Richard Lazazzera Is On A Mission To Bring 20,000 Entrepreneurs Closer to the Promised Land

By automating business writing, our Wordsmith platform is changing the way people do their jobs. But Wordsmith isn’t the only technology changing the way business gets done. For a broader perspective, we’re interviewing big thinkers for their take on the future.

A former member of the growth team for e-commerce platform Shopify, Richard Lazazzera now runs A Better Leomonade Stand.

“I believe entrepreneurship is going to become increasingly important over the next 10 years,” he writes on his website. “Building an online business won’t be reserved for the “online entrepreneurs”, rather it will be an activity that the average person does instead of watching 2 hours of Netflix each night after their 9-5.”

Clearly, Richard is already giving thought to the future of e-commerce. That made him a natural fit for our series.

Your stated goal is “to inspire and help 20,000 new entrepreneurs in 2016.” And your bio also implies that there will continue to be a lot of room for individuals to start new e-commerce ventures online. Given the direction of the industry and potential barriers to entry, why do you think the climate for new entrepreneurs will continue to be strong in the coming years?

Headshot 300X265
Strong would be an understatement. We’re about to enter the golden age for e-commerce and there’s massive opportunity for current and new entrepreneurs alike.

When you think about it, for nearly 20 years the process to build, launch and grow an online store remained stagnant and reserved for companies with big budgets that could hire expensive agencies. Marketing channels prior to the last few years were also slim and for the most part technical, like Google Adwords and SEO. Furthermore, the buying experience from a consumer perspective online was mostly untouched as well, leaving customers to go through the same process of creating accounts, entering credit card numbers and checking out.

For the first time, ecommerce is being taken much more seriously and there are many great companies breaking down the barriers and making ecommerce exponentially easier and better for entrepreneurs and customers alike.

In recent years, a new entrepreneur (even those with little technical knowledge) can set up a beautiful online store for as little as $20/month. Not only can they set up the business, but they can grow their business with a variety of marketing channels, no longer just technical ones but creative ones as well (like Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram). Finally, customers are getting better experiences with better checkout and customer service experiences via services like Apple Pay and Facebook Messenger for online stores. Heck, consumers can even choose to have their products delivered same day using new innovative shipping services like UberRUSH or Postmates.

Ecommerce is hot right now and it’s not a fad. This is a long term trend that will only get bigger as more companies break down more barriers and level the playing field for all entrepreneurs.

What are tomorrow’s e-commerce winners doing correctly today that will pay off in five years?

I think a lot of future winners are embracing the current crazy innovations and the pending crazinesses. Let’s be honest, most of the innovation in ecommerce that happens over the next few years is going to strange, weird, ahead of its time, difficult to understand, and some… well, some will just be stupid. But the smart entrepreneurs will give each one an honest evaluation and test a few outside their traditional comfort zone.

What are tomorrow’s e-commerce losers doing wrong today that will be evidenced in five years?

They aren’t adapting to new technology and marketing channels. Like I mentioned previously, we’re on the cusp of some really big growth in ecommerce. Ignoring some of these trends will likely leave many businesses behind. Similar to how many old school online businesses have ignored mobile.

Now, with mobile traffic surpassing desktop for ecommerce sales and Google starting to give preferential treatment to mobile friendly sites, those that haven’t kept up are starting to see this reflected in their sales numbers.

The same is even true with new marketing channels. Things like Snapchat are quickly becoming powerful marketing and sales channels. Ignoring these channels early on can leave you scrambling to catch up down the road.

What’s the most ridiculous e-commerce trend or idea you’ve seen that might just turn out to be brilliant?

In terms of products and business models, I’m not sure if this falls into the ridiculous or just smart, but it’s blown me away the number of entrepreneurs building huge businesses through Instagram selling products like slim wraps and detox tea. I’ve talked to a lot of these guys that are doing extremely well, with hundreds of thousands of legitimate followers.

I guess it makes total sense. They are taking an industry (weight loss/body image) that’s always hot and adapting it for new marketing channels.

In terms of technology trends, I thought that Twitter trying to get into commerce wasn’t appropriate and I was confident from the first announcement that it wasn’t something that would work. It’s just not the right place and really doesn’t make sense. It took about a year and a half but Twitter just announced that they have disbanded their commerce team and are going to focus on other things.

You say that building an online business can be an activity for the average person. Given that the average person has limited time, what are some of the key things new entrepreneurs should not spend their time doing? In other words, what tasks should they automate, what tasks should they outsource, and what should they simply ignore?

I think the first thing people need to realize is how much time they spend doing unproductive things like watching Netflix, looking at cat photos online, browsing the web aimlessly for hours or scrolling through their Facebook feed.

Replacing one of several of these things can be more than enough time for the average person to build and grow an ecommerce store.

It’s also important to keep in mind that not every business needs to be a million dollar, full-steam-ahead business. It’s pretty cool even if you replace a few hours of Netflix each month with a fun little online side business that makes you an extra $10-20K per year.

In terms of outsourcing and automating, besides the obvious repetitive tasks like data entry, I think each entrepreneur needs to look their own strengths, weaknesses and where their time is best utilized to grow the business. From there you can start looking at how to outsource and automate the rest as much as possible.

I find that many entrepreneurs neglect to put a price on their time as if their time is free and infinite. A good first step is to find a way to accurately price your time. If you can find someone or utilize an app to do the same task for cheaper (or even about the same price as your time), you should heavily consider it to give you the opportunity to work on other aspects of the business.

Speaking of automation, how do you see that playing out in the near future? For example, our Wordsmith platform automates the generation of product descriptions.

I’m really excited with what Kit is currently doing. They were just recently acquired by Shopify but are continuing to operate separately. Essentially Kit is an artificial intelligence marketing assistant that you communicate with through text messaging. Kit can help you pull reports, fix SEO issues, run promotions, and launch Facebook and Instagram ads. Although it still requires some input by you, It probes you with questions and requests, so much of it is automated. What’s really cool is that they have started opening their API so they can integrate with other apps and continue to extend the functionality of your AI assistance.

For entrepreneurs that have a million things on the go, this little bit of assistance and automation is a huge help and will only become more powerful as this technology and integrations continue to develop.

What’s the most common mistake that e-commerce entrepreneurs make when choosing the right technology solutions for their business?

I would say looking at the price and making a decision based on that too quickly. We live in a world of apps now. There are apps that can help you do nearly anything, but every app and business needs to make money. Once you start stacking all these apps, the monthly fees can really add up, especially when some of the apps start digging into margins and taking a percentage of sales. This initial upfront sticker shock of “Ugh, another $75/month app subscription” is enough to turn many new entrepreneurs off from carefully looking at the value the app delivers.