Start-up success: from e-bay side hustle to $10m business in just 10 years - Australia’s leading gift business

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Start-up success: from e-bay side hustle to $10m business in just 10 years - Australia’s leading gift business
Personalised Favours initially started as an eBay store with Melissa and her mother selling personalised wedding favours.

Personalised Favours is Australia’s leading personalised gift business that has been designing and producing unique products for more than 10 years

They've been selling to more than 100,000 customers annually. The business was founded by Central Coast local, Melissa Wilkinson, who happens to be my sister-in-law.

Personalised Favours initially started as an eBay store with Melissa and her mother selling personalised wedding favours. Melissa worked on the design and art elements; her mum worked on customer service, and they outsourced all the rest – everything from the supplies to engraving to printing.

Things were challenging to begin with – the business was in its early days, with hardly any start-up capital and Melissa running nearly every element on her own. One day, she had a stroke of luck when she visited a trade show in Sydney and won the major prize of the day – a brand new laser engraving machine. This allowed engraving production to come in-house, helping to save on costs, and from there the business began to take off.

Customer response to the range was incredibly positive and demonstrated Melissa had found a genuine gap in the market, offering something that no one else in Australia was doing. Demand was so strong that she had to launch the company’s first website and began expanding beyond weddings to creating gifts for every occasion, as well as the corporate market.

I joined the business three years in, in 2013, and left behind a job in corporate banking. I was excited about working for myself, and I had a passion for SEO and SEM, new technology and business expansion, which I was able to cut my teeth into in the start-up. Mine and Mel’s skills – her creative flair and my business mind, worked well together.

Neither Mel nor I were e-commerce experts when we started the business, our first website was terrible. We moved across to the Magento platform around 2-3 years into the business and almost doubled our profit. It was proof that our initial website was not user-friendly at all. Our move to Magento allowed for a more seamless, user-friendly customer journey and also had a large emphasis on mobile users, allowing customers to shop easily via desktop or mobile device.  

Since that time, Personalised Favours has evolved and expanded significantly. Today, it is a genuine innovator and leader in online retail, with a business model that operates with maximum efficiency and flexibility, and enjoys extremely high levels of customer satisfaction, with more than 20,000 five-star customer reviewers.

We were early adopters with social media and Facebook Ads which helped our business grow. We’ve always understood the importance of online advertising, and Facebook Ads, in particular, have been incredibly successful for the business given the large amount of targeting options available. Both Google, Facebook and TikTok, which we recently joined, have provided us with platforms to reach customers of different ages, at different buying stages.

Keeping on top of e-commerce changes

There are new developments in the area every year – the category continues to boom. I will usually attend the Internet Retailer Conference and Expo in Chicago each year – the largest e-commerce event in the world to keep up to date with the latest trends and developments in the space.

Innovation remains and will always be crucial to the continued success of the business. Mel and I are constantly researching new technologies that can help create efficiency for the business, whether it be a new shipping solution or new software for engraving.

In the early days of Personalised Favours, we were running everything off spreadsheets which required every individual order to be manually added – this quickly became impossible to manage, so together with our Chief Technology Officer, Madeleine Wood, we designed and built several pieces of custom software and portals to manage this process more effectively. We’re now able to communicate directly with our customers via SMS and email, and our order management software allows our customers to see the status of their order at any point in time.

At no point is anything in business ever finished; it is always constantly evolving, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

Matthew Mosse-Robinson is the CEO of Personalised Favours.

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