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Ropero: Starting Big, Failing Bigger

Ropero was an e-commerce aiming to sell t-shirts in an unprepared market. Many expenses and little earnings.

Mexico
e-Commerce
Bad Market Fit

Rafael Soto

March 16, 2018

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Hello Rafael! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hey! My name is Rafael Soto, I've been making weird stuff on the web since I was 15 (2001), I'm from Mexico and I have a master's degree in marketing. Five years ago I moved from my small city to Mexico City and founded Osom Marketing, a boutique digital marketing agency. Early on Osom's life I found what a mess the taxes are here —and I'm not even talking about accounting—, just preparing the information required by my accountant required up to 6 hours per month, which I thought it was crazy!

Long story short, being a hacker and loving automating things, I created a script that would download the invoice's files from my Gmail (which are XML files), and then created an Excel file, saving at least 3 hours. As I started talking to other business owners, both small and medium, I realized there was an opportunity, and since two years ago, I started Box Factura, and although it has been tough, we're growing and the customers are loving it!

It has been quite a journey after failing on a movie theatre guide/social network (so you could select the movie to watch and go to the nearest theatre, instead of selecting first the theatre and see if it's available), an images and videos website, and a t-shirt marketplace (Ropero).

What was Ropero about?

As I stated, Ropero (literally Wardrobe) was a t-shirt marketplace inspired by Threadless. I started it in 2005 when I was 20 and wanted to do some real business on the web. I had no business plan, no investment, just plain motivation and a few free hours every day.

How did you grow Ropero?

Mostly through my personal blog, which had quite some audience, but then through SEO, it started to bring some leads as well. Social media was not very big back in those days, so it was out of the picture.

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Which was the problem with Ropero? How did you realize?

Being solo and selling physical products can get very hard as you have to do all by yourself: from the tech side, the sales process and actually creating the product. Also, I had to invest on printing the t-shirts, which I didn't know if they would be sold, or in what quantity and sizes.

Also, Mexico wasn't ready for e-commerce. Still, to this day, I know for a fact that Amazon is struggling to reach the masses, as they often don't have credit cards, or don't trust buying via the Internet. Now imagine this scenario, but more than ten years ago!

What were the mistakes you made?

I think I started too big. I should have kept it small, printing fewer t-shirts even if I wasn't earning anything, or event at a loss. That would have helped me validate the need for a platform like Ropero.

Also, relying on a payment processor like PayPal was not a good idea, although there was literally no other option available. The main issue with PayPal is that you hand over the control and experience for the checkout to a third party, and it ends up plummeting the sales process.

What were your biggest disadvantages?

Being far from a big city was a major issue because shipments are expensive in Mexico. Working alone didn't help as well, especially if you are working or studying, this kind of things require at least half-time focus.

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If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Think smaller, for sure! Finding a good market-fit early on would have helped a lot: not only on the sales and printing side but also on the business plan (which, of course, I didn't have).

What's your advice for someone who is just starting?

There are some things you can learn by reading, but there are others you have to experience by yourself, even if those don't end up where you wanted. Having failed to achieve the goals with Ropero, I found that selling physical products is hard (and perhaps, not for me?), so I'm now focusing on a SaaS model.

Also, when you're selling B2C, you'll have to sell a lot to break even, and it means convincing a lot of people for a product that maybe they don't think they need it. Meanwhile, on B2B you can earn a living with just a handful of clients, although their requirements are radically different.

From these, and many other experiences, I've learned a lot: what MVP really is, how to negotiate, the channels to market your product, finding good partners, why UX is important, and even how to build an e-commerce site!

So yeah, go ahead and start something. I bet you won't regret it.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can follow me on twitter on @rafael_soto_, read my blog whenever I feel like writing or just reaching me at rsoto@boxfactura.com.

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