Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How Billy Wilson – Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of eCig Distributors – Grew His Business From 0 to Several Million Dollars in Sales

At 13 years old, Billy Wilson started a mobile car detailing business in his neighbourhood. He carried a hose, bucket, soap and hired 5 of his buddies. For Billy—founder of eCig Distributors—this was how his story began.

“I just fell in love with the whole creating your own schedule, solving problems and helping people. After that, I had a couple of different businesses.” He said.

Listen to our interview to eCig Distributors’ Founder and CEO Billy Wilson in our podcast:

Early Growth – life before eCig Distributors

A few years later, he entered college and partnered up with a professor who created the first online accredited college units in the US. The program was accredited through the Extended Studies Program at the San Diego State University. At the beginning, they had 20 students. By the time that they got shut down, they had 8,500 students.

“The reason we got shut down was because we were in talks with Blackboard—one of the largest players out there—to acquire us. The College of Extended Studies was upset because we had so many students in our program that they were losing State charter money because kids were only taking part time at their actual college units and taking the rest of their units with us.”

He narrates, “My partner was a tenured professor and he had a decision to make. Stay with the university or give up his tenure, his pension and choose another employer. At the end of the day, he didn’t have the stomach to do it.”

After this short setback, Billy relentlessly pursued his entrepreneurial endeavors. He entered the real estate industry and sold condo properties, townhouse projects and subdivisions to investors.

He also got involved with Tony Hsieh – the founder of Zappos. Billy helped create a bowling app called Rolltech—an app that lets bowlers track and analyze their scores and stats in real-time—in Tony’s incubator.

This venture was a success.

Now Rolltech, runs real money tournaments for bowling leagues and bowling tournaments around the world.

While these early entrepreneurial feats are extraordinary, Billy’s real entrepreneurial achievement was establishing eCig Distributors.

Creating eCig Distributors

Billy met his current business partner Paul Davey—President of Ecig Distributors—because they lived across the street from one another. Paul was introduced to eCigs and he thought of opening up a retail store. At first, they worked only on the weekends to see what would happen with their business.

A month and a half later, the store sold $3,500 in one day!

“We established the 2nd vape shop, so there weren’t really a lot of customers. But it was clear that people were demanding this product.” He said, “We then started a distribution company and decided that we would put this online. At that point, it was clear that once somebody had their first device they were quickly going to get their second.”

The following months, they focused on getting a hundred brands on the platform. Eventually, demand soared and retailers expressed their interest to buy wholesale products.

But implementing this was a lot harder than it looked.

“Unfortunately, in our industry there’s not a lot of platforms you could use due to the nature of our product. So we built a site. Got about 15 brands there and did a trade show in Houston and people were surprised by the concept. Didn’t think it would work and then orders started rolling in. People started talking about it.” He said in an interview.

Now, the company boasts 1,700 brands with about 1,200 suppliers. They have several hundred thousand retail customers, thousands and thousands of retail shops that they distribute to and retail to from around the world.

How do they keep their business keep growing?

Leveraging a Referral Marketing Strategy

At eCig Distributors, Billy and his team looked for effective marketing channels. They participated in trade shows. They sold their products in-store and built their own website.

While these actions helped them increase sales, it was referral marketing that proved to be one of their best marketing strategies.

“When you see a 75 year old man come into your store and couldn’t ride with his grandkids, who now can… stuff like that has a big impact, even with the younger generations. The best way to tell these stories is peer to peer, and referrals are a great way to do it. So, it’s a great service to have.” Billy explained.

After observing customers, bringing in their friends, and said friends bringing their friends, and so on—they knew referrals were powerful. The social validity they got via recommendations gave them a good edge over their competitors.

Now, they keep the program running with the help of ReferralCandy.

Billy chose ReferralCandy because it gave his team the most flexibility. He loves that it’s simple and easy to use.

“We are a very rapidly growing company. So we need something that our team could teach and impart that didn’t require a tech genius to have a bunch of coding. When we moved here we didn’t have a full marketing team. We now have five people handling this and doing a hell of a job. So being able to get them in a user-friendly environment without having to spend a lot of time teaching them how to use ReferralCandy, is one of the reason why we decided to try and continue to stay with the service.” He said.

As Billy continues his entrepreneurial journey, ReferralCandy helps him spread the word and get new customers. This way, he can continue to improve the lives of his customers, with the assurance that he’ll never go out of business.

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Raúl Galera

Raúl is ReferralCandy's partner manager.