Online store host solution Dremus could be the next Vend-flavoured success story out of Aotearoa.
Campbell McLean is unusual for the owner of a profitable, successful, international e-commerce site, in that he answers all the support questions himself. In some ways, it’s great – it allows him to know at a granular level what customers need and how to better tailor the service to them.
Unfortunately for him, it also means that he occasionally, very occasionally, has to deal with people who haven’t got the smarts to work some pretty simple features out. Actually, he tells me there has only really been one person who’s had much trouble. Ever. And that’s how I got to meet McLean, owner of Dremus, the online store hosted solution I now use and love.
Dremus is a way to get trading online. McLean’s idea was to make a service that was affordable, low cost, could be made great looking and that even technologically challenged people could use. And he has succeeded. After a few helpful prods to make sure I was following the instructions (which were, funnily enough, already in front of me), even I could get it going.
“I often use the story of my mother testing out Dremus,” McLean says. “She’s my litmus test. She was able to create her own online store and she is really just new to email in the last five years.”
McLean is a Kiwi who travelled a long way to end up back here with a world-facing product. He studied economics at Otago and a week after finishing, had his feet under the desk at a New York investment bank.
Some heady years of finance in the late 90s followed. The tech bubble was in full swing and his firm was raising money for some very cool Silicon Valley operators. As he saw the way these new companies were changing the world by empowering and enabling consumers, a dream to own his own thing in the rapidly growing tech sector emerged. So McLean did something not many successful New York corporate financiers do. He quit so he could study coding and go to work for a technology company in London.
There he got amongst a lot of new ideas as he searched around for one he could make his own.
“The long-term vision was to be an entrepreneur and make something successful. There is nothing like it – going to work and seeing your company grow. Checking out your customer database and seeing how they are using something you have created with your own hands. That is a massive thrill!”
It was while he was there in 2006 over a London December that he accidentally missed the deadline to post gifts back home. He looked around to find New Zealand stores online that could get his Christmas conundrum fixed, but without luck. However in doing so he realised there was a real gap for boutique and specialist retailers to get into that space.
He quickly identified the barriers. One was cost. At the time it wasn’t unusual for it to cost $50,000 to get an e-commerce solution built.
“For the small guy starting out working out of a garage or small store that wasn’t feasible,” McLean points out.
“The other was technical. You could install open source software yourself and get a server and maintain them, but again for a lot of these guys they don’t have the time or energy.”
So the space was there to create a solution that enabled people to get online that was low-cost and demanded little technical know-how.
And Dremus has a few features that help it stand out beyond that, such as a deeper ability to analyse the way visitors use the store and a design-led focus. You can go for a template (free) or for more exclusive looks for a small charge. Alternatively, boutique brands can choose to spend their budgets on skinning the service to their own look and feel.
Dremus also integrates with top software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers (like other local success stories Xero and Vend) so that data can seamlessly be shared between these systems.
“Dremus users want a good-looking site, as customers are going to make a purchase decision within 10 seconds of seeing the site,” McLean says. “Good design and usability amount to trust and good service in the web world, qualities which are paramount with e-commerce. In a nutshell, if it looks shit, like it was built in the 90s they aren’t going to buy from you.”
And he is ready at the right time. He has experienced growth of a couple of hundred percent a year – an exponential curve taking him to profit with a customer base spanning 20 countries. And with all the businesses in the world needing to get online, this could be the start of another great Kiwi business story.
“It’s a very scalable environment. You have one centralised product accessible by customers from any location or mobile device, and as long as you’re regularly adding more features and maintaining your servers, the potential is unlimited, so it is quite exciting.”
And does being back in New Zealand matter? No, and in fact in the physical distance from major markets there might just be two great opportunities for New Zealand. Ideas like Dremus are what we need to sort out our current account deficits and get the trade going in the right way, outwards from here.
Local retailers can use the service to gain world-fronting stores, bringing in dollars from buyers out there. And international customers using the service will be paying their subscription dollars back. It is all win here.
Perhaps New Zealand Trade and Enterprise should get on the phone? Because with a cool product like this, I reckon there won’t be many sleeping on Dremus soon.