In this episode, we share the story of Vaping.com. Find out how an E-cigarette Forum was converted into a commercial business.
What influenced your decision to start your e-commerce store?
After using electronic cigarettes as a method to quit smoking ourselves, we grew fascinated by this innovative technology and the benefits it could bring to public health. We initially created the E-cigarette Forum as a platform for vaping enthusiasts to communicate, share knowledge and discuss their preferences in terms of each device’s functionality and different vape juice flavors.
The E-cigarette forum quickly grew into a global platform, where small e-commerce businesses serve this active community, at a time when this industry was in its infancy. They used the forum to gain a thorough understanding of what vapors wanted, in terms of style & functionality of the device and vape juice flavors. A good example of the power of the forum at that time was that the first ever mod was actually sold on the platform by one of our members.
We had established an active community on this platform, had become a credible source of information and trusted advocates of e-cigarettes as a valid method to transition away from lit tobacco. It was at this point that the commercial business was created – vaping.com.
Tell us about your business?
Do you currently run your store full time or part time? Tell us about the experience.
I run the business alongside my Co-Founders on a full-time basis. We are a small team with a global audience, and we are operating in a controversial industry that is rapidly evolving. So we not only market and sell products within the industry, but aim to gather research to present hard data to inform and guide not only our customers & future customers but regulatory bodies about an industry that is still in its infancy.
There is predicted to be more than 35 million vapors worldwide, leaving regulators scrambling to establish legislation to govern this new phenomenon. Between the E-cigarette forum, the E-cigarette Summit, which we also founded, and our commercial business – vaping.com, we are completely invested in shaping this industry and that requires long days to ensure the continued success and growth.
Which e-commerce platform do you use?
How did you get your first products stocked?
Through the forum, we had a solid understanding of what our customers wanted and what direction product development was heading. We had the benefit of seeing many errors made by fledgling businesses and were well aware that mistakes on inventory could end up sinking a business very quickly, to minimize our risk we knew that we couldn’t be exposed to massive inventory holdings in the early days.
Because we were a startup with limited funds, we went to our network of industry friends we had made through running the forum to propose ways of working together. Ultimately, we were able to team up and get access to their scale which gave us better prices and margins from day one, allowing us more room to invest in growing the business in a much more impactful way.
How do you interact with your customers?
We communicate with our customers through email, phone, social media, and directly through the E-cigarette forum. Feedback on our products in the form of product and service reviews also act as an important method of communication which shapes our business and how we operate.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing now or have faced, if any?
Constant regulatory changes are now a staple part of our business and the industry we operate in, so it has become less of what we might consider a challenge in more recent times. An integral part of our business is being aware of these regulatory changes and advising our customers how they may affect them.
The impending outcome of Brexit is a challenge that we are currently facing, and can only wait to see what exactly the outcome will be, and what that means for e-commerce businesses, but the chances are we will be opening up locations within the EU to serve that market after the deal.
What apps/plugins are most useful to you?
We manage everything using Asana, it’s our number one tool and couldn’t live without it. Syncing up the daily tasks from Asana with my Todoist account gives me a simple view of what needs to be achieved on any given day, especially useful to come back to when you get to the office and get distracted putting out fires. I’m also a big fan of Pomodoro timekeeping, making a concerted effort to block distractions and focus for periods of time allows my days to be anchored and productive.
Perhaps obviously, but we use google docs for spreadsheets which are fundamental for collaboration and the smooth running of our organization.
Are there any personal business strategies you’ve developed with time?
We built our community, developed credibility and trust within that community and relative partners before launching our commercial business. This strategy provided us with a strong position before investing in the business and exposing ourselves to the usual risks that are typically associated with starting a business.
If there was something you could change about your e-commerce journey so far, what will that be?
A common mistake with entrepreneurs is waiting for the right time to do things. I also fell into this trap of being over-cautious and protecting myself and the business from risk. If you have done the research and are prepared, then don’t wait around for the right time. It never really comes and in an industry like ours, which is extremely competitive, this lost time can be costly.
Any advice for upcoming e-commerce entrepreneurs?
Create something that you genuinely care about, so that this passion will fuel the drive to succeed.
About Merchant Stories
Merchant Stories is a blog series by Kudobuzz (a startup that helps you grow your business with social reviews, product listings and AI powered SEO) that highlights the stories of online merchants to give them more exposure and to serve as inspiration for upcoming merchants.
This is the first season in a long running series.
Want to get your story featured? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.