Allen Walton is the founder of SpyGuy, a multi-million dollar e-commerce business that's helping people feel safer, savvier, and James Bond-ier. As is the case for most successful entrepreneurs, Allen's journey in e-commerce is full of unexpected twists and big wins. We talked to Allen about scaling customer service, The 4-Hour Workweek, doubling his site's SEO, and a device that can pull the entire history off of an iPhone.
Tell us a bit about how SpyGuy came to be. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
The only thing I can really remember wanting to be was a rock star. I guess that could be considered a sort of entrepreneur, though. That opportunity was sort of squandered through a combination of World of Warcraft and not practicing.
The whole thing started a couple years after high school at this pancake place in Dallas - there was a security store next to it, and they had a help wanted sign. My mom made me apply, and I ended up getting the job. I learned a lot about the industry, sales, and inventory management.
They had several locations in the area, and over time I ended up running one of the stores by myself. One of my customers was this notorious reality TV show called ‘Cheaters’. After 2 years of working at the security store, Cheaters hired me to start an online spy shop for them. I learned a ton about ecommerce while I was there, which was about 3 years. I had a falling out with the owner, so I quit and took some time off before coming up with SpyGuy.
I noticed in previous interviews that you’re an avid reader. What’s on your reading list right now and what’s you go-to recommendation for fellow entrepreneurs?
For beginners, I think The4-Hour Workweek is still awesome, but I also recommend The Millionaire Fastlane - both are awesome books that challenge the typical path people take. I’m also starting throw How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big in the mix.
Lately, I’ve read Building a Story Brand, Deep Work, and The ONE Thing. All of them were great.
Gotta ask - have you achieved the 4 Hour Workweek?
Pretty much! I mean, it depends. Everyone’s definition of the 4HWW is a bit different. I now think of the 4HWW as a mindset book to make me realize what I want in life and how to make it happen.
Some people think it’s all about having a lifestyle business that’s run by virtual assistants while you hop around Southeast Asia, chilling on the beach or something like that. And that’s cool for a little while, until ‘the void’ set in and I realized that not working didn’t make me happy. There’s a whole chapter on that in the book everyone glosses over.
I was stuck in the void for like a year before realizing how unhappy it made me - I’d never made new goals once I met all the ones I’d dreamed of. Now, I’m most interested in growing this business and building a team, while still having the freedom to do what I want with my time.
Full disclosure, we’re web traffic nerds here at Simplr. It looks like the majority of your site traffic (61%) comes from search. At what stage of your growth did you start to get serious about SEO? Or - are you just lucky with keywords given your product?
I didn’t really take SEO seriously until this year. In the beginning, we depended a lot on PPC for our initial traffic, and it’s still important to us.
It gets expensive though, so we’ve really been making an effort to make good content, research keywords, make sure our site performs well, etc. We make sure the site is fast and that customers can find what they’re looking for.
What other marketing strategies are working for you right now?
We’ve doubled our SEO traffic this summer, so that’s definitely working! We’ve been writing a lot of content for our blog that isn’t even up yet, which is super embarrassing, and I’m excited to see how that goes.
I think we also get a lot of referrals - random traffic just shows up and we don’t know where it comes from. So, maybe providing good products and customer service is working?
Customer service has got to be huge for you given the technical as well as emotional nature of your business. Plus, I noticed that every product on your site comes with a “lifetime of tech support.” How have you been able to scale customer service as you’ve grown?
Yeah, customer service is extremely important.
You’re totally right - there is a lot of technical stuff customers ask about, plus the people buying these products are typically stressed out and have never used anything like spy gear before. They want to talk to someone, and want to know it’s going to work.
It used to just be me doing everything - answering the phone, doing live chats, driving to the post office.... it was awful. Fortunately, we’ve got an entire customer care team that handles all of that and does a fantastic job. I love scanning tickets and seeing how appreciative customers are.
Is it worth it to have live chat? Does that help with conversion rate?
100% worth it!
I can think of times when I was doing live chat all by myself, someone would ask a question, and I’d see their order come in moments later. Once, I was managing 3 live chats while eating lunch at In-N-Out and closed a $2,000 sale for some police department in Alaska! That blew my mind.
Any proud moments in customer service you’d like to share?
I’m in videos all over the website, and whenever I take a call there’s about a 50% chance someone recognizes my voice from the video they just watched. They get super excited that the owner is taking call, so that always makes me smile.
I see a lot of the reviews with customers praising my team, or just support tickets where they say we rock. It’s cool.
What are your go-to Shopify apps?
Klaviyo is hands down the best email app for Shopify, the power is just insane. I’m also big on HelpScout for our ticket system, but their integration could be deeper.
Shopify’s Google Shopping app has been important for us these last few years, but they replaced it this month with a totally broken version, and now we’re going to have to switch to something else.
Stamped.io is killer for getting customer reviews, and the developer is super responsive.
What’s your favorite product on the site right now?
The iPhone Recovery Stick - it’s a USB drive with software on it that can pull everything off an iPhone and even recover deleted stuff. It’s been around for a long time now, but I still enjoy hearing the disbelief customers have when they hear about it.