Danny Wong got my attention when he sent me a list of the media outlets that he somehow got to cover his young, custom shirt ecommerce company, Blank Label. The New York Times, Business Week, Fast Company and over dozen other equally-well-known publications covered him in the few months since he launched.
He’s a 19-year-old entrepreneur who says he knew nothing about PR 6 months ago. So how did he pull it off? That’s what I invited him to Mixergy to talk about.
Danny Wong, Blank Label
Danny Wong, a co-founder of Blank Label which allows customers to create custom men’s dress shirts. Users can pick fabrics, collar styles, cuff styles, size and fit options, as well as embroider custom monograms.
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Here’s your program.
Andrew Warner: Hey everyone, it’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Danny Wong is a 19-year-old undergrad who launched an online custom dress shirt company called BlankLabel. He’s here on Mixergy to talk about it. Getting customers and attention for an online store can be tough. I know, I’ve seen my friends go out there and build stores online. You’re competing with Amazon. You’re competing with big brand names. You’re competing with people who have tons of cash. How do you even get attention? Somehow, BlankLabel is getting a lot of press and is generating attention for itself. Therefore, I inviting Danny to Mixergy to find out how much revenue his company has earned and how he’s marketing the company. Welcome to Mixergy.
Danny Wong: Thank you very much, Andrew. BlankLabel has in under six months since we’ve launched been able to make over $125,000 without spending any real money on advertising. We did do a couple of tests just like any good business would do to figure out whether or not advertising would be a good channel for us. For our business it just wasn’t working. I think we did a $200 test on AdWords that, I think, is still running but we’re not going to be focusing much effort on it because we have not seen any positive ROI from that campaign. Most of our efforts have been on building a great customer experience so that we can have incredibly happy customers who refer their friends and family. Our experience is like no other. We’re trying to change the way men shop for cocreation. Our other channels are through SEO and leveraging media to being in a greater audience and increase out customer base.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I want to dig into all of that. In fact, I’m surprised that you launched right in and gave me the revenue numbers. You said $125,000 minimum over the last six months. You and I talked by email and you said, ‘Andrew, I don’t want to give my competition too much information.’ Therefore, we’ll leave it there. I won’t push further. You also answered my other question, which was going to be, ‘How long has it been since you guys launched?’ Six months. Great. I want to dig into all of the things that you’ve said and I want to find out where specifically you’re getting customers. I’m never happy to just hear, ‘We’ve created a great user experience.’ I need something that’s a little more concrete than that.
First, let’s discuss why the connection is bad. Where in the world are you?
Danny: I am in Shanghai right now. I am literally on the other side of the world. It’s a fifteen-hour difference from Pacific standard time.
Andrew: What time is it where you’re doing this interview right now? One of the reasons I ask is because it’s tough for me to do interviews with people in China because the hours are just so upside down.
Danny: It’s 4:00 a.m. here right now.
Andrew: 4:00 a.m. Man! You got up at 4:00 a.m.; you got up before 4:00 a.m., you got yourself dressed up in a nice shirt that we can’t even see because the internet is bad in Shanghai, just to do this interview. I am really grateful. Thank you.
Danny: Yeah. I just wanted to clarify one fact. We launched in October 2009. I think it’s been eight months now, but within our first six months we were able to generate over $125,000 in revenue without spending anything on advertising. We still haven’t spent any real money on advertising.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I appreciate you saying that. All right. Let’s talk about what this business is: BlankLabel. What does it mean that it’s blank label? What do you guys do?
Danny: What we do is we make cocreated dress shirts. The idea of cocreated is consumer empowerment. Consumers collaborating with retailers to create a product that they want. Our business allows you to design your own dress shirt. Our future goal is to be the cocreation company where perhaps you’ll be able to co create your pants, sports jacket, sweater, or polo. In the meantime, we’re allowing you to design your own dress shirt. We have a configuration online that allows you to really see a visual of something that you’re creating. It’s quite different from your typical Savile Row dress shirt. I don’t know if you can really see, but what I have on right now is a red striped collar . . .
Danny: . . . on a blue striped shirt. I have a white placket to go with it. It’s something very different from getting your standard white dress shirt that is fitted for you because you went down to your local tailor, picked out the best Oxford cloth you could find.
Andrew: All right. I went through the process. In preparation for this interview, I went over to your website and it said in ten minutes you could create your own shirt. I said, ‘All right. I’ll give it a shot.’ I wasn’t really looking to do it. I was sucked in. I said, ‘All right if I can do it in ten minutes, in fact, if the average person can do it in ten minutes, I could probably zip through it sooner. If they are telling me the truth and it’s that easy.’ Sure enough, it’s just a bunch of buttons that you press to pick the design that you want. You get to pick the color of the shirt you want, the material for the collar that can be different from the — what is that called, the white strip that goes down the front?
Danny: The placket.
Andrew: The placket. You get to pick that. You get to pick the kind of cuffs that you want. I selected French cuffs for this shirt that I made. It was really that easy and it’s also extremely configurable. I can have a monogram, I can have my name on the back of the shirt, and I can have my name on the front. Really nicely done. Also though, somewhat tough to explain to people. Most people are used to saying; I go to the store and get a shirt. I want to try it on. The internet has said to them, ‘Give it a shot. Give online buying a shot and see if it’s just as easy. We’ll even take stuff back from you.’ What you guys are now saying is, ‘You have to understand that you can create your own shirt, have it mailed to you, and not even see it until it is fully made and in your hands.’ That’s a tough explanation. That’s a tough thing to get people comfortable with.
Andrew: What do you do to make them comfortable with all that?
Danny: Well, there definitely is a ton of friction because consumers can’t see the physical shirt themselves. They can’t try it on. They can’t feel the fabrics. The way we have tried to work around that is by providing great visuals for our product. For the fabric samples that we offer, we have a live shot of the actual fabric. We also have a 3D rending of a plain dress shirt that as you style it, it changes. You see a digital version of your dress shirt. The comparison is pretty good. The digital dress shirt will look a lot like, if not exactly like, the physical product that you will receive. The other point of friction is not being able to try on the dress shirt, which is certainly an issue for everyone. We have had issues with trying to resolve fit. We ask a series of questions. We ask what your body type is, if you’re a skinny guy, if you’re a full sixed guy. .
Andrew: I picked very muscular. That button that said, ‘Very muscular.’ I wanted to make sure there was room for all the bicep right here! It’s nice that you have that option. J Crew doesn’t unfortunately.
Danny: [laughs] If you provide us with that information, your body type, your normal standard size, just because it’s easier for people rather than telling them to go to your local tailor and get measured up, and your fit preferences as well as your height and weight. We set up a profile for your body so you can get a shirt that fits better than anything off the rack does with all the information we got from you.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I am going to come back and ask a few more questions about that including what was that bleeping sound that I heard when I was on your website. I put that down. Let’s start out by talking about press.
Andrew: It seems to me that for an online store and for a guy whose last name is not Zuckerberg, you’re able to get a lot of press. I saw Business Week, CNet, The Street, Examiner, Mashable, The Boston Globe, The New York Times. Are you a guy that comes from the media world? You’re not, right?
Danny: No. Not at all. Not at all. I’ll be honest with you. When I started, when we launched the company, I barely had a clue what the word PR meant.
Danny: There was an idea, how can we generate traffic? How can we acquire customers at low cost? When we first launched, our conversion rate was pitiful. Through the numbers, our line would have been -3:1 if we were trying to use a system like AdWords or grow through an advertising network and use banner ads. We said, ‘We have to make money somehow. We have to acquire customers somehow. We don’t have the capital to just throw in money so we can start generating revenue. We haven’t those base customers to leverage in a hopeful way to zero balance our line.’ I decided to try my skills in PR. I started with Silicone Media. I hit the long tail of media. I targeted very niche bloggers on very small-scale websites. I shot them the pitch. It was very basic. My first pitch was along the lines of, ‘Hey, we’re BlankLabel, we do custom dress shirts. Design your own. You should check it out. Our product’s affordable. It starts at $45. It just launched. So, you should check out the site and let me know your size.’ It didn’t go to well.
Andrew: It didn’t. Did it go well or not go well? I didn’t catch that.
Danny: In the beginning, it didn’t go to well. That’s not surprising at all. There’s a lot of trial and error. Mostly error. I had to figure something out. Continue testing. The most valuable thing for me was bringing on advisors who could help me grow. I took on two informal PR advisors to help me learn how to write press release. I don’t know if I’ll ever officially use a press release. They told me about proper communication. I was able to start hitting up the tumulus bloggers who got really excited about what was going on with BlankLabel and decided to write about it. I got a little excited about the leveraging.
Andrew: Let me stop you right there because the audio is so bad that I need to really make sure that I’ve understood everything and the transcribers understand everything. When you first reached out to bloggers, it did not go well, right?
Andrew: In retrospect, why did it not go well when you first reached out to bloggers? Did you have the wrong pitch? Did you have the wrong bloggers that you were pitching to?
Danny: It was mostly that I had the wrong pitch.
Andrew: What was your pitch? I want to see what you did wrong so that I don’t’ make the same mistake.
Danny: It was very simple. I thought that because we had a new product, a new vision for retail, we could easily say, ‘We’ve just launched. This is our offering.’ At the time, we didn’t identify ourselves as a cocreation company. We just said, ‘We do design your own custom dress shirts. Check it out. Let me know your thoughts.’ It was incredible simple. It was short. It was to the point. However, there was not enough meat to the pitch for anyone to take it seriously. We were lucky enough that some small bloggers that just quickly check their email said, ‘I’ll click this link and give you a shot.’ Therefore, we got small-time coverage. It started to snowball after I learned about proper communication and built a little more confidence when more small-scale bloggers decided to cover us. I hit the media tail of media . . .
Andrew: Let me pause right here again because the connection is so bad. I want to make sure that I understand and that everyone can hear it. Man, am I coming across clearly to you? Because it’s, the connection seems like it is deteriorating on this side.
Danny: I’m hearing you great. No, I’m hearing you great, Andrew.
Andrew: Oh, good, good. All right. You were just assuming at first that because you had a new idea the bloggers would write about it. You’d just say, ‘Hey it’s a new idea. We’re launched.’ That didn’t work. You said that you hadn’t yet learned the term cocreation and that you should be using that. Why is using the term cocreation so important when you’re pitching bloggers? Why is that something that you pointed out as a mistake in the early days?
Danny: The idea of cocreation is something that’s pretty snappy. The word cocreation. It’s different. It’s unique. It has an aura around it. We tried to promote ourselves as a mass customization company.
Andrew: As a mass customization company is how you tried to promote yourselves?
Danny: Right. Many people say, ‘Yeah, I kind of get what you’re doing, but the idea of mass customizations, I lose it. There’s mass, and then there is customization. They don’t fit together.’ We felt that (1) we’re short a term (2) a little more sent and (3) we would sound sort of unique. It would have different appeal to it. That’s what cocreation does for our product and for our brand.
Andrew: Did also having that phrase ‘cocreation’ help you maybe seem like you’re coming up with a new way of doing business? Did it make it seem like it was a broader idea and maybe then more compelling?
Danny: Right. Yes. Yes, it certainly did. Especially as we evolved as a business. We started teaming up with other cocreation companies that were young upstart businesses in the US and a couple that are global. We have been able to develop in the industry as a way of changing retail effectively. We’re looking to break down mass production the way retail is now and replace that with cocreation for most products for consumers. Ranging anywhere from chocolates to handbags to women’s shoes, etc.
Andrew: I see. I’ve seen that before in other interviews. That if you connect yourself with a bigger movement you give the press and bloggers and other people more reason to talk about what you’re doing.
Andrew: Validating yourself.
Danny: Exactly. Exactly.
Andrew: Okay. All right. You said also that you got PR advisors and they helped. How’d you get PR advisors?
Danny: the first one had come across us. He was an MBA alum from Babson and he had heard about what we were doing. He just shot us an email, a friendly email, just to say, ‘Hey, what’s up? I work in PR and I’d love to chat with you guys sometime about what you guys are doing for your marketing efforts.’ I was a little skeptical at first.
Andrew: Yeah, that sounds like a shady proposition. All right.
Danny: But he has turned out to be the best advisor that I’ve ever had. He’s very open with strategies that he’s used in the past. He’s been very helpful in developing campaigns that we’ve used to push media.
Andrew: What have you given him in exchange for all this great advice?
Andrew: No share of the business?
Danny: No. Which is also surprising. We have considered it we just haven’t gotten to that point where we’ve made or had a serious conversation with him about it. That’s why I said I brought on two informal advisors who I consult with every now and again. I think like most other people in the world, he’s just trying to help us grow as business grows. Knowing where we are in our lives and just generally being interested in what we’re doing and wanting to support that.
Andrew: I see. At some point if there’s a bugger business opportunity or a way for you guys to work together, then it will happen at that point.
Andrew: But he’s not asking for anything up front.
Andrew: Okay. What’s the best piece of PR advice that he’s given you?
Danny: I would definitely say it’s something that I highly neglected for a long time. I used contact forms on websites especially if it was mass media because I wasn’t able to locate their emails. Now I use a database called CisionPoint, which I have access to. Formerly I would try to click around on the website and find some sort of form that would connect me with a write or just the general info@ email just so I could somehow push my pitch through. Something that has been incredibly valuable has been journalist and reporter targeting and also follow-ups on top of that. Being able to have someone’s email and being able to follow up with them directly rather than pinging the flat email five times and probably getting five people who are filtering through and seeing whether they want to push the stories to their editors.
Andrew: What’s the database that you said that you used? I want to make sure that people hear that.
Danny: No. CisionPoint.
Andrew: CisionPoint. Okay. I am sure that there are people out there who know PR backwards and forward that are going crazy that I would call it DecisionPoint when it’s obviously CisionPoint. Excuse me. I never heard of it people. I’m here to learn also. This isn’t just about you the audience. It’s about Andrew also. Okay. So don’t use the info or contact form on press sites. Use CisionPoint to find out who the right reporter is. Contact them directly. Follow up with them. What kind of follow-up do you do with somebody who doesn’t respond to you?
Danny: It’s tough. It’s tough. You have to first consider what they’re writing about. You should follow what they’ve written about in the meantime since you last emailed them. Perhaps you can add some additional thoughts to that. Rework your pitch to what you think they’re trending to in terms of their coverage. Sometimes I just shoot them the simplest follow-up email. I copy and paste the last email and I just note that, ‘Hey, this is a follow up email. I’d love to hear your thoughts.’ Depending on the second reaction, if there’s a reaction at all, I usually follow up a third time. If the second time is a simple copy and paste and a note that I’m following up, the third time I might follow up with a whole new message or a big addition to the old message without it noted what I had said in the last email, since apparently that didn’t work.
Andrew: There’s no more specific formula for following up. You just have to keep trying with them. Gentle reminders that you’re around. Lots of follow-up.
Danny: Right. Right.
Andrew: You said earlier that you went after some blogs that didn’t work then after you learned a little but and had your pitch down you went after others and it did work.
Andrew: What did you do differently and what kind of blogs started writing about you?
Danny: I started pitching more about why our business was interesting and why it was different from what normal retail was doing. Something that I really pitched heavily was who we were as a business. I actually noted that in bold. Some of the points that we were trying to change the way men shop through cocreation. The idea that the new male, the new age male, is more fashionable, more style conscious, and he’s excited about designing his own, especially Generation Y which is a more entitled consumer. I would note supporting points like that. The fact that we are affordable luxury because our price points are comparable with your J Crews, your Brooks Brothers, and even less than Thomas Pink.
Andrew: I saw that, by the way. The price, I thought would be outrageous. I though would be expensive. It was pretty reasonable. Who’s doing this? Who’s making the shirts?
Danny: We work with manufacturers here in Shanghai. We have a team of tailors. All the production is done here in Shanghai where I am right now. We have a great team. We were there in the factory yesterday and we took some photos.
Andrew: How do you find a factory that’s going to do this for you? You guys aren’t going out and recruiting individual people, right?
Danny: No. No. No.
Andrew: There’s a factory somewhere that does this and you guys just partner up with them.
Andrew: How do you find them?
Danny: It’s difficult, I must say. Especially in the custom segment because in the custom segment the tailors are used to westerners coming our, traveling, and then stopping by and saying, ‘Hey, I want to get ten dress shirts. Measure me up and I want ten of that dress shirt.’ We’re doing something incredibly different. While, yes, our product is still custom, it’s cocreated. You can say, ‘I want purple lining on the inside of my collar. I want blue buttons. I want double pockets with flaps.’ That’s a little more difficult for our tailors to manage. With this fragmented industry where it’s usually a small tailor shop and westerners coming in and saying, ‘I want a very simple product that is made to fit me.’ We’re coming in and saying, ‘We want you to make every single shirt individually.’ One of the benefits of, well, one of the efficiencies of having just one westerner come in and say. ‘I want ten or fifteen shirts. You have my size,’ is that the way our tailors do it, they make a cardboard cutout of the specific piece for the dress shirt, and they cut the fabric around it. They can easily cut 15 shirts for one guy at once. With our guys, you can’t do that. You have to cut every single shirt.
Andrew: Yeah. So, how do you find people like that? I know that it’s hard to find suppliers.
Andrew: Somebody by the way should build a website that makes it easy to find suppliers that’s just a big directory of all the suppliers that’s out there. I don’t know how they could do it. I know back in the early days of the internet there were a few companies that were trying to do it and they didn’t get it exactly right. Something that would solve this kind of issue would be very helpful. How did you do it without this magical website that I’m proposing?
Danny: Just a note about the idea of the magical website — suppliers aren’t exactly the most technologically advanced. There’s many issues with just that and certainly stopped us from being more efficient. Perhaps they can grow in scale with us and hopefully we can incorporate more technology into our supply chain. The way we saddled up with our first supplier was that we worked through referrals. We asked around our personal networks and we found a supplier that was willing to try us out. We were trying them out at the same time, too. The relationship didn’t end up working out. We’re working with a new supplier right now who can help us scale and grow. There are certainly many growing pains, as with any start-up, but there are many growing pains when you’re working with a third party. They had growing pains because we were growing. It was a vicious and endless cycle of massive pain.
Andrew: I am going to get back to the press, but let’s stick with this question, with this area. One thing that I noticed that now I am starting to understand is that on your website you say only 1000 shirts made this month. You’re now up to 832/1000 shirts that will be made this month. Is that one of the reasons? I thought it was a gimmick. Is it a gimmick?
Danny: No. No. No. No. It’s something that we did post getting a lot of media coverage and being way over capacity. Having just massive, massive issues with that. We were far over capacity. We had a ton of customers that just really wanted our product so there was excess demand. We only had limited supply. We only could turn out X shirts per day. Yes, a couple of our orders that were processed during peak times of media coverage were a little late. The reason that we set this up now is to align the demand we receive with the supply we can offer so that there aren’t as many issues. Let’s say that in the middle of the month we have sold 1000 shirts we are going to have to close off production for the month so that we can catch up with production. Even now, we’re two weeks backlogged.
Andrew: I saw a box that said, ‘Hang on. Before you do this we want to be up front and say, it’s going to take us an extra two weeks.’ I thought that was pretty honorable of you guys to do.
Danny: Thank you. Thank you. We value transparency as a part of our business. The concept of 1000 shirts is so that we can have some time and breathing room to work on scaling up production. I hope that next month it won’t be 1000 shirts again, it will be 1200, or 1500, or maybe 2000.
Andrew: What does somebody see when you have sold 1000/1000 shirts for the month. What do they see on the website?
Danny: We haven’t designed it yet. This is the first month that we’ve launched this idea.
Andrew: I’m curious to see that you do. Do you say, ‘Hey, we’ve reached the limit, sign up here for more. We’ve reached the limit, sign up for waitlist.’
Danny: Yeah, that’s pretty much what it will be.
Andrew: I have a feeling you guys aren’t going to turn away an order. You’re going to find a way to capture the order and deal with it later.
Danny: Of course. Of course. You capture the leads with an email capture. Perhaps we might make it a compelling offer as well as an apology and put it in the priority queue for next months orders. Those are just some ideas.
Andrew: Let’s go back to media. I think you guys have done an incredible job here with an ecommerce store. I want to find out how you did it and stick with it. We talked about, you went after bloggers, and it didn’t work out. You got some advice, you went after bloggers again, it started to work out even better, and people were starting to write about you. What’s the next thing that you did?
Danny: I continue to test different pitches. I continue to poke around. Finding the different niche bloggers that were interested in covering us. Early on, I thought that the big fashion bloggers would be interested in talking about us. Our product is not proper for their audience. I though it’d be cool for us to say, ‘Yeah, our product is a luxury product because it’s like a bespoke but better.’ They said, ‘Yeah, your product is really cool, but we write about high end fashion and you’re certainly not that.’ I learned a lot about actually understanding the media outlets, what they write about, and trying to make sure that our messaging and offering would be appropriate for that. I got more efficient in that. I started targeting mass media. It certainly was an interesting journey learning how to properly pitch a journalist as opposed to a blogger because they certainly are two different types of people.
Andrew: Let me hit the pause button right here and then we’ll come back to blogger versus journalist or mainstream journalist pitches. I want to ask you a question about niche bloggers.
Andrew: When you talk about a niche blogger, it seems to me like most bloggers are niche bloggers. Most bloggers don’t have huge audiences. If what I understand is right, you are going after the smaller bloggers. These guys maybe have 100 hits a day. That’s spread out across their whole website. Here you’re going to come out with one post on their site after a lot of work and capture a fraction of the 100 people that come to their site a day.
Andrew: What’s the value of that to you?
Danny: Well, in the beginning, I’ll admit right now we don’t focus a lot on the niche bloggers. In the beginning, it was a great way to start because we weren’t burning bridges with the influential.
Andrew: I see. You’re not making a mistake by going after a huge blogger like Andrew Warner. You’re going after somebody small who, if you say the wrong thing or you pitch him in an indirect or bad way, they’re learning too and os they’re going to understand.
Danny: Right. Right. Exactly.
Andrew: Like that pat on the back that I gave myself during this interview?
Andrew: Thank you.
Andrew: Okay. You cut your teeth on the smaller bloggers. You’re starting to understand it as you’re changing and learning. It’s time for you to go after mainstream journalists with big audiences. You say that there is a difference. What is the difference that you saw between the two approaches that you would take with them?
Danny: Many times, it’s just a fact that there’s a distinction between bloggers and journalists. There are some bloggers who are also journalists. I would consider the writers of Tech Crunch on the same level as mass media, mainstream journalists.
Andrew: In many ways, I’d say they’re even bigger and better because they have a bigger audience for these kinds of posts.
Danny: Right. Right. Exactly. That’s something that I learned as well about understand the audience that you’re reaching. In blogs, lets say they get 100,000 unique visitors you’re likely to get a higher percentage of that because of the blog structure where the newest posts will show up at the very top of the front page rather than hitting some magazine or news outlet where it will be dug deep into some random section of some very segmented part of the website or the newspaper.
Andrew: What’s the difference in the way that you pitched each kind of writer?
Danny: Right. I took more care in following up with the mainstream journalists. I also took a lot more care in noting past articles that they had written. As well as noting articles form their colleagues or other writers at other media outlets that further push what I was trying to push. All that validation helps in getting your pitch through rather than with a blogger who is usually just interested in a great idea with a decent amount of facts to support. Journalists are a lot pickier. You have to make sure that the point that you’re pushing through is incredibly valid and really untouchable.
Andrew: Let’s demonstrate this with a real life example. Can you take one of the big mainstream outlets that you got a mention in, maybe the associated press, Business Week, who else do I have here, fast Company. Can you take one of those and show me how you got into their newspaper or magazine?
Danny: I . . .
Andrew: Why are you hesitating? Is it inappropriate for me to ask that question?
Danny: It’s not inappropriate. I just, well, yeah, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with spilling the secret sauce.
Andrew: Really. It’s that much of a secret sauce?
Danny: I think so. I think so.
Andrew: Why? Why is it such a . . . I’ve had other people talk about how they did that. Let me take a hit of mate as you answer that question. Why?
Danny: Well I, it just, the different pieces of content that I offer in my pitch. I feel that those pieces of content are incredibly valuable. The small details that I put in my pitch are the details that are eye-catching, that are compelling to the reader, such that there’s a reaction by them to reply to the email and respond in a positive way by saying, ‘I’d like some more information.’
Andrew: All right. Without mentioning a name, can you give me an example about how you might approach a big reporter?
Danny: Sure. Sure.
Danny: I’m going to go on a small tangent and note something that was incredibly valuable for me for some reporters, for closing some media, which was following them on Twitter. It was as simple as that. Building a genuine relationship with a reporter by tweeting with them every now and then to sort of create this idea of a warm relationship so that when you pitch them, it’s not a cold email, it’s a lukewarm email.
Andrew: So, you might find a reported from The New York Times. You follow them. You see that maybe he’s talking about his favorite yogurt stand or whatever it is that he’s up to. You send him a tweet back. They usually will ignore it because they don’t know who you are. At least you’ve established that you’re a human being and that you’re not just a pushy PR person.
Danny: Yes. I’ll note something that in my experience there’s many times that people will respond. It depends though. There are some people that usually if you have over 50,000 people following I won’t tweet you. I’ll look for other reporters or journalists that don’t have such a big following. That don’t have so much noise in their lives. Off the top of my head I would say 80-90% of the time when I tweet someone with something that certainly isn’t relevant to a pitch that I am going to present, if it is something like my favorite yogurt stand and comparing it to their favorite yogurt stand, 80-90% of the time I will get a response and build a relationship that way by continuing to have short, or long, conversations but showing that I am a genuine person.
Andrew: Okay. All right. So now, you’ve warmed up the relationship.
Andrew: What do you do next to be mentioned?
Danny: Again, it’s always situational.
Andrew: Give some advice to the person who is sitting at home saying, ‘Damn it, I launched a website. Everybody told me that ecommerce was where it was at. You don’t want to give stuff away for free. You don’t want to create another social network. You have to sell stuff. I’m listening to this interview. I have to see how I can sell stuff. How I can get some press to drive traffic to my site so I can sell whatever it is that I’ve got on my website?’ Let’s give him as much as we can. What do we give him?
Danny: Sure. After a couple of comfortable interactions when you can finally say, ‘I actually think this person is going to recognize my name if I send them an email.’ Or if they followed me back, I would DM with just a simple, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on with me. I noticed that you are writing similar things. Would you be interested in talking some more?’ A lot of the time, I would say at least 50% of the time, I’ve been successful in using this tactic when I have decided to use this tactic.
Andrew: Which part of the tactic do you think is effective? Do you think it’s the DM? Do you think it’s the messaging?
Danny: The tactic of building a relationship.
Andrew: I see.
Danny: Seeing, well, creating a warmer relationship so that when you send them an email or a direct message you know that they’ll reply because they have replied before. That’s sort of a condition in them because otherwise it would be rude not to reply.
Andrew: Got you. Okay. Get to know them so that it’s rude not to reply. You helped me find the point of having you on here. You helped me find the story in this and that’s why I did it. It’s true. Because most people don’t realize. It’s now 6:00 p.m. my time. I already had an interview scheduled for earlier in the day. I had interviews scheduled for weeks and weeks in the future. However, you got me ready. You won me over. You won me over by building a relationship with me before you even asked. Just like you are telling me here. I was at a place where I said, ‘Damn it. Danny’s a good guy. I’ve got to help him out with his business.’ Then I said, ‘Well, I like you. You’re a good guy. But I don’t know where the story is here. I cover entrepreneurs who built successful businesses.’ So you got right to the point. You didn’t waste my time with long blocks of text. You said, ‘Here are three bullet points.’ I cannot resist freaking bullet points. You got me there. Even if I want to hit the next button or the delete button, the bullet points will at least catch my eye. One of them was, ‘I am a 19-year-old undergrad who launched this business.’ The other one was something about revenue. The third one was just as equally powerful. I said, ‘All right. Well, there is something in here. He’s a friend of mine. I can’t make him wait another month to do this interview. Let’s get him on here.’ Plus I think I saw all these media hits. I said, ‘All right. Let’s talk about how you did it.’ I see it in action. How did you know what the story would be that would get my attention? That would be valuable to my audience.
Danny: There certainly was a little back and forth with you explaining a little more about what you were looking for. Because we had that warm relationship, you actually took the time to give me a little more insight into what you were looking for. Before that, I had done my work, my due diligence, and figured out. I watched a couple of Mixergy interviews. I did a refresher, watched some more recent Mixergy interviews, and said, ‘I think I can qualify to be a part of the Mixergy community.’ I dug deep and found a couple of interesting tidbits about myself and accomplishments that I’ve made and wanted to showcase them here on Mixergy so that I can help other entrepreneurs.
Andrew: Let’s go for one other tip. It really works and I’ve got to say there’s somebody in the audience sitting there saying, ‘That jerk Andrew told me that a year is too young for a business to be on Mixergy and here he’s got Danny Wong on. The guy hasn’t been in business more than eight months.’ Now you understand why. The guy is good. Let’s make my audience really good so they’re not just sitting there frustrated but they have action that they can take.
Andrew: One other thing that they can do if they want to get into some of the media that you have gotten.
Danny: Sure. here’s a tip. I had taken some notes earlier today. I really haven’t used most of them. This is something that I openly and actively advocate, which I think is one of the most important things in my personal development as a media relations specialist. It’s blogging. It’s actually going out and writing some genuine content. Being on the other side of the coin. It first started when I . . .
Andrew: You’re a blogger for, you’ve contributed to ReadWriteWeb, to The Next Web, I think, is where I saw you.
Andrew: These are big blogs in the tech space. Sorry. Take it from there.
Danny: I first got a column with Examiner.com, which was something that I though would be fun, on the Boston Start-up Business Examiner. I thought it could help me better connect with my local community where I was. Help me better connect with the entrepreneurs in the space. I could learn from them. Help me connect with investors who I was looking to poke at a later point. It was also valuable for search engine optimization because every now and then I would through a little back link my way. Being on the other side, well, it started with Examiner.com. Them I had a relationship with someone at ReadWriteWeb who had done an interview with me at one point. I said, ‘Hey, Chris, listen, I saw someone post a guest post of ReadWriteWeb. How can I get on there? I have written for Examiner.com. How can I contribute?’ He said, ‘All right. Here’s Richard MacManus’s email.’ I said, ‘Oh man, that’s going to be a tough one.’ I poked and prodded. After three emails with no reply, finally on the third email Richard McManus got back to me and said, ‘Hey, Danny, I’d love to have you write for us. Here’s Abraham Hyatt. Talk with him. He’s the man. Read our guidelines and send a draft his way.’ That’s how I became a contributor on ReadWriteWeb. Then I also had a relationship with someone who had written about me on The Next Web. I said, ‘Hey, Kim, I noticed that someone did a guest post on The Next Web. How can I become a contributor?’ That’s how I got on there as well.
Andrew: How do you find stuff to write about?
Danny: I write about things that I specialize in. For ReadWriteWeb my column is mostly about media relations and public relations. For The Next Web I specialize in start-up marketing strategies. My column is called “Start-up Marketing Lessons Learned.” I publish my normal email, my regular email, in the public space so that people can contact me. I can see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of the good, the bad, and the incredibly ugly pitches that people send. Just going back to the original point of blogging si the best thing you can do as a media relations professional.
Andrew: Where do you find the time to do it? Most people can’t find the time to do their job. How much time does it take you to write a media professional post for, let’s say, The Next Web.
Danny: I’ll be honest with you. I come up with the best ideas when I am in the shower. When I am in the shower, every now and then an idea will pop up in my head about, ‘Oh, this is a great strategy that I’m familiar with. That I’ve used. I haven’t written about it before. I am going to go ahead and write about it for one of the outlets that I write for.’ Just publish a post without contacting any sources. Just from memory and a quick little search of things I have read before so I can link appropriately to them. It takes about an hour.
Andrew: It takes how long?
Danny: It takes about an hour.
Andrew: What’s the best one? The one that got the most traffic?
Danny: I don’t have any of the numbers. I know my first posts for any of the outlets that I’ve written for have had the highest views form what my editors tell me.
Andrew: For the day, on those sites.
Andrew: Oh, you’re saying that the first post you wrote for each of these outlets was the one that got the most traffic.
Danny: Right. Right.
Andrew: Can you give me just a sense of one of the headlines of one of your posts? I want to give people an understanding of what you’ve written.
Danny: My first post for ReadWriteWeb was “Media Relations 101 for Your Start-up.”
Andrew: “Media Relations 101 for Your Start-up.”
Danny: I forget what my first post for The Next Web was but one of my early posts for The Next Web was “Start-up Marketing Lessons Learned: Start-up Marketing on a Shoestring Budget,” which is an eye catcher for an entrepreneur who is looking to build a business on really no budget at all.
Andrew: All right. Let’s go on to what else I’ve got here in my notes to come back to — the bleep sound that I heard on your website. I have a note here to come back to that. That is — when I am on your website for a little bit and I don’t do anything a bleep comes up and a little chat window comes up saying, ‘Hey, do you need anything?’ Actually I think what it says is,’Hey, believe it or not I am really here. If you need to chat, type in the box.’
Andrew: How effective has that been in conversions?
Danny: It has been a little difficult to track that specifically because there’s only a limited quantity of people one of the Live Chat representatives can talk to. Every now and then, I’ll pop in myself. It’s a bit harder to track. We think the most value that we derive from it is actual customer interactions. It’s not so much about pushing the visitor to hit confirm and enter in their credit card information. The most value has been in the customer saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been scratching my head for the last ten minutes. What’s this? What’s that? Can I have this? Can I have that? I’m a little confused as to what the next steps are. I’m confused as to how to reverse a couple of steps that I’ve gone through.’ We collect that information. The different requests that people are putting in. The concerns people are having. The things that they’re talking about. We take them into consideration and we add new features or take away features.
Andrew: Give me an example of one thing that you’ve learned through those chat boxes that has helped shape your site.
Danny: Sure. One of the things that we have learned is there was a lot of confusion in one of our size preferences, which we have taken off because there was a lot of confusion in that. The two options were ‘tuck’ and ‘untuck.’ It certainly wasn’t something that everyone was familiar with. Because of our biases as, well me, as a metrosexual male, I had the bias that, ‘Yeah, I understand what that means.’ It was colloquialisms that we had used for ourselves and our consumer didn’t understand those. The option of tuck and untuck. Tuck would mean you would have a longer dress shirt which you could tuck comfortably into your pants and untuck would be a shorter dress shirt which you would wear outside of your pants for a nice casual night out. There was a lot of confusion in that and a lot of friction because people wouldn’t understand what the options were and they would just stop and say, ‘I’m very confused.’ We might have lost some conversions that way. We took it off so that there wouldn’t be so much confusion and our Live Chat representatives can support our customers in other ways that are more important.
Andrew: Who is the Live Chat representative? It seems like a small company.
Danny: It varies. For a while, my partners and I were very active on there. We pop in every now and again. We’ve hired some support. A couple of employees who are what we call customer service champions to help support us with Live Chat.
Andrew: You have fulltime people who do that?
Andrew: In what country can you guys afford fulltime people? Seriously. You’re a small company. So that people understand where this is coming from. You guys have no venture funding, right?
Andrew: You don’t have huge amounts of investment in the business. How much money did you put into this business?
Danny: To start it was only a couple of hundred dollars to test a couple of shirts. Then I think the first, I guess round of investment was $10,000 to give us a small run with to manage. We’ve invested a couple tens of thousands more in the business just to give us safety pad.
Andrew: We’re talking about $20,000 to $30,000 invested in the business.
Danny: I would say $20,000 to $50,000.
Andrew: $20,000 to $50,000. Where did the money come from?
Danny: Past savings. Friends and family.
Andrew: Really. Okay. All right. You got more than I expected. It’s still not that much. How can you afford to have somebody sit there and answer customer support?
Danny: Right now, we have one part-time customer representative in the US and one full-time customer support representative who is in the Philippines. We did outsource some of that work. Luckily, we got someone who was great and we are paying a premium price for what we would normally find in these outsourced services and connecting that work.
Andrew: Can you give me a sense of what it would cost to have somebody sit there, this is one person who is part-time, one person who is full-time, what does it cost to have a full-time person sit there and just wait for customer service?
Danny: I would prefer not to discuss.
Andrew: Not the person’s salary. Are we talking like $30,000/year your little company is paying? Are we talking $100,000? No way, it’s $100,000.
Danny: No, no.
Andrew: Let me do this. Can you, between you and me, in the chat window, type out what it costs?
Danny: Well, we’ve only been doing Live Chat for about a month now.
Danny: So the costs aren’t so high right now.
Andrew: You would not even tell me personally, privately what it costs?
Danny: Well, hold on, let me, okay, I’m just trying to think.
Andrew: Okay. I’m not looking to destroy your business by having you reveal information you don’t feel comfortable giving out. I’m just surprised that that is something that you can’t give out. Okay. All right. The reason that I’m asking about this is this has come up in lots of my interviews as a very helpful way of increasing sales. Most people have talked about it increasing sales in the moment. You’re the first person saying, ‘Andrew, we may not close a sale in the moment with the Live Chat. We can’t connect it back to a sale. We can say that it is improving our business.’ I’m seeing a lot of value here. I’m serious about what it costs to generate that value. It seems also very labor intensive to just sit there and have somebody respond and go back and forth and talk to your customer at the most important point where they’re making their decision.
Danny: Right. I’ll publically say this. It’s been a couple thousand of dollars worth of investment over the last month to month and a half.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Fair enough. I’ve got another note here to bring up the hyphen. Is there a hyphen in your name, in BlankLabel.com?
Danny: In the url, yes. In the trademark name, no. Why? Because the guy that owns BlankLabel.com just wants to screw us.
Andrew: Because you already have a business up and running.
Danny: It’s not even that. When we were a small tailor shop, originally the business started as a suit and tailor shop where we would meet with local clients and we would measure them up, show them books of fabrics, and basically sell them a bespoke suit and dress shirt. W had a website. It was three pages. We couldn’t sell anything on this website at the time. We noticed BlankLabel.com was taken. We emailed the administrator and tried to buy the domain because he wasn’t doing anything interesting with the domain. He wasn’t doing any business with it. It was a holding page. We got a quick response back, ‘Hey guys. It’s going to cost you $15,000 for this domain.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, we’re not generating any real revenue, so, we’ve got $300.’ That was our rebuttal. He said, ‘Go buzz off.’ So we did. I think in December after we started having a real business, we poked him again, ‘We re you really serious about $15,000. We’re a young company. We’re trying to make things happen and we’d like your support in helping out BlankLabel.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to stick with $15,000.’
Andrew: I want to know who this guy is. That’s crazy.
Danny: He’s a squatter. He buys domains and squats on them for a while and lets them mature. It’s his alternative investment.
Andrew: I had the founder of Groupon here and I asked him how he got Groupon the name. He told a story of how somebody else had Groupon.com and he had to find a way to get it. What he did was he trademarked the name Groupon. The other guy couldn’t use the name. He might have the domain, but he couldn’t use the name. That gave him a little bit of leverage to be able to go in there and get it at what seemed like a crazy price at the time but is a lot more reasonable today. We could do a whole interview on just that. Okay. Cofounder. Are you really a cofounder? Were you really there at the beginning of the business?
Danny: When we were a custom tailor shop, when we were selling our personal service to then sell suits and dress shirts, I was a sales representative with the company. Then I turned to Fan, the CEO, and I said, ‘Hey, I’m not sure if this business is working out.’ Finding local clients is hard first of all.
Andrew: I can’t believe you guys, you guys are young guys. I can’t believe you’d go and create a tailor shot. There’s not much yup-sight in that. This is a much bigger opportunity. Therefore, you talked to him and you said, ‘I don’t see enough opportunity here.’ What did he say?
Danny: He said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Because the way we can sell our business is by finding more sales representatives to go around and poke clients. Knock on local office doors and say, ‘Hey, I’m Danny, and I’m going to provide you with a great customer experience and give you a bespoke suit and dress shirt for less than Men’s Warehouse.’ Finding reliable people in any business is always incredibly difficult. We found that business hard to scale. Fan, my partner, had an original business partner, their visions for BlankLabel were very different, and they parted ways. I took on an equity stake. I said, ‘Yeah, BlankLabel as a custom tailor shop is not working, so, let’s do something different.’ We looked at each other and we said, ‘Yeah. All right. Well, what do you want to do different?’ I always had this fetish with designing my own products. When I was a teen, although I still am a teen, when I was in my secondary school years I used to shred my jeans and rip holes in them. I used to splash paint on my jeans and my t-shirts. I would go out and buy special fabric paints to do that. I would buy stencils and make designs. I was really into eth idea of design-your-own. I think when I was a kid I really wanted to have a multicolored polo. The idea would be something along the lines of a lime green collar on a bright orange polo and have the cuffs also be accented with lime green. Just something a little different. Something a little out there. Something that I designed myself. I thought, ‘Why not apply that idea to dress shirts?’ Fan thought the same as well. He had seen a shirt by Mark Jacobs which sort of inspired our idea of what we call the split personality dress shirt where one half of the shirt is one color and one half is another color. We launched and because we didn’t have the configuration for that, it wasn’t a successful product. We still love it. We still make split shirts every now and then for ourselves. We still get email requests for them every now and then. We try to fulfill as many as we can. It was the idea of empowering ourselves and empowering consumers to get what they want.
Andrew: How much of this vision is now on your personal credit card?
Andrew: None. How much of it is on Fan’s personal credit card?
Danny: Pretty much Fan has put in all the monetary investment. The negotiations worked out that he certainly has a higher equity stake because of that. Our investment is our time and our value input.
Andrew: Let me tell you, it’s also a good strategy to take on debt this way. When my kid brother and I started a business together, we agreed that I would take on all the debt to build a business, because if the business collapsed, my credit would be screwed and he’d have clean credit so we could start another company. I also, before I graduated from school, I went around and I signed up for every credit card that I could get because while you’re still in college the credit card companies assume that if you can’t pay bills your mother will or your dad will. Therefore, I signed up for all of them that I could and then when I started in business I still had the credit and that’s what I was able to use. Thank you Visa and MasterCard for funding my dreams. In addition, Discover card and every other freaking card that was out there. If the Macy’s card gave sent me one of those checks I would have taken those and cashed them at the bank to launch my business.
All right, let’s review what we’ve learned here today.
Andrew: A lot of people want me to do reviews. I usually can’t do it. However, today I happened to take some great notes. I think the audience, frankly, should be doing the reviews of the big points. Until they do it, I’ll do it right here. Okay. Here we go. When you’re pitching, tie your story into a bigger movement. You guys did that with cocreation. You didn’t just say, ‘Write about our new start-up.’ You said, ‘Hey, cocreation is a brand new movement. You guys want to be on top of it, cover it before it gets too big, and we’re just one of the big companies in this space.’ Number one. Number two; get advisors, because as we saw in your situation, your advisors helped open your eyes up to a database that you would never have found out about before. Preferably, and I’ll say this under my breath, get advisors that you don’t have to give shares to, if you can, because look at how Danny Wong did it. Here’s what else we have. We have, ‘Write better notes.’ That’s for me. This is a big one; don’t use the contact form or the info@ email address on a press website. Go and find the right person’s email address and the right person’s contact information. Otherwise, you’re just going to get bounced around anonymously throughout the business. Next point is, get to know the person who you want to cover you and make it awkward for them to ignore you. In fact, almost be bonded with them. Become a human being with them via IM. Danny and I are kind of kidding around partially because I’m drinking yuyerba mate here today which is helping me and partially because I feel like I know him. Through email, he’s become like a friend. Through five emails, he somehow became a friend. That’s another point. We’ll have to have you back on here to teach people how to do that. Next point, be a blogger. By being a blogger, you said you learned what writer’s want because you’re a writer and you’re out looking for the same kinds of stories they are. Plus you learn the good and the bad pitches. You get to see how other people pitch. You learn from the good ones. You learn what not to do from the bad ones. Next, do live chat to improve the site. That was something that I hadn’t learned before. I like that from this interview. Also, who knows how much you guys are paying but it’s roughly, I think you said, $1500 for a month and a half worth of work. Therefore, for roughly $1000 you might be able to get somebody to do it. Finally, I learned that the internet in China still stinks. This is not my first interview with someone in China. I’ve talked to people who have incredible companies in China and their internet connections all are bad. You probably have one of the best connections that I’ve had. Therefore, I am going to thank you for sticking with this. I am going to thank the audience for sticking with this. Guys, give me feedback on this connection. What do you think of this whole interview? What do you think of the technology that we use? Danny, that’s what I’d like from the audience. How can they follow up with you? What would you like from the person who stuck it out here with us for over an hour and gotten to know you?
Danny: Well, feel free to tweet me at DannyWong1190. I probably won’t tweet back for a while because Chinese internet is a little iffy. You can also email me personally at DannyWong1190@gmail.com or my BlankLabel account firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to connect.
Andrew: Cool. Do it. Become his best friend and then ask him to cover your company. Use his strategies on him to get him to blog about you at ReadWriteWeb, The Next Web,
Danny: The Next Web, Examiner, Search Engine Journal if anyone is interested in that.
Andrew: I had a note here to talk to you about that, about search engine optimization, but we already went way over. So, thank you guys all for watching. I’m Andrew. Go out there. Use these ideas. Build an incredible company. Then come back here to Mixergy so I can interview you and teach somebody else how to build their business. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you on the site.
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