PODCAST EP 62
Simon chats with Ben Wong, CEO of Academy Xi.Listen Now
Simon Dell: I’m joined today by Rafael Romis, which has the best name that we’ve had so far on this show. He is based in LA, so unfortunately not the first American that we’ve had on the show. You are second. So you haven’t actually popped our American cherry. Welcome to the show. How are you?
Rafael Romis: Doing great, thanks for having me.
Simon Dell: You said to me you’re in Brentwood. If anybody who knows or doesn’t know LA, tell us, explain whereabouts Brentwood is in LA.
Rafael Romis: There’s east LA which is the downtown area, and then there is west LA which is the beach area, where we have Santa Monica and Venice. Brentwood is right next to the Santa Monica part. That’s where you want to be.
Simon Dell: How far away are you from the beach? That’s the question that we all need to know.
Rafael Romis: Not far at all. It’s a 5 or 10-minute drive.
Simon Dell: Nice. Whether good there today?
Rafael Romis: Yeah. The weather has been pretty great.
Simon Dell: Cool. Now, the first thing that jumped out that I wanted to ask you about is, you lived in a few different places, haven’t you? You’ve been about a bit. Did you do some time in the UK as well?
Rafael Romis: I did. I was born and raised in Greece. When I turned 17 and 1/2, I went to England to study in Canterbury, which is about an hour away from London. And then after I got my bachelor’s out there in Canterbury, I went to London because I had to find a job. The way it works in England is that you can apply for your job by telling them the grade that you got on your degree or by telling them your predicted grade, so the grade you expect to get.
Simon Dell: Did you tell them your actual grade or your predicted grade?
Rafael Romis: My predicted grade.
Simon Dell: Did your predicted grade turn into your actual grade?
Rafael Romis: Not at all. Basically, it was a situation where I knew that if I wait and I get my actual grade, I’m kind of screwed. Not that it was a horrible grade or anything, but it’s one of those things where everybody wants the A students, and if you have a B, it’s like an F. It doesn’t even matter.
Simon Dell: What did you start doing? Once you got that job, what was that first job that you had there in London?
Rafael Romis: The actual first job I had was for a betting company. I did that during the summer of my first or second year of studies. And then the first ‘real’ job that I had was for a pharmaceutical company out of London.
Simon Dell: Okay, what got you into that? Was that just something that was available?
Rafael Romis: It was literally circumstance. What happened is, back to what I was saying, I could not apply online to get a nice job because the grades that I have are not top-notch. So, basically just travelled to London before I even got my degree and I started going to job, trade shows, essentially.
I would go up to the hiring person and I would say, if I apply online, you’re just going to see a paper, I look like everybody else. But you have me right in front of you, and I’m telling you that if you don’t hire me, you’ll be missing out on the best opportunity. Now, thinking back to it right now, I’m like, “Holy shit, did I really do that?” But yeah, I did, and it worked.
Simon Dell: Great sales pitch.
Rafael Romis: Yeah, and it worked quite well.
Simon Dell: I guess something that’s a common theme about a lot of people that I talk to on this show is that they’ve got some great background in sales and being able to sell things. That really helps them later on in their careers.
Rafael Romis: Absolutely. I would say that my biggest skill is not necessarily selling but knowing how to work with people, and understanding their needs, and then presenting things. Anything that I’ve done in life was done because of that one skill.
Simon Dell: Explain to me how you got from London to LA. What was the pattern of circumstances that did that?
Rafael Romis: That is a very long story that I’ll sum up.
Simon Dell: I was going to say we may not have long enough. If we could do a slightly shorter version.
Rafael Romis: Basically, straight out of school on my last year right before I got my degree, I went out to different job trade shows in London, and that’s how I landed my job in the pharmaceutical company.
The way that they worked in the pharmaceutical company is that you start with essentially what would be a trial period. They’re still paying you and everything, but you have a certain goal of what you need to do within the first three months of employment, and then when you hit the goal, you continue working.
I did about three times the goal within my second month, so it was really exciting and everything. That’s where I’m cutting the story short. They actually thought that I was a freaking corporate spy. My 21-year-old self that just graduated college somehow was recruited to become a corporate spy. There was a little bit of conflict there which I didn’t appreciate.
And so, I decided to quit the job, go back to Greece, and try to figure out what I want to do. That’s how I left England. Back in Greece, I actually opened a retail store for about a year. But what I like to say is that Greece is the best place for vacation. England is a great place for work.
The US, specifically Los Angeles, is a perfect balance. What happened in Greece is that I was just not working. I was just enjoying myself. I was too old to just be enjoying myself. I needed to make some money, and that’s why I wanted to leave Greece again. I had already done England, so I thought I might as well try America.
Simon Dell: How hard was it to get into the US back then? I guess this was back in…
Rafael Romis: 2007, maybe 2006.
Simon Dell: Presumably, you had Greek nationality.
Rafael Romis: I did, and I do.
Simon Dell: How hard was it to get into the US and start working there?
Rafael Romis: It worked out for me because I wasn’t planning to come out to the US and work right away. I wanted to see if I’m going to like it first. So, I went to school. I actually went to film school. So, I got the student visa. It was very easy for me to get in the country, and then I met my wife, so it ended up being easy to stay in the country as well. If I hadn’t met my wife, if I wasn’t married, that would’ve been a whole different ball game. It worked out for me.
Simon Dell: You’ve done quite a considerable time, probably close to 10 years now, in the online marketing space, either through just doing online marketing with a previous company, but also with your own web design company. Tell us a little bit about Weberous. How did you come up with that? What was your motivation behind that? Why did you want to do it?
Rafael Romis: It’s not very romantic. Essentially, the motivation was I had to make money. That’s what it was. The backstory, which might be interesting, is that it started because of a failed business. I didn’t set out to create a web design and development agency. I actually started because I bought a bunch of domain names, and then I felt that if I buy them, I can sell them and make money.
Why? Because I saw a couple of people that were able to sell domain names for a lot of money. I thought, “That looks easy.” A couple of months of doing the domain buying, I realized that I had basically spent all my savings buying domains that were crap, that I’d never be able to sell any of them. I essentially wanted to find a way to cut my losses. That’s when I found about AdSense. You familiar with Google AdSense?
Simon Dell: Yes, absolutely.
Rafael Romis: I realized that I could make a very simple blog, and put some ads from Google on it, and then Google would give me a small percentage of any clicks that happen on those ads. I did it without knowing anything. I didn’t know how to make a website, I just figured I’d create a simple WordPress blog.
Surely enough, I started getting a couple of clicks. Nothing major, but imagine, from every domain names, I was making about a dollar a month. That was enough to actually help me break with a bunch of those. It was also enough to get me interested in how to make this better and bigger. That’s how I started learning how to build websites. I started learning how to do SEO and rank higher on Google. All of that good stuff.
Simon Dell: What are you building these days? What sort of stuff are you working on? What sort of projects?
Rafael Romis: These days, we’re actually focusing on e-commerce. More specifically, beauty and fashion. We build more robust websites. It’s been a long journey where it started with simple blogs, and then that didn’t work out because Google decided that they’re not very into that.
That’s how I started Weberous. I started Weberous as a one-man show that then grew into about 15 people today. We build really robust websites where we talk about strategy, really create an efficient user flow to enhance conversions, and all of our websites are custom-built, tailored to the brand that they’re meant to serve, and for the audience that they’re targeting.
Simon Dell: What are you building in? What sort of content management systems?
Rafael Romis: It’s either WordPress for informational websites or Shopify for e-commerce.
Simon Dell: How do you find Shopify? There’s a lot of people out there that are looking at e-commerce. If you had a choice and you talk to a new customer, what’s your preference? WordPress or Shopify?
Rafael Romis: For e-commerce, hands down, Shopify. I would actually say Shopify versus any platform in terms of e-commerce. They’ve created a really amazing platform where they give you a lot of scalability. We have clients that are doing millions and millions of sales, and are getting hundreds and thousands of traffic, and their site never slows down.
Whereas you look at Magento, or even Demandware in some cases, and they have issues with traffic spikes. Shopify doesn’t. I would say super user-friendly, very affordable, everything checks out for Shopify.
Simon Dell: How customizable is it? Obviously, we need to start talking about WordPress and Magento as e-commerce platforms. You find a good developer and they can make these websites do absolutely anything. Does Shopify have limits in terms of its customizability?
Rafael Romis: It used to. I would say not so much anymore because they created an API that’s very robust. Just like you say, if you find a good developer, they can most likely do pretty much anything. Maybe there’s going to be the 0.1% of things that may be a little bit more difficult to do, but you’ll still be able to do them. That’s what I like about it.
Simon Dell: I guess in fashion and beauty brands, there’s probably not a whole lot of complexity in terms of what they’re offering. I’m not going to use the word standard, but consistent in terms of how they present it.
Rafael Romis: It depends. I would say that in general, 95% of e-commerce is what you would call an average e-commerce site regardless of the industry. But then there’s always the brands that want to stand out, they want to do something different. Maybe they want to create a community around their product, and that’s where it gets a little bit more complicated. There’s a lot of that in beauty, especially.
Simon Dell: In all of the sites that you’ve built over the years, and where you work now in that e-commerce space, what are some of the things that you see people, big e-commerce sites doing wrong? If you walked in and just said, “Here’s some instant things that you guys can do better”, what would they be?
Rafael Romis: I can give you things for the bigger brands and I can give you things for the smaller brands.
Simon Dell: Just either or, just general things irrespective of people looking at their sites.
Rafael Romis: The number one thing, I would say, is that a lot of companies become companies out of just thinking that they have a good product at a good price. And so, they launch a store and they hope to make sales. Sometimes, you’ll see that there is someone that doesn’t really have any kind of unique positioning, and they work really, really hard, and then sometimes manage to make a few sales.
And then they’re thinking, “Why am I not converting more? Why am I not getting repeat customers?” Things like that. The answer is that they don’t focus on what it is that makes them stand out. We see this all the time, small or large.
Simon Dell: Give me an example about how you would perhaps fix that kind of thing. Is there a case study?
Rafael Romis: There is a bunch. A good example is Melt Cosmetics, one of our clients. They were two make-up artists that worked in Nordstrom, it’s a big department store in the US, and they wanted to launch a lipstick line. But it wasn’t just a lipstick line, they specifically wanted highly-pigmented colours. So, colours that really stand out, they’re very bright or very bold.
They put this together and then they started getting a bunch of pictures of themselves, of their customers, and posting them on social media. That’s how they started creating a buzz. It wasn’t just, “We’re launching a new lipstick line.” It was that, “We’re launching a lipstick line with very, very bold colours, like colours that you’ve never seen before.”
Based on that, they launched their website and they actually sold out in under an hour. That was midnight. Imagine that they sold out between midnight and 1:00 a.m.
Simon Dell: I guess that was probably a bit of a surprise for them when that happened.
Rafael Romis: For sure, but I think the takeaway of that is that when you launch a product, when you launch a brand, don’t focus on the literal specs of your product. People don’t really, in reality, care about that. What they care about is how your product makes them feel. They want to feel special after buying your product or using your service. I think that the same applies in every single industry.
I hate it when I go to a website, and within the first few seconds, it looks like it could be any website, if that makes sense. For example, I come to your website, you saw cosmetics, and all I see is academe of different creams or different makeup items. It could be anything.
But now if you give me a tagline, maybe give me a small paragraph, if you give me something more, that will immediately make me understand what you do and why you’re different than the rest. Then if I’m the right audience, then maybe you have me hooked and maybe I’m going to want to look more into your product.
There’s so many examples here. For example, look at Pura Vida Bracelets. Super successful. They just do bracelets. If you look at them, they look very cute, but it’s not a super unique bracelet, but they’re all about giving back.
All the bracelets are made in Costa Rica by locals that are out of job, and so, they created jobs for Costa Rica and they give back to Costa Rica. When they launched their brand, it was all about Costa Rica. They happened to sell bracelets, that’s their product, but it wasn’t about the bracelets. They weren’t saying, “This is the most amazing bracelet you’ve ever seen” because there’s no such thing.
But instead, by making it about something else, something that’s bigger, they created a following. The same is true by looking at pretty much every really, really big success. You’re going to see this happening over and over again.
Simon Dell: I know this is going to sound like a stupid question because I know what the answer’s going to be, but how important is the visual element of what’s online to actually translating into a sale? The images and the pictures of the product.
Rafael Romis: I was going to try to answer in a different way by saying that sometimes you can work around it, but no, you can’t. We’re a high-ranked agency. We have a lot of big successes. And so, we get a ton of people, especially from beauty and fashion coming to us to work with us.
I oftentimes tell them that if your budget is only enough to cover our payment, do not work with us. If you don’t have money to get me good photography, your website is going to look like shit. That’s the end of story. It’s never going to work. You’re going to look like a very cheap brand that doesn’t really have credibility if you don’t get me good photography no matter what I do with the website. It’s super important.
Simon Dell: What about video in that as well? I mean, again, we probably all know the answer to this. I think we know video is useful. What type of video? Again, if they have unlimited budget, what would you be advising people in terms of video on an e-commerce site?
Rafael Romis: User-generated. I would advise them to put all their money on creating a following and getting their followers to create video. Video can be so powerful. We work with several brands that sell out mainly because of video and social media, but what’s really powerful here is stories, using other people and having other people selling your product, rather than you trying to sell your product.
I think that we’re going to see a lot more of that. It’s already happening. It’s the thing of the past couple of years with influencers. The one thing that we’re going to see a lot more of is micro-influencers.
Simon Dell: Explain to everyone what a micro-influencer is.
Rafael Romis: I actually wrote an article about this on Forbes about a month ago. There’s a lot of debate. There’s still enough about the actual numbers, so I’m not even going to get into the numbers, number of followers, but let’s just say that a micro-influencer is any kind of person that has a small audience, maybe a few thousand followers.
It’s enough to actually matter. It’s enough to drive some sales, but it’s not enough to be like a game changer. You’re not going to base a campaign on a micro-influencer, but, and that was the argument in that article, instead of investing $1 million on getting the mega influencer, the really big celebrity with millions of followers, you’re much better off investing the same amount or less money in getting a bunch of micro-influencers.
Because the person that only has a few thousand followers, and is very specific about one thing, their audience will typically engage a lot more. If they say something, they’re going to listen. When you look at Kim Kardashian, she has millions of followers. A lot of people just follow because it’s Kim Kardashian. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to follow her every word. That’s a big distinction here. Essentially, the number of followers does not necessarily equal more sales.
Simon Dell: One other question I have from an e-commerce perspective is checkout and payment. What are people expecting these days from payment? Obviously, they want something quick and easy, but do people still gravitate to PayPal or dislike PayPal? Do they want to use other transactional gateways? What do you find is the trust factor when it comes to e-commerce and payment?
Rafael Romis: I think the typical credit card is the most used system. What we’re noticing is that, depending on the industry, you’re going to see different people using PayPal. For example, when you’re dealing with potentially collectible items, that’s when you see a lot more people.
The reason you see a lot more people is that you get a lot of international buyers that maybe will not be able to pay through different means. One payment method that’s definitely picking up and might end up potentially becoming the winner is Amazon Payments because you have everything set up, you just plug in and you’re good to go.
Simon Dell: You’ve already got your credit cards already stored with Amazon. That’s interesting. This might just be an Australia-centric question, but I don’t know whether the US would have things called Afterpay and stuff like that where you pay for something but you pay for it in four blocks, in four weeks or four months after you’ve bought the product.
Rafael Romis: Yes, we do. It’s not super common. It depends on the type of product. Like everything, the higher the price, the more of that you see. I think it’s becoming a lot a bit more common. I’ll put this into perspective. We build a couple hundred websites and we’ve only used a payment solution like Afterpay a handful of times, maybe four or five. What’s interesting is that in the last year, we’ve got a handful of requests specifically looking for that.
Simon Dell: I think it’s something that’s becoming a lot more prolific now.
Rafael Romis: I agree.
Simon Dell: It’s one of those areas that I actually think Australia is, and a lot of people mention this, is a long way ahead of America in terms of payment systems, and the way that you use credit cards in stores, and things like that. Nobody swipes credit cards anymore, it’s just the payWave thing where you just wave the credit card at the machine and you walk off. People don’t sign for things anymore.
That’s changed quite considerably. The other area that I wanted to touch on with e-commerce, and you mentioned the brand being a really important factor with e-commerce, is the delivery and the way that people receive things, and the manner in which things are packed and sealed. Do you think that matters, or people don’t care if it just rocks up in any old box? Do they want that showmanship of a brand product arriving, or do they just want it in a box?
Rafael Romis: I think that it really comes down to prioritizing. So, if you ask me, “Do they care?” For sure. I actually have seen brands that have done this really, really well. I would say Warby Parker is one of them. The product is so affordable. The packaging is pretty sharp, it looks great.
So, when you receive that after you place an order, to receive a package that is very nicely put together makes you feel really good about your purchase, which means that you have a much better chance of coming back and making another purchase. It definitely matters. Would I put it at the top of the list? Probably not, only because it comes after the conversion.
Unless if you use it as part of your conversion, unless if you tell them, “Order this and this is what you’re going to get. You’re going to get this beautiful box with that other little box inside it, a handwritten thank you note, and all that. And so, it becomes part of why you would want to buy this product.
Simon Dell: Social media aside and influencers aside, and I think we all know how important those channels are for certain e-commerce brands, how important is email, and e-newsletters, and EDMs, however you want to call them? How important is that now to an e-commerce brand? Is it still important? Is it something that people shouldn’t spend too much time on?
Rafael Romis: I think that if used properly, then… I guess that’s a bullshit answer, right? If you did right, then it can do well. But it’s kind of true, though. What I mean to say by that is, even before we go into newsletters, think about a blog. People call us all the time and say, “Sir, we have a blog.”
The answer is, if you’re going to have a blog and you’re going to be like, “Oh, I don’t want to post on this. I’ll just copy and paste an article that I found somewhere else”, things like that, it’s not going to work. In fact, it might make you look really bad. But if you’re going to create a robust blog with actual news that people want to read about, it could potentially become a huge business driver.
We’ve seen a lot of blogs that started as blogs and then turned into a successful e-commerce sites because they created amazing content that people wanted to read. And so, then, if they love your content, they’re much more inclined to buy something from you. Same idea is emails.
I think if you’re going to have a newsletter, don’t make it be just about yourself and your products. If you just send once a month, or once every two weeks, you send an email saying, “Hey, here are new products,” screw that. Who wants to read that? Unless if I’m like a die-hard fan that wants to learn about all your products, I don’t care about that.
Give me something else that I care about. Give me a piece of news. Tell me somebody that I follow, somebody that I care about wearing the product, and now I can also buy the same product, and then maybe I’ll buy the same product. A lot of it comes down to this. I would say that you cannot give a blanket answer.
I will say that you should do it because it can make a huge difference to your business. We’ve seen businesses that are grew by 20 or 30%, established businesses, a couple of million dollars that came out of using marketing properly, using email marketing properly, and services like Klaviyo, for example, that give you in-depth analytics of every [INAUDIBLE 00:33:53].
Simon Dell: I was going to say, is there any tools out there, digital tools, that you like to use?
Rafael Romis: Definitely.
Simon Dell: That you prefer to use?
Rafael Romis: Definitely. I would say if you’re going to do a basic newsletter, you want to keep things a little more affordable, you want to go with [INAUDIBLE 00:34:10]. It’s a very good, user-friendly service. If you can afford to spend a little bit more and if you can actually invest time, then you want to go with Klaviyo.
Klaviyo is going to give you a lot more in-depth analytics. It’s going to let follow the path that every recipient of the email took. It will also let you target specific users individually. It can be really powerful.
Simon Dell: Final few questions for you today. What are some brands that you really like? Maybe I’m going to keep this, because I normally ask this as a general question, but maybe keep this in the e-commerce space, some brands that aren’t clients of yours, that you look at their e-commerce proposition and go, “That’s really beautiful or really good.” Who is doing it well out there?
Rafael Romis: I love Warby Parker before. I actually bought a pair of glasses from them, too. I love them because they came out with an amazing value proposition, and then they also branded it so greatly. I think everything about them is just so beautifully-done, from getting you interested, to get inspiring trust, to also actually delivering.
Even though the quality is not going to be amazing, I don’t think it’s the best quality glasses, but I felt very, very good about the purchase. I think that that’s so key about creating a successful e-commerce business.
Simon Dell: For anybody who goes to look at it, WarbyParker.com, as soon as you land there, there’s a ‘try five frames for free’ offer on that website, which grabs you straight away. For anyone that sits there and goes, “How do you get someone’s attention from an e-commerce platform straight away?” You’ve only got to look at that front page at that website to go, “There’s an idea straight away.”
Rafael Romis: Exactly.
Simon Dell: Are there any others that jump out to you a well?
Rafael Romis: Sure. I really like Fenty Beauty. The reason I like them is, obviously, they have Rihanna behind the brand, so that’s as big of an influencer as you get. But unlike many other influencer-driven brands that simply count on that influencer to bring sales, Fenty Beauty created what I like to call the Unicorn Principle, which is essentially when you have something special, something that makes you stand out, and that your audience cares about, if you use it consistently across the board on your website, your social, et cetera, then you’ll make a ton of sales.
For Fenty Beauty, that’s the fact that they created makeup specifically for different skin tones. For all the different colours out there, they created makeup that looks great. That’s what they keep showing. That’s why they have all different nationalities, all different skin colours, all over the place. It’s never a consistent one look. They always try to show that they have variety.
Simon Dell: Second to last question: What is next for you? The project that you’re working on at the moment, that sort of Generate Culture is fairly new. What’s your plans for that for the rest of this year and next year?
Rafael Romis: What happened is that as Weberous grew as a company, the more people we started hiring, I turned from being a strategist, which is what I love, to being a manager, which is not what I like. I’m not a very good manager. That’s why I wanted to launch Generate Culture and that’s why I wanted to start focusing on beauty and fashion brands.
That’s exactly what’s in store for me for the rest of the year and next year. I will basically personally focus on just a handful of brands where I would strategize with them the same way a consultant would, but I would also use my resources through Weberous in order to execute.
I like to say that I bring the best of both worlds where a consultant would give you personal attention, but then they like the execution, and then an agency has the resources to execute, but a lot of times, they get lost into the very process-driven situation. I take the best of both and bring it into one.
Simon Dell: If people want to get a hold of you, if people got a question in terms of e-commerce or in any kind of digital space, what’s the best way of them finding you?
Rafael Romis: Social media. Hit me up on Instagram. It’s @RafaelRomis.
Simon Dell: Awesome. You’re on LinkedIn as well. Any other platforms that you use?
Rafael Romis: I could say that I use Facebook, but then I’d be lying. I have a Facebook page but I almost never check it. LinkedIn, I definitely check a lot, and Instagram, too. Instagram is like [INAUDIBLE 00:40:06].
Simon Dell: Do you think Facebook is waning in terms of its influence and popularity?
Rafael Romis: I think Facebook is amazing. We’ve seen brands built upon Facebook, and more specifically, Facebook Ads. I think it’s a great platform. Personally, for me, I just never really got into it, if I’m being honest.
Simon Dell: Fair enough. Mate, thank you very much for your time today. It’s been really insightful, and I think anybody out there who is running an e-commerce business or is thinking about running an e-commerce business needs to listen to what you’ve got to say and read some of the stuff that you’ve put out there. Mate, really appreciate your time today, and hopefully, we’ll catch up again with you soon.
Rafael Romis: Excellent. Thank you so much for having me.
For more transcriptions of the Simon Dell Show click here: Marketing Podcasts.