I am currently pursuing an MBA in the USA. When I move back to India, I would like to start an e-commerce business. What groundwork do you recommend I do in order to have as smooth a start as possible?
Without some distillation - this is a rather enormous question - as you're essentially saying, other than choosing e-commerce and a particular category - what does one need to do to start a business?
So, I'll choose to focus it down to what I always think is the most important thing to do at the early stages regardless of industry, approach, business model, or geography; idea validation.
TL;DR - Get off the lab bench - talk to your ideal customers - start to add value from now via a "proxy".
For those of you who have come across my answers here or elsewhere - you'll notice that I often turn to this advice; there's a reason - it's solid.
In your case - it's also something that you can start now - even while you are finishing up the MBA if your decide to allow that to continue to delay your entrepreneurial dreams (I'm half joking).
Start by identifying who your customers would be - how they currently buy what you'd be selling - and why they'd rather buy it from you.
Don't stop on the whiteboard - you'll get enough academic exercise through your MBA. Once you've developed an understanding of who you THINK your ideal customers are - talk to some of them.
Find out where they live online (you'll put this to good use again later when it's time to market in earnest). Use the conversations they are having online as a way to validate the pain you'll be solving with your solution. You can do some of this through mere observation - but you're far better off to join the conversation meaningfully.
You can also start to add value and build a following among the population. I spend a lot of time talking to startups and helping them determine a "proxy" for their actual business. You can often "start before you start" using something like a digital information product or a blog. I have some ideas specific to your case that I'd be happy to share.
By taking these concrete steps toward validating the idea now - you'll have a solid foundation to build upon, if and when your hypotheses pan out and you decide to launch your company. Until then - avoid the tendency to think of names, logos, co-founders, company HQs, ideal tech stacks, and the other 1,000,000 things that actually have to happen between now and you retiring a happy, fulfilled, and wealthy entrepreneur.
Enjoy it! It's one of the most exciting and important stages of starting any business.
Think about domain names.
Don't just grab whatever happens to be around on the day the landing page goes live. Plan ahead!
After all, in an online world, whatever domain you pick is likely to be the brand name you'll be stuck with for years and years.
If the domain name is lackluster, unprofessional, or problematic, then that will have long-term consequences for you financially – lost traffic, bad first impressions, expensive compensatory marketing, lower click-through rates, etc. Repairing an initial mistake by rebranding or acquiring an upgrade domain tends to be vastly more expensive than planning ahead.
Conversely, securing a good domain name early on will smooth the road ahead, cut down on long-term costs, facilitate word-of-mouth growth, give customers the right brand associations, enable passive discovery online, and open doors with partners and investors.
Helping with naming and domain-related decisions is what I do professionally. Happy to schedule a call.
Not to brag but I can say "I been there done that". I was actually part of few reasonable size e-commerce businesses from inception in the past from online printing ( http://1800BusinessCards.com ) to selling jewelry etc. After dealing for a while with different kind of physical products I decided that it's too much of a liability compared to any sort of digital products (ex. app, mobile game, website template, ebook etc).
The reason why I say that is before you get into e-commerce you should really think hard which route you would like to take, Digital or Physical?
Personally any day I am willing to pick digital goods over physical goods e-commerce business.
Secondly you should look into Lean Startup methodology a little bit and get a general concept in your head to keep your self bootstrapped through out the process.
When it comes to getting your online business up, I suggest few options as I have tried and tested.
FOR DIGITAL GOODS.
FOR PHYSICAL GOODS.
1. Wordpress/WooCommerce with Layers Plugin & Layers Store kit. Go to layerswp.com to find out more.
2. Prestashop eCommerce Platform.
Of course there are few other good once such as Magento but I haven't used them.
Few other resources:
Checkout Themeforest for Website template under ecommerce category that suites your business need. They have Templates for Wordpress, Prestashop etc.
For getting cheap and dirty jobs (logo, website content, quick online legal advice etc.) to start off lean, checkout Fiverr. If you are looking for quality then look else where.
Hope this helps. If you need Free advice, send me a msg and you can book a FREE 15-30 mins call with me and we can go over few things. I can probably give you my 2cents from 5+ years experience in the e-commerce industry.
Build your website, start your business, get started now. Don't wait until you get back to India. There is nothing you can do there that you cannot do from here now.
I am not trying to sell you on calling me. Really, I am pretty busy with my businesses and consulting. However, I need more info before I could have a greater impact in helping you.
Ask, Ask, Ask, then Ask again.
Here is $10,000 worth of information for free and in a nutshell.
Concentrate on the 3 M's. There are actually 7, but 3 will do for now. These are Market, Message, and Media. They come in that order.
Who is your target market (customer, clients, buyers, users, etc.)?
Tailor your laser focused message for this target market.
What is the best media mix to get your message to that market?
Here's what you do...first, make it an offer that is so incredible that they cannot resist. Secondly, do all the work for them. Make it so easy to make the purchase now that they can do it virtually without effort. Thirdly, give them an incentive to act right now. Fourthly, offer an almost unbelievable guarantee. Fifth, offer a bonus for acting now. There are many other incredible steps, but these steps should help the novice to the professional sell anything.
Whether you are selling B2B or B2C, you have to focus on selling to only one person. You can actually sell to one person at a time while selling to millions at a time. They are one and the same. Don't get off track, what we call digital marketing selling is just selling in print. And that has not changed since Cluade Hopkins wrote "Scientific Advertising." Really long before he wrote the book.
The secret to success: I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with some of the biggest names in business, celebrities, actors, entrepreneurs, business people, and companies from startup to billion dollar operations. The number one reason for their success is doing what they know and love while doing it in new, creative, and innovative ways.
Ask, Ask, Ask. Have thick skin and learn from each "mistake." In a short while, the market will tell you what you need to do and who and what you need to ask. But get started now even if that just means asking a contact on LinkedIn.
While you are thinking, think big and think of something at least 1% better, newer, or different. And being cheaper is not a winning strategy.
Make decisions quickly and change decisions slowly..unless you are actually going off a cliff.
Remember these two 11 letter words...persistence and consistency. They are two of the most important tools ever invented.
Treat everybody you talk to and everybody you meet (including yourself) like each is your number one million dollar customer.
Bootstrap when possible and reasonable. Read "How To Get Rich" by Felix Dennis. Or better yet just remember the camel's nose in the tent story.
However, sometimes you just need to make a deal.
Listen, in any business you have to take some chances and some risks. Make sure you don't need a license and go for it. Remember, timid business people have skinny kids. Paraphrased from Zig Ziglar.
Best of luck,
Take massive action and never give up.
Michael Irvin, MBA, RN