Running an e-commerce business is hard.
The only way you can make money is at scale. But to achieve scale profitably, you must be extremely accurate at figuring out some vital questions such as:
- What products should you offer?
- How many units should you reorder and when?
- What are your profit margins for a given SKU?
You need a powerful inventory and order management software that can help you reveal these answers.
That’s exactly what a company like Skubana does for you. Founded in 2014, the company made it super-simple for e-commerce companies to manage their inventory and orders.
Skubana is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) SaaS operations platform that enables high-volume brands and retailers to manage inventory, fulfill orders, and analyze data across multiple sales channels from one source.
In this interview, Skubana’s co-founder Chad Rubin shares how he went from winning in the vacuum filter market to creating a unique solution for the e-commerce industry, and why a commitment to the product and content marketing are his top strategies for growth.
Take us through the moment when you realized that the e-commerce industry badly needed a solution like Skubana.
Origins in the online vacuum filter business
In 2008, I switched careers from equity research on Wall Street, specifically covering internet stocks, to take over my family’s vacuum filter company. Understanding the immense opportunity companies had in selling online, I managed our expansion to online marketplaces.
We did so well in disrupting the vacuum industry that we decided to do the same for every home accessory category. We started manufacturing our own home appliance parts and accessories and launched our e-commerce storefront.
Moving to online stores and marketplaces helped us scale quickly, growing from one vacuum filter product to over 1,000 SKUs.
However, we lacked the proper technology to manage our growth. The inventory management system we were using was crippling; our warehouse became extremely unorganized which caused us to oversell and undersell often.
I started searching for alternatives, but we only had two options – either stitch together several isolated apps and software to build a fragmented solution or pay for a bulky legacy software that required extensive implementation and features that weren’t tailored to my business.
Envisioning a Solution
From that search came the initial idea for a new kind of software; an inventory and order management system that addressed the specific needs and challenges of e-commerce brands and retailers.
I met our co-founder and CTO DJ Kunovac through a mutual friend, and in that initial conversation, started working through a framework for the software.
By focusing specifically on the needs of mid-market and enterprise multi-channel retailers, we mapped out a software that prioritized speed and automation, and unified the key aspects of back office operations. The goal was to create a comprehensive, enterprise-grade, cloud software uniquely tailored to enable growth in the e-commerce industry.
The final result was Skubana, a software that serves as your operational nervous system, providing a centralized platform to handle inventory and order management, fulfillment and purchasing.
Creating your market in a crowded space like inventory management and ERP couldn’t have been easy. What challenges did you face early on and how did you overcome them?
Yes, the ERP and inventory management category is crowded, especially because there’s an endless library of siloed shipping, inventory management, and purchasing applications out there.
It’s very easy to get lost in the clutter and buy into an application that solves one problem, then later realize it doesn’t tackle the core issue of marrying all of your sales and fulfillment data across multiple channels.
Our biggest hurdle was differentiating ourselves from the entry-level solutions that were positioning themselves as enterprise software.
Many of these companies were backed by venture capital and invested heavily in marketing their product, even if their product didn’t address the needs of sellers.
We took the opposite approach, preferring to become product-centric. We wanted our customers to join our platform knowing they were investing in a long-term solution that would continue to grow and evolve with them as the retail industry shifted online.
Who’s your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is any back-office operations personnel or teams that are poised to scale their business, want to streamline the tools they use, and are looking for more flexibility of data and automation to drive down total overhead cost.
Our team usually interfaces with managers or directors in the fulfillment, purchasing or logistics departments.
What key marketing strategies have worked out best for you?
Our content marketing strategy has been our primary source for leads. By focusing on content, we are able to offer more value to our customers beyond our software.
Through our blogs, newsletters, webinars, and partner events, we’ve created a strong ecosystem of brands and retailers who advocate and actively build the community around Skubana. Many of our customers refer people in their networks to our newsletters and webinars which gives us credible brand recognition, even if we don’t try to sell the product on those channels.
Former customer contacts who move to other companies often bring us on as a software at their new company, and existing customers will even refer the software to their friends. This has created a strong word-of-mouth presence, providing a significant influx of inbound leads.
What marketing channels haven’t worked out for you?
While content has been a huge driver for us, we haven’t seen success with social media and paid digital advertising.
We adopted social media very early, at a time when I don’t think B2B companies had a significant social presence. We eventually dropped it as a channel because we saw much more organic traffic stemming from the other content we were developing.
However, I think social media has become much more ingrained in our personal and professional lives, so we’re exploring how to refresh our approach to make it work better for us.
How do you see the future of inventory management evolving? How do you see Skubana and similar software evolve as a result of that?
I think there’s a global e-commerce movement to unify all aspects of the business, from back office operations to front end customer experiences. Managing a successful e-commerce business requires orchestrating many different moving parts, but the machine ultimately needs to run together. Certain aspects of the industry are already unifying – you can see this with the ongoing push for omnichannel retail and the development of e-commerce features on social channels.
I think we’re going to see the same with inventory management software. As brands and retailers continue to outgrow their legacy systems, they’ll look for cloud-based options that can seamlessly integrate with the other tools they use to run their business, including accounting and business analytics software. This will include the capability to support custom API integrations to accommodate the unique workflows of each individual company.
Skubana is already moving in this direction. Our software is a fully open platform that exposes every piece of functionality through a modern and easy-to-use RESTful API. Our API endpoints offer generous throttling limits that can be customized further for each customer, and our App Store ecosystem allows for unlimited plug-and-play customization on the platform.
Chad Rubin is co-founder and chief executive officer of Skubana, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that enables multi-channel brands and retailers to unify their back-office operations. Rubin is also CEO of Think Crucial, a direct-to-consumer home appliance parts and accessories company, which he built into a 8-figure e-commerce business in just seven years.