I first spotted Ruslan Kogan at McCarran International Airport, surrounded by what appeared to be nerdy groupies, before the craziness that was the week-long CES tech show in Las Vegas. The outspoken CEO, always dressed in a t-shirt emblazoned with some kind of geeky slogan, is easy to spot in a crowd.
Kogan has expanded his online retail store to sell over 50,000 products — everything from rugs to televisions to blood pressure monitors — not bad for an outfit that started selling just two models of televisions back in 2006. Kogan has recently moved into services as well with Kogan Mobile and Kogan Insurance. In the next few months, the company plans to launch an NBN service.
Kogan's not worried by delays in the NBN rollout, and thinks the company will launch "at just the right time" to take advantage of the growing market.
Of course, 2018 should bring with it massive competition once Amazon ramps up its online presence in Australia. Again, Kogan doesn't seem worried. Instead, he thinks the Amazon tide will lift all online boats.
"We're excited by Amazon's launch, and anything that can be done to increase the online shopping experience [in Australia]," he says.
"Any market with a dominant online player — AliBaba in China or Amazon in the US or UK — has double digit online shopping numbers." By comparison, only about 7 per cent of all shopping is conducted online in Australia.
Kogan is quick to correct my idea of his store as a destination for young male geeks, dominated by cheap technology products. In fact, the largest demographic of shoppers at Kogan.com are in the over 55 group, and are made up of men and women equally. He pores over data like this, and can throw off statistics about every part of his business.
"We're a statistics business masquerading as an online retailer," he jokes. The company is quick to analyse the data of its store, and external data like Google searches, to catch the latest trends.
"We know exactly when our buyers should import a s—-load of fidget spinners and when we should start discounting them and never stock them again," he says.
Kogan talks passionately about analytics, and all employees — from those in management to those on the help desk — are required to sit a logical and analytical reasoning test before joining the company.
But at CES, Kogan was just another technophile wandering the halls on the lookout for the next big thing.
"The big news is Google Home and that the technology driving the speakers is now being made open to other manufacturers," he says. Kogan plans to join the market, and is working on a branded speaker with Google Assistant built in.
He's also excited to see the development of Google's Android TV, the only smart tv platform he rates, on the show floor.
"I think all smart TVs are crap. A Google Chromecast is better than most smart TVs, that's why we bundle a Chromecast with ours," he says. When asked if he had any Android TV powered sets available he replied: "Not at the moment. But I stress, at the moment."
The other product line that caught his eye were cheaper, smaller drones. Surprising, considering CES in 2018 started with GoPro announcing it was exiting the space after a failed attempt to take on market leader, DJI.
Still, Kogan believes there's an untapped market for cheaper drones, designed for the hobby flyer or photographer. He was excited most by Ryze, which debuted the tiny Tello drone on the show floor. The $US99 ($125) drone is built with "quality cameras", protected blades, collision avoidance, flight stablisation, and is powered by an Intel Movidius Myriad 2 VPU, the same processor powering more expensive drones from DJI.