Amy Watkins | Published Nov 25, 2013 on BCBusiness.ca
See the original article here: http://www.bcbusiness.ca/retail/vancouver-e-comm-alliance
When online footwear retailer ShoeMe.ca’s president Sean Clark wanted to create a successful e-commerce company, he looked to his ex-boss Roger Hardy, CEO of Vancouver-based ClearlyContacts.ca, for inspiration—and funding.
Clark founded ShoeMe.ca after he left Clearly Contacts in December 2011, following two years with the company. Clark first caught Hardy’s attention as a UBC MBA intern, and after graduation the director of Australia and New Zealand position was created for him. Clark eventually moved to Sydney, Australia, for six months to head up the company’s overseas operations.
While in Australia, Clark witnessed the rapid growth of online shoe companies and, combined with his wife’s lament that Canadian online shopping was a headache, he saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the market.
Clark started ShoeMe.ca in January 2012, using a loan from his parents and an office in their basement. “We got early sales traction very quickly,” says Clark. “I was hitting the pavement, going to all the shoe shows, making the relationships with the vendors and sometimes getting doors slammed in my face.” By August 2012 he felt confident enough to approach local angels, including Hardy, resulting in multiple investments and Clark moving into Clearly Contacts’ old offices in Vancouver’s Olympic Village.
Having founded the world's largest online retailer of contact lenses and eyeglasses, Hardy is no stranger to entrepreneurial spirit and the quest for capital. Hardy made a personal investment in ShoeMe.ca after Clark approached him with sales figures of $34,000 within eight months of launching the business. And Hardy has just announced that he made another investment—an amount which he will not disclose, but calls "significant"—in the fledgling e-comm company.
“I was intrigued,” Hardy says. “When I saw he’d got it started and came back looking for a little investment, I thought it was interesting and I invested. There aren’t many Canadian businesses that, a year in, are looking at next year’s run rate of around $10 million. He’s got good traction and it’s a good opportunity. I participated early on and when he did another small raise I participated in that as well. If something’s working and I’ve seen a return, then I participate further.
Hardy is a director at ShoeMe.ca, which involves consultations at quarterly board meeting, but there is already synergy between ClearlyContacts.ca and ShoeMe.ca, with links featured on both websites, and Clark sees a possibility for a similar move into a bricks-and-mortar showroom space once established online.
Clark estimates that Canada’s e-commerce industry is five years behind Australia’s and 10 years behind the U.S. “It’s in a nascent stage and lags behind, but it will double in growth over the next five years,” he says. “I’ve been lucky with timing. I learned how to run a successful e-commerce company whilst at Clearly Contacts and that gave me the tools to succeed. I learned marketing techniques, how e-commerce operates, operations and customer service, which is a really important component.”
“From an e-commerce perspective there’s still a big delta between what’s happening in Canada and what’s happening in the rest of the world,” says Hardy, echoing Clark’s assertion that Canada is years behind Australia and the U.S. “Lots of retailers are attempting some sort of omni-channel strategy but they lack the e-commerce knowledge. If you’re a traditional retailer and you’re missing this opportunity, you’re going to be left on your own pretty quickly. There’s going to be some big winners and losers.”