Starting an ecommerce business has changed significantly in recent years. In the past you had to hire a developer and a large team in order to get a brand to market and scale to a multi million pound business. Due to a number of changes in the industry such as Shopify making it easier to build and manage your storefront, third party logistics companies helping with delivery and better financing solutions, setting up a business has become significantly more feasible. An entrepreneur who has been utilising these efficient ways to build various brands profitably generating millions in revenue is Danny Buck, founder of BrandBuildr.
Buck’s first foray into the e-commerce world started very young in Manchester, England at 17 where he came across a wholesaler selling hair care products. Noticing the differences in prices between the wholesaler and online marketplace eBay he began buying and selling these items. He continued this whilst at university and alongside some of his peers, who he paid to help with delivering items, made £6,000 over a Christmas holiday. This taste of running a digital business meant Buck found much of the content on his Business Studies degree redundant. However, he completed his studies and after university found a role in customer service at a software company.
Whilst at the software company it became apparent fairly quickly that a role in customer service was too easy for Buck so he asked if he could get involved in sales and marketing for the same company to which they agreed. He excelled at these new roles and later secured a full time role at the company. As things went on he later came across the idea of SEO (search engine optimisation), which was a relatively new concept at the time. He pitched offering SEO as a service to his manager who was not receptive initially but after him and a colleague decided they wanted to leave their managers were more convinced and suggested the idea of doing a management buyout of the business. Despite being only 22 and thrown into the financial complexities of a management buyout Buck and 3 other members of the team bought the company out and turned it into a web development company offering marketing services which included SEO.
Building And Losing A Multi-Million Pound Agency
Over the next 8 years this web development company went from a team of 4 to 120 people offering consulting services for many of the eCommerce businesses based in the north of England that dominate the industry today. Whilst this was significant success something Buck noticed was that many of the entrepreneurs he was advising were managing teams 5 times smaller than his but owned companies making 5 times as much in sales using his marketing plans. These entrepreneurs were benefiting from their operating leverage being based around exponentially scalable technology rather than the agency model where you hire more people to take on work meaning your profit growth will be linear.
Realising this and looking for a new challenge Buck spoke to his business partners and offered to sell his shares back to the company for a payment spread over a number of years. His next idea was to launch a brand building studio where he would use his marketing know how to launch and build e-commerce brands. He launched his first brand Circulr in October 2018 with huge fanfare. However, things took a turn for the worse a few months later when he received an email from his old company saying that they were being liquidated and the equity he was due payments for was essentially worthless. This brought a huge amount of financial stress on Buck and his wife. During the successful years running his agency they had upscaled their lifestyle and he had invested a significant amount of his personal money into starting BrandBuildr. It was “a full 360 moment going from the highs of managing a multi million pound business to having no income” he recalls.
Whilst Circulr continued to run under the BrandBuildr umbrella and generate sales it was ultimately unprofitable due to the payments and partnerships previously arranged. In order to bring in some income Buck went back to consulting. He started consulting for other businesses and put together a guide called ‘The BrandBuildr Guide’ with a playbook of how brands could launch an online store. The consulting got to a stage where it was covering the household bills but Buck and his wife knew that there was more out there and whilst on a family holiday for his mother’s birthday his wife came up with an idea, inspired by the surroundings, of making and selling sustainable jewellery inspired by turtles.
They decided to name this new brand Honu and launched it on a shoestring budget. When taking the store live they almost immediately received a sale and took this as a positive sign. Their initial plan was to get to £10,000 revenue per month and make 50% profit only doing forms of marketing that were sustainable. The take up of the brand exceeded all of their expectations as their cause of saving turtles resonated with consumers and they would go on to end up making over £600,000 revenue in their first year.
At this stage their first brand Circulr was starting to become profitable, Honu was continuing to grow and the BrandBuildr plans were selling. In spite of the hard times it became obvious to Buck that his experience at the agency and seeing the other end of the spectrum launching a brand on a shoestring budget meant he had somewhat developed a playbook of knowing when to spend money on launching a brand and where you can do things more efficiently.
With this in mind the third brand launched under the BrandBuildr umbrella in October 2018 which would go on to be the most successful to date was a jewellery brand co-founded with influencer Alex Cannon called Craftd. Using many of the lessons Buck had picked up along the way he, Cannon and the BrandBuildr team have grown Craftd to a business making £12m in 2020 and on track to make over £25m this year with all of the pieces designed by Cannon.
Going forward the plan for BrandBuildr is to launch and invest in a number of direct to consumer brands. Whilst going from running a multi-million pound agency to losing everything was an extremely stressful experience for Buck the lessons learnt along the way have put him in place to build the business he really wanted all along.
A practice Buck holds close to his heart is the concept of “building brands + living free”. This is a discipline that he extends to every team member and partner inside the company. Focusing on doing the simple things well and saying “No” to anything that compromises the core company values.
Inside his book, “Building Simple Brands”, Buck explains how he’s taken all three brands from the kitchen table to the global operation they are today. He’s living proof that the stigma of a 9-5 office-first operation isn’t the only way to build a multiple 8 figure, and potential 9 figure valuation business.
This article is part of a series featuring underrepresented people making a difference. To submit ideas for features or keep up to date with new releases you can find me on Twitter – @TommyPF91