Fernando Sustaita had grown his father’s company to annual revenues of $3 million a year when it folded, and he was forced to look for other options. He had to endure doubts, laughter, and ridicule, before he found the option that worked for him: e-commerce. He started with Ebay and turned it into a reliable source of income, but the business was yet to come.
The turn to e-commerce, and running his own business, also came for Fernando Sustaita as a result of his dissatisfaction with his corporate job. He had made his company billions of dollars in annual purchases, building a reputation as the best contract negotiator at the company, but he received the lowest salary. So, he decided to change things. When he started e-commerce, he discovered that he was good at it.
Soon enough, Fernando Sustaita’s success reached the point where Amazon itself was sending him personal invitations to join the company’s new e-commerce platforms. After that, he realized that he wanted to build a community. He wanted to share the secrets of his success and his e-commerce journey to other people.
Today, Fernando Sustaita runs The Print on Demand University, which he also runs. The company is “focused on helping business owners and entrepreneurs launch, maintain and scale a successful print on demand business.” With the company, he wants to help other e-commerce businesses find their groove and reach their goals in a highly competitive market.
Check out more interviews with e-commerce pioneers here.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Fernando Sustaita: The University is unique because simply there is no other website like it. Most online instructors focus only on their own products. They all want to sell what they created, but in my case I know I cannot teach everything related to my industry. In the University, you can learn about book publishing, social media and e-commerce. The opportunities are endless and every day we look to add even more coaches to the list.
As an online seller I am very dependent on Social Media. For example, Instagram. One day I thought it would be a great idea to teach my audience about Instagram so I made a challenge. It was free and a lot of people joined and they were happy with their results. So I said, hey let’s do it again but this time I’ll charge $47… Nobody bought it. Why? Because I had zero credibility as an Instagram instructor. Since that day, I stick to my lane and use the knowledge of others to compliment my teachings.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Fernando Sustaita: Listen to your audience; always ask them what they need. Although, sometimes it may be true that they don’t know what they need until you present it to them. It is always best to know that what you are working on actually has a market.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Fernando Sustaita: I got where I am because of hard work but I didn’t get here alone. There has always been a person or two along the way that has shown me the path.
I would say my business coach, Gregory. One day he asked me a question I will never forget. I was stressed because money was not coming in and I was always busy. Working like no tomorrow because there was no other way to bring money. He got me on a call and said I watched your last recording and what I saw today is not you. You were pushing the sale!
Then he asked me to name all the business I was managing at the time. I named one by one and at the end he asked me the following question: which one would you Marry? He continued… when you are young and dating you know when that woman is only a girlfriend or if she could be your wife? Sit down and think of all the businesses that you mentioned which one would you marry?
After thinking about it, my answer was clear. I said coaching; I love coaching but is what makes me the less money… He said then marry that one. Which one you cannot stand? I named a couple, then he said is time to say goodbye to them. I was afraid but I followed his advice, a week later the Print on Demand University was born.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon and even Wal-Mart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and ecommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Fernando Sustaita: I have been selling on Amazon for 5 years now and at the same time have operated my own stores on Shopify and Etsy. Covid hit us hard, there is no doubt about it. Yet, one thing I have seen is that people have prioritized buying from small companies. There is a reason why Etsy has record sales this year. Not everyone needs their purchases shipped in less than 2 days. China can always sell for cheaper but shipping has become a headache to them.
More people are buying online this year than any other time in history. It is a huge opportunity for small E-commerce sellers. Daily I hear people in my community say they are having strong sales and record months.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an ecommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Fernando Sustaita: They over complicate things, people like things simple. They want to know why they need it and what problem it will solve. The attention span of an ecommerce buyer is very small. You have seconds to grab their attention. A long boring never getting to the point copy is why most products fail to sell.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an ecommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Fernando Sustaita: Credibility, costumers need to feel they trust you to buy from you. I have seen websites without a contact me page which in my point of view is business suicide.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Fernando Sustaita: A person that received bad support or a low quality product is more inclined on leaving a review. Sometimes, customers don’t even bother reaching out to solve a problem. They go to and post a negative review. Most of this reviews could be avoided by lettings the customer know from day one, that you have an open line of communication. Having a phone number or an easy to locate contact us page can decrease negative reviews. In any case you get one; you should always reach out to the customer and try to rectify whatever it is bothering them. Most customers will remove any negative feedback if you are a helpful problem solver. They may even change it to a positive review.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Find your Niche. When I began selling Print on Demand shirts with horse designs were hot, people love their horses. I had my designer made a few horse designs. After putting them on sale, the amount of negative comments on my listings was nonstop. I had no idea a horse looked different from other races. To find a winning product, you have to first find the niche you are passionate about. You cannot focus on selling something you don’t believe on. Creating content on something you know nothing about can end of causing exhaustion and eventually quitting.
- Do your Research. Before you even begin selling something, always do some research and see if there is a market. Creating a product because you think it will be a success is always bound to fail.
Knowing how much people pay for similar products. Also, identifying if such product will be profitable. 2 Years ago, Laser etched Tumblers were the hottest product on Etsy. I used to sell them for $35 each plus shipping. Today, you are lucky if you get $19.99. Sellers are making the tumblers from home. Eliminating the middle men hence the cost of goods sold. Sellers still try to get the $35 but no sales, less than that would be unprofitable if using a production partner.
- Build an Email List. An E-Commerce business without an Email list is bad business. You cannot build a business without growing your list. You need it invite your customers to come back. Yes, you can run ads and bring new ones, but ads are costly. Emails are the most affordable marketing technique with the greatest return on investment.
- Read the terms and conditions of the marketplace or tools you are using for your business. One of the most common causes a person gets their accounts terminated at Marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon is because they infringe on their Terms and Conditions. Mostly because of silly reasons but nonetheless a breach. Knowing what is and what is not allowed will help you stay in business for the long term. Every day I learn of people whose accounts got shutdown claiming there was no reason for it. Yet, after digging a little deeper there always a reason.
- Outsource. It is difficult to be an Entrepreneur but is even more to be a Solopreneur. Most people I coach are exhausted because they cannot keep up with their schedule. It gets overwhelming with all they have to do. Hiring a Virtual Assistant “VA” to do simple tasks can release a lot of stress from your day to day operations. I have 2 VA helping me with tasks I don’t want to do or that are too time consuming and a little value to my daily operations.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amounts of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Fernando Sustaita: My goal is to help people find happiness in their business. Convert hard work into passion and to grow financially to a point of independence. I worked for corporate and although I got paid really well (6 figures) I was never happy as nothing was mine and always had to please someone but myself. I want people to enjoy working on their schedule. I got to watch my third child grow; she was 6 months old when I quit the industry. I was there for her first words, for her first steps, her first day of school and for her first dentist appointment. I haven’t missed anything important in her life. I wasn’t that lucky with my first 2. This is what I want people to enjoy. To live life.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Fernando Sustaita: They can learn more about my business here. And they can follow me on Facebook.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!