Piotr Stach and Waldemar Moss founded their company Expondo in Berlin in 2007 – Moss’ apartment served as an office, which was used by his partner as a warehouse. Both brought in only 5,000 euros.
Today, Expondo, the B2B online food and crafts supplier, has over 300 employees, annual sales of more than 40 million euros and exports to 27 markets.
In an interview with LEAD, the two founders talk about their early days and how to survive as a small company without outside capital.
LEAD: How did you come to found expondo?
Piotr Stach: During our studies, we only bought goods through eBay and resold them at a profit. This business model was, however, exhausted relatively quickly. That’s why we decided to take the next step and sell our own equipment.
In 2007, we founded Expondo and looked for a manufacturer in China that produces measuring scales. Weighing scales were the first product we distributed through Expondo. Using a special algorithm, we were able to identify the most profitable products on eBay and gradually expand our product range to over 3,000 items. Recently, we were able to generate an annual turnover of almost 40 million euros with this concept.
LEAD: How can you succeed in e-commerce without venture capital?
Waldemar Moss: First of all, you have to be cost-conscious and be prepared to live from hand to mouth for several years and put every penny into the company. However, cheaper is not always better; At the beginning we saved everything and every offer and partner was negotiated as far as possible. We then paid for it with apprenticeship and, for example, initially also received inferior quality goods and paid twice in the end.
Another important point is prioritization – setting priorities and working them through is of immense importance. Disciplined work is essential if you want to be successful and especially in the beginning you have to tackle tasks that are not always fun. As soon as one notices that some projects are no longer effective or difficult to realize, one should be able to focus quickly on his priorities and be able to pull the rip cord in time.
StachEven if you start capitalless without a venture, you also need motivated and talented people on board who share your vision. In general, therefore: give your employees confidence and give them responsibility.
At the end of the day you have to prevail on the job market with other points than the salary. Our experience shows that you can “hire” very experienced top personnel, if you are just different than standard companies. Some of our most important values are directness, honesty and openness. This is not always the easiest way, but it is the path many people appreciate. That’s why our motto is as an owner-managed company: More like a Family.
Another important point is the willingness to make mistakes. Let’s face it: no one wants to make mistakes, but one should not be afraid of it either. We see ourselves as doers, but as one says so beautifully: where shavings are made, shavings fall. The important thing is that you learn from his mistakes and make them a second time.
LEAD: Do you have tips for small businesses how to survive in the “Amazon world”?
Waldemar Moss: eBay, Amazon and Co. are not companies that you want to or could compete with. That’s why we set ourselves the goal right from the start, not to become the 1000th electronics vendor. We searched directly for the niche where there was a high probability that we could become number one – which we have already achieved in various categories, such as crane scales, popcorn machines, and so on.
We have relied on product complexity, price stability and low competition. As the strategy stood, we worked for 10 years to build a very strong value chain and provide the best possible service to our customers.
In order to additionally differentiate ourselves from the large marketplaces, we want to start at the point that we think Amazon can not serve at the moment: the customer service is indeed very accommodating, but the sheer amount of products here lack the purchase advice from experts.
Piotr StachEspecially with expensive machines, which may even need to be purchased in large quantities, you should stand by your customers and make sure they buy the product that meets their needs.
For example, we want to give the experts the power to test the product as best they can – through test videos, 360 ° views, live chats, and some other methods we’re currently working on. We have already implemented some of these features with visible success and are now planning the next steps.
If you want to be successful in the world of large online marketplaces, we can definitely recommend finding a lucrative niche and become a market leader there with customer-oriented service.
LEAD: What strategy is behind the company?
Moss: We are fully committed to sustainable growth; That is why we reinvest the majority of our revenues back into the company. A company stands and falls above all with its employees, therefore, a large part of our income flows into employee management.
Our staff are highly skilled and personally motivated to keep Expondo moving forward. We want to maintain this momentum with training, numerous benefits and a high level of personal responsibility, even if it does not cause any negligible costs. This benefits not only our employees, but also our customers, which is reflected in the revenue at the end of the day.
LEAD: How do you attack established wholesalers and other Internet companies?
Piotr Stach: Through flexibility, we always try to stay one step ahead of large companies. We are very open to new ideas – and if we like an idea, we implement it too. Not every one ignites, but making mistakes is part of the growth process. In the end, through this “do” mentality, we can adapt to today’s demands much faster and more flexibly than some wholesalers who have mastered the market for many years and often get stuck in well-established structures.
Due to the shorter decision-making channels, we also have the opportunity to better tailor our service to customer needs. For example, if a handful of customers request longer cables for welding equipment, we pass the information to China and our engineers adjust the device. This made Expondo the first company on the market to offer welding equipment with a cable length of 8 meters.
LEAD: What mission do you have for the future?
Waldemar Moss: We want to be the world’s first resource for experts by providing the best expert advice, affordable professional tools and outstanding customer service.
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