by creating 20 new roles within the business. We have just opened a new office in Silverlink Business Park - Newcastle upon Tyne, to support that growth.
We have lots of new tools, software additions and services planned over the next 12 months. This is one area of the business where we never rest, our development list is as long as it is exciting.
Continuing to build our relationship with Google is something we’d really like to focus on. We’ve already had some interesting discussions around project collaborations, which we are looking to progress further.
But we are cautious not to plan too far ahead. As with all businesses right now, we are going through unparalleled times, and we appreciate the position we find ourselves in.
What three pieces of advice would you give somebody looking to start their own business?
There is never a perfect time to start your own business, so just do it.
Own your mistakes. You hear the saying “fail fast” quite a lot and it’s good advice. You’ve got to be willing to be brutally honest with yourself when you get something wrong so you can put it right, rather than double down.
I’ve burned out badly in the past, so carve some time out for yourself to relax. It is so important to look after your mental health and wellbeing.
- Think ahead about which roles you will recruit for first and take your time to select the right person.
- Don't be afraid of making mistakes - they will propel you forward.
- Often the best business ideas come to you when you're trying to solve a problem of your own - be open to providing the solution you wish you had.
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