From Civil Engineer To E-commerce Superninja
An Interview with Sean Looi
A Roman priest famously said, “A candle loses nothing, by lighting another candle.” At WithinTheFlow we believe in the dissemination of knowledge, to make the transition from wantrepreneur to entrepreneur to tycoon easier. How did we achieve this? We listened before we spoke, we questioned before we judged, and learned before we taught. Our new initiative ‘Success in the Spotlight’ explores the achievements of entrepreneurs from our own community on Facebook. Our first spotlight falls on a young entrepreneur who has found success navigating around the fallacies of instant e-commerce triumph gurus.
Sean Looi, is a former engineer who dreamt of success that he would earn himself. A Civil Engineering major who struggled through jobs ranging from a sales representative, an estate agent, a Grab Car driver, Sean finally found his calling in e-commerce. Today he takes joy in trying out new ideas for his online stores but keeps a level headed humility about him from some lessons learned with hardships. We sat down and had a very enlightening chat with him.
Tell us about how and when you decided to get into e-commerce
I got into ecommerce at a time when I was overworked and underpaid as a civil engineer back in the year 2010. It was the year when Steve Jobs announced the beautiful iPhone 4, and my ecommerce journey stemmed from my passion for iPhone cases and accessories. I didn’t feel time pass as I enjoyed purchasing cases for myself and also for my customers to buy. Win win!
What were you doing before your successful drop shipping business?
I majored in Civil Engineering and over the course of 10 years since then I have dabbled in different industries and being a salesperson in a multilevel marketing scheme, property agent, insurance agent, and a grabcar driver.
What were the main struggles in the beginning?
The main struggle in the beginning for me was the shift in mindset from being an employee to being a business owner. As a business owner, the income was 4-5X my salary as an engineer. However, I recall being arrogant when I was making money that when the market environment changed, I was in denial when a period of low sales or no sales occurred.
How did you overcome them?
Back in 2014 when the market environment changed and I didn’t get any business, I didn’t overcome it, at least back then. Rather than respond to the situation that I was in and shift strategies, I was blaming the environment, blaming the market, blaming my customers for not buying.
Learning from that experience, I must always be aware that whenever something doesn’t seem right, always be courageous to take responsibility and ownership, and then make an immediate change. Life goes on, I make mistakes, so what? Learn from it and take action immediately. The market changes, customers change, so be ready to adapt.
No matter what happens, the key is to always stop, have a look at what’s going on, and then make a new choice.
How did you figure out marketing for your store?
Marketing is as simple as putting your product in front of the right audience. And I found that Facebook’s system of being able to target your audience based on their behavior or interests helped a lot. For example, since I was only selling iPhone cases and accessories, my advertisements would only reach people who accessed Facebook through an iPhone.
Which channels did you find to be the most successful?
If you have the budget for advertising, Facebook advertising would be a good channel to focus on. Be aware that there are many other channels out there at your disposal and there is no ‘most successful’ channel. It all depends on how you make the most out of each channel.
What keeps you motivated as an e-commerce entrepreneur?
There are times when I am down or discouraged. It is important to take a break and be with like-minded friends and rest. No matter what happens, the key is to always stop, have a look at what’s going on, and then make a new choice.
In hindsight, what would you have done differently if you had a fresh start?
This is a good question. I believe that every second and every moment is a fresh start for everyone and myself. Always be ready to shift and make new choices when needed. If I were to start all over again, I would take time to do my research on what products and trends the market is demanding at that given moment. Research is slow but it is necessary part of business.
What would you recommend to e-commerce newbies?
I recommend that they be fully aware of the nature of an online business. I see many newbies wanting to make a quick buck without any investment. Although it is easy to start, the key is maintaining the business and continuing on even when there are times of wanting to give up. A business takes time to grow, be patient and keep working on it.
Be aware of what you are getting yourself into so that you are fully prepared to respond to circumstances that may arise.
What mistakes should they avoid?
Avoid doing everything all on your own. I have my strengths and I have my weaknesses and I accept myself. Know where I fall short and seek for support or help from friends or third party services. Be open to feedback, be humble to learn, and always be grateful. In every circumstance, we have the choice to see the bad and the ugly, and also the beautiful blessings around us.
If you’re starting out on your online business, or already running one, I wish you all the best and keep at it. You’re making a bigger difference to the world than you know. Every customer’s life is changed because of you. Remember this.
WithinTheFlow is the brainchild of six digital marketing specialists with a history in building success stories. We had the knowledge, the skills, the finesse and confidence… So, we gave young entrepreneurs & wantreprenuers a platform to learn and grow their business.