Asa Bennett talks to the young entrepreneur about his plans to double in size by next year
Beauty and computer science may not be the likeliest of bed fellows.
However, Andrew Slack has built a £5m affiliate marketing networks for health and beauty firms. This tech success comes after building his first website at the age of 16 and selling it for $13,000. For those not in the know, MoreNiche’s “affiliate marketing” angle means that members of the network are roped into featuring promotions for their beauty and healthcare clients. Members get a commission while the clients, like Bronx Sports Nutrition and Capsiplex, enjoy the traffic.
Certainly, when I caught up with the young entrepreneur, Slack’s business means he hasn’t much lived up to what his surname would suggest…
Q. Hi Andrew, what was the idea when you launched MoreNiche in 2008?
I was fortunate enough to have started ‘tinkering with the internet’ right when affiliate marketing was just starting to evolve. At that time eBay, for example, would pay for every website visitor they received even if they clicked straight back off. I could see the enormous opportunities and decided to pursue this further.
I completed a degree in Computer Science before going into business with my best friend. Using the $13k that I made designing and selling my first website to a US company I sourced products from the US and sold them to a global market across a number of websites I’d created.
Effectively, I’d developed a very basic affiliate programme and I learned all the basics to being a single internet marketer, website management, design html and online marketing. I did not know it at the time but this would eventually become MoreNiche.
Q. Tell me how you got MoreNiche off the ground…
The business was funded initially using money we made from these affiliate sales. It was in excess of £40,000 which was enough to get us off the ground. The money enabled me to move into a “proper” office – I’d previously been operating from my bedroom – and buy the hardware we needed to do this seriously.
The business really started to take off and in 2007-2008 we grew sales to such an extent that we broke the $12m per year turnover mark. All our growth came organically from our own affiliate work but then later from partnerships.
Q. What problems have you encountered in growing your firm?
One night I had to work solidly for 36 hours because we’d suffered a DDOS attack (denial of service). Basically, someone had managed to paralyse our systems which meant that none of our websites were working.
Although it was very annoying to say the least, I have to say I also found the method they used to get into our system very interesting. That was the geek in me coming out!
After much soul searching and a severe lack of sleep I did eventually manage to solve the problem and get us up and running again.
As an affiliate that specialises in the health and beauty industry, we have had a few bad experiences along the way, including a credit card processor ‘going bankrupt’ which severely dented our profit margins and a supplier selling us tens of thousands of product which was simply not as described. The important thing is that you learn from these and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Q. What is the aim for MoreNiche over the next few years?
I realised early on with this business that if we wanted to make MoreNiche truly scalable we would need to open up our doors to external companies.
Whilst we were doing well with our own brands, we could only realistically launch a few new brands each year and maintain the level of quality we knew was required.
In 2009, we developed MoreNiche from an affiliate program (only marketing our own brands) into an affiliate network where we would promote client brands.
As the team has grown, our focus has changed and we are now 100% client facing. I no longer own any of my own brands which has allowed MoreNiche to focus on its core strengths and become the world’s best health and beauty affiliate network.
We have been growing very quickly since making that decision and today we employ over 20 staff with a turnover of £5m.
We have never borrowed from the bank or had any investment.
The next few years are all about growth. We are about to hire a sales force that can start to sell our unique offering. We are looking to attract more unique products and expand beyond the health industry. I feel we are in the perfect position to start growing our client base and extend our brand.
Q. As a serial entrepreneur, what other projects/interests do you have?
I struggle to drive down the street without noticing hundreds of opportunities.
My biggest personal challenge is reigning myself in, ensuring that I don’t action all the ideas I have and focus on the core elements which generate our income. That said, I do have a few projects in “development stage”. We have a number of other affiliate networks which operate in different industries including the pet market which will launch later this year. We also have a lightweight CRM system which is currently being developed to be a ‘software as a service’ based proposition.
Having the creative freedom and the technical foundation to try ideas out has allowed me to enjoy business and continue to thrive on tomorrow’s challenges. It would be very easy to take the foot off the gas and relax a little, but that’s just not in my DNA. For whatever reason I just want to go further.