There’s been a longstanding perception that to build and release a successful ecommerce product, you need to have a technical background, but that hasn’t always been the case. Alibaba’s Founder Jack Ma has often spoken about his lack of technology capabilities, and how that never stopped him from creating an ecommerce platform worth billions of dollars. 

Australia alone is home to almost 500 retail startups, many of which were started by non-technical founders—from online marketplace Catch, to fashion retailer The Iconic, to beauty marketplace Adore Beauty. 

Online shopping is on the rise 

According to reports, Australia’s ecommerce industry grew more than 80 per cent YoY in the eight weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However while the pandemic supercharged online sales, data suggests that growth was already strong before the virus sent the population into lockdown. With lingering uncertainty around recovery and physical distancing limitations still in place across the globe, ecommerce is set to continue growing to adapt to changing consumer needs.

With more Aussies turning to online shopping, experts predict that the Australian ecommerce market will be worth a staggering AU$21.7 billion by the end of 2022. There has never been a better time for startups to capitalise on this growth and break into the market. 

Common ecommerce startup mistakes

From building a website to complement an existing brick-and-mortar store, to establishing a new ecommerce business from the ground up, entrepreneurs and founders tend to make a few common mistakes when starting out.

The first is ignoring the power of sales and marketing. The founding team of most startups are still predominantly built around an engineering focus, with sales, marketing or product strategy often being put on the back burner. Without a cost-effective way to acquire new customers, your ecommerce startup will likely struggle to succeed. Your competition with deeper pockets will have established their distribution and marketing channels. To play catch up with them will require an upfront team investment. This means it’s essential for startups to invest in their sales and marketing teams from the get-go to ensure they are connected and engaged with their audience and can build long-term customer relationships. 

The second is not choosing the right platform to host the ecommerce business. When surrounded by global success stories like Amazon, Alibaba and eBay, there can be a lot of pressure to deliver top-notch customer experiences through an ecommerce platform. The key is having a simple, easy-to-use platform that can excite and retain your audience. Founders often spend too much time perfecting how a product looks on paper, but what they may not realise is that they don’t need to build these from scratch. There are a myriad of options from outsourcing product development to tapping into open source tools available to them. Open source tools also make it easier to incorporate additional APIs to offer services like buy now, pay later checkout solutions, or change the layout of the marketplace based on customer feedback. 

Finally, scaling quickly rather than sustainably. Founders are often so fixated on fast growth and trying to acquire new users for the marketplace that they overlook the infrastructure’s ability to cope with the demands that follow. Without the right team and expertise to grow sustainably, the startup will find itself at the mercy of a poorly-built experience that can have long term repercussions from poor customer retention to revenue losses. 

The time is now 

At Dovetail, we work closely with non-technical founders from a range of industries—including ecommerce and financial services—to help bring an idea to life by designing and building world-class digital products. 

Some of the most successful companies around today, including Afterpay, began with non-technical founders. Through Dovetail’s work with various startup founders, we’ve found that a lack of programming experience is outweighed by deep domain expertise and a hunger to solve problems. 

We believe that the ecommerce entrepreneurs of the future need not be tech-savvy. All they need is a solution to an identified problem, and an innovative business idea aimed at addressing it. My advice for anyone wanting to start out in the ecommerce industry is to do your research. Find out what competitors are doing and what gaps customers are facing. Knowing the ins and outs of what problem you are going to solve will make it easier for you to create the how, via a truly effective and impactful tech solution.

Nick Frandsen is CEO and co-founder at Dovetail