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Staying lean, adapting quickly: Sean Senvirtne on the rapid growth of his online marketplace

Since launching in 2012, online marketplace MyDeal.com.au has enjoyed 150% growth year on year. 2015 was particularly fruitful for the ecommerce start-up – it grew 338% and was named Australia’s 9th fastest growing technology company by Deloitte. The company estimates it will have generated more than $30 million in sales by the end of the calendar year. 

What’s remarkable is that Founder and CEO Sean Senvirtne forwent venture capital funding, instead bootstrapping the Melbourne-based business to success. Recently announced as a finalist for The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards (Young Executive of the Year), Sean spoke to Dynamic Business about the origins of MyDeal, the factors that contributed to its growth, and his future plans for the business (spoiler: they don’t include slowing down).

Interacting with SMEs provided the inspiration

Prior to MyDeal, Sean founded two online start-ups beginning in 2007 with NiteGuide – an Australia-wide entertainment directory for night owls seeking events and activities in their local area. Its success led Sean to launch another directory for affluent corporate types in 2011: Dine Wine Functions Publications.

Despite the steep learning curve, Sean said his first two ventures enabled him to work closely with other business owners, which provided him with “the experience necessary to lay solid foundations for MyDeal”. Critically, his interactions with SMEs provided inspiration for the platform.

Aware that some business owners were abstaining from ecommerce due to a lack of digital expertise, Sean conceived MyDeal as a “turnkey SaaS solution that would enable them to overcome the complexities and frustrations associated with online retail and concentrate on growing their customer base”.

“We can rapidly adapt to market demands”

In the four years since MyDeal was developed in Sean’s apartment using two laptops, the company has evolved from a two-page website with a modest database of subscribers into an online marketplace with 1000 retailers offering 25,000 products across 900 categories. Critically, the site has served over 500,000 customers. According to Sean, this rapid growth is due to a numbers of critical factors including the company’s robust technology infrastructure and online marketplace model plus its ambitious team.

“As a zero inventory marketplace, there’s unlimited growth potential in terms of our product range and we have the ability to rapidly adapt to market demands,” he explained. “For instance, we can market new products within days of trends emerging, quickly respond to pricing changes, and target regions based on events or shopping patterns. We have almost everything from tools and equipment to furniture and much more – and we continue to add products and suppliers.

“We also seek out businesses that can provide the best value for our customers and that we can provide the best return. Meanwhile, our end-to-end customer service enables customers to enjoy a secure and hassle-free shopping experience and acquire goods at competitive prices. Our solid relationships with suppliers has meant we’re able to negotiate prices to surpass our competitors.

“Hiring right people in the right positions has also been essential to MyDeal’s growth and driving site traffic. Having a passionate and driven team, whose members execute their tasks well, has led to significant customer and supplier traction as well as increased sales. I’m lucky to have 35 employees who can quickly identify drivers of success and respond to challenges – it has allowed us to scale the business very quickly and efficiently.”

“Bootstrapping has kept us agile and motivated”

If robust infrastructure and human capital have played a crucial role in MyDeal’s success, so too has Sean’s lean business mentality.

“Bootstrapping MyDeal without venture capital funding has meant budgeting wisely and making quick judgements when trialing ideas,” he said. “When you have a limited budget, there’s little room for error and you are immediately under pressure to find a profitable model.

“This approach has forced us to focus on and better understand what brings the strongest return on investment (ROI) for every spend. Bootstrapping has also kept us agile and motivated while helping us fully capitalise on what resources we have. We’ve been able to pivot very rapidly keeping the core of the business the same. Conversely, companies that rely on venture capital have less pressure, more time and more opportunity to take more risks, which means outcomes can be unpredictable and difficult to measure.”

Sean said the plan moving forward is to continue scaling MyDeal by rolling out technical enhancements, including an app optimisation in the next few months, and investing profits back into the business to ensure the best platform for sellers and the best products and service for customers.

In addition, Sean said it has been important to remain active in in the entrepreneur and start-up space: “It allows me to examine key learning from other business leaders and feed this back into MyDeal so we can continue our path to becoming one of Australia’s largest online retailers.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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