Strong, Swift, and Smart: The Elements of Elkfox

Elkfox's mission for its clients is to “make things that look good, feel good, and work as they should.” Here's how they use Mailchimp and Shopify to do just that.

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While its name might suggest the result of an experiment conducted by an animal-obsessed Dr. Frankenstein, Elkfox is the ideal moniker for this Melbourne, Australia-based digital commerce company.

On the one hand, you have the rugged durability of an elk; on the other, the savvy resourcefulness of a fox. Those dual qualities have helped Elkfox evolve from a fledgling digital firm just finding its way into a highly focused e-commerce expert with global clients.

A good deal of the credit for Elkfox’s evolution belongs to its founder and co-owner, Cam Gould. You could even trace the company’s roots back to his childhood in the late 1980s, when he had the unusual privilege of playing with emerging computer technology before it was available to the public.

Cam’s father worked in technology, and he often tested computing devices for educational value. At a time when other kids’ access to tech was limited to early gaming platforms, Cam was tinkering with primitive—and at times, quite novel—computer systems.

“We actually had one of the very first ‘portable’ computers,” he remembers. “It was a giant suitcase kind of thing, and it was quite bizarre. It had a full-sized keyboard and a monochrome CRT monitor in orange and black. As a child, I couldn’t even carry it. Eventually, it got sold to a collector’s private museum.”

His dad’s unusual job gave Cam the chance to cultivate a burgeoning interest in digital technology. He became especially interested in how computers combined audio and visual communication into a seamless experience. “I really saw no line between the visual and audio forms of communication; no line between craft, design, and art.”

Cam eventually found himself drawn more and more to the visual arts. He studied photography at university, started producing short films, and began experimenting with web design in the early days of the internet. “I was quite possibly making some of the first modern layout webpages,” he says.

After university, Cam’s many interests—technology, photography, visual design, programming—led him down a labyrinthine career path. He worked in advertising, as a professional photographer, and as a web developer. But no matter what he was doing, he was always finding ways to combine multiple tools or disciplines to create something more than the sum of its parts.

“I have always been interested in bringing multiple disciplines together for a single purpose, whether it’s a film or a web page. And to me, that’s the same thing you do when you’re working to help people connect with their customers online—which is why I love the world of e-commerce.”

An agency by any other name

It’s not uncommon for upstart agencies to take some time to find their niche. Before it discovered its penchant for digital commerce, Elkfox was a general services digital firm operating under the name Business Image. “It was never really the right fit,” Cam says of the old name. “It was too corporate, stale, and boring.”

When it became clear that digital commerce was the company’s bread and butter, everything began to fall into place, including the new name. “At first, the name was Elk & Fox. Over a very short period of time, that evolved into one word.”

Elkfox quickly made a name for itself as a company that knew its way around digital commerce and marketing platforms. In its early days, the company had used open source software to create its own proprietary CMS for clients. “At that time, it was unusual for a CMS to have a clean, logical interface focused on making the user’s experience positive,” he says.

But as better and smarter cloud-based platforms emerged, Cam and his team started exploring them. They soon fell in love with 2 that, for their purposes, seemed like a match made in heaven: Shopify and Mailchimp.

“Mailchimp wasn’t quite huge yet at that point, but we felt it was really doing things the right way,” he says. “Shopify was in early stages as well, but they had exactly the right approach.”

As Elkfox sought to define its role in the marketplace as an e-commerce expert, it saw an opportunity to simplify and improve its processes.

“Shopify was doing what we were trying to do, and they had done it way better than we had ever done it,” Cam says. “So we felt like it was time to jump ship from working on our own proprietary thing and work from these cloud-based platforms. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

"We really like to work for companies that are at a point where they’re ready to take things seriously and yet are extremely positive and vibrant in their approach."

Life in the clouds

By hitching its wagon to Mailchimp and Shopify, Elkfox not only gained 2 new powerful tools; it also freed up time to focus on providing its clients with strategic guidance and excellent customer service. Most important, Mailchimp and Shopify provided a framework for the company to achieve its mission for its clients: to “make things that look good, feel good, and work as they should.”

While Elkfox works with both startup and legacy companies, it has found it prefers to partner with established companies who haven’t yet reached the point where their approach to doing business has become rote or monotonous.

“Some companies seem to lose that passion and vigor,” Cam says. “We really like to work for companies that are at a point where they’re ready to take things seriously and yet are extremely positive and vibrant in their approach.”

Prospective clients also need to have a clear idea of who they are and what they want to achieve, he says. “There needs to be a level of maturity there. They have to have learned what they need to focus on, and be ready to put in the effort to bring their business to the next level.”

As far as industry or size is concerned, Elkfox isn’t picky—it could be B2B, B2C, mom-and-pop, or a major enterprise. “It really doesn’t matter. It’s all about having that passion and not lacking love for what they do.”

Perhaps that’s been more key than anything to Elkfox’s success so far—finding clients who share their passion. It’s not enough for Cam and his team to help Client X make money. They want to build meaningful relationships and have some fun doing it. For that to happen, the client has to be willing to have some fun, too. “We can’t enjoy it if they aren’t enjoying it.”

Why education and empowerment are key for e-commerce clients

Some marketers see clients as cash cows. But when your clients are e-commerce companies, it pays to consider a different approach: education and empowerment. Here’s why, according to Elkfox’s Cam Gould.

Freedom. The last thing an e-commerce company needs is another ongoing business expense. If you really want to help them, you set them up for success and empower them to take control. “If we do things properly,” he says, “they shouldn’t need to rely on us.”

Innovation. When you empower clients, it allows your own team more time to learn new tools and pursue opportunities with future clients. “When clients aren’t so reliant on us, we become stronger,” he says.

Trust. Clients increasingly want to feel like they can rely on vendors for advice, support, and even friendship. “When working with people, it has to be genuine and real,” he says. “You have to care about who you work for.”

Illustrations by Dana Kalnick, a Portland, Oregon-based designer and illustrator.

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