Originally Published on January 27, 2020 on LinkedIn.
It was an interesting 2019 building Farfill from scratch. We kicked off the year, with just one person (me) working on Farfill for its first six months. It was tedious doing everything from managing sales to receiving goods at the warehouse and picking and packing, it started off as an experiment and its grown to something more sustainable. In the Summer of 2019 was when we started adding a few more people onto the team, full time and part time. I’ve also been lucky to have friends who would come and help out on their spare time, who have now come onboard full time.
The first three months (January 2019 to March), I offered all our services for free (except for shipping, which was billed back to back to the client). So basically receiving of hundreds of products into the warehouse at the start and all outgoing picking and packing were for free. April of 2019 was when we first started billing for our services. Our first revenue line was around AED 5000. For a one person team running a warehouse, it wasn't a bad start.
? How did we get our first customers?
The Farfill landing page was built in October 2018 when the idea of Farfill was incepted. Omar (my brother) and I came up with the name having a coffee one day and our team at Esanjo helped build me a landing page. I put in an ad budget which averaged around AED 4-5 (varied from time to time) a day on Google Ads and the leads started coming in. The campaign that I had back then is still running and doing fairly well considering there haven’t been any changes to it. I’m no expert in marketing but I am confident I could be a lot more efficient with my keywords and budget.
At the bottom of the landing page, there’s a contact form where people would fill it out and it would hit my inbox. Searching through all my old leads, there were conversations with around 180 people before the launch date of January 15th 2019. It took a lot of patience sifting through the leads but then all of a sudden there were three clients that came through in one go and they closed relatively easily before launch. Most leads were and still are unreliable, but there were a few gems in there which are still with us and have grown with us.
There was a false pretence at the time that closing clients from then on would be easy. It really wasn’t, it wasn’t until the Summer that we finally started to close more clients. By June we only had 5 clients on board.
?️ Closing our first big clients:
I was never really interested or good at sales so all this was new territory for me. I learned a couple of lessons from talking to bigger leads.
Lesson one, that some leads are worth following up continuously. One of our largest clients who are based in Singapore, dropped a line through the contact form on the 20th of January 2019. There’s about 40 emails back and forth over the next few months and terms were finally agreed in June. What a relief, right? Nope, the lead went cold for over a month. I emailed them about 3 or 4 times over the next month and finally got a response back with their test volume of 200 units being shipped to our warehouse - finally, relief. By this time our first employee, Costa, had come on board on the 30th of June, the timing was perfect. I knew that closing this would be pivotal as it was our first client that was based out of the UAE and their initial needs were for shipping to the GCC and the local market. Till this day, all our communication with this client has only been over email. Not one phone call or even a WhatsApp message, crazy to think, they now send us a crazy amount of inventory which we help ship to all their customers all over the world.
Lesson two, patience when negotiating terms. One of our clients who is based in Bahrain, were interested in sending a container to us - seemed nuts at the time for us. There were a lot of phone calls, emails and WhatsApps. We even amended the contract to offer part of our pick and packs free for a quarter. You have to pick who you negotiate with, most of the time with most leads that come in negotiating your standard terms isn’t worth the effort. The contact came through our website on May 13th 2019 and their container arrived to the warehouse on the 7th of August. We recently received their second container into the warehouse.
While I was trying to close leads, I started to explore the possibility of selling on marketplaces directly and on behalf of our clients. It actually was an interesting proposition for most of the leads that I was speaking to.
Our warehouse is located near a large cash and carry business in the UAE, so I started listing our own products on noon. We were primarily selling grocery items of our own and within a few months got to a few thousand orders (low value items). It was an interesting experiment at the time, however, it distracted me from building Farfill. We also had some of our customers' products listed on Amazon. I’d also be involved in customer service matters on Amazon. We put a stop to it in the latter stages of the summer and found a reliable partner that manages marketplaces for us.
? International Shipping from the UAE:
Surprisingly, close to half our shipping volume is outside of the UAE, mostly to places such as the United States, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia and parts of Europe. Between September 2019 to December 2019 we shipped to 43 countries ranging from United States to French Polynesia. Currently we ship with DHL and they reach most parts of the world in two days and within the GCC usually next day. We pass on our rates to our customers and constantly pestering DHL to give us better rates. We had to drop FedEx as a shipping partner as there were issues with their customs clearance in Europe which cost us a lot of business in the summer.
? What's next?
When’s the best time to expand and grow to a new facility? We expanded our current warehouse and added a new floor and we’re close to closing some enterprise customers from different parts of the World that should allow us to fill up this facility. Once we do, our plan is to explore Saudi Arabia as it seems to be a massive need for most of our clients. We’re also exploring to open a new facility in Dubai.
We're also working towards profitability. We're close.