Interview: Growing A Tennis Ecommerce Business

Growing an Ecommerce niche market business

Ecommerce can be a cut-throat business. With Amazon taking the lion's share of online commerce these days, it's hard to stand out. But still, people carve out successful sub-niches inside ecommerce niches. The key is the ability to differentiate your business or product from the masses. A product that resonates with people or solves a problem is only the first step. Then you need to market it online. Fabio Molle from Functional Tennis relies on Instagram for traffic but he has tried everything and has some words of wisdom for ecommerce entrepreneurs.

Business Stats


Year started: 2016

Current Revenue: undisclosed

Website traffic Graph – Estimated by SEMRUSH:

functional tennis traffic graph semrush

Key Takeaways

  • Personalized customer service is a great growth hack.
  • Instagram can be a powerful driver of traffic in the right niche.
  • Selling a product people are not directly looking for requires extra effort in marketing.
  • Quitting a business before it begins to decline is hard to do but vital.
  • Shopify is better than Magento.

Introducing Fabio

fabio molle ecommerce business owner of functional tennis

I’m Fabio Molle from Dublin. I have two businesses. For the past 10 years, I’ve run an ecommerce store called Funky Christmas Jumpers. We ship all over the world.

A few years ago, I launched Functional Tennis, an Instagram account with over 200,000 followers. And we built a website around that. We sell a tennis journal. And we’re looking to add more products, in the near future.
Functional Tennis was a way for me to collate videos I thought would be pretty good for my tennis specific injuries.

So I looked for a way to combine this and my experience with ecommerce. I really love tennis and I love ecommerce. So I combined them together to try to grow a business. It’s been a slow starter. And yeah, we’re still way off what we want but we’re slowly getting there.

Ecommerce online store on magento

Can you explain your business to my grandmother?

Sure. We have an Instagram account where we put up some great tennis videos that people interact on and share. And we use that Instagram account to drive traffic to our website so people can purchase our product. People can also check out other great resources we have in our website, such as a free course they can download to draw their match plans on.

The content available in the journal can be downloaded for free as a PDF download.

And we also have some training guides up there to help people become quicker tennis players. Some core exercise training too. And, well, we like to give away some free products to encourage people to go to our website, check it out, and ultimately buy a product.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea started when I hit my 30s and I had a lot of injuries. I saw many Instagram accounts with people putting out good exercises. But they were all mixed up and I wanted one place where I could put them all together. So I set up the functional tennis Instagram account to put all these great videos in one place.

This was before the days of the bookmark. Had the bookmark been available back then I would not have started functional tennis. But pretty quickly, it got traction. From there we just kept pumping out the videos. 

Who are your target customers?

Tennis players of all ages and sizes. ? But basically, there are juniors and seniors, coaches, parents, and some top pros following. It’s a mixture of everybody in the tennis community. So rather than being a certain age group it is just a mixture of people interested in learning and becoming better players.

How did you grow your business?

Basically, we just posted every day to try to build relationships with players and coaches from all over the world. We tried to be proactive at tournaments, talking to people, and using my connection on Instagram to build better relationships on the ground.

Having peoples ambassadors talking about functional tennis is important. It’s been a slow to grow, day-by-day business. 

Obviously, hitting milestones of 200 K, for example, give you great credibility, but we’re self funded. And we’re not going to take on any funding. We want to grow this organically.

It’s been just a steady uphill progression. That’s the best way of putting it. Launching the journal was a key moment for us and I think it’s important that we launch more products. We will not survive at just one product.

functional tennis journal inside

What's your Ecommerce tech stack?

We use Shopify to handle everything. I come from a Magento background with FunkyChristmasJumpers but Shopify is so much easier. I can do most things myself. I’m not the best designer out there but I can put stuff together. I can install apps really easily and configure them. With Magento we pay developers to look after things. It’s really hard to update stuff but Shopify just makes everything a dream. 

The apps we use within Shopify are:

  • AfterShip for notifications when deliveries arrive. So customers get a better experience.
  • A currency converter because we ship all over the world. 
  • Bonjoro to send personalized thank you videos to our customers. 
  • Gleam to host competitions. 
  • MailChimp, but the Shopify integration with this email platform has come to an end. We’re not sure if we’re just going to use an extension to handle that integration for a while and then move to Klaviyo, which have used for FunkyChristmasJumpers. Klaviyo’s great but it’s expensive. 
  • Notify by to show people when somebody last purchased or left a review on our website, which I think can help.
  • We use Rewind to make backups of our store. Not a lot changes but I’ve learned that it’s always important to have a backup.
  • Shogun to build out bespoke pages. We’ve built new product pages, blogs, and product guides with Shogun and find it a really good app.
  • We use Zapier for some flows. 
  • Xero for our accounts software.
  • Instagram is all manual. We don’t use any apps for Instagram. 
  • We also use a bit of Slack.

You’re at a party and someone asks you what you do, what do you answer?

Because of my jumper business, the answer to that question was always a weird one. Once they heard what I did, they’d say, “So what do you do the rest of the year?”

There’s actually quite a bit of planning involved in this business. But I just tell people I’m in ecommerce and that I sell a couple of my own products. I keep it simple but people are always interested in what you sell. 

Which marketing apps could you not work or live without?

Instagram – most of our traffic is through Instagram. Without it, I would probably be out of business. WhatsApp is also great for communicating with people.

Any big failures?

I was on Dragon’s Den and it went terribly badly. There’s a video somewhere online of when I was on the UK Dragon’s Den, which was a pretty big deal. I did it all myself. And I set up all the research, all the planning, the pitch, setting up my little wardrobe, I put all that together. It was a tough few months and was nerve-racking. But it ended up being a big fail.

I’ve launched plenty for a new product before that have all been failures. I try to stay away from cheap items. I find them really hard to sell. And ultimately, I’d like to move up the price chain on selling products online which have a lot more margin. And I’d prefer to not have to rely on huge quantities of sales. With smaller quantities, we can be a lot more profitable.

Do you have any cool marketing or growth “hacks” to share?

I used freelancers on Fiverr to figure out who on our huge mailing list had birthdays coming up. We figured out who’s birthday it was in October, November, and December. The freelancer in Sri Lanka created bespoke Happy Birthday messages with the person’s name on cardboard and they’d sing Happy Birthday while wearing one of our jumpers. I set it up so that when it was your birthday you’d get one of these emails with a video. But it turned into a disaster.

About a quarter of the way through the process, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. We were not getting the clicks or the social sharing that we expected.I thought, “oh I thought it was going to be like the biggest game change ever”.

At the moment, I’m just trying to be really personal with all our customers send them Thank You videos. That’s gone well, and the online feedback is great.

Which books, podcasts, or courses would you recommend to other entrepreneurs?

I like the guys at Ecom Crew and the guys at Ecommerce Influence. I’ve actually worked them in the past. Ecommerce Fuel is a great podcast I listen to regularly.

I love biography books, like Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE, Tiger Woods’ biography, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci. They’re all great biographies and I recommend you read every one of them. 

I also like Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. A great book for learning about customer interaction. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Leadership: Plain and Simple by Radcliffe is a great book on leadership and business. The Magic of Thinking Big was one that I read years ago and I always go back to it. 

Where can we find you on the interwebs? 

You can find me on Twitter at fabmol where I hang around a bit. Instagram: Fabmol and FunctionalTennis or email me at [email protected]

Interview: Growing an Ecommerce niche market business
Interview: Growing an Ecommerce niche market business

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