CEO Series: Angus Muffet – Building Shopback into the ‘Facebook of online shopping’

HOSTS Alec Renehan & Bryce Leske|2 July, 2021

Meet your hosts

  • Alec Renehan

    Alec developed an interest in investing after realising he was spending all that he was earning. Investing became his form of 'forced saving'. While his first investment, Slater and Gordon (SGH), was a resounding failure, he learnt a lot from that experience. He hopes to share those lessons amongst others through the podcast and help people realise that if he can make money investing, anyone can.
  • Bryce Leske

    Bryce has had an interest in the stock market since his parents encouraged him to save 50c a fortnight from the age of 5. Once he had saved $500 he bought his first stock - BKI - a Listed Investment Company (LIC), and since then hasn't stopped. He hopes that Equity Mates can help make investing understandable and accessible. He loves the Essendon Football Club, and lives in Sydney.

Angus is the Country Manager of ShopBack, a Singapore-based ecommerce company with more than 25 million members specialising in cashback loyalty programs. When shopping via ShopBack, shoppers receive a percentage of their purchase price back, paid for through affiliate programs by the merchant. Prior to starting at ShopBack in 2018, Angus was the National Sales Director for Groupon.

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Bryce: [00:00:15] Welcome to another episode of Equity Mates, a podcast that follows our journey of investing, whether you're an absolute beginner or approaching Warren Buffett status, our aim is to help break down your barriers from beginning to dividend. My name is Bryce and as always, I'm joined by my equity buddy Ren. How's it going? [00:00:30][15.0]

Alec: [00:00:30] I'm very good. Bryce very excited for this episode. We are continuing our CEO series, not quite with the CEO, but with the head of a company in Australia and where we're trying to build a bit of a business here. And I think we're going to learn a lot from this episode. [00:00:48][17.4]

Bryce: [00:00:49] Absolutely. It is our pleasure to welcome Angus Muffet to the virtual studio today. Angus, welcome. [00:00:55][6.2]

Angus: [00:00:56] Thanks so much for having me, albeit virtually gents. I'm very, very happy to join the show today. [00:01:00][4.3]

Bryce: [00:01:01] Yes, we are recording Midlake down here in Sydney first of July. So Ren is under a blanket in a dark room and Angus is up north. So we're going to make it work. But Angus is the country manager of Shot Back, a Singapore based e-commerce company with more than twenty five million members specializing in cashback loyalty programs. When shopping via shot back shoppers receive a percentage of their purchase price back paid for through affiliate programs by the merchant. Prior to starting at shop back in 2008, Angus was the national sales director for Groupon. So plenty of experience in e-commerce and online tech. And we're going to be digging into all of that today as it's a massive space for investors in today's environment. So, as always, we'll start at the start with company basics. You want to kick it off, Ren? [00:01:51][50.8]

Alec: [00:01:52] Yeah, sure. So, Angus, when we do these interviews, we love to hear the company leader describe their company in their own words. So to kick us off today, what is shot back? [00:02:02][10.0]

Angus: [00:02:03] So Shellback exists to help people save time and money when we shop, when they shop online. So we're Australia's largest free shopping destination. And essentially we serve two groups of people, one on one side of our marketplace customers and the other side of the brands that we work with. And so from a customer's standpoint, we want to be present at every stage of their shopping journey. So whether or not they're searching for the best products or price through our product comparison tool, we help them save money through coupons and deals. Of course, the backbone of our business is cash back and we reward them for their shopping with real money. And we also offer a wide range of gift cards that customers can buy from us using a Visa or MasterCard or the cashback. There's a mess if they choose from a brand's perspective, it's quite simple. They work with us. We drive an unrivaled return on ad spend. And of course, we've amassed a significant customer base in Australia here as well. So brands, they really think of us like a like a digital shopping center. And except we don't charge rent, we charge them on a cost per sale basis. And it's our job to fill that shopping center with customers to showcase the brands offers and all of the marketing messages as well. [00:03:18][74.9]

Bryce: [00:03:19] So I think it's a key challenge for shot back and competitors is to actually educate Australian consumers about cashback. It's nowhere near as entrenched as it is over in the US and, you know, sometimes is perceived perhaps in the wrong light. So what should we know about cashback? [00:03:39][20.2]

Angus: [00:03:40] You're right. Cashback is actually in its infancy in Australia relative to other markets. So you look at the US and the UK, the industry started about twenty years ago and they've got really big programs over there with companies like Eberts, which was bought out by racketing. And in Australia, although awareness is actually growing quite quickly, there's still a lot of work to do here to educate Aussies on how to be smarter shoppers. So our best guess is we reckon there's about 10 per cent of Australians subscribe to a cashback platform of sorts. And the question around what should you know about cashback? I think the best way to think about it is cashback. It's like it's like a universal loyalty program that all of the world's biggest brands subscribe to. So if you want to shop from a brand like Amazon or eBay, even into travel with booking dot com and Expedia, if you want to buy alcohol, BWC First Choice liquor, all those guys are on there as well as Dan Murphy's. And in fact, even with groceries, we've just launched Coles online as well. So you can earn cashback across all of these categories, across all of these massive brands. And the best thing is about cashback. It's actually it's real cash you earn that goes into your bank account. So unlike credit card reward schemes or or other points based systems where you need to kind of do the conversions conversions in your mind to know what you're earning, it's quite tangible. You know, customers can kind of feel the impact of the cashback growing in their accounts. And I wanted to maybe give. An example, so let's say the Iconix running 20 per cent cashback through shot back how that works practically as the customer goes to shop back, they click through to the iconic and let's say they spend one hundred bucks, they're actually going to get 20 dollars for that purchase back into their shop bank account. But then the great thing is as well, they get to avail themselves of any of the sales that the current the brand is currently offering as well. [00:05:37][117.5]

Alec: [00:05:38] So the value proposition is pretty clear for consumers. You know, you spend one hundred dollars and you get a percentage of that back. But I guess from a retailer's perspective, it's it's an interesting value proposition. I mean, Bryce and I keep talking about selling merch here at Equity Mates. Why would Equity Mates merch store participate in a cashback program? [00:06:00][22.2]

Angus: [00:06:01] Yeah, I mean, we'd love to fill Equity Mates or help you help you get get some Salsbury shot back for you merch. I'm sure it's awesome, but I think it differs from brand to brand. So if you if you put Equity Mates on to shot back, your objective might be to drive new customers and drive brand awareness for your brands. You'd actually be very surprised. Even we talk to the world's largest marketplaces, the dominant players in Australia, and they still use shop back as a new customer acquisition channel, even though they're household names. But they've also brands also have different strategies around reengaging lapsed customers since Covid the the online shopping industry, Australia in Australia, boom. In fact, almost 15 per cent of all retail transactions now are done digitally. So there's even there's more and more choice for customers when it comes to where to shop. And of course, from a brand's point of view, they want to capture the mindshare of these customers, whether they're new to the brand or perhaps they can shop for a long time as well. But the other view that the brands have on on businesses like Shop Back is we drive a higher average order value. And the reason for that is customers are being incentivized to spend. And so when they're being rewarded through cashback, they actually they spend up, they they have a higher order value. But it can also be something very much more strategic, like, let's say a brand like eBay wants to push a marketing message like that, like they did at the start of covid, which was that they were helping Australian sellers to drive sales through eBay. So we can push very strategic marketing messages like that as well. But I think when it comes down to it, like the underpinning value that the affiliate channel specifically around cashback drives being a cost per sale model as opposed to a cost per impression or a cost per click. You know, like global giants like Facebook and Google offer is that brands only pay for a sale once. They only pay shot back once the sale has been made. And so in the context of a brand's marketing mix, it's actually quite important. It's a performance channel. And when they're looking to diversify away from the Googles and Facebook, that take up to 80 cents in every marketing dollar in Australia, the affiliate marketing channel, specifically cashback, is actually very scalable and efficient channel for them. In fact, some research we've done tells us that we're up to ten more efficient than other channels when it comes to return on ad spend, which is actually quite important now when brands are trying to make every marketing dollar go further, reach new audiences and reengage old. That that's that's exactly the value proposition we can bring from Will. [00:08:41][160.2]

Bryce: [00:08:41] When we start turning into a full scale apparel business with our merch, we'll certainly be reaching out to see if we can put it back. But we were chatting about we were chatting about shop back in the office. One of our team members uses it, but they spoke about the time that it takes to get the money back there. Any opportunities to speed this up? [00:09:02][20.9]

Angus: [00:09:03] Yeah, well, I mean, first and foremost, thanks so much for being a shop customer, whoever that is in your office. Really love to hear, love to hear from customers and and their experience with us. But in terms of speeding up the cashback, let me kind of play it out for you. When when a user clicks through from shop back to a brand and makes the transaction, the brand notifies us that the transaction has been made. And as little as an hour, we can tell the customer that they've earned the cashback. So that's great. It lets the customer know that the cash that's being tracked and it's sitting in your account. And then the next point of the happy moment, I guess, for customers is when the cash back turns redeemable. And generally speaking, that happens only after a brand's return policy has expired. Or perhaps in the case of travel, you book a holiday, you'll only in the cash back once you've stayed in the hotel. So that's very important for a brands lands as well, that they only pay for customers that haven't returned the item or in Travel's case, they have traveled. So, yeah, I mean, we'd love to speed that up. And we are looking at initiatives. To do just that as well, but it's also being fair to our brand partners to make sure that customers are actually making use of the products and services that they're earning the cash back on. [00:10:23][80.4]

Bryce: [00:10:24] So, Angus, let's turn to the growth and scaling side of things now. Shot back, launched back in twenty eighteen. And you had to take on a meaningful incumbent. We're not going to mention the name there, but what was the process like building a team, taking on a company with a more established presence? And what did you have to do to be different and I guess to be better? [00:10:47][23.6]

Angus: [00:10:48] So you're right when we are remembering back to twenty eighteen now, when we hired and they're being permanent and found a couple of a couple of people to join early, join us, employee number one and two. And the landscape was very different. There was an incumbent here that had been around for a couple of years and done it, done a great job. But for us, our focus was over the next 18, 24 months. How do we become the market leader in Australia, which pleased to say, thankfully, we've we've achieved that. And I guess the the challenge for us was we're starting with zero. So we're starting on both sides of our marketplace, customers and merchants. We've got zero customers and we've got zero merchants. So we had to really focus on not just establishing the business, but actually building both sides of this supply demand equation as well. So I guess the things that really helped us get there were from a people product and a marketing perspective, the the people the people challenge was and I'll talk to this first, because I think that's actually the most interesting and certainly the most challenging of the three, because it's it's find it. Finding the right people is is so critical, especially in a business with the size that we were. And I'd like to find people that like to play an infinite game. And what I mean by that is they need to be able to run towards Sprint, even towards a finish line that actually doesn't exist. They need to have the mindset that they can like the builders. They want it. They have high expectations of themselves and each other and that they display or have high degrees of ownership as well. So finding people who fit that mold wasn't easy. And I think we've done a pretty good job at attracting talent, even though we didn't have a brand at that point in time or even a working product, we're able to find the right talent. And as we've grown, we've just continued to have that mindset of the people focus in our business, the people who drive the success in our business of being the most important pillar from a product standpoint. Very interesting. So, you know, our incumbents in Australia actually didn't work in the mobile space. They didn't have an app. So we thought that that was going to be quite a strong secret weapon for us being born in South East Asia. Like, I don't know if you guys are aware, but the customers shopping behavior over there, it's almost like in countries like the Philippines and Thailand, they skipped desktop altogether and they went straight to the small screen. So it's mental. Like even even in you know, it's true even today, if you go to to the Philippines, only probably one to two per cent of our transactions go through desktop. So to that regard, we had to we had to build an app that this super powerful had great tools and functions for customers, but also for merchants as well. And for us, I think when we launched in Australia, we were able to reach customers when they actually wanted to shop. That might be on the bus or train on the way to work. You know, it might be imbeds, might be at the dinner table, hopefully after a meal, of course. But, you know, we're able to reach people where they were, which today about 70 per cent of all of our transactions go through either the iOS or Android app, which is which which is really cool. And then from a marketing standpoint, like getting people to know our brand in Australia was a challenge. Getting people to know or understand what cashback is was a second challenge as well. So we lent really heavily to traditional media. So that would be anything above the line, whether it's TV or radio. We tested the waters and found some great success in the influence of Space two. And back then there wasn't many brands in the influence of space. In fact, I think we had a pretty decent share of voice and we worked with top talent, whether it's from a married at first sight show or someone who's provided a lot of influence through the audience in the space and got creative around finding new channels to work in. And one of those was public activations. So in Martin Place in Sydney, which is. He was one of the busiest thoroughfares that we could find. We popped up a life sized cash globe, which was think about it as like an enormous snow globe. And we filled that snow globe full of cash and prizes, something to the tune of 40 grand. And we had people come through and they had to try and collect as much cash and prizes as they could. And when they came out, we really did a good job of explaining what cashback actually meant, kind of tied in with the messages. So, yeah, it was it was a really interesting challenge, I think not just to build the brand, but also to build category awareness of cashback. And we're still not there. There's there's a long way to go when it comes to the category of winners, we believe. [00:15:56][307.4]

Alec: [00:15:56] So despite not having massive category awareness, you have returned a lot of money to shoppers. I think it was 11 million dollars in the first 18 months. What's that number today? [00:16:07][10.6]

Angus: [00:16:08] Yes, I'm happy to say customers in Australia through shop back have over 60 million dollars. So when you actually when you're talking about giving back Australian uses for their shopping, rewarding them for their shopping to the tune of 60 million dollars, it actually becomes quite a powerful tool for everyday saving. So whether or not you're saving for your presents for your friends or you want to go and have an extra night away on holidays, this kind of this way of shopping, the smarter way of shopping, I believe, is super powerful. And that's that's exactly why we're here. We're here to help people save money. And it's our job to just educate Australians on the category. And from a from a brand perspective as well, I think we're doing a pretty good job. We've got over fifteen hundred of Australia's biggest brands on, of course, is a few more that we'd love to speak to as well. But in time we think we'll we'll certainly get to that ubiquitous kind of reward scheme status. [00:17:06][58.2]

Bryce: [00:17:07] So to close out the sort of growth in scaling part, no doubt that the journey is still still continuing. There's a lot of competitors now vying for customer by buying habits. You've got by now pay later expanding their offerings. You've got credit cards jacking up their rewards programs. So how does shot back, I guess, continue to win customer attention and also the share of wallet? [00:17:34][27.2]

Angus: [00:17:35] That's that's a really, really awesome challenge for us. And we welcome this new found competition. That's it's really heating up, I'd say, in our space. But going back to the first principles of why users interact with all of these brands, it's utility. And we really need to work hard to develop new use cases for customers, but also the brands that we work with as well. So going back to the journey in which we've been at it, we started as a one dimensional cashback platform, which the industry, I think is still in that space. But we've come a long way to evolve new use cases for for for the people that we serve, the customers in the merchants. And as I said at the start, we aim to be there across the full customer shopping experience. So whether or not that starts right at the top of the funnel, when users are searching and discovering through price comparison, whether it's through rewards, whether it's through in app games, we really want to continue to develop products that that serve our customers and merchants extremely well. I'll give you a fun fact. I don't know if you've downloaded the shot back app yet. If you have awesome, I'd love to get your feedback. But we've got, aside from all the kind of the cashback and loyalty mechanisms we've also built and in app game, which is called Cashback Troupers, where customers can play, it's kind of like you play it in prizes and cashback. And in twenty twenty three covid we saw fourteen years of cumulative game time. So it's actually for us it's quite a powerful customer retention tool, but it's also just being more useful in different ways than just helping them make transactions. [00:19:15][100.3]

Alec: [00:19:16] So Angus, when we get a company later on, we love to talk about people and culture. As you know, as retail investors, we often hear that, you know, hearing from management, how they think about building teams and growing a culture at their organizations is critically important. But retail investors can't really call up a manager and have a chat to them. So we we Equity Mates try and beat up proxy. So if we turn to people and culture and we start at the top, do you have a leadership philosophy when you're leading your team here in Australia? [00:19:53][36.5]

Angus: [00:19:56] I think the leadership part of my role is the most challenging and rewarding and I really enjoy that kind of challenge is growing as a leader, but I probably wouldn't be able to say that I'd subscribe to kind of one set philosophy when it comes to that kind of. Not sure if you guys have done this profiling before, but when I went through it, I've discovered that I'm a high, which is I've got high inspirational drivers and a high def, which is directional dominance. And I think that that gives me the ability to to lead via inspiration, challenge the team intellectually, but also importantly provide them what the path ahead looks like. So I think for me, leadership is like a it's a hard one to pin down, but it's something that you should forever work on and actually meet with know leaders in the space, whether it's directly in the loyalty space or the marketplace space or others, and speak to them about what their challenges are, what my challenges are, and really learn from them. And I think over time you can kind of develop you should develop your leadership skills. There's a really cool book I'm reading at the moment called Trillion Dollar Coach, which follows the life of a guy called Bill Campbell and Bill. He built teams and worked at businesses like Apple, Intuit, Google, and after his time as an executive, he went on to be an executive mentor. And so he was working with guys like Steve Jobs and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. And he's got some fantastic practical theories on on that kind of that leadership space. And I think the ones that really resonate with me is a couple of points. One is he was always the evangelist for courage, whether it was in businesses he was leading or mentor or people he was mentoring. So you kind of let you really believe that people can do more than what they believe to. And he really pushed them to be courageous. And the second one that resonates is leaders lead. And what I mean by that is when when the chips are down, when things are going bad, your people expect you as a leader to step up and be even more loyal towards them. And the vision that you've laid out be more courageous and, of course, be more decisive and call it how it is and really guide them through that crisis. So, yeah, Bill Schmidt, Bill Campbell, trillion dollar coach, can't can't recommend it more is something if you want to get into leadership or even if you're an extremely well versed leader. I think I think there's something that's for everyone. [00:22:36][160.6]

Bryce: [00:22:37] And so turn into culture shock. Back was obviously founded in Singapore, but isn't now in nine countries. So how do you build and maintain a consistent culture in growing a global company [00:22:48][11.3]

Angus: [00:22:49] that's that's so challenging and something that's so rewarding when you get it right. And I think cross-functional, cross-functional and cross-border teams that they're very interesting because you think about the cross-border aspect of it. You know, there's different cultural norms as different behavioral norms, even religion can come into it as well. So like maintaining a culture. Is is challenging, but I think it goes back to being unwavering in the way that you hire and the people that you seek out and the people that we we seek with, no matter what country they're in, it shot back. We really we hire for culture and make sure that they align with with the values that we have. And like any business, we've got values on the wall that I really think that we stand behind them and and really live and breathe them each and every day. I'll give you an example, a couple of one's own, the change you seek. And that really provides or or or ensures that people are displaying high degrees of ownership and encourages and advocates for people to display higher degrees of ownership. And the other one, which I think is really cool because it's kind of like an outward facing is never ending customer obsession. So everything we do focuses around our customer, whether that's someone who's shopping through us or a brand that we work with and decisions that we make must serve them well to serve both them well. But as you know, we're working from home at the moment, and it's the Covid kind of norms are setting in. And I think we're really well placed to deal with that because over 50 percent of my team working in outside of Australia. So we're used to these video calls like it's it's it's not something that we've had to adjust our business to. I think working with remote teams is really within our DNA. So but, yeah, it's a big challenge and certainly one that we invest a lot of time and energy into making sure that we keep that culture alive. And consistent, importantly to [00:24:53][123.9]

Alec: [00:24:54] know, I guess we always like to take the last section of this interview to talk about, I guess, future plans for further companies. So if we start short term and then get long term, if you think about the next 12 months for shot back, what's in store and if you can tell us what's in the product pipeline. [00:25:13][18.8]

Angus: [00:25:14] Sure, sure. So I think the headline state would be that we're going to continue to build products and services that brands and customers love over half within shot back. There's over five hundred people of which half of those people are focused on engineering products development. And so we've got we've got a pretty meaty pipeline when it comes to to what's in store. The one thing I love about working it shot back. And the people who we work alongside is that innovation is really at the heart of what we do. And in the last three months, four months, sorry, we've rolled out three new products, two of which are customer facing. So our product comparison tool, which ingests over 50 million skews from one hundred and twenty retail, is quite powerful. We built that in-house and of course, enabling payments. No app with the gift cards feature as well. And we're about to launch. I wish I could tell you we're about to launch a whole new vertical from a product standpoint as well as a people standpoint. But that that would be A.B.C.. Unfortunately, Alec, [00:26:19][65.3]

Bryce: [00:26:22] I guess what's the biggest risk for the business right now? [00:26:25][2.5]

Angus: [00:26:25] Biggest risk? I, I'd probably say disruption. And you kind of identified that earlier when we were talking through the landscape changing. And, you know, like if you if you think about disruption, I think a really good example of that is the payment space in Australia. You know, go back 10 years. If you wanted to buy something or pay for something, you use a credit card or you went into a bank. But now and the bank certainly held the held the cards in the payment space. But now there's so many different ways, you know, that by now pay later. Now banks are popping up. There's even bill splitting apps as well. So, yeah, I think that disruption is is certainly always the thing that keeps me up at night and keeps us keeps challenging us to do better. And it can happen at any time. You know, it could be new players coming in with fresh, fresh perspectives. It could be someone coming in delivering a better customer experience. So it's really that that really comes down to us owning that and showing up consistently to reinvent ourselves and do better for the people which which we serve. [00:27:30][64.9]

Alec: [00:27:31] And then, Angus, final question. If you think about shot back in 10 years from now, what does success look like? [00:27:39][7.8]

Angus: [00:27:40] That's a 10 year crystal ball. Let's say [00:27:42][2.0]

Alec: [00:27:43] that that's meant for a company [00:27:46][2.8]

Angus: [00:27:46] that's three years old. It's it's it's a long way to look into the future. But, you know, I probably I probably answer that by saying if you go back to why we were born, which is to help brands market efficiently and effectively and to help customers save and time and money. I think the best thing I think the vision for us is we'd hope to continue to find ways to do that, but at a greater scale. So in the in the nine markets that we operate, when no one in our category in eight with the night to come this year, which is which is in South East Asia, but we're not going to stop there. I think there's over 12 million shoppers in Australia. And it's certainly our mission to positively impact each one of those over time as well. So a long, long way to go to to to strive for our goals. But as I said at the start, you know, this is a sprint with no defined finish line. So I think we're pretty well placed to to participate there. [00:28:42][56.3]

Bryce: [00:28:44] We're looking forward to that IPO at some stage, I guess. [00:28:46][2.3]

Angus: [00:28:46] I guess somewhat, yes. Now, I just I just I mean, that's just part of a company's natural journey. I think the IPO process, it's fun is leading up to that. And we're having a lot of fun right now. [00:29:00][13.4]

Bryce: [00:29:00] Absolutely. Well, thank you very much for your time. Angus, I appreciate you coming on the show. Very much appreciate your time. Certainly a fascinating growth story where we're not quite at the scale of of the size of shopback, but on our own journey of building a company. So it's always great to listen to leaders and entrepreneurs and. They think about their business so very much appreciate it. [00:29:54][53.3]

Angus: [00:29:54] Thanks for having me on the show and enjoy the journey. That's as I said, that's the fun part of scaling businesses. Thank you. [00:29:54][0.0]


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