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Rob te Braake - Insight Matters, CEO-Grade Financial Knowledge

icon-calendar 2021-12-02 | icon-microphone 59m 16s Listening Time | icon-user Joseph Ianni
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When we think about the complex and intricate nature of business, we make considerations for our own staff and departments, external matters like suppliers and supporting services like accountants or advertisers and finally the customers and whether or not they'll be coming back. The takeaway that stands out to me above all else from my guest Rob te Braake of Insight Matters is that finance is what ties all of this together. So when they say "you deserve the same insights as Corporate CEOs" you can listen in for the next hour and find out what those are.

Rob is a Dutch serial entrepreneur with 10+ years experience. Started in banking in the Netherlands, co-founded a technology & investment firm based in Beijing, China and has guided dozens of digital companies as Financial advisor. Master degrees in Finance and Strategy.

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Tags: #Debutify #finance #robtebraake

[00:00:00] Rob te Braake: Everybody says finance is the most boring part of the business and I fundamentally disagree with that. For me, it's the most sexy part of the business. Not only because it's about making money, but because it's the one place in the company where everything combines. If you're talking about HR or marketing or purchasing, everything connects with each other through the finance.

[00:00:28] Joseph: When we think about the complex and intricate nature of business, we make considerations for our own staff and departments, external matters like suppliers, supporting services, like your accountants or your advertisers, and finally the customers. And whether or not they'll be coming back. The takeaway that stands out to me above all else from my guest, Rob te Braake of insight matters is that finance is what ties all of this together. So when they say you deserve the same insights as corporate CEOs, you might want to listen to him for the next hour and find out what those are. 

Rob te Braake. It is good to have you here on Ecomonics. How are you doing today?

How are you feeling? 

[00:01:02] Rob te Braake: I'm doing good and it's a pleasure to be here. 

[00:01:04] Joseph: It's a, it's a pleasure to be having you on. And normally our outreach program is basically, you know, we have a guy, uh, he, we, we do our data mining. We reach out to. I mean, we're, we're just an exploratory vessel trying to make as much contact in e-commerce based as possible.

Uh, but when it asks you about your familiarity, one of the things that you had said is, you know, when you're reaching out to shows and you know, want to make sure that you're a good fit at this point, I have lost track of like who we've invited and who's, uh, uh, asked to come on. So, uh, just to clarify that partially for my own ego, admittedly, you had found us and you wanted to, uh, pay visits to.

[00:01:40] Rob te Braake: Yeah. Uh, I worked with a guy who helps me screen find a screen podcasts that he thinks is, are a good fit for me, uh, where I can add value, where I can tell our story. Um, and he found you guys, and I always listened to one or two episodes before I give the green light to reach out to them. Before the recording, I listened to another one or two episodes.

So, yeah, we found you guys. 

[00:02:04] Joseph: It really truly means a lot. It's been a year's worth of content so far. And I know that it is part of just the business method. Like you say, you have somebody who reaches out screens of podcasts, maybe from other people's point of view. It's a rather routine thing. But for me, it, uh, it means it means a great deal because I'm giving this my all, and I can only say that so often.

And then I actually also have to deliver on that. Let's deliver. Uh, first question, how are you? And you, you know, you know, what's coming here, it goes, tell us what do you do? And what you, what are you up to these days? 

[00:02:34] Rob te Braake: These days I'm up to running insight matters. Uh, insight matters is a, uh, financial reporting and analysis company.

So we help e-commerce owners get data out of their financials. So we support them with accounting and bookkeeping, but especially the reporting layer on top of that, to translate the value in the bookkeeping into basically meaningful insights for you as the entrepreneur. 

[00:02:59] Joseph: I have to say what I appreciate from your background. And as you, as you know, you know, I, I'm always selective about when I feel the background needs to come up, I guess, in this case, it's going to be sooner than later. But what I appreciated from your background is that you have a wide variety of, um, pursuits and a lot of experience in corporate structure, but also in entrepreneurship.

What, what we found from looking into your LinkedIn profile is for you. It is helping people get those insights and getting that clarity on their financials that is when your driving factor. And so my, my first question in that regards is what it is, what is it about that that's such a catalyst for you?

[00:03:35] Rob te Braake: My educational background is finance and strategy, and I've worked, uh, in a corporate job before then became entrepreneur as the entrepreneur. I was doing our own bookkeeping and I found it such a boring task to do the books. But the value that we got from that from actually seeing what's happening and understanding where the money was coming from or where the money was going, that was such an eye-opener.

And later on, when I pivoted into consulting and I would ask other people like, Hey, show me your books, show me your reports. Where are we. None of them would have a clue where they were, everybody was fairing blind on their intuition, on their gut feeling or on like small pieces of data. And it just blew my mind that some people can again, grow a company to 20, $30 million in revenue without understanding.

I find that scary. Um, for me, it's not even actually about the numbers itself. It's much more the story behind it and the, the information that's hidden in there that tells a story that basically tells the story of the whole company. 

Everybody says finance is the most boring part of the business. And I fundamentally disagree with that. For me, it's the most sexy part of the business. Not only because it's about making money, but because it's the one place in the company where everything combines. If you're talking about HR or marketing or purchasing everything, connects with each other, through the finance. So in our eyes, it is the most powerful lever to, you have to make decisions on, on where to invest, when to hire, what to, which parts to cancel. All of that has a financial backgrounds. 

[00:05:18] Joseph: I agree with with your, your statement, that it all ties into the finance, because I mean business at the end of the day, I mean, we, we always say on the show, it is about, you know, solving problems and being of service to others. Um, but in a much more pragmatic sense, it is about the money and there's, there's a number of things that stuck out to me from what you're describing.

And so I'll go through them. The first is the, the, the storytelling aspect of the, of the. And I have to say, you know, coming from my, my worky, you know, our arts background, you know, we we're the storytellers of, of the world. And I think one of the living fat limiting factor is that keeps a lot of the, you know, the art world from having a better sense of the business world is the idea that there is no story there and that it is actually rather robotic and wrote and banal.

And that's not true. And I've learned this throughout this last year, that there is a significant amount of passion. Um, put into, um, what other, uh, considered to be a, uh, well, you know, I, less than exciting then I don't making, making a game or painting the diversity of my find that boring. So there's a whole thing about that, but I don't really wanna get into that.

What I wanted to ask about was when you identify the, the story, what I'm hearing is there's actually two stories and I don't know if they're intertwined. So the first story is there ability to collect, collect the data, how they're able to raise I'm I'm surprised as you say it like $20 million, $20 million. And they, uh, they don't really know where it's going, where, where it's, where it's coming from. So there's one story. And then the other story is what the data provided that it may be in another case, it actually is accurate. What that story, what story there is telling now this is my guess that we have two different stories here.

Is it actually just one story or, um, do you notice a different narrative in helping the company? I know I'm going the long way. I'm kind of thinking out loud here, but I really want to make sure I give you a, a good question here. So is there one kind of story about a company trying to sort their shit out and then another kind of story once they have it and they actually have their, their, their data worked out.

Let me know if I need to rephrase this. Cause this was definitely a, uh, somewhat of a thought process for me. 

[00:07:26] Rob te Braake: The thing is it's all there. They're different, different steps on the way, but all of them go from stage zero where they have nothing. Let me phrase it like this there's this, everybody knows Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

[00:07:41] Joseph: Yeah. One of the few things that I remember from high school. 

[00:07:43] Rob te Braake: Exactly. There's also a financial hierarchy of needs and every organization, every company goes through that in one way, form or shape where at the bottom it's record keeping and accounting. So just tracking what happens, which money's coming in, which money is going out, what does it spend on? Just registering where things go. If you have that in order, you should go up to the second level where you have more reports where you have more, uh, dashboards KPIs. So there's like a translation layer to make that raw data into useful, meaningful data about what's going on in your business. 

The third layer on top of that is planning and budgeting. So if you have backward looking on reporting side in order, that point you can start using historical data to make more forward-looking projections, and that's going to drive different discussions on, Hey, what is our cashflow position going to be like 12 months from now? What can we afford to launch a new product? And the highest level is where finance is what they call a business partner. And that kind of means that finance is an integral part of any big decision in your business. Uh, for most early stage of mid-sized e-commerce, you're probably in the second order, third layer. Um, the fourth one is usually a bit more corporate driven.

So if you're talking about art are two different stories, actually both of them are different stages of the hierarchy of needs, where the ones that don't have anything in order apparently had a really good gut feeling and a good feeling for the market and their products, but they are still in the first stage of that whole apartment pyramids, where they are tracking what happens, but they're not getting any value from that. And the second case, the second narrative you mentioned is really just one or two steps up where they are managing to get more data, more value from the data. 

[00:09:39] Joseph: I see. Yeah. I, and not that I want to spend too much time associating with like the main hierarchy and motivation. Um, but it is interesting, the parallel there, because if you look at the basic hierarchy of motivation, when you have is you essentially cannot move up the ladder until the previous needs are met or not. It's safe. It's food, hunger, the, you know, the, the, the self sustenance and then safety and security. And then I actually forget to forget the rest of it. Cause I don't think I ever got that far myself, but whereas with the, with, with business it's essential, but based on what you're describing, it might not actually happen. They might actually somewhat end up being on, on the higher rung. Um, as, I mean, you know, they they're, they seem to be generating, um, uh, money. 

So for them to, how do I. Here's the question that I'll ask you is let's say you have to convince somebody, you know, they're, they're making money. Things are going well, is what do you do to help them understand that they skipped a few steps?

[00:10:40] Rob te Braake: Once we have that conversation, that's really easy. You start asking them, what's actually the margin that you make on which product group. They often would say I don't really know. And then you have the conversation like, Hey, then maybe let's get the foundation in order first because we can make fantastic analysis. We can make amazing budget forecasts, but if the foundational input is wrong, our what our effort we are going to deliver to you is wrong as well. So let's fix that first. If you hit the, the, the product market fits. Uh, you do a couple of things, right? It's actually not that difficult. Of course, easy for me to say as the outsider to scale to 30 million, as long as you have the product market fit well. And if your margins are good and your ad cost is low enough, you can get there. If it's sustainable. No. And is it risky? Absolutely. Because you're kind of doing that in the blinds. 

So it's like putting on a blindfold on and running across a highway. You can do it and there's a big chance you're going to survive, but you still wouldn't do it because you shouldn't do it because it's too damn risky. 

[00:11:50] Joseph: It's inconsistent. I mean, sooner or later. 

[00:11:53] Rob te Braake: Exactly. So if you're getting to that level of revenue and that love that size, I mean, they were at 60, uh, 60 people are more or less the decisions that they, as the owners are making are getting bigger and bigger. The impact of the decision is going to get bigger as well.

So if they're making a wrong decision, the damage they're going to do is also much bigger. So that alone is enough reason to say, let's get your information flow in order so that you can make better decisions. There was no guarantee you're not going to crash, but at least you have a better view. 

[00:12:25] Joseph: That's a fascinating insight because what I would expect. You know, not, not exactly having run, um, you know, seven figure businesses, eight figure businesses. Myself is the, I guess, more of a sense of security having that, uh, having that a higher level of revenue when in actuality your revenue increases because your costs increase. So when somebody has to make a bigger decision at that point, it can be much more cataclysmic. Then if somebody had to make a concrete decision when they're just, you know, running a side house, so making a couple of thousand a month, something along those lines. 

[00:12:56] Rob te Braake: Yes. Well, that's, that's the, the direct consequences of having a bigger team and bigger numbers that the impact of your decisions is bigger.

Again, that's the reason why you want to have better information so that you can make the better decision based on data and ideally the data corresponds with your gut feeling because that's the best validation you can get. It's always interesting if the data conflicts with the gut feeling, because then you're going to have an interesting discussion about, hey, what might be wrong or where does your gut feeling come from and where, so what is actually the reality or the truth in that case. 

[00:13:32] Joseph: I might want to ask you a little bit more about gut feelings, but I'm going to, I'm almost like developing a segment here, uh, as, as of yesterday's episode where I do like, okay, you now for the unpinning section. So I might, uh, amend that later. Um, there was another, um, a thread that also came up, um, around the same time that it asked you about the, the, the multiple narratives.

So this one is about quantifying. I think it can be rather difficult to quantify in a business. So one of the, for instance, one of the positions that you had mentioned is the human resources and this somewhat ties in the, the 80 20 rule, where if you consider the 80% of the value comes from 20% of the company.

So you have this more nebulous state in the remaining 80% where, you know, there's, there's customer success, there's even resources. There are, uh, numerous support staff that you can't exactly draw as clear conclusion from them as say your sales staff were very clearly drawing a conclusion because you're measuring how much they they sell.

So I, my, the obvious question is, is this the challenge? I'm kind of assuming that it is a challenge. So more advanced than that is. And tell me if I'm wrong about that by the way, but I guess more in-depth than that is how, what measures can you take to accurately reflect the positive or negative impact that the 80% are having rather than the 20%.

[00:14:51] Rob te Braake: If you're looking at your cost structure is very, like you say, identify the value of salespeople is starting to be easy. Identifying the value of a good purchaser is also relatively easy. Let me tell you a story about when I was still working in the bank, like my first corporate job, they weren't trying to cut costs and they looked at the call center and, um, the whole idea was they thought the management thought costs were too high. We want to cut. So to complete, they looked at how much time does the, every agent on, on average spent, uh, on the phone with, with a customer. And that was, I forgot the numbers, but let's say three minutes. So they reasons, but if we cut that down to two minutes, then we can save one third of the cost because we have less time.

You can let go of some people. So they started managing that team on average time, on the phone with a customer and they actually got it down to two minutes. However, the, the effect was the cost went up because all of a sudden, instead of incentivizing the agents to focus on solving the problem of the customers, Th the, the agents have an incentive to cut down the conversation. So if they didn't know the answer, they would just become rude almost and cut off the conversation. Or they would say, sorry, your expert is not here. Call back tomorrow because that would get their average time. Now the overall effect was more for more phone calls, more staff needed and are actually higher costs.

It's very difficult to say, oh, this cost is the one we absolutely need to minimize because there may be certain hidden value. Me bank and finance guy, I would want to minimize my marketing costs, but I know that if I skimp on marketing costs, we're going to get the result, the fact that the value that that person delivers is less.

So did I save money in that case? Probably not that 80, 20 distinction. It's really hard to use in this case. I think.

[00:16:55] Joseph: We're angling towards the, the three little letters that being on the receiving end of that. Uh, drive me bonkers and those letters are KPI as my longtime audience knows. I, and I even mentioned on this episode, uh, not too long ago is, you know, I have a, I have a pretty substantial background in sales, um, mainly in watches, which might not seem significant.

Um, given the. You know, the level of conversation that we're having here, but one of them is luxury watches. So like Rolex's, and, you know, talking with people who are rather high profile. So to me, a lot counts. And you know, it's funny cause you're, you know, talking about reducing the phone calls and three minutes, two minutes.

That to me seems pretty drastic. I mean, even, even shaving off 10 minutes, might've, uh, might've been helpful. Um, I, over over-correcting. It is an issue that I think a lot of people face, whether they're running a company or they're just trying to figure out what time to get up in the morning. So what are the issues that I had with KPIs is that it wasn't like it was tracking the good and the bad.

It was more, they were deciding what were the positive qualities they were looking for and what were the negative qualities by their standards. And I basically, I mean, if I can as a salesperson, I ignore them because what I'm on the phone with somebody, the only thing that matters is the, is the other human being on the other side, who is about to spend gobs of money on a watch. If I end up having a conversation with them for an hour, which has happened. Um, and, and we spend like 20 minutes talking about, uh, iron rent, we're having that conversation. Uh, so I often feel that I'm in. I'm trying to act in the best interest for myself, for the consumer and also for the company, because I know that if you give somebody a bang up experience, they will call back and they will, and they will, and they'll want to come back.

That's my mini rant for the day. I'm, uh, I'm allocated three per episode and so about KPI. In your view, how have they been properly implemented? That is fair, equitable to everybody involved. And if you have experience with how they can be implemented wrong, you know, on the, on the lines of doing a two-minute call, uh, which is what like 95% shorter than the 30 minutes called.

I like to hear more about that too. 

[00:19:11] Rob te Braake: The number one thing that goes wrong with KPIs is that the pick the wrong KPIs.Or they're way too detailed or not detailed enough. So if you want to set KPIs properly, what he needs to understand is what are they serving? Because KPIs are never the purpose in itself.

They are a gauge to measure the progress towards another goal. So what is that goal? That's where you got to start and it for this audience, if you're running an e-commerce business or you're trying to build a Tim Ferriss four hour work week kind of business, are you trying to build the next Amazon?

That makes all the difference between what KPIs you should be tracking or, or, or running your business on. So the first thing you gotta do is be very, very specific. One is that I want to achieve. And how do you quantify that? Because every goal has a financial translation of it that four hour work week.

That still means that you want to take out a certain level of money every month to pay for the lifestyle. Or if you all are looking to build the next Amazon. You probably have a certain revenue or evaluation target in mind that you want to hit. So make that a financial quantifiable goal, and then translate that back into the metrics that actually lead there.

Now we are mostly focused on the finance side, so we would be looking at revenue, margins, cashflow, these kinds of things, but there are also leading indicators that, uh, are arguably as important or maybe the more important than the strictly financial. And it's really depends on your business and your role and your structure to see what they are, anybody that tells you like all in e-commerce.

You need to have, uh, your, uh, CAC versus LTV ratio needs to be at least four as a rule of thumb. Fine as a hard KPI. It really depends on your specific goal, your business, if that's actually the right one, what we usually do. And what I think is absolutely critical is spending a lot of time out from honing down on what's the goal, because if the goal is wrong, the KPIs will be wrong and you're going to push your business into the wrong direction. And I don't want to cooperate on that. 

[00:21:24] Joseph: Could I, uh, solicit perhaps, um, a case study, I mean, client confidentiality in full effect, but, um, I I'd love to hear a, if you got one, a specific example of kind of readjustment for KPI that turned out, uh, for the better. 

[00:21:38] Rob te Braake: We had a client. E-commerce space who was incredibly focused on his marketing spent. We want to get our customer acquisition costs as low as possible. And if you're strictly selling on Amazon, I can kind of understand that because you don't own the customer, but they were doing the majority of their business through Shopify.

So the number one thing that I would look at every day was what is the acquisition cost yesterday? How much did we spend the night? How many customers did we acquire. And so what's the value of that. And therefore they completely ignored the potential upselling and, uh, repeat purchases from those plans.

So one of the, after it was clear that they were looking to sell the business somewhere down the road. So that was a main objective for us to conclusion was very simple. Having a repeat customer base is a much more sustainable business to sell and therefore the higher valuation. So if you want to retire, sell this business at, let's say $20 million, you can keep burning money on ads.

And to a certain extent you have to. But focusing much more on the lifetime value of the customer and the number of repeat purchases with a certain gross margin targets is a much more sustainable way. Growth will might be a little bit slower in the short run because you acquire less new customers overall the after at least at most a year, your revenue and especially your profit will be substantially higher.

That took a little massaging basically in a couple of discussions before that landed. And now their ad spend is down, but I think 70% or so, because they're invested much more in email marketing and in other retention strategies. 

[00:23:20] Joseph: Right. Okay. So remarketing was there, was there a blind spot and we've certainly had a number of people on, uh, on this program, um, throughout trumpeting the values of, uh, of remarketing.

I mean, the way I tend to summarize it is that, you know, the colder, the customer and the more it's going to cost. So the, the further along in the funnel, the one where they are. And not to denigrate the company because they're doing much better than a, that I've done. It's rather significant in business.

And so in the same way that, you know, another business might not have their, their, their books, uh, set up correctly, there's this underlying, almost this encouraging factor where you can actually still do pretty darn well, even if you are missing out on certain key factors. So it can just be this huge sigh of relief and this huge wave of opportunity to realize that.

You know, one of our, one of the table, one of the legs holding the table has been weak. We, we, we fixed that up and then all of a sudden it has completely changed the way we can do our business. 

[00:24:17] Rob te Braake: Well, at the same time, that was one of my biggest lessons in corporates. Even the big corporates, they look shiny from the outside.

Inside a lot of it is holding together with, with, uh, with sticks on wire, because it's just not as solid as the marketeers and the brand experts make it look. So also view as an e-commerce company, look at your competitors. Yeah. They might be doing better than you in certain things, but that doesn't mean that they have their shit in order. 

[00:24:42] Joseph: So this next question, I understand that this is probably not your area of expertise, but I'm going to put it on to the ether anyways, which is, do you see in perhaps the clients that you're working.

How much they've been keeping track of really like, you know, the employee satisfaction and productivity, labor, happiness levels. Um, because I know this gets into, it's a pretty difficult area to quantify, but. I think if there's a compelling case there that if the employees are unhappy, the lowest productivity.

So has that been able to crop up in, in data, in a meaningful way? 

[00:25:14] Rob te Braake: The short answer to that is no. We have seen in our agency, clients that that has an impact where the leadership style of the founders or the owners would have an impact there on employee turnover and employee turnover is costly on the e-commerce side.

Not so much. Be simply because it's much more capital intensive and a lot of the work is SOP driven. So it sounds not so friendly, but a lot of those people are somewhat replaceable. So I'm bring you satisfaction. Their employee costs are not that high. So if we've seen people overpay 10, 20% over market rates, just to keep people in and keep them happy.

So that's not an e-commerce, that's not a big issue that we see. 

[00:25:58] Joseph: Yeah. I'm pointing out the significance of SOP as an e-commerce, right? Yeah. I can, I can definitely speak to that too. Even within our own company, you know, SOPs are an important factor just because we know we want to make sure that the, the activity is consistent with so much. Having so much initiative that an e-commerce company has a take and with so many risks that it has to take, um, the importance of SOP is cannot be understated because it allows for certain things to be more predictable so that, you know, when people have, they don't have to take chances on things that are unnecessary to take chances.

This is one that's just out of curiosity, it's calling more for my clarification, because one of the things that I, that, you know, we we'd say it is because you're, you know, working with consulting and agencies, then there's also, you know, e-commerce um, and then there's like other online businesses. And what I was keen to ask you about that is, I guess what's the line between those businesses and why, why, why exactly are they not e-commerce? And so in your frame of reference was how do you specify e-commerce? 

[00:26:56] Rob te Braake: E-commerce per definition has inventory. Okay. So we don't have any drop shipping clients. That would be the, the, the, the, the gray zone there, but anybody with a Shopify store, an Amazon store, or even if it's wholesale, uh, we would consider that e-commerce and if he's talking about other online businesses that are not e-commerce in our case, that would usually mean a company with like a portfolio of affiliate sites. So no inventory. Okay. 

[00:27:26] Joseph: Yeah. Uh, I just wanted to ask that. I mean, my, my, my perspective on it, I have somewhat of a, more of a, of a very broad reaching it.

Um, just in that, if it's an online transaction, I counted. So obviously said Uber is e-commerce because you gotta order a ride online, but that's, you know, my, my own point of view, and it also has to do with, uh, you know, like a larger through-line, which to me is this merging of e-commerce into commerce, and eventually you won't really see businesses running without some sort of online component.

So this is a bit of like a through line for me. 

[00:27:59] Rob te Braake: True. We take the, the second, the, the separation on us e-commerce has inventory and it's purely a pure play e-commerce store, basically. Companies that are bigger and have, and retail and e-commerce. And the couple of the examples you just mentioned, we wouldn't work with them because they're too big.

They have their own in-house teams. 

[00:28:23] Joseph: Going back to one of the things that we had talked about a bit earlier is, you know, the, the, the challenge of, um, and convincing. And as you say, you know, massaging clients to make these alterations. Now, I'll tell you a quick story. I'll try to do this, uh, um, Uh, I was trying not to embellish too much, but you know, my girlfriend and I are looking at a mutual funds go to an office, the, the expert, he shows us a, a chart that we're not allowed to take home.

It's somewhat confidential information, but basically what he showed was over or a time, even though there were dips in the market, it largely is on an increase. And so you don't look at those dips in the market as a time to panic. You actually put them out as an opportunity to buy more units so that when the market corrects, it continues to go upwards.

Now I was conveying about mutual funds before, but that made a huge difference because seeing, you know, the, the, the growth from say, like the 1970s until now dips and all it allows for a lot more peace of mind and the overall growth of it. So that's the data that somebody uses to convince me on something like that.

Um, so the question that I pose to you is in this situation, what do you have to show to, to indicate that the decision you are making for them is there is the right one. 

[00:29:31] Rob te Braake: We are not making any decision for them. Okay. We are, if anything, we point out at the day at their own data and ask questions. So you won't hear us say like, Hey, you have to do this because it's not our call.

We see, we say, we see this trends. We look at this chart, we see this data, we see this trends. So that makes us think this is probably what's going on. But in the end we are outsiders. We don't know the company, as well as the owner does, we bring a certain expertise and we put that at their disposal. In some cases, the owner basically says, Hey, you guys, all right, we will move that the other way around, more often than not, they would come back with questions and challenge us and say, Hey, we've been doing this for this reason.

How does that relate to what you guys are seeing? And it's in that conversation where the exchange of knowledge takes place and where. They formed their opinion and they make the decision we are in that sense more the sparring partner and the data vessel. We wouldn't tell them what to do. 

[00:30:41] Joseph: Okay. Okay. I appreciate that.

Sorry. If I drew a conclusion there that I shouldn't have. 

[00:30:46] Rob te Braake: No, no, no, no worries. That's kind of the role of the advisor. We advise, but we don't have, we don't have the full picture. Just like when you talk with the insurance agents, he doesn't understand your personal situation as well as you do. So you give him a bunch of information and he will tell you based on what you tell me and what I see, this is probably best for you, but in the end, it's your decision and your risk profile. 

[00:31:08] Joseph: I appreciate that. Alright. So this next one that I have, uh, that I've already asked you. So I know one of the, um, this is, you know, Cortland website, basically. You want to offer people the kinds of insights that a CEO would have? What would be an, an insight that would separate a CEO from, from an average seller and making sure that both examples are looking at the same kind of information.

[00:31:32] Rob te Braake: The corporate CEO would have a very clear details reports with all the KPIs that he wants to see the Southern. We usually have the Amazon and the Shopify dashboard and a couple of other things. So, what we do is we bring, uh, dashboards to the owner that shows the full financial picture and not only the sales side, but overall financial picture.

And that includes, and that's what most people are missing is preamble not only the revenue per product category, because that you're going to easily take from your dashboards, but also your gross and your net margins per category. And you are now you will probably gonna tell me like, yeah, but your marketing spend that's our, you can already see in your Amazon best part as well, and you're partially rights, but the time that you or your team spends on it is also marketing costs and that is never reflected in the dashboard.

So you're under in that dashboard that you get from Amazon, you're understating your marketing costs. So we tried to get the full picture. That includes all relevant costs for each different category, because that will give you more details and information about which products are actually profitable.

[00:32:46] Joseph: So if there's one comment that I can make to add to the clarity. So it's a difference between being able to analyze the activity as an outsider and get a better picture of what it is that they're doing, because the time that they're spending analyzing the data counts as, as you say, marketing costs. So you're, you're looking at, you're looking at all of that. And I think that is a distinct advantage to being the outside observer looking in. 

[00:33:11] Rob te Braake: Especially if it's a marketer or founder, they have a tendency to still spend a lot of time on it. Maybe they could, maybe they should that's up to them, but at least what our role is that they are aware of the cost of that. 

[00:33:27] Joseph: All right. So one of the things that we wanted to make sure that we, that we got to, and we've been, you know, pulling on this red and here or there, at least as far is the degree of granularity, uh, that we're looking at here. And, and again, I think this is better serve in with, with an example, if you've got one chambered, so you're advising somebody, who's looking at the translating the bookmaking data into a more usable, actionable insight. So how granular are we really going here? And again, I think, I think our audience and even from my stake and in capital would be helpful.

[00:34:00] Rob te Braake: The short answer is as granular as needed. Okay. We have, for example, a client in the supplements industry or the supplements niche, they have, I think about 10 or 12 different product lines.

We give them a P and L for each. So they can look at the P and L for each of the product lines and say like, which product group is actually doing better. Where are we investing in the marketing? Where do we expect the return? And is, are we tracking that if they would lump it all together in just, okay.

We spent X on marketing and do we see the revenue grow? They would miss out on a lot of the data that's that is there. They just wouldn't see it. So we go through that level. We can go more details, but I would argue in most cases that's not really relevant because then you go to a super detailed operational level where we are trying to look for monthly reports that give more strategic level insights.

So you don't want to go to detailing granular because that should be more on the operational level in your team. 

[00:35:05] Joseph: Coming off of the conversation that I had, um, yesterday, which, uh, you know, if you're listening to this in order, um, it was with be profit and one of the challenges there as well as also, you know, where you draw the line between what is it that should be tracked and what's not. And the example that I gave it, as, you know, let's just say as a freelancer, am I going to write down electricity? I mean, just, I doesn't really need it, but am I actually going to be putting that onto, onto my sheets? I think there's a, there's the line there is also has to do with, well, I mean, electricity is just a general living costs, so it's not like.

I only invested in it to run my business. I also invest in it so that I can, you know, uh, live like a civilized person. Is there a point where you say, this is the kind of thing we don't necessarily need? This is the kind of thing that's not exactly, um, uh, helpful to, to your picture as you, as you're describing, it has a lot to do with the operational costs.

So, I mean, it's still, it's still important. If it doesn't really factor into the strategy and decision making that I can see, it's not worth the extra time to look at it. 

[00:36:07] Rob te Braake: Yeah. If you talking about like the electricity cost of your home to split that out, like how I use my laptop this amount of time for personal reason, not that would not in any way be material.

Of course, the bigger you get, the higher the threshold becomes from material. I've seen people expense, like $2 a paperclips at Sariah in there in a company. And if you want to be a purist about it, you kind of, should I find it hard to put a number on there, but on your gut feeling, you kind of know that something is relevant or not.

And $2 box of paperclips. Definitely doesn't meet that threshold no matter how small your business is. If you're talking about $50 sample calls. Yes. You definitely want to track that. So somewhere in between that is the cutoff.

[00:36:53] Joseph: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think just touching on the storytelling component of it, I think if somebody was that specific about measuring paperclips, there's, there's something interesting about the person doing that as well as the, uh, as the business.

[00:37:06] Rob te Braake: Yeah. And the only place where I can imagine that it makes sense to count the paperclips is if you're doing a super high volume production line where you use tens of thousands of them per day. That I can imagine. Other than that, I don't even bother. 

[00:37:21] Joseph: Now that Shopify has upgraded to version 2.0, we needed to make sure we were up to speed. So we've released version 4.0 to ensure that we're 100% equipped to take advantage of the 2.0 revolution. If you haven't upgraded your store, head on over, and if you haven't gotten started, now is a good time as any.

The next one that I wanted to ask you, um, this is somewhat tying into, um, what we mentioned about, uh, KPIs is, you know, you have, uh, you have targets and targets can be missed targets. And what I was keen on asking is, you know, knowing the difference between a realistic target versus an unrealistic one that happened to look realistic at the time.

[00:38:06] Rob te Braake: I don't feel qualified to tell you how to define a target as realistic or not. The only thing I can tell you there is every quarter, or let us two times a year revisit the targets. Um, if your a Q1 is horrible, You're going to be de-motivated throughout a year. If you don't revisit your targets. And at the same time, if you revisit your targets too easily, you make you, you give yourself too much slacking and, and, uh, you may not be ambitious enough depending on where you want to go.

So I would say that is the cycle should be, set the targets execute as good as you can. And at the end of the quarter evaluates because you gotta be off either. You gotta be too high or too low and evaluates and understand why you're off. So was the target not high enough or was it, uh, in hindsight, impossible to begin with or did you make mistakes and learn from that experience to set a better target next time. It's a learning process. The same with forecasting, with budgeting. Uh, and cashflow forecasting as well. They are anything that's forward-looking is never an absolute science. The only thing you can do is learn from your past experience, uh, using tools that are available, uh, methods are available to get more accurate over time, but it's never an exact science. 

[00:39:30] Joseph: And I recognize that with the different questions prepared, some of them, um, not, not quite, um, within, uh, your, your, your position of authority, but it's more, it's always better to just throw it out into the ether and then this just, uh, see how it goes. Um, so, so I appreciate that. 

And in interest, the next one, I'll kind of along those same lines is also about the, you know, wasteful spending versus a growth opportunities. So to me, one of the things that this comes back to is the idea that they had that the 30 minute calls where it was wasteful spending, and then they, they kind of done the two minutes and it turns out that was actually more wasteful. So do you recall any instances of, you know, of wasteful spending and where it's actually been able to where they've actually been able to securely say that yes, this is actually something that we need to cut down. 

[00:40:16] Rob te Braake: On a smaller scale that doesn't, let me think if there's a slightly bigger one, we had one client, uh, who thought that he was making quite some money on one of their labels in terms of revenue. They were in terms of gross margin. They were not so much.

And that was because well, the gross margin is still okay. In terms of net margin, they were actually negative because their acquisition cost was too high. And they had always looked at marketing as the overall costs for all the brands combined. And once we started breaking that out over to different brands, it kind of became apparent that that particular brand had been losing money for at least six months.

That's how far we went back. The conclusion for that was they spend a bit of time trying to figure out if they could revitalize the brand and make it profitable. But in the end they decided to kill the brands because they didn't see how they could make a profit profitable. So in hindsight, all the marketing spend on that brand was wasteful. 

[00:41:15] Joseph: The flip side to it, there's also growth opportunities, but I think in some ways, When you notice that something is wasteful and you cut it out, that actually ends up yielding growth anyways, because you've, you know, saving is, is a form of growth. So, okay, well now this money we're not spending on it anymore. We can either repurpose it or we just have it, you know, either way.

I think cutting losses even counts as growth in its own way. 

[00:41:37] Rob te Braake: It freed up a lot of mental resources and financial resources from the owners. They now have the brain capacity to not worry about five brands, but only about four that are actually doing. And they were not burning a lot of money on it. So it's, it, it facilitated foster growth of the other brands.

[00:41:56] Joseph: Here's the limiting factor that I have is the first limiting factor is being able to look at a dashboard and understand the different metrics. Um, so, so let's just assume that we've gone past that. I think the, the next, um, limiting factor might be understanding the relationship between them. So, you know, if I'm looking at, uh, LTV in a vacuum, what might not be clear to me is what are the other metrics that are, um, influencing that?

Because if I were to alter one, I'm going to alter another one and not even really realize it. So, um, I could start broad and say, um, is this actually a challenge or did I just pull this out of thin air? And then more specifically, um, even for, for first start out sellers, you know, what would be the interact? What are certain interactions that I think people really need to pay attention? 

[00:42:44] Rob te Braake: First of all. Yes. That's a challenge. And that's in our service. We do a couple of things. We do. Uh, we do the accounting, we do the reporting. We do the dashboard. The one thing that seems to add the most value is the walkthrough video, 20 minute video that talks through the whole narrative of all the metrics and how they interact.

That's the one that gets the most positive response because that's where. Instead of seeing 12 different pictures, they have one story. So definitely which ones are interacting. It's very business specific, but. 

[00:43:15] Joseph: Well, I guess there were assets e-commerce would be the most significant one that we want to know about. 

[00:43:21] Rob te Braake: Gross margin is probably. Let me first start by saying one thing, revenue is way overvalued as a metric. Uh, don't stare at revenue. It's a nice metric. It's really nice to tell the neighbors or your friends, how big your company is, but it's utterly useless as a metric. The one metric that you really want to keep an eye on in relation with everything almost is operational cashflow.

That's by far the most important one in e-commerce second, the, we see a lot of interaction with. Uh, inventory turnover, ratio and operational cashflow. So the faster you turnover your inventory, the better your operational cashflow. The other one, um, is, uh, the difference between gross margin and net margin for a brand and the marketing costs.

There's a cost there. The advertising cost of sales, that's usually the biggest chunk between those two steps. So they, those three are very, very tolerable. Let me think there are a couple of others, uh, that don't jump in my head at the moment, which is not a specific metric, but the payment terms and two suppliers in combination with lead time is a very important one to play with to manage your operational cashflow.

So the lead time is shorter. The payment terms are a little bit less relevant. If the lead time is very, very. You really need to manage your payment terms with your suppliers because. Most likely the number one thing that's going to kill you. 

[00:44:58] Joseph: Of all the ones, I think the one that I was most fixated on is cashflow.

So I'm going to use this as an opportunity to make sure I understand it as well as I should. So my, my view of cashflow is you have your revenue and then you have your, your profit, which is all the money that you have left over after all of your costs are, uh, are cleared. Let's just say on a month to month basis.

So my, my assumption is that the cashflow is now the profit that is put back into the company and then I'll, you know, I mean, you, you do have, you know, the money coming in from the customers, but I would assume that is, you know, where the revenue comes from. I guess the part that I'm not clear on is, you know, where you draw the line on what is profitability.

So if your costs include your employee overhead. If it includes, let's just say you're running a building electricity. Um, so after an, all of that, you know, is, is the profit at that point purely the profit, or is it still, you know, like it's like revenue and kind where, okay, well, even this has to go back into the company.

This is going to have to cover something, you know, by the next month anyways. 

[00:46:01] Rob te Braake: First of all, I'm really happy you're focused on cashflow because if there's one thing to remember from today, it's value cashflow over everything on cash. So your gross margin is really your revenue minus the cost of goods sold and cost of goods sold includes the PR the product costs, but also the shipping and warehousing after that, you'll have your operational costs like your marketing, but also your shipping to clients, et cetera.

So if you're talking about office costs, that is below your gross Moffitt profits, but above your net profits, however, When you say there is like revenue is your cashflow in. That's definitely how it should be, but it's not necessarily the case. So in a lot of cases, Stripe, for example, may hold or Amazon as well may hold your money for a bit.

So if you sell today, it takes you two weeks before you actually received the money. So today you booked the revenue, but the cashflow is two weeks from now. That's still a manageable gap on the purchasing side, towards our suppliers. That's where it really becomes relevant because the product that you take as a cost today, because you sell it today, you paid for that product to your supplier probably several weeks ago.

So there's a massive mismatch between when you recognize the cost and when you actually paid them. Managing that difference is outside of marketing and sales. The number one challenge for e-commerce.

[00:47:27] Joseph: I mean, if I can even attempt to simplify an issue like that. So let's just say, for instance, I placed the order with a supplier in October.

Uh, but by now it's the product doesn't arrive and doesn't sell until like December. And so that, that cost, you know, it, it happened, it happens in October. And then in November you have the, the, the, the revenue generated from those product. But what I'm, this is me just trying to understand it as you don't have a, you might, if you're not paying careful attention, you might lose the thread between the time that it took to order it for the product to arrive for it, to be sold.

And then for the, for the revenue to be generated. 

[00:48:05] Rob te Braake: So, I mean, if you place the order to your supplier in October and you get the product in December and you let's say you maybe sell it in December when you sell the product, because also when you recognize the cost of the product, but you paid your supplier in October, so you paid two months upfront.

So that also means that if you're growing fast and you want to build up inventory to accommodate future sales, you need to pay more and more inventory two months before. E-commerce companies don't go bankrupt because their profitability is problem. I see as many e-commerce companies go under because they grow too fast and therefore running out of cash, uh, as that, because they are doing too bad on the sales and therefore running out of cash, it's never a profit that makes or lost that makes you go out of business.

It's always cashflow. 

[00:48:56] Joseph: That word right there I'm going to have to fix it on that one too. Um, which is loss. It is somewhat a saccharin, but in the, in a perfect world, all losses are either a lesson learned or an investment. And so is there a line there between losses that can be quantified as some sort of, um, long-term growth, you know, a lesson learned or even an investment in, in a customer and then there's losses.

Like what I would refer to as spilling. You know, if, uh, a very simple example of somebody, you know, somebody working in a grocery store, you know, drops a bottle on the ground. Smashes has to be cleaned up. There's no upside to that. Other than I guess the lesson learned, which is don't drop bottles. 

[00:49:35] Rob te Braake: I know, I think there is a very hard distinction there.

The better your SLPs are, the less spinach you have as a rule of som at least. And you kind of want to minimize it. The lessons learned. If anything I need, every lesson learned should result in a better or a new SOP. So is that spillage or is it a lesson learned every unnecessary spillage, however, small could or should also be a lesson learned?

I don't really see a very hard distinction there other than you want to minimize waste and you want to maximize the learnings from the mistakes that you make. 

[00:50:10] Joseph: I think that's a great takeaway right there. Yeah, it did the, when you, when you look into something like that, I even wouldn't have thought that that can turn into an SOP.

But again, this speaks to the long-term value of SLPs, uh, is again, even the unexpected can turn and do something unexpected. So at least now we know, again, going back to a rather banal example is if that an accident like that happens now, I know exactly what to do. It gets done faster and as well, we've minimized the opportunity for the mistake in the first.

[00:50:37] Rob te Braake: I don't think you should have the ambition, not to make mistakes on not to have lessons learned, because that would mean that you're not taking any risks, that you're not trying anything new. And that means that somewhere down the road, you will become irrelevant because the rest of the world is trying new things and is investing. 

[00:50:52] Joseph: Looking at the time we've, uh, we've, we've cleared about 55 minutes.

Um, and I have to say this hour, as it has gone by. Uh, somewhat quicker than my, my usual perception of time. So with a little bit of time that I have left, um, the last thing that I, that I am just keen on asking. About your, you know, your own personal skill development, because I know again, you know, you're in the entrepreneurial side and then you're also in the corporate side.

And I'm wondering about, I guess, like what skills came with you to this day based off the corporate side, and then what skills can with you from the, from the entrepreneurial side? Okay. This one is, this is going to be silly, but whatever, give it a shot anyways, which is where there are certain skillsets that someone who would have even if they had done one or the other, like basically the same lesson twice in both in both camps? 

[00:51:39] Rob te Braake: The skill set came from the corporate is the structure and the KPIs and the reporting lines and the discipline there. And to be honest, it's one of the reasons why I left the corporate because I hated being bound by those structures.

And only when I moved to entrepreneurship and, uh, I ran a company in China with a partner and that started to grow. Only when that starts to crack, I start to see the value of those corporate structures. So for me, the biggest skills, the biggest learning was being on both sides of the table. I learned the tricks on one hand, but didn't see the value.

And on the other hand, you kind of got into the situation where everything was breaking. I thought, how do I fix this? And then somebody tells you like, yeah, well, that's why the corporates do it. Like. The biggest skillset that I learned purely in entrepreneurship is flexibility. Basically, every day you got up and you, you don't know if at the end of the day, you're going to be a step ahead and start back or step to the left or step.

Right. And that has been a Rocky journey where every once in a while you feel you have momentum and then something happens and you got a slap in the face and you feel like you've climbed up two stories and all of a sudden you're back on the ground floor, or even in the basement, the mental flexibility to take a deep breath, shake your head, think about what to learn from that and keep going again.

Only entrepreneurship taught me that. 

[00:53:09] Joseph: Yeah, that makes sense to me. And I think the reason why is if that mistake were to happen in, in a structured environment, uh, like a corporation. It wouldn't fall to the individual to try to sort out what happened, somebody else from HR or you and your management would tell you, okay, this is what you did.

And this is how you, how you don't do it. And it becomes more about memorization and less about the self initiative it takes to, to learn on your own. 

[00:53:33] Rob te Braake: Yeah. Yeah. And even if you wanted to do something that had the risk of falling down so much, you would have to ask permission from one or two levels above and they would have been in that before and they would tell you, no, we can't do that because of X, Y, Z.

So in terms of efficiency, that might be better, but in terms of learnings, I prefer the entrepreneur side. 

[00:53:53] Joseph: Yeah. I'm a mix. I mean, being in a, being in a structured corporate environment. It has it advantages and I'm not talking about my current position, really, just more thinking about previous positions and always looking for ways to kind of bend the rules a little bit, see how, uh, how I can, um, uh, adjust things from my own.

Um, coming come, is this coming from, you know, my creative background. My, you know, for, for being in the arts, his limitations are one great way to, um, encourage creativity because when you know where your restrictions are, it puts the brain in a different position to have to figure out different solutions to the problem.

Um, I'll just tell you a quick story and then I'll, I'll let you go. So, uh, one of the, one of the jobs that I had, one of the sales jobs earlier, one, um, we had sales targets and like $400 a day, $500 a day. We didn't have commission, essentially the. The the sale, the, your, your commission was basically your hours.

So if you sold, well, you got to work more, we sold less, you worked less. And I didn't like that because I could, you know, give it my all and do a great job. And if somebody comes in a day later, convinced based off my work, they then they, that somebody else gets a sale for the day. What I found was taking out a support role, helped me have more consistent hours.

Somebody has to take out the garbage is somebody has to fix the washes. Somebody had to do the, the, the, the inventory, clean, clean things up. Um, somebody had to run and get the coffee. And I mean, I wasn't, I need a consistent hour. So that was my, uh, my, my creative approach to it. So I think you could learn some independent thinking skills in a corporate environment, but I think in order to do that, you have to be willing to push back against the environment in the first place.

[00:55:35] Rob te Braake: When I joined the bank, we were recruited with the whole premise, like, oh, we're looking for tons of people that can break the rules and can help, uh, change the culture. So I did a couple of projects in Netherlands. Then they sent me to China to do a project and I loved it there. I wanted to stay there. Uh, but the Netherlands head office basically told me to come back.

I asked, I fixed with my managers in Asia, with my first manager, my second manager, the head of a. I arranged with everybody that I could stay in Asia and that they would pay for. And as somebody in the Netherlands in HR basically said, Nope, that's against the rules. You're not allowed to stay. You have to come back.

It was so frustrating that you want to break the rules you want to do exactly what they, they set you, they bring you in for, and the first time you try that, they say, no, no, no, no, no. This is against the rules. You really can't do that for me. That was the bottleneck that I thought, screw you guys. I loved working here, but I'm out. 

[00:56:32] Joseph: Um, yeah, there's, there's there's rules in quotation, mark, and then there is like, okay, now you're getting into like the law of the land.

Okay. Well that was a good way to decompress, but I think we are we're, we're all good for the day. Um, so, Rob te Braake, it's been a great conversation. I'm absorbing processing and I look forward to, uh, the, the, the version of me that will come out of what I, what I've learned today. If you have any final piece of advice, like a Chinese proverb, or if there's like a saying that you'd like sharing, you're welcome to share it. And then after that, to let the audience know how they can, um, get in touch and see more of what you're up to. 

[00:57:12] Rob te Braake: I don't think it's from a Chinese proverb, but revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cashflow is reality. That is the number one message to bring home in my eyes. And if you want to reach me the best place to do that is connectrob.com.

If you want help with setting the goals and the KPIs and the whole accounting process to facilitate that whole part, we have a game plan, a discovery project, basically that gives you the whole roadmap for that. And for your audience, we have a 25% discounts at financeinsightmatters.com/economics. 

[00:57:49] Joseph: Pleasures on, uh, on my side as well.

Um, so with that too, It is an honor and a privilege to collect this information, use it for my own benefit and then give it to all of you. So, uh, one more thank you to Rob te Braake for the road. Take care, and we will check in soon.

Thanks for listening. You might've found this show on many number of platforms, apple podcasts, Spotify, Google play, Stitcher, or right here on Debutify. Whatever the case,. If you enjoy this content and want to help us thrive, please take a few moments to leave a review on apple podcasts or wherever you think is best.

We also want to hear from you. So whether you think you'd be a good guest or want to weigh in on anything related to our show, you can email podcast@debutify.com or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. 

Finally, this podcast is created by the passionate team at Debutify. If you're ready to take the plunge into e-commerce or are looking to up your game, head over to debutify.com and see how it can change your life and the lives of many through what you do next.

Written by

Joseph Ianni

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