Zak Cassady-Dorion - ECD Digital Strategy
Michelle: Do you have an e- commerce company? Have you grown exhausted from disruptive changes that have occurred with your online marketing efforts? If so, let me introduce you to my next guest, Zak Cassady- Dorion. He happens to be the Name Bubbles' marketing guru, the go- to guy for both our online strategy, development and revenue through our newsletter and SMS campaign. So welcome to From The Basement Up podcast, Zak. And it's a pleasure to have you here.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Thanks. It's great to be here.
Michelle: So just a brief background, Zak is the kind of guy you want in your corner. I actually am always kind of calling him up, asking him to investigate things. E- commerce companies, we're always constantly challenged with a barrage of change. It never stops. We're hit from all angles. So whether the challenges are coming from new technology upgrades or new algorithms and ad channels, Zak approaches the problem with a calm, positive approach. And I think part of this, I guess, skillset you have is from your background so we have to start there because your background, it has always kind of blown me away. I would love to hear your background. And tell the listeners about kind of Zak and who you were before... Oh my goodness, Zak, I have to introduce your company. Before your background, can you introduce ECD Digital Strategy to everybody?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Absolutely. We are an e- commerce marketing ad agency. We work in three main areas. We work on the own marketing side, so email and SMS marketing and everything that goes along with that. So list growth, segmenting those lists, leveraging the lists and then deploying all the marketing campaigns. And then we work on the website side. And so everything from website design and development to conversion rate optimizations, upsells, cross- sells, automated reviews, rewards programs, anything that's going to increase the average order value and increase the conversion rate for our clients' websites. And then the third side is paid ad management. So paid ad management mainly on Google, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Michelle: That was good. We're going to have all of this on our show notes because there's a lot there.
Emily: And I was going to say too, for your average listener like me who doesn't know what a lot of that means, would you mind... I don't want to say dumbing it down, but...
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. What we do is we look at e- commerce websites. And we've developed a blueprint for what the optimized e- commerce ecosystem looks like. Really it's all the different marketing levers that you should be pulling. And we analyze client's websites to what our blueprint is and then we find the levers that they're not pulling and we pull them down.
Emily: I don't know if this is a silly question, I'm really just curious, is that like an algorithm or a method that you could get trademarked or patented if you wanted to?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: It's definitely something I could get trademarked if I wanted to. The thing that I love... I love my company. I love what I do. And what I love about it is that it uses sort of all the aspects of my brain that I enjoy. I use the creative side, the analytical side, the emotional intelligence side. And so the blueprint is really a piece of all that. So some of the stuff can be measured, some of it can't be. But yeah, I could definitely get that trademark. I've thought about writing a book on the optimized e- commerce ecosystem.
Michelle: That would be Zak's second book and we'll get to that in a little bit.
Emily: Crosstalk because it might just be a matter of your personality and that's why you have this blueprint down pat.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. I love people. I grew up, my parents... Well, my mom was a social worker. My dad was a stock broker, but my stepfather was a psychologist. And so first question I got when I came home from school was," How are you feeling?" And because of that, I am always thinking about how I'm feeling, how other people are feeling. But where that's so important with e- commerce is it's all about what people are thinking and what they're feeling when they're interacting with your website. And trying to guide people through to give them what they're looking for without them even knowing they're looking for it.
Emily: That's awesome.
Michelle: Zak, before we dig in too much with marketing and e- commerce, but we'll have some good tips in here, let's go back to you. I want to hear your background.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Sure. There's a lot to it. My 20s, I was sort of a nomad. I lived, traveled and worked in over 35 countries all around the world. Started a couple of businesses in those countries. My first official business was a mountain bike tour company in the jungles of Costa Rica. That's probably one of the coolest things that I've done.
Emily: That is so cool.
Michelle: How long did you do that for?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: It was about a year.
Michelle: And why did that stop?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I had definitely had the wanderlust when I was younger. I wanted to experience and see everything and I wanted to do it the most challenging way possible. I traveled to all these countries, mostly in the developing world. And I often had friends ask me," Oh yeah, let's go together." Kind of go with you. And most of the time I just wanted to go by myself not because it would be more fun, but because I knew it was going to be so much more difficult.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. So Costa Rica, I moved there after college and I pretty much like threw a dart at a map and it landed in Costa Rica. And I went down to the Osa Peninsula, which is the most remote part of Costa Rica. It was all dirt roads. I landed on a dirt runway on this four- seater plane, the largest plane that could fly there. And it took off and I looked around and I thought," What did I just get myself into?"
Emily: I think like any rational person just stop for a second and say," what am I doing?"
Michelle: Yeah. Did you speak Spanish?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. In college, I double majored in history and poli sci, and I minored in Spanish. And I grew up speaking Spanish. My dad has his PhD in Spanish theater. My mom speaks Spanish as well.
Michelle: Okay, good. I'm just curious, did you happen to try to shoot for a country that spoke Spanish?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yes. So really what I wanted, I wanted a warm tropical country. I went to school at University of Vermont and so I was tired of the cold. I wanted warm, tropical, Spanish speaking.
Michelle: Okay, that makes sense. I get that. So once the bike tour things kind of started wrapping up, were you sad to leave? Or were you like," Okay, I've got something else in mind."
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I was sad to leave, but I was ready for my next adventure. I sold my bikes and then moved on.
Michelle: Was it another dart on the map again?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: No. I went back. I met up with some of my high school friends and we went to Nantucket for the summer. I went there to go bartend and with no idea what I was going to do afterwards. And then all summer long, we'd sort of just chatted and fantasized about what we were going to do afterwards. All of us had just recently graduated college. And then made a lot of different things that were on the plate. Me and one of my friends, we ended up moving to Hawaii.
Michelle: Oh, that's good. I like that, good choice.
Emily: Yeah, we are both so jealous.
Michelle: I know. How long were you in Hawaii?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: About three years.
Michelle: Oh gosh.
Emily: Where'd you live? Did you bop around the islands or did you choose one spot?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I was in Oahu and lived sort of the south shore, so Waikiki I lived for a while. Hawaii Kai. It was amazing.
Michelle: Were you working in Hawaii when you started the next business or did you move on?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I was working in Hawaii. So my next business was importing textiles from Thailand and Nepal. So my brother lives in Thailand. He's been there now for about 18 years.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. He's got a cool background too. He dropped out of college his sophomore year in college back in the late'90s to go work in startup companies in San Francisco. Now he teaches yoga in Thailand.
Michelle: Good for him.
Emily: What a life, very calm. Your family... I want to meet your parents too.
Michelle: When you were in Hawaii... I mean, did you go to Hawaii as that's your launching place because you knew you wanted to get into the textile business in Thailand?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: No. No. I didn't start that business until I was almost ready to leave Hawaii. I went to Hawaii, no idea what I was going to do. We didn't have a place to stay so we got off the plane and got on a bus to go to stay in a hostel. And I ended up getting the job in the vacation ownership industry.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. I did that for about two and a half years. And then Hawaii's awesome, but it's really far away. So this was in my mid- 20s and all of my friends were getting married and I was missing all these weddings. And so I was ready to go off and do something next. And this is like mid- 2006,'07. This is when the pashminas started getting really big. And so my brother found a good supplier and we started sending over boxes by the thousands and two thousands, five thousands. And then I was selling them in hotel shows. I was in a few boutiques. And then I had a network of people doing home shows.
Emily: What's a home-
Zak Cassady-Dorion: So just people... So I'd send them pashminas and they'd invite their friends into their house and they'd lay them all out and sell them. Then they'd get a cut and I'd get a cut.
Michelle: Actually, that's kind of like the Tupperware model. Pretty cool.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Exactly. Yeah, I sort of copied that.
Michelle: I love that. How long did you do that with the textile industry?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: About two and a half years. And this business, it was really a way to fund my travels.
Michelle: Okay. And-
Zak Cassady-Dorion: So then... Oh, go ahead.
Michelle: No, I was just wondering, is this where you were hitting all of the countries? Like the 35 countries?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. Then I went from Hawaii, actually got on a sailboat and I sailed from Hawaii to California.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: It was a four- person sailboat. That's a whole another story. We almost didn't make it. I had no idea what I was doing.
Emily: You have to expand, please.
Michelle: All I'm going to say is," I'm glad I'm not your mother because I would be a mess."
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I know. My poor mother.
Emily: I mean, part of me is obviously horrified, but that sounds awesome. What the heck?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. Well, so I was leaving Hawaii and I was going to go to Thailand. And I was telling a friend of mine... I was in my mid- 20s. I probably thought I was way cooler than I was. And he said," Oh, what are you going to do?" I said," Oh, I'm just going to put up my sails and see where the wind takes me." I blush even thinking that I said that. But what he said to me was," Oh, interesting you should say that, my dad is leading to go sail around the world and he needs one more person on his boat." And so I said," Well, I can't back out now. I pretty much said that's what I wanted to do." So I just raised my hand. I said," Okay. Yeah, let's do it." It was awesome. We had to turn around a couple times. We were in like 40- foot seas and 50 mile an hour wind. We left at the wrong time of year. In the winter months is when Hawaii gets all the big surf and so it was like a power sale that we had to do. And the seas were just really rough and the boat wasn't ready.
Emily: Thank God you made it.
Michelle: Yes, you made it. That's good. I just wanted to ask, were you a sailor? How did your stomach do?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: No, I wasn't a sailor. And I thought I was going to be okay. And for the first few days I took like... Not Dramamine, but it was a prescription sea sickness thing, which just made me exhausted. So I stopped taking it and I ended up being fine.
Michelle: Okay. Oh my gosh.
Emily: That's lucky.
Michelle: Yeah. I mean, yay, you're here because I love having you here.
Emily: I'm like it's so funny how much you're... That's just such a downplayed, crazy story like that you read about and see about in movies, or something just so crazy.
Michelle: But I think it's important for the listeners to really kind of see that, as individuals, we evolve and we grow. And we grow and we learn from our experiences. So having all those experiences and bringing them back to your business, how has it helped you become a better business person?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: That sailing trip, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what tomorrow was going to hold, but I was okay with it. And I just kept on going. And then I had a lot of times in my travels over the next bunch of years where I was traveling a country where I couldn't speak the language. I really had no idea what was going on, but I was just okay with it. And that taught me to sort of be okay with the unknown, to have faith in myself, to have confidence in myself that everything was going to work out and I'd be able to figure stuff out as I go. I think that's some of the biggest lessons that I learned. And then also, from traveling, you're interacting with people with different languages, but then it's different cultures. And everyone interacts differently. And so I think interacting with people from all these different cultures from all around the world, it really helped me to understand people even more so.
Michelle: So you came back and then when... I know that you have your MBA. Is that when you came back from your travels? When did you decide to go back and get your MBA?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I had been traveling overseas in the developing world for four or five years or so... three, four, five years, something along those lines. And a lot of times it was in really, really poor countries and poor places. And again, I was looking for the next thing that I wanted to do. And I wanted to get into business. I think I've always been sort of an entrepreneur at heart. I think that's why I was traveling was... That was the entrepreneur side of me, the risk taking side of me. But from starting the other two businesses, I sort of knew I was lacking some business knowledge. So I wanted to go back to school and get that knowledge. That's why I decided to go back and get my MBA.
Michelle: When you look back at your undergrad... And I know that you had more of a poli sci history, Spanish... are you glad? Or do you wish that you had done business school originally? Because-
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Not at all.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I loved what I studied.
Michelle: Good. I oftentimes am sitting here going," What did I do?" Because I ask you things, because I'm not a business person at all, and there's so many times where I'm trying to find books or things and asking people. And I'm like," God, if I had just been a business major, this would be so much easier." And then I question would I even year if I had been a business major?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. No. So what I studied, it taught me how to research. It taught me how to write. But most importantly, it taught me how to think, how to analyze events, analyze data. And then how to take what I was analyzing and put it into a story. And I think that education was invaluable.
Michelle: The next thing, and this is fascinating, and you just told me... And we've known each other now for a few years or a couple of years. And I just found out about your crowdfunding background. This is also a big one that kind of blew me away. You have to explain to everybody your background in crowdfunding.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. I graduated from my MBA in 2010 and I moved out to San Francisco. And keep in mind, 2010, that's about the worst time to graduate from business school is during the Great Recession. And so I was out in San Francisco. I was consulting for a few different technology companies. And me and two other colleagues, actually two guys who had graduated from my business school about 10 years before me, we were trying to start a business and we couldn't get funding. Combined, all three of us had raised over$ 70 million in the past for past businesses. I think probably 69. 8... Or$ 8 million was probably from what they raised. The rest was from me. But we couldn't get the funding. And so banks weren't lending money. Credit card companies had slashed their rates... Well, increased their rates and slashed the amount that they'd give you. And VCs, if you weren't in San Francisco, or Austin, New York or Boston, you can't even get in front of a VC. And then at this time, VCs were just giving money out to such small amount of people. And so we couldn't get the money. And throughout this whole time, we were giving money away to mainly like art- related projects so people could start a CD or do a new album. And they'd do maybe pre- sales of something on Kickstarter or an Indiegogo. And we said to ourselves, we're like," Well, this is ridiculous. We're able to give money to these people in small increments so they can raise large amount of money so that they can go out and do more of these projects. Why can't we in turn raise money for our business this way and give debt or equity into our companies?" Found out really quickly that the reason why you couldn't do it was because it was illegal. It was illegal for two main reasons. One, there was a cap on the amount of accredited investors that you could have. And so accredited investors, you had to make more than 200 grand in yearly income. And you could only have 35 or less non- accredited investors. That was one reason because of that cap. And the second reason was, you couldn't post on... So back then, if you posted on Facebook and you said," Hey, I'm looking to raise money for my business. Who would like to invest?" That was illegal. That was a security offering. So we thought to ourselves," This is ridiculous. This makes no sense." We looked into it and the securities laws were written back in the 1930s and they hadn't really been updated since then. So none of us were lawyers, none of us were lobbyists, but just entrepreneurs. And it made no sense. The entire country was talking about how there were no small businesses. There was no money flowing from the people who had it to the people who could use to start and run businesses. The vast majority of net new job creation in the United States is always from small businesses. And so that's when we ran into such a big problem at that time, because nobody could get the funds to start new businesses. So we started what we call Startup Exemption. That was the organization that we started. And we wrote an exemption for startups to be able to raise money, so raise up to$ 1 million through equity and debt- based crowdfunding. We started off with a petition. We got a whole bunch of signatures and some big names on there. And then we flew to Congress and we started walking the halls of Congress, literally knocking on doors, showing them our exemption. And we finally got Congressman Patrick McHenry from North Carolina... South Carolina... One of the Carolinas. And he saw it and he loved it. He said," Yes, this is great. Makes a lot of sense. This is long story short. He wrote the bill. It passed the House with like 97% approval. And then it went over to the Senate. And then a couple other versions of the bill were written and a different version ended up passing the Senate. And then back to the House. And President Obama signed it into law. It was part of the Title II and Title III of the JOBS Act.
Michelle: That is so amazing.
Emily: Title II and Title III crosstalk.
Michelle: So Emily is our legal studies student, she's going to go look this up and read it later.
Emily: Oh, I'm highlighting it so that we can literally put in your resources that you helped draft legislation. That's crazy.
Michelle: Amazing. Did you go to the Rose Garden signing of the law?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yes. The whole thing was sort of unreal. It was just sort of this thing that we were passionate on, that we're working on. But at the same time, we were changing the way small businesses could raise money. But yeah, I got an invitation from the White House. It came in the mail to attend the signing in the Rose Garden. That was awesome.
Michelle: It's so surreal. That is just crazy. So all of these, like you're looking at Kickstarter, you're looking at all these different companies, like you wouldn't exist if it wasn't for me.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Well, not the Kickstarters. Because Kickstarters, they don't do equity and debt- based crowd funding.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: They just do like the rewards. But yeah, but all these other ones that are equity and debt- based, yeah. I made that possible with help from a lot of people. But, yeah.
Michelle: Good. Well, I'm glad you showed up at Congress. So...
Emily: And we talked to another entrepreneur that was like," You know you can do that. You know you can just go down to Congress and start talking to people." And I was like," What?"
Emily: But you did it and here you are the co- author of a bill, of a law. That's-
Michelle: Were you nervous?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: No. When we're kids, like little kids, our imaginations just run wild because you think that anything is possible. And then the older we get, like the box sort of comes in smaller and smaller on us. But I think at that time, I just thought like," Why not?" It made no sense to me that it wasn't legal. The bill made absolutely zero sense at all. And so I was like," Well, if it doesn't make sense to me, these guys are going to agree with it."
Michelle: I like that. It's true, because isn't it true that the younger... Your generation, Em, like right now, you guys are the inventors, you're pushing culture with the music, with everything. And you're right, Zak, once you hit a certain age, things are just what they are.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah.
Michelle: You're in the change mode right now.
Emily: I think even developmentally, when you're a kid, you have imaginary friends and you want to grow up and go be a scientist and go to the best school and the whole world. And you grow up and you... I mean, I remember I grew up and I was funny. I always thought I would go to, I don't know, somewhere super crazy. And then I grew up and I was like,"I think I'll just stay in state, save money and do something I..." Like the parameters just become more... They're finally drawn, I guess.
Michelle: And a couple of other things I think happened out of this crowdfunding law that you helped draw up. One, you published a book. And that was a big deal. I mean, that's a big deal. Was that when you were also an entrepreneur magazine?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah, it was around the same time. So I co- authored with my two other colleagues, Crowdfund Investing for Dummies. That was such an amazing experience. I got a phone call out of the blue, it was an unknown number. And I answered and it was a publisher at the Wiley group there. They published the Dummies book actually.
Michelle: I was going to ask.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: And they said who they were. They said," Yeah, we'd like you guys to write the first ever crowdfund investing book. Would you be interested?" I tried to hold in my laughter because I was thinking like," Yes, absolutely." Yeah, I think we could be interested."
Emily: Oh my God. So cool.
Michelle: That's great. Good. So you've got that. And-
Emily: Are they like rock stars to you, the Wiley people or-
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah, it was pretty cool. And the process though, the process of writing that book was amazing. Now I'll just touch on this for a second because I learned a lot from this. I've always been someone that growing up... And I think you could tell from like my travels, I sort of shot from the hip and just so like something felt good, go and do it. And not a lot of planning behind stuff. And so they had a very concrete process for how to write books. They've done it thousands and thousands and thousands of times. And what it was all about was a plan and an outline. So they came to us and they told us how many chapters it needed to be. And then from the amount of chapters, then it was broken up into sub chapters. And then from sub chapters, it was broken up into pages. And then instead of writing a 350- page book, all we had to write were a few pages. And then we broke it up one third, one third, one third between the three of us. And then we had deadlines for specific sections and specific chapters. And then I had to write 120 pages. Instead of doing that, I would just sit down, okay. First, here are the names of the chapters, here are the names of the subsections. And then I just need to fill in some of these subsections. And then that was that. That helped a lot for understanding just how important it is to slow down and make a plan.
Michelle: And think through it.
Emily: I think you just gave our listeners a essay format template too.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yes.
Michelle: Well, and it's interesting because I know you now where you're always coming up with a strategy and coming up with a plan and looking through the process. And you were even the one that talked to me about EOS and traction. And now I'm in it and I love it. I can't even... Like what was I doing without it? It's unbelievable.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I know. Yeah, it's amazing book, amazing methodology.
Michelle: Absolutely. I think you had one other business for a short time and that was the gourmet food, but then you went into ECD Digital Strategy. And that is one I am so interested in, like how you started this? Because crowdfunding is, I guess, it's very technical. And you were in San Francisco. Did you see yourself getting into marketing and e- commerce marketing?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Not yet. The path to ECD was really through the gourmet food's company. And so I had that business for about five years and that's what brought me back to Upstate New York where I live now, and where I'm from, where I grew up. And so really what happened is the law got passed. And then it was like," Okay, now what?" Because really the next move for us would've been to create a crowdfunding platform. But what happened was the Senate in the House passed the bill and then it needed to go to the President. The president then needed to sign into law. Then once the President signed into law, he needed to send it to the SEC to then make the rules around it. They were given 18 months to do that, but they weren't really on board with it at all. So it was very clear from the beginning that it was going to be a lot longer. It ended up taking like three years from the time the bill got passed before you could actually go out and do crowdfund investing. So I needed an income. I needed to make money. So it sort of led me to how I started the gourmet food company. I moved back home to the area and I opened up my first shop in Rhinebeck, New York and then a shop in Tarrytown and my third shop in Bronxville. And I loved parts of that business, but I hated a lot of it as well. But I learned more from that business really than from a lot of other experiences as far as the things that have made me successful at ECD. Mainly, I loved the e- commerce part of it. I loved the marketing side of it, building websites, the paid ads. I loved all of that. But I could never spend my time in it because every time I would sort of pull myself out to focus on what I loved, I'd get pulled back into managing the retail stores. And that was definitely not for me. So I sort of closed that business, sold a small portion of it. And then I was looking for my next thing to do. And I took all the things I loved from that business. I left all the stuff I didn't love and started ECD Digital Strategy.
Michelle: Can you tell the listeners what ECD stands for?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yes. And this is something that's important to me. So on the website, if you go to it, it's e- commerce, conversion and demand, really the three things that we do. But the gourmet food business, I was working too much. I was super, super stressed out and I was putting my family second. And it was just because I was just completely overwhelmed and buried by the business. And so when I was looking to start my next business, one, I needed to make sure my wife was on the board. But then also I wanted to make sure that I kept what was really important to me in the forefront of my mind, which was my family. So what ECD really stands for is, it's my wife's initials, Erin Cassady- Dorian. But then also my children's, the initials of my three kids, Estella, Cece and Dakota.
Michelle: I love that.
Emily: That's precious.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. So every day when I'm looking at it, it's... And I get stressed. I have times when I work too much, but I look at my logo and I remember this is why I'm doing it.
Michelle: I love that.
Emily: Oh, crosstalk.
Michelle: It's so important and you forget,. and you don't get those years back when your little ones are small and you've got to make sure that you take in every moment, especially as a business owner, just the days fly by. And then suddenly the years are gone.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah.
Emily: You're proving it's a balance, and anybody who is a wannabe entrepreneur and has a family and they can do both if they find the right rhythm of things.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. And anybody can find the rhythm. But I think one of the things that I learned is, from my past business to this business, is that the way that helped me find the rhythm was going slowly, not biting off more than I could chew, focusing on my strengths. And really it's understanding your weaknesses, but focusing on the strengths. And then finding people who can do the weaknesses.
Michelle: That's what I'm really good at.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah.
Emily: Subtle flex.
Michelle: Right. No. I mean, I know I'm like," Okay, call Zak. I have no idea." So you'll hear me say that all the time," I don't know, call Zak." But that's actually a great way to operate, definitely. So you've been doing ECD Digital Strategy for a long time and I find e- commerce to be so challenging because you're getting stuff thrown at you all the time. Things are changing. You just don't know from when you're the next. And someone, a big company like Google, they can change your bottom line just overnight. It's frightening. So with some of these challenges, what would you say to a new e- commerce entrepreneur starting out?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I think it's important to keep in mind where the world is going. E- commerce isn't going anywhere. More and more people are going to continue to purchase their products online. The magic of e- commerce is when you can replicate that in- store experience online, letting people feel, touch, try your product before they purchase, that's when that magic happens. Focusing on the end customer I think is really important. And that may sound simple, but I don't think that it is. And I think for any business it's really important. So for my business, our number one goal as a business, period, is to make our clients more money. That's the goal of our business. For e- commerce companies, I think it should be creating and providing the best possible product for the end customer. Oftentimes, where you can go wrong is if you focus on money, if you focus on making the most amount of money as possible for yourself, because then you're not doing what's best for the end customer. And the end customer is the person that pays you in the first place.
Michelle: Great words of wisdom. Absolutely. And we here, just as you know, you're dealing with printers that are changing and software that's changing. And we'll have customers coming back after four years saying," Why don't my labels look the same? I just ordered the same thing." And we have to figure out, well, was it the ink? What was going on? So you're just always providing the best possible product that you can, just it's everything backed by good customer service. But on the marketing level, I guess what has been the most rewarding thing that you've noticed working with clients?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I really, really care about my clients. Like I see their success sort of like my success. And in a lot of ways, I mean it is. But I love going to a client, analyzing them to our blueprint of the optimized e- commerce ecosystem and seeing some levers that they're not pulling. And then just being able to pull those levers and watching the client make tons of more money.
Michelle: I'm raising my hand, just so that's what happened with us. And Zak came in... And actually, Zak, do you want to talk about that a little bit? What you came in and found and helped us out?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. One of the biggest things that we saw, there was a lot of money being left on the table with email and SMS marketing. You were really successful at it, but I could just see that there was a lot of money that was being left on the table. And so we implemented an SMS marketing strategy. And then we really dove deep into the email marketing strategy. So both for the list growth and then segmenting the list. And then leveraging the list to just massive increased revenue from that channel.
Emily: Sounds so professional when you say all of this.
Michelle: I was watching this, and Zak will send over the report, and I'm looking at this and I'm like," Holy smokes." And of course, as an entrepreneur you're like," Why didn't I know this earlier?" But it was just such good news, so fantastic. And you did a remarkable job.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Thanks. It's been fun.
Emily: And it's probably, I'm just thinking too, since your competitor is Google, I feel like you have an edge. I don't know. I mean, because you hear about... At least I hear about just certain compliance failures that big tech companies like that have because they are so big that they think that they can get away with certain things at the expense of their client. And I feel like you and ECD would never even get there because, you said it yourself, you're putting your client at the forefront of all of the marketing.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah, one of our core values is... Our first one is we care. And it's not just like something that's written on a wall or a piece of paper. It's I really care.
Michelle: So we had a change recently and you were giving me warning before, it was the iPhone was changing. And you're just like," Hey, heads up, this is going to be affecting the way your social media ads are going to be, I guess, how well they may perform." And that is the one thing that I get frustrated with. It's like every single time you feel like you've got smooth sailing, something comes along and we have to rethink things. So how do you respond to it? Because you always seem pretty positive. And you don't laugh about it, but you're like," Okay, let's figure this out." I love your approach. I don't know how you do it.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Well, I think it's exciting. So I think it's exciting. I love this industry. I love what I do because I have to constantly be learning. I love to learn. And the things that you maybe are an expert at or things that you know today could be drastically different in six months from now. So, I need to keep in the front of my mind that, hey, the only direction e- commerce is going is up. So the stuff that doesn't work today, but used to work or the stuff that's working today, it may not work in six months or in three years from now. But that's awesome. That's exciting, because then it gives us the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of what's next.
Michelle: So do you think it's harder to make money today in e- commerce than it used to be?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: No. I think it's harder to make money today in using Facebook ads than it was a year ago, but I think it's easier to make money today at e- commerce than it was 10 years ago for sure. And I think it's just going to... Easy. Easy is a hard word. There's definitely more opportunity to make money today at e- commerce than there was two, five, ten years ago.
Michelle: Okay. Go ahead, Em.
Emily: I was just going to say, we're living in a era of rapid change as they're calling it. So I mean, you're figuring that it's only going to become quicker or not easier. I don't know.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. Everything's going to be changing. But that's a great opportunity to continue to learn.
Michelle: What are the biggest benefits of running your own business?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I would say freedom. And there's definitely big parts of running your own business that are like the opposite of freedom. I guess, more specifically, freedom of action. I'm very action oriented. I like to get things done. I like to make decisions and put them into action. I don't like wasting time. And so for working for myself, I'm able to do that. I have the freedom to do that. And then time, I can... So if I had a nine to five, I'd be done at five o'clock and that would be it. I'm never off the clock, right? I'm up at five o'clock in the morning responding to emails and I'm organizing my day. And also, last thing I do before bed is I review everything. So I'm always working. But I can work from anywhere in the world that I want. I can travel with my family and I can work part of the trip. And also, if I need to leave work at one o'clock because my son's sick or he fell off the playground, which happens often, I can get up and leave and go get him. I don't need to miss school events. So, that freedom's important.
Michelle: Good. Actually, this is kind of good for me to know too, what do you see in your future with ECD?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I want to continue growing ECD. Again, I love what I do. I help my clients make a lot of money. And I think there's just so many e- commerce businesses out there who are successful, who could just be so much more successful. We've had a lot of growth every year since we started. This year, I'd like to double what we did last year and then to continue that forward.
Michelle: Wow, nice. I'm sure you will do that too. So you always have some nuggets of wisdom for me, I'm always kind of calling. And you'll recommend books and different business literature, things I should be reading. Are there three or just a couple of things that we should put on the show notes for people to read for entrepreneurs or even people wanting to get into e- commerce that they need to know or be aware of?
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yes. All my new employees, the first thing that they need to read is Ecommerce Evolved. It's by Tanner Larsson. It's a great book. It talks about the whole the e- commerce ecosystem. And it gives you a good understanding of what it takes to be successful. For any business owner, traction is just critical. It helps you plan out your business, get organized. Then for task management, one of my favorite books... I don't even know how I found it about 10 years ago. It's called Getting Things Done by David Allen. Amazing book. And it's all about you need to have systems in place to put your thoughts and your tasks. And oftentimes, we keep our tasks in our head and our head is not meant for analyzing tasks. It's not meant for storing them. We need to get them out of our head into a trusted system. The book is great. And then another one for marketing is Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. That's really good as well.
Michelle: Nice. We will definitely have those in the show notes. Zak, I'm just curious, as you're going through your day... Because I notice I do this. I have ideas all the time. I'm like," Oh gosh..." And I get frustrated because I'm like," God, I'm getting older. I wish I had been like this in my 20s, just inaudible all this time." Are you coming up with ideas a lot that you want to pursue? Or you're like," Okay, this is where I'm at?" Or do you see business ideas and you're like," Wow, I wish I had the time to do that?"
Zak Cassady-Dorion: I think that our... or at least my brain is limited. Meaning, the processing power of my brain is limited. And so I try and focus it on e- commerce as much as possible. And so when I'm thinking of new business ideas, what I'm really trying to think about is new ways that my e- commerce clients can make more money. And I try and really stay laser focused on that. And if I were to think too much about other businesses and other ideas, I think I would get a little sidetracked. And so I really try and limit my expertise.
Emily: Limiting it to e- commerce is still a pretty big area to work into.
Michelle: But I like how you're kind of pulling interaction. So, crosstalk knows, I actually had to hire a traction coach, an EOS coach, and it has been phenomenal because I definitely send my team off on tangents. And so it has been tremendous. And Zak has helped me do that as well. But Zak, in closing, just words to live by, your favorite quote, just something for the listeners.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Life is short, have fun in everything that you do. I got a cool piece of advice, and this led me to starting my mountain bike tour company, but I think it's sort of a good piece of advice that I had forgotten for a while, that I took back when I started this company. But it's, find something you love to do and then build a business around it.
Emily: I love that.
Michelle: That is great. And by the way, just so the listeners know, you are a mountain bike coach for one of your daughters, and I love that. So you're doing some fun stuff on the side. And part of being a business owner, you can put your hours around it.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Yeah. Now actually this year, all three of my kids are... I actually started another team for younger kids. And so now this year all three kids are going to be on the mountain bike team.
Emily: Oh, awesome.
Michelle: That's very cool. So good. Zak, thank you so much for joining us today. And for the listeners From the Basement Up, thanks for tuning in and have a great day.
Emily: Thank you. Bye.
Zak Cassady-Dorion: Great being here. Bye guys.
Emily: Great. Bye.
Zak and his company does a lot of the digital marketing for Name Bubbles and as Michelle says, he’s the type of guy you want in your marketing corner.
Zak founded ECD Digital + Strategy 6 years ago with the goal to help his clients be as profitable as possible. Originally ECD started out as an ads agency but Zak quickly realized that companies often need much more help than simply getting more traffic to their websites. With that in mind, Zak created the “Blueprint for an Optimized E-commerce Ecosystem” - all the components that an E-commerce website needs to operate on all its cylinders.
They operate in three main areas:
1- The owned marketing side, which encompasses email and SMS marketing along with popups for list growth.
2- Full website design and development and everything that goes along with this: upsells/cross sells, rewards programs, conversion rate optimization, etc
3- Paid ads management across all the major digital ads platforms.
Zak pulls from his extensive background and experience to come up with profitable solutions for his clients to all the E-commerce issues that arise. He does indeed have quite an extensive background.
Past businesses include:
- A mountain bike tour company in the jungles of Costa Rica
- An importing business - importing textiles from Thailand and Nepal
- A crowdfund investing consulting business
- A chain of gourmet food retail stores
Tune into this week’s episode of From the Basement Up to learn more about Zak’s story and some of the entrepreneurial lessons he’s picked up along the way.