Meet Phil Panchenko, founder of Digislider, a 31-year-old entrepreneur who runs his ecommerce company remotely, whilst he travels the world.
Learn how this Shopify store owner achieved semi-retirement two years after launching his company.
What is Digislider?
Digislider is a company that designs and sells motion control camera equipment for video and time-lapse photography.
Why did you start it?
I started it up because I wanted to take early semi-retirement as soon as possible, and enjoy my life for as long as I can. A third of your life is sleep, the other third, or more, is normally work. So, for me, doing something you are not enjoying makes no sense. Because to the best of human knowledge, you are only given the gift of life once, so you better not waste it.
Originally, my primary interest was in film so I studied BA Film & TV Course. After I completed university, I travelled for a year around Asia which really opened my eyes to the world, and especially the privileged group I was a part of. So I came back to the UK to do an MA in international relations and human rights.
However, I couldn’t get a job in anything I wanted to do, so I travelled for another year and then I got into documentary filmmaking. After a few years of this though, my passion for it was starting to run thin, and so was my bank balance, so I went freelance.
By that time, I was getting into photography in a big way, as it played well into a few of my interests; such as film and travel, etc. and I had been trying new things, which included playing around with timelapse. I found some awesome motorised timelapse gear but it was way out of my budget, so I decided to DIY it.
To produce a high quality product took ages. I did everything: learned basic website design, 3D modelling and dreamed of bolts. I cut and sanded my fingers, almost to the bone, and burned my hands as I soldered circuit boards. I assembled everything by hand, packed and shipped out everything myself. I worked tirelessly trying to make it work because it was proving to be successful. I woke up at 7am and stayed up until 2am just so I could catch the beginning of the Chinese work day.
I was constantly listening to customers’ feedback and using it to make the best possible slider I could for the price. People loved it and they loved that they could finally get high-quality tracking shots at an affordable price.
Well, I wouldn’t go out and I would spend as little as possible, so I could funnel as much money as possible, into the business as quickly as possible! Not that I recommend being a stingy anti-social hermit [laughs].
Without a doubt, I would not have been able to run my business the way I do without ecommerce software. It allowed me the freedom of time, which has meant that I have been able to achieve my dream of semi-retirement.
What ecommerce platform do you use?
I use Shopify for my commerce needs, which is probably the best platform to start off with. It is very user friendly, and efficient. The savings in time allow you to focus on other things. They have great customer support and are constantly making it better. I highly recommend it. You can have an online shop up-and-running in hours, with zero knowledge of coding.
How has Shopify’s app store helped?
Their apps make your life easier as they allow for a lot of automation. I automated invoices using “Invoicify”, tracking and shipment details with “Aftership”, collected customer emails for campaigns using “Mailchimp for Shopify” and added reviews to my store.
I also use “LoyaltyLion” to power my loyalty program. I believe encouraging loyalty is a key part of my business plan and I think should be a priority for any successful business. This to me, is fairly simple concept, I wanted to be honest and open with my customers and reward them for their loyalty. As I said, without my customers I have nothing, and I wanted, still want, to thank them for their custom.
Any other tips?
Delegate and automate as much as possible. As my business picked up, I found a fulfilment service who would pick pack my products and ship them out, and send confirmation emails. I then found a company that would assemble my products – all I had to do now was order supplies in. I gradually started refining the business and concentrated on making sure that I could manage it solely through the internet.
My first test came when I booked a trip to India with my brother, and a few of my friends to go on an adventure holiday, where we drove a rickshaw 3000km up the coast from the jungles of Kerala to the deserts of Rajasthan. I was on the road all day and only needed to check emails once a day with a combination of less than 4 hours a week. Four hour work week achieved!
So you had achieved what you had set out to do, did you stop there?
Well, I could have quite easily left it as it was and worked 4 hour weeks without a problem. It was a well-oiled machine at that point. But I wanted it to grow and offer more exciting products, so I started looking into new products and designs, and have now expanded the product range with a compact handheld video stabiliser and a telescopic motorised jib which uses the same controller and motors as the original Digislider.
So what is your advice to anyone wanting to create a Start-Up?
I recommend doing whatever you are passionate about, and pursuing it in a scientific and efficient way. You don’t need to be smart or rich, you just need to have common sense; being able to put yourself in the position of others and thinking objectively. I recommend pursuing your interests, so you are starting a company that you are invested in, so you have a passion and a head start in understanding the market and the product you are selling, because you too are a part of it. That way when you are selling it to your customers, you’re not trying to swindle people, because you believe in your product, and what it can do for them.
You also need to work really hard at first, every waking hour. You need to be doing something or thinking about doing something 24/7. The idea is to work 100% and get something up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Biggest lesson is: without your customers you are nothing, so you really have to listen to them. If you do not adapt to their needs, you can say goodbye to your business and your life of freedom. However, my advice on this particular point, is that you should only change if enough people demand it. Do not change things for individuals, make changes when groups of people are demanding the same thing. No product will be perfect for everyone, but at least try to make it as good as it can be.
Do you still feel job satisfaction, now that you’ve achieved what you set out to do?
Yeah, I do. Especially when I’m thinking of ideas, I like coming up with new design ideas or ways to refine my products. I like being creative. I get bored if things remain the same, so I need to constantly innovate.
It was a hard at first to feel any sense of satisfaction, as I was spending so much time getting the business off the ground, and was focusing on the end result. So now, my job satisfaction comes from being able to concentrate instead on the creative elements of the business, as opposed to the processes of the business. I get to play now, really. Even when I’m working.
I think the dream would be not working at all, so it’s still not perfect [laughs]. But it terms of being semi-retired; yeah, for now, I do feel like I am living the dream. I wake up grateful every day knowing I have achieved what I set out to do, but I do not take anything for granted. I know if I do not remain flexible and adapt to the changes around me then it could all come crashing down. So yeah, for the meantime, I do feel like I am.
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