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Sustuu: The self-taught entrepreneur

As a self-confessed gadget and gizmo fanatic with a family history in retail, it made perfect sense for Hiren Soni to set up his own online business Sustuu.com. He shares with Volo his story of an entirely self-taught entrepreneur; learning the hard way how to do business, but most importantly is learning from his mistakes…

How did Sustuu start life?
I come from a background of bricks and mortar retail – my family’s business started selling small electronics like minidiscs and MP3 players. When we started up our website we expanded into GPS for surveying and land mapping, and then satnavs for cars. This was about 15 years ago, and due to the high rental rises in central London we decided to sell solely online.

One of my first jobs was in TV and radio, which fed my passion for gadgets and gizmos. The fact that my dad was selling these products made everything fit into place, and so 10 years ago I set up my own watch and electronics online outlet, Sustuu.com. We sell tech and fashion watches and a wide range of small electronics. When we started selling on Amazon and eBay things really took off for us. eBay now accounts for 75% of our sales and Amazon 20%.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your business?
I’ve never been great with numbers, so I wish there was some best practice information available when I needed it. I had to learn the hard way, but luckily these days I have a bookkeeper that takes care of that side of things for me.

I’ve also learnt that I’m an emotional buyer. I would always buy products that I liked myself, and most of the time I bought the stuff that didn’t sell. This taught me to be a lot more analytical and logical in what we buy – you’d be surprised by what sells!

Luckily we also do a lot of business with Garmin. We have partners and suppliers who provide a lot of information on what sells well, and this leads the way for us in terms of trends.

What does success in business mean for you?
For me success has always been about one thing: glowing customer feedback. When I was a teenager, I worked for John Lewis where I learnt the importance of the buyer experience. It really is the lifeline of your business – if you focus on the customer, nothing else matters. Customers drive the success of our business, and I take every bit of feedback personally. I make customer service a very important aspect of the business, and have an employee dedicated to going through feedback and helping to resolve any issues.

Do you have any advice for those thinking about starting their own online business?
In business I’ve had to learn the hard way, and I’ve fallen over a few times. I’d say it’s taken me twice as long than it should have to get to where I am today, but learning the hard way is sometimes the best way because you need to pick yourself up when things go wrong. A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.

My advice to those in ecommerce is to always look after your costs – don’t be afraid to lose the products that aren’t making you the money. Finally, it’s important to stay up-to-date with all the changes to the platforms you sell on and Google’s algorithm changes.

How has Volo helped your business take flight?
Investing in the Volo platform seven years ago was a big decision, but it has really helped the business grow by making the manual jobs a lot easier for us. In the warehouse we can manage all our stock within the Volo platform. All our sales are integrated, and the couriers are automated – this makes life a lot easier. Volo’s reporting dashboard has really helped us maximise our profitability. There were points where we weren’t making profit on certain products because we weren’t analysing the numbers. On the surface it might look like you’re making a decent profit, but once you take out your overheads you’re breaking even or losing money. It helps you work out which products to cut.

What does the future hold for Sustuu?
I wish I had a crystal ball. Gaining buyer trust is only going to become an even tougher challenge, as they take more control over the buying lifecycle. They’re growing savvier by the day thanks to having information on tap – they have more choice and control over who they buy from.

Sustuu doesn’t have any specific goals in the future, but we want to grow our catalogue of items and expand the number of marketplaces we’re on. We’re in the process of making our warehousing and operations better, but we’ve also honed the reporting and analysis side of things. It’s easy to not check reports regularly, but then you don’t know what products are selling well and which lines are holding you back. I want to work on improving our website, as there is a lot of potential for it to bring in more sales. There’s a whole lot for us to do in the future.

Go back

Sustuu: The self-taught entrepreneur

As a self-confessed gadget and gizmo fanatic with a family history in retail, it made perfect sense for Hiren Soni to set up his own online business Sustuu.com. He shares with Volo his story of an entirely self-taught entrepreneur; learning the hard way how to do business, but most importantly is learning from his mistakes…

How did Sustuu start life?
I come from a background of bricks and mortar retail – my family’s business started selling small electronics like minidiscs and MP3 players. When we started up our website we expanded into GPS for surveying and land mapping, and then satnavs for cars. This was about 15 years ago, and due to the high rental rises in central London we decided to sell solely online.

One of my first jobs was in TV and radio, which fed my passion for gadgets and gizmos. The fact that my dad was selling these products made everything fit into place, and so 10 years ago I set up my own watch and electronics online outlet, Sustuu.com. We sell tech and fashion watches and a wide range of small electronics. When we started selling on Amazon and eBay things really took off for us. eBay now accounts for 75% of our sales and Amazon 20%.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your business?
I’ve never been great with numbers, so I wish there was some best practice information available when I needed it. I had to learn the hard way, but luckily these days I have a bookkeeper that takes care of that side of things for me.

I’ve also learnt that I’m an emotional buyer. I would always buy products that I liked myself, and most of the time I bought the stuff that didn’t sell. This taught me to be a lot more analytical and logical in what we buy – you’d be surprised by what sells!

Luckily we also do a lot of business with Garmin. We have partners and suppliers who provide a lot of information on what sells well, and this leads the way for us in terms of trends.

What does success in business mean for you?
For me success has always been about one thing: glowing customer feedback. When I was a teenager, I worked for leading UK retailer John Lewis where I learnt the importance of the buyer experience. It really is the lifeline of your business – if you focus on the customer, nothing else matters. Customers drive the success of our business, and I take every bit of feedback personally. I make customer service a very important aspect of the business, and have an employee dedicated to going through feedback and helping to resolve any issues.

Do you have any advice for those thinking about starting their own online business?
In business I’ve had to learn the hard way, and I’ve fallen over a few times. I’d say it’s taken me twice as long than it should have to get to where I am today, but learning the hard way is sometimes the best way because you need to pick yourself up when things go wrong. A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.

My advice to those in ecommerce is to always look after your costs – don’t be afraid to lose the products that aren’t making you the money. Finally, it’s important to stay up-to-date with all the changes to the platforms you sell on and Google’s algorithm changes.

How has Volo helped your business take flight?
Investing in the Volo platform seven years ago was a big decision, but it has really helped the business grow by making the manual jobs a lot easier for us. In the warehouse we can manage all our stock within the Volo platform. All our sales are integrated, and the couriers are automated – this makes life a lot easier. Volo’s reporting dashboard has really helped us maximize our profitability. There were points where we weren’t making profit on certain products because we weren’t analyzing the numbers. On the surface it might look like you’re making a decent profit, but once you take out your overheads you’re breaking even or losing money. It helps you work out which products to cut.

What does the future hold for Sustuu?
I wish I had a crystal ball. Gaining buyer trust is only going to become an even tougher challenge, as they take more control over the buying lifecycle. They’re growing savvier by the day thanks to having information on tap – they have more choice and control over who they buy from.

Sustuu doesn’t have any specific goals in the future, but we want to grow our catalogue of items and expand the number of marketplaces we’re on. We’re in the process of making our warehousing and operations better, but we’ve also honed the reporting and analysis side of things. It’s easy to not check reports regularly, but then you don’t know what products are selling well and which lines are holding you back. I want to work on improving our website, as there is a lot of potential for it to bring in more sales. There’s a whole lot for us to do in the future.