Dan McIvor – Ecommerce Unlocked
Dan McIvor, Founder and MD of Exeter-based ecommerce agency Swanky, knows a thing or two about operating a locally-based business with truly global reach. As one of the world’s leading Shopify partners, Swanky has risen to the upper echelons of the ecommerce scene and is renowned for the expertise and impact which they offer their clients. And all from right here in little ol’ Exeter.
I recently sat down with Dan for a coffee, a chinwag and some top quality reminiscing about the 90’s metal bands which we both headbanged to.
Dan, thanks for your time. Tell me a little about where Swanky came from?
Well, we launched in January 2010 but didn’t really get going properly until mid-2011. To be honest, I had little idea of what I was doing as I hadn’t run a business before. A bit of debt, a bunch of cheap doughnuts and a lot of learning later, we discovered Shopify in 2012 which, at the time, was just a tiny Canadian start-up.
We identified it as the perfect platform for a toy manufacturer who we were working with who had just won the license to produce the official mascot toys for the 2012 Olympic Games. We built and launched their online shop in a very short amount of time, which was essential as they needed to move quickly ahead of the event.
What happened next?
We realised quickly that Shopify was a great fit for our business so we decided to specialise in it. By the end of 2013, we had become 100% Shopify focused. Partly due to the fact that we were ‘early adopters’ of Shopify, we’ve always been connected to people right at the top of their organisation. It’s a huge multi-billion dollar company now but we still have that personal connection right at the very top.
In 2016, they selected us along with two other agencies in Europe to be Shopify Plus partners. At that point, we were still just a team of three or four people in a cramped office on Cathedral Green. This catapulted us from being a tiny start-up to becoming one of the most prominent ecommerce agencies in Europe, just by virtue of that status change from Shopify.
Now there are about twelve specialist Shopify Plus agencies in Europe and we’re all racing to be the biggest and the best! And Shopify continues to grow like crazy. It has 30% year-on-year growth globally, and Swanky are chasing 70% growth. We’ve doubled our staff in the UK for three years in a row now, from four to eight, eight to sixteen and sixteen to thirty-two.
Incredible stuff Dan! So, what of your global operations then?
This year we launched a satellite office near Brisbane in Australia. Our ambition is fairly bold in that we want to be the best ecommerce agency in the world! With the level of client satisfaction, the level of growth and the quality of the staff that we have (as well as our experience, know-how and the brands that we work with), it really is possible.
We’ve found that the key is in helping companies to work out who their customer base is, how to position their products internationally, how to communicate their brand in multiple cultures globally and how to maximise customer loyalty through effective use of data and analytics.
Where did your love for tech come from do you think?
Well, when I met the other original co-founder of Swanky (Andrew McSweeney), I had found a kindred spirit. We shared the common experience that many people our age have of gradually harnessing the power of technology through spending hours tinkering and toying with it.
I remember speaking to Andrew about how rubbish most web agencies were at the time and thinking that surely we must be able to do it better. With a dream and all the brashness of two typical twenty-somethings, Swanky was born.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities of operating internationally?
Working online is amazing. It’s so easy to go international. For Swanky, we’ve obviously launched an Australian office and are looking to launch in America, Japan and maybe some more European locations too.
We are relatively small and agile compared to many global businesses and that is a huge advantage in the current economic and political climate. We launched in the middle of a recession so maybe it’s all we’ve ever known! I’m certainly not fazed by things like Brexit. With the right mindset and approach, it presents an opportunity rather than a challenge for most businesses.
I’d be interested to hear what it has been like to build a business of that nature from here in Devon?
I really enjoy busting the stereotype and I love rocking up at London or San Francisco events and being able to lay it out and prove that it just doesn’t matter where you’re based. I am in London every few weeks, I’m in Germany, up to Manchester. I’m moving around, but 90% of our business is done over the internet.
There’s a huge amount of talent in the South West and retaining that talent is paramount to the success of the region. We hopefully offer a compelling opportunity for talented people to stay in the region (or come and enjoy the benefits of living here), whilst also developing their own career with rapid progression opportunities.
What’s next for you and Swanky this year then?
Well, we’re planning an amazing conference event called Ecommerce Unlocked on April 3rd at the University of Exeter, particularly aimed at helping South West-based brands who are looking to grow from £1m – £100m turnover in online business. This is our ‘sweet-spot’ in terms of the businesses that we work with.
The event is going to focus on discussing the issues which ecommerce managers are experiencing at present – from optimisation and improving store sales to best-practice and practical marketing advice.
It is a ticketed event with a raft of national and international keynote speakers, interactive workshops and excellent networking opportunities. We’re pulling in some of our amazing global connections to offer a truly fantastic day for attendees. People can find out more at ecommerce-unlocked.com
To find out more about their industry-leading work, visit swankyagency.com
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos supplied by Swanky