How to use community to grow a physical product (even in a crowded market)

Because I do these interviews I get invited to speak at conferences. Well, a few months ago I was at a speaker dinner for a conference and the organizer said to me, “Andrew, you’ve got to come meet this woman. She just launched this bag company.”

Bag company? What’s so exciting about that? I wanted to meet tech people here. But the organizer said, “You don’t understand. You should see the way she’s using tech to promote her company.” She’s done over $1 million in sales and you’ve got to see how.

So, today we have Jennifer Chong with us. She is the cofounder of Linjer which makes luxury leather goods at affordable prices.

Jennifer Chong

Jennifer Chong

Linjer

Jennifer Chong is the cofounder of Linjer which makes luxury leather goods at affordable prices.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com where I’ve done interviews with over a thousand entrepreneurs about how they’ve built their businesses, we get deep into what they did that worked. And as much as possible we get deep into what did not work. I love that part because I think we learn so much more from what didn’t work out often than what did.

So because I’ve been doing these interviews, I get invited to speak at conferences. A few months ago I was at a speaker dinner for a conference and the organizer said to me, “Andrew, you’ve got to come and meet this woman. The woman just launched this bag company.”

I said, “Bag company? Who cares? What’s so exciting about that? Show me some of the tech people in here. Who’s really doing something?” He goes, “No, Andrew, you should see the way she’s using tech to promote her company. This woman did over $1 million in sales or about $1 million in sales and revenue is multiplying. You’ve got to get to know her.”

Frankly, I want to get to know everybody. But I now that I saw how well the business was doing I was especially eager because I had this like Mixergy vision in mind. I walked over to her. I talked to her and her partner over a drink. We got to know each other. And I saw what they were doing and I immediately invited them to come on and do an interview.

So today, Jennifer is here with me. She is the cofounder of Linjer, which makes luxury leather goods at affordable prices. I want to find out how she built her business and where revenue is today, 2016.

And this whole thing is sponsored by two great companies, the first will host your website and I just got the best discount they ever offered anybody. It’s called HostGator. I’ll tell you more about that in a moment. The second will help you actually get on the phone with prospective customers and existing customers or anybody. It’s called Acuity Scheduling.

First, Jennifer, good to have you on here.

Jennifer: Thank you so much, Andrew. I’m a huge fan of Mixergy. I love your interviews, and it’s such an honor to be able to contribute to the community.

Andrew: Thanks. Did you know that all that was going on in my head, like, “Leather goods? Why are you doing this? Why Sam, are you so excited about it?”

Jennifer: I suspected that there might be some entrepreneur story that you might want to tease out of all of this.

Andrew: Before you were an entrepreneur, you were living in Dubai. I’ve never been to Dubai. You had what many people to aspire to, that kind of life. What was it like to live in Dubai?

Jennifer: Dubai was a really, really interesting place to live. It was the craziest place I’ve lived. I’ve lived in a lot of countries. I actually never imagined that I would live in Dubai. But I ended up moving there on an office transfer. I was working as a management consultant in San Francisco.

Due to just the flow of business at that time, I ended up getting sent to Minnesota for project after project. So I was going from San Francisco to Minnesota. I had initially wanted to become a management consultant because I was really interested in working in lots of different places and lots of different countries. And it just didn’t seem like I was going to get a lot of that exposure from San Francisco. So that’s why I asked for my office transfer.

So I was working as a management consultant in Dubai, living, I guess, a very typical ex-pat life there, which is a very privileged and comfortable life.

Andrew: What does that mean? What exactly went on?

Jennifer: Well, in Dubai, I think 90% or 95% of people who live there are not from the UAE, which creates for a very interesting society, where people live in different spaces in society, both physically as well as, I guess, economically and socially. When I was living in Dubai, I never met a single Emirate for the year and a half I was living there.

Andrew: Okay. And was there anything really good about it, or was this just a crappy situation?

Jennifer: For me, it was a really interesting experience in that I met people from all different walks of life. Like I was very close with a doorman who lived downstairs who was from India and a cleaning lady, she was so sweet. She used to give me part of her lunch because she knew that I liked prata a lot, but just to be able to meet lots of different people.

But it was also really sad in a way just to see how stratified the society was. Like without going too deeply into this, but like people from different countries are doing different types of jobs and then you realize different privilege people have just depending on where they’re . . .

Andrew: I’ll tell you what I’m going for here as an interviewer. I’ll let you in on the behind the scenes stuff. You sacrificed a lot to start this business. I want to give the audience a picture of what you sacrificed, otherwise it feels like, “This woman had a shitty life anyway, so of course she’s going to start something different. Who cares?”

Jennifer: No. I had a really nice life.

Andrew: But we root for you when we see that you’ve given up something. So what was so great about that life?

Jennifer: I had a really nice life. I was working in a job where I was getting challenged intellectually. I was getting paid very well. I wasn’t paying taxes on my income. I was living in a nice condo with a swimming pool and I had smart people around me who were good company.

Andrew: Okay. I hate to like spend much time on the tax part, but how do you get away with not paying taxes?

Jennifer: There’s no income tax in the UAE.

Andrew: But aren’t you a US citizen and you still have to pay taxes?

Jennifer: No. I’m a Canadian citizen.

Andrew: And Canada doesn’t require you to pay taxes on money you earn outside of the country?

Jennifer: I’ve lived outside of Canada so long that I don’t.

Andrew: I see that. And then you had this thing where you wanted to find the right shoe that made you . . . actually, what was it about the shoe that you were looking for.

Jennifer: So when I was working in management consulting, I was wearing suits every day and a lot of the time I was wearing high heels. And this was absolutely ruining my body. In college, I had played sports. I tore my ACL, both of my ACLs playing sports. My knees were already a little bit wonky. High heels plus bad knees, it’s like disaster. So I was really, really feeling it after just a few months of working.

The reason I was wearing high heels was I wanted to look polished at work. I wanted to present myself well, but I just couldn’t find any flat shoes that looked smart and professional and were nice. I saw a need in the market and I really wanted to try to make that shoe myself.

Andrew: I get that. I’m not someone who like pays attention to clothes a lot. Frankly, I’ve been looking at your stuff and everything on your site looks gorgeous and I can tell that. But for the most part, I can’t tell. Except I do see a lot of women who wear flats around the office here, it’s just kind of the casual thing. It looks to me like they’re going to wear something else at the office. This is what they’re wearing to just walk around outside. I get that problem.

Why do you think that problem exists? Why do you think that there aren’t flats that actually would look right with a suit, would bring out the look?

Jennifer: I think a lot of it is in materials. A lot of flat shoes, just in general, a lot of what you see in the market, I think brands try to cut corners with materials. You see it a lot with leather, where people will use like chrome tanned leather and very heavily pigmented leather. So like chrome tanning, really quick thing, is a relatively new method of tanning, but 90% of the world’s leather is tanned this way and it uses very strong chemicals, toxic chemicals, chromium salts, basically.

Andrew: Okay.

Jennifer: The alternative is vegetable tanned leather and that’s what all of our bags are made out of. If we ever made shoes, we would also be using a vegetable tanned leather.

Andrew: What’s vegetable tanned leather?

Jennifer: So this is the traditional method of tanning that was really refined during the Renaissance in Italy. This is a method that uses tannins from tree barks to tan leather. So you take a raw hide and then you put it in pits and barrels for like 40 days and it turns the hide into something that won’t rot. The end product is very different. It’s been made using all natural materials and it very much acts like a natural material afterward.

So it will age beautifully over time. This is the only kind of leather that can age beautifully over time. And if you’ve ever seen like a beautiful vintage leather bag, it’s beautiful because it’s most likely vegetable tan leather and is beautiful because the fibers of the leather and the materials in the leather are still able to act like natural materials because they haven’t been bleached or just . . .

Andrew: What happens when they do go through that traditional bleaching process and dying process? What happens to the leather at that point?

Jennifer: With chrome tanning?

Andrew: With chrome tanning? That’s what it’s called?

Jennifer: With vegetable tanning the traditional way, you get a product that is very natural looking and then changes and ages beautifully over time, just like a tree darkens over the sun or our skins tan in the sun. In chrome tanning, which is the more mass market and mass production way of tanning, you get a product that is a lot more dead.

Andrew: Is it more resilient or it stays the same, that you don’t see aging?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: It’s like when you see some women who have so much work done on their face or guys who have so much work done on their face that it looks wrong, that’s what we’re looking at here, that kind of artificial bag.

Jennifer: Well, I wouldn’t go so far to say that it feels like there’s something wrong. But once you see a lot vegetable tanned leather and you look at it next to chrome tanned leather, there’s a very strong difference. I didn’t really know much about this before when I was working as a management consultant in Dubai.

I learned it through the industry and saw a lot of vegetable tanned leather. I saw a lot of chrome tanned leather. We decided we wanted to use vegetable tanned leather because it really paid a lot of respect to the natural material and we wanted to make things that looked more beautiful over time rather than things that would look more dead or get worse over time.

Andrew: How do you tan leather . . . this is way off of like the tech stuff I’m usually into, but I want to learn this. How do you tan leather using vegetable? What do you do? You put it into a barrel with what?

Jennifer: Yeah. So you get tannins from tree barks.

Andrew: Okay.

Jennifer: And then all the tanneries that can do vegetable tanning, there are very few of them that can do it well because it requires a lot of knowledge and expertise. They have these secret recipes that they make out of the different tannins. So quebracho, mimosa, and chestnut are typical kinds of trees that they take the tannins from and then they have their special mixture and they put the hides in them along with other chemicals and dyes and stuff.

Andrew: I’ll tell you one of the reasons why I’m so fascinated by this is I’ve spent so much time now just watching your Kickstarter videos, getting to know the company. You guys are so good at just talking about your process. The video for the watch that you’re now selling on Kickstarter, which we’ll get to in a moment, I think it was your partner who talked about how it was inspired by this building in where was it, Norway?

Jennifer: In Oslo, yes.

Andrew: It’s just like so fascinating to watch your process. One of the things that I’ve learned from studying you guys in preparation for this interview is you teach us about the process of making what you’re selling us. You’re not just saying, “Here is a beautiful leather bag. Here is a beautiful watch where you’ll look good with it.” You’re telling us how you made it and you’re raising our awareness of details that we wouldn’t pay attention to otherwise.

There are a few people in software who I’ve seen that have done that, but for the most part, people don’t. Like the one guy who I know who’s done it is Jason Fried and his company, Basecamp. They spent time telling you about how they drew each pixel on their Apple app. That stuff is really interesting to me, that companies do that and make us appreciate their product more and elevate us a little bit, teach us how to notice it.

All right. So you came up with this idea for shoes, flats that would actually look good. You went out and you started to make the shoe and what happened?

Jennifer: Yeah. So I flew out to Portugal. I somehow found some shoe sourcing agents online and I went to this small town called [inaudible 00:12:13] and met with factories and started prototyping. I also went to China and met with some suppliers there. I always knew in the back of my mind that shoes were a very difficult vertical to go into.

Shoes are the most difficult thing to sell online, I would say, at least in fashion. You have so much inventory risk. You can’t just buy one size. You have to buy some of every size. You have no idea what the distribution is going to be. On top of that, everybody’s foot is shaped differently. Maybe you think you’re a 40 in one brand but then in another brand you’re a 42 or you’re a 39. It’s very difficult to manage customers’ expectations and deliver a shoe that actually fits to a person when you’re selling online. So returns are another big challenge.

So while I was going through this process of making the shoes, I realized just how much working capital it would take to start a shoe business and do it really well. At that point when I realized how much working capital it would take, I had to ask myself, “Is this the path you want to take?” I did not have a lot of money saved up to invest in this.

So I had to ask myself, “Do I want to go the path of raising money with investors or do I want to bootstrap this and build something more organically and something that I really, really believe in and have a lot of control over?” I decided that I wanted to build something that I had more control over and that I could build like the second thing that I said basically.

So I stopped with the shoe project. But at the same time, I had just moved to Bangkok with my boyfriend, Roman, who is my cofounder. We’re the only two people of the Linjer team. He was at that time working at an ecommerce company. He was the CFO there. It’s the largest ecommerce company in Southeast Asia.

He was working in Hong Kong before. But he was looking for a leather laptop bag that he could bring to work. He had a few criteria. First, it could not have a big flashy logo on it. Two, it had to be really well made. And three, it had to cost less than $800. Andrew, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to look for a laptop bag like this, but I can tell you it doesn’t really exist except on Linjer’s website.

Andrew: No logo and less than $100 you couldn’t find?

Jennifer: $800.

Andrew: Excuse me, $800, you couldn’t find?

Jennifer: And really well made, preferably with full grain vegetable tanned leather.

Andrew: So I didn’t spend that much time looking for it, but I’ll tell you that one of the frustrations that I had when I was looking for a nice leather laptop bag is they do like to splash and carve and put their logo all over it. I think it’s the insecurity that the maker has, which I get completely. You sell to one person and you get no virality. So what they do is they really just like blanket it, more even than Apple would, right?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: So I get that. Frankly, I met your boyfriend, Roman. The two of you guys really do care about design a lot. So I can see why he would fuss about this and want to make sure that he got that. Let’s talk in a moment about what happened next. But first I’ve got to tell everyone that I’ve got this guy, do you know Sachit Gupta, Jennifer?

Jennifer: I don’t.

Andrew: No. He’s the guy who sells ads for us. He’s been out there now a lot. He’s going to dinners everywhere. He’s going to drinks. I think maybe the one place he hadn’t been was the drinks that you and I met at. He’s a guy who’s selling ads for us. Now people are really eager to buy ads on Mixergy because the freaking thing works.

So HostGator wants to come back. So they keep coming back, keep coming back. Sachit now is in a position where he says, “Look, if you guys want to come back, I need you to do something better for the Mixergy audience than you would for anyone else.” “What do you mean? We’re paying you money. How about that? How about just take our money and give us another half a year?” They’ve been advertising for over a year.

He said, “No, it’s going to get stale. People aren’t going to go buy anymore HostGator. At some point, you’ve exhausted people. You need to make it more interesting. Give us something bigger, better than anyone else. Also, no one remembers to use the Mixergy discount code and go to the Mixergy URL because who cares? They can get it from somewhere else. Give us something amazing.” This has literally gone on for weeks and weeks and weeks.

He finally got HostGator to give us the best discount they ever offered anyone for a hosting package. Guys, it’s 50% off HostGator hosting. Frankly, anyone out there who’s listening to me and you can find a better discount on HostGator, take it. Spread the word about it. I don’t think it exists. This is the best. So you should be using this. You should be spreading the word about this.

You’re going to get an incredible website hosting package, which means that you can setup whatever website you want it, WordPress and other platforms easy to install. WordPress, in fact, they have a one-click install. They’re going to give you unmetered disk space. Really, just go hog wild with how much you need. And unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, give you tech support that actually will be there. In a past interview, I called up tech support. They picked up within a minute and a half. Forty-five day money back guarantee. This is an incredible, incredible offer.

Look at what Jennifer did. Jennifer created a company that sells leather goods and put it online. Think about what’s out there that you hadn’t put online that maybe you said, “That’s not as good as Facebook. That’s not the next Snapchat.” Don’t pass up on these ideas. Don’t be an idiot the way that I was when I found out about Jennifer’s company.

You’ve got an idea, put it online, grow it. We’re going to talk to Jennifer about how she grew it, how she got customers. But the first step is put that freaking thing online, get it going. Frankly, if you already have it going and you hate your hosting company, you should not have to live with a bad hosting company. HostGator will even migrate you for free. They’ll do it for you while you rest if you have WordPress and if you don’t, they’ll make it super easy for you to migrate yourself.

Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. I finally gave you a reason to really write it down, HostGator.com/Mixergy.

All right, Jennifer, I want to find out how you guys marketed. We’ve got so much to talk about. But let’s get to you created it. You first flew to Paris to figure out how to make this leather bag you guys wanted to make. What was in Paris?

Jennifer: There was a leather fair called Cuir à Paris. It’s one of the top three biggest leather fairs. Luckily the timing worked out. Right after we decided to try to make the briefcase, this elusive briefcase that did not exist, we just bought tickets to Paris and headed over there. So these leather trade shows are really amazing spectacles. They have huge convention halls and then hundreds of tanners from all over the world who come and bring their leather articles.

So each tannery usually has like maybe 20 or 30 leather articles. Some are stock articles that they have all the time and some of them are seasonal ones. They bring them all and they have whole hides that they hang around their booth. So you walk into this convention floor and there’s just leather everywhere.

But it was at this fair that we just walked around and talked to people, talked to tanneries from all over the world, learned a lot about vegetable tanning, learned a lot about chrome tanning, learned about leather production also. Everybody in the industry was there. So it was an amazing way for us to dive into the leather goods industry and figure out what we wanted to do and how we were going to do it.

Andrew: Did you worry at all that if you were asking about what is chrome tanning, what is vegetable tanning, etc. that you’d look like an amateur and then when it was time to negotiate with these people they’d think, “This amateur is really ready for us to rake her over the coals.”

Jennifer: For sure. We did not ask the tanners themselves what vegetable tanning looked like.

Andrew: Who’d you ask?

Jennifer: It was more asking about the methods. I think a lot of them were happy to tell us more about how they did it at their tannery. A lot of them are very small family-run operations, the vegetable tanning tanneries, at least. They really take pride in what they do. When they see that other people are interested in vegetable tanning, which is kind of a niche thing, they’re also very excited by it.

Andrew: Look at my note here. Let me read this from our producer who did a pre-interview with you. She said you tried to get prototypes as fast as possible. You stealthily got contacts of manufacturers of high-end luxury brands. And then she left me a note, “Jennifer would not budge on telling me how she got in with those high-end manufacturers.” What did you do exactly?

Jennifer: I still can’t budge, Andrew.

Andrew: What did you do? You figured out who was manufacturing the high-end brands’ bags and then you had them make your stuff. So you didn’t even end up with anyone who you randomly saw on the floor of this Paris tradeshow.

Jennifer: Yeah. With factories, there are good ones. There are bad ones. There are a lot in between. It’s really hard to know what they can do. The best way for us to judge who is capable of making high-end products consistently is to look at their clientele. So that was the rationale for us specifically going after people, after factories that were making other luxury brands.

Andrew: So they don’t just tell you on the floor, “We make leather for Gucci. We make leather for . . .” I don’t know what leather brands.

Jennifer: I think a lot of them are actually under agreements where they’re not supposed to tell us that.

Andrew: Okay. So you found a way on that floor at the Paris trade show to know it?

Jennifer: Yes, and also with some internet research.

Andrew: Internet research.

Jennifer: Yes, internet research but I can’t say any more than that.

Andrew: Do you tell this, if we were friends outside of this and I said, “Jennifer, I’ve got to get into the leather goods space. I have this idea for an Android phone leather holder.” Would you help me at that point with that or is this such a thing that you need to keep it quiet even from your good friends?

Jennifer: We’re actually quite secretive about our factories. I think a lot of small brands probably are, just because we’ve spent so much time trying to find them and it’s taken a lot of effort to get these relationships. If you were looking for an Android case manufacturer, I would say our factories don’t make those, so I would try to help you.

Andrew: To find another one. Wow. Interesting. You just put on your jacket just for that one answer. I saw that. You put your jacket on like you were trying to protect yourself from my onslaught of questions. Wow. Did you ever have any trouble with a bad factory? It feels like everyone who manufactures has had some nightmare before.

Jennifer: Yes.

Andrew: You did. What was your nightmare?

Jennifer: So this was actually a pretty big . . . I don’t know, a low point for our business. I think that was one of the things I discussed with Ari, the producer before. We had one incident where there was one style of bags that had a problem with the leather. It’s a problem that’s very hard to detect unless you are an expert in leather. But in short, the factory was meant to order the leather for us and do the quality control on it before making the bags. So we were not involved in the quality control phase of that production run.

But basically, there was a problem with the leather. The factory didn’t tell us there was anything wrong even though they knew there was something wrong. I think they did the . . . I’ll spare you from that because it goes into a very long story. Whatever reason, they passed the leather through QC and then they made bags with it. So when we got to the factory to do our QC before shipping everything, we realized there’s something wrong with the leather.

Basically, the factory owner knew what our business model was. He knew that we’d already sold these bags. There were about 400 of them. He was already late with his delivery. When we brought up the issue with the leather with him, he said there’s no problem. You have to either take it all or you don’t take any of it at all.

This style was part of a larger production run of around 5,000 pieces. We had thousands of customers waiting for our products. So we basically had a gun to our heads. It was like they were going to close for holidays for like three weeks. It was like we would either have to- . . . and they would have to reorder the leather and it would take another three months or four months to remake everything.

So we decided at that time we’re just going to pay for everything and deal with this later. We thought that he would be reasonable enough to concede that there’s a problem with the leather and find a solution for it. In the end, we paid for everything, got the defective bags in the warehouse or the not 100% bags in the warehouse. We decided that we could not send them out to our customers. So I realize I said this was a really, really long . . .

Andrew: No. It makes sense. You’re telling me you had a gun to your head and you actually just gave in. You caved. You took their crappy bags.

Jennifer: We took the crappy bags with no intention of selling them.

Andrew: With no intention of selling them at a time that you were struggling.

Jennifer: We took them because we knew that we had thousands of other people that would be really upset.

Andrew: So to get the good bags, you had to take the bags you were never going to sell.

Jennifer: Exactly.

Andrew: What did you end up doing with them?

Jennifer: They’re in our warehouse right now. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with them. But right after that happened, we realized we can never work with this manufacturer again. After this incident, he admitted there was something wrong with the leather, but he refused to give us a refund. He refused to give us a production credit. He was being a total ass about it.

Andrew: Yeah. You’re totally stuck there. You’re in a different country. You’re in a place where you can’t go and run across the street and get someone to immediately fix it. You’re a woman who worked at Square, one of the ultimate software companies where this stuff does not happen, right?

Jennifer: No. So it was really awful. We had all these bags we couldn’t send to our customers. What Roman and I did, we personally called up the 350 people who were waiting on their bags from that production run, and apologized to them. We explained the situation and told them we’re very sorry. We did not want to send out a product that was not 100%. Honestly a lot of people, most people would probably have no idea that this was not a 100% product in our eyes, but we don’t want to be that.

Andrew: Why not? So those 300 people, I bet 200 of them are going to be okay with it. They’re not going to notice. The other 100, maybe they won’t buy from you again, but who cares, they bought, right? You can find another 100 customers somewhere else to replace them.

Jennifer: Yeah. That’s a really great question. For us, product quality is paramount.

Andrew: Why? By the way, when I ask that question it feels like to some people that I’m making a point that you should be selling it. I’m not. I’m trying to understand why you don’t. I want to come at it from a rational point of view. What’s the thought?

Jennifer: I think that’s a really fair question. Well, the reason that Linjer has been so successful is that we’ve built a very strong community around our brand and that we have an excellent product. If you go on Styleforum, we have a very strong community on Styleforum. If you don’t know what Styleforum is, it’s the biggest menswear forum online.

Andrew: What’s it called?

Jennifer: Styleforum.

Andrew: Okay.

Jennifer: We have a thread that has . . . I think it has like thousands of posts. Let me just pull it up right now.

Andrew: This is the part that really got me excited about you guys, that you used forums and community to sell leather goods. That’s the thing that I didn’t know was possible. I asked you where’d you get your customers.

Jennifer: We didn’t know it was possible until we did it, but it was just the most natural way of starting.

Andrew: Were you or Roman active on Styleforum before you launched your bag?

Jennifer: So we’d always been lurking on Styleforum, Roman because he’s a guy that looks at style things. It’s like an amazing resource for men who just want advice from other men about style, like style or to read product reviews, etc. But we were kind of like reading what people were saying on Styleforum. We knew that there was a need among the members on that community for what we were doing, which was making really high-quality products at a price point that was not eye-gouging.

So we started a thread a couple months before we launched our first collection on Styleforum. This was us introducing ourselves, telling everybody about what we were doing and giving them previews of the bags that we had been prototyping.

Andrew: What was the name of . . . do you remember what it was about that thread? I’m on the site right now. I’m looking at your thread.

Jennifer: If you just look at Linjer on Styleforum, you’ll find our . . .

Andrew: I see it. I see a poll Friday challenge, September 2015. I see definitive man bag thread.

Jennifer: It would be the Linjer Leather Goods Official Affiliate Thread.

Andrew: I see it. Yes. That one is huge.

Jennifer: It has 126 pages.

Andrew: That goes on for 126 pages.

Jennifer: Yeah. That’s in less than two years. It’s pretty crazy.

Andrew: Okay. I see.

Jennifer: Anyway, sorry, my point was that for us the essential, I guess, building blocks are around our community and products. We did not want to send out a product that was not 100% because we wanted to respect our customers. We really want to make sure that they’re happy with the things that we’re giving them. There would be no point in us quitting our jobs and starting a brand if we weren’t ourselves proud of every single bag and item that we were sending out.

Andrew: Okay. What’s this company, Collonil that you guys worked with?

Jennifer: They are a manufacturer. It’s a German company and they make leather care products.

Andrew: And you guys partnered up with them to figure out how to do this.

Jennifer: Yeah. We’ve been working on it for a really long time, but it keeps getting deprioritized, but eventually we do want to work with them for leather care products.

Andrew: I see. So this post said, “Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s the zipper we’re putting on it. It’s going to be that YXX Excella zipper, the very best from YKK.” You talked about the design, etc. and you said, “Do you guys have any feedback or do you have any questions about it?” And then boom, questions started coming in and people are just congratulating you on doing this and so on.

I want to know how you got customers and get into specifics of what you did to generate the revenue that you did. First I should talk about my second and final sponsor, which is a company called Acuity Scheduling. Do you know them, Jennifer?

Jennifer: I don’t.

Andrew: You don’t. All right. Here’s what Acuity Scheduling does.

Jennifer: I’m fascinated to hear.

Andrew: Sorry?

Jennifer: I’m fascinated to hear.

Andrew: Here’s what it is. Imagine you needed to get . . . well, actually you did. When you were calling your customers, you would just call in and I’d imagine you’d get a lot of voicemail because people don’t pick up the phone, right? As you and I were talking, I didn’t pick up the phone. There was a call coming in. I didn’t realize until later that it was from my son’s school. So my wife will take care of it. But we don’t pick up phone calls.

So the problem is when you really need to get someone on the phone, like you’re trying to get a sale with someone or you’re trying to understand why they bought from you or you’re trying to welcome them as a new customer or whatever it is, they’re not going to take your phone call. What you need to do is schedule a phone call.

What most people do is they do the dopey thing, emailing someone saying, “Can we get on a quick call?” Then the response is, “Well, I’m kind of busy.” So they say, “How about this date?” Then they get another response, “I’m busy that day. How about this other day?” And they go back and forth and it never happens because it’s just too much trouble.

What Acuity does is they give you one link. You give it out to the person you want to connect with and you say, “Can I call you? Can we get on a call? Are you free at any one of these dates?” The person clicks the link and immediately they see all your availability. Then they pick the time they want. They answer a few questions if you ask them some questions, like their name, their phone number, etc. Boom. It’s on their calendar. It’s on your calendar.

They never forget it because their calendar will remind them. They never forget it because Acuity Scheduling can remind them if you want it to and you won’t forget them because they’ll be on your calendar, super simple. I use them all the time. When it’s time for me to call someone, not only are they on my calendar, but I have their Skype name so I’m ready to call them, I have their business information because I ask for that when people fill out my form using Acuity.

Super easy. If you are trying to get new customers, try it. Whenever somebody signs up for your email newsletter or someone signs up for your whitepaper or whatever, send them a link to your calendar and say, “I want to welcome you and make it easy for you to do whatever it is that you guys sell. Here’s a link. Click and let’s get on a call.”

After someone buys, try it. You don’t have to send it to every single customer. Send this link that you create to maybe 50 customers, maybe 10 customers, get on a call with them and understand why they bought, what are they looking for, what else is going on in their lives, what frustrates them. You’ll see incredible things happening. Go to this special URL where they are giving us a giant discount, anyone who’s listening to Mixergy, largely because this was created by a Mixergy fan, the software is so good.

Go to AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. Write it down right now because you guys are going to forget it. It’s called AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. They’re going to give you a very generous free trial so you can actually use it, get the results you need. It’s incredible. Go do it.

All right. Why did you guys launch on Kickstarter?

Jennifer: So our initial campaign was actually on Indiegogo. But we went on crowdfunding for a couple of reasons. First was that there was no way we could afford the first production run. When you’re making high-end leather goods, there are minimums for everything.

There are minimums for the leather and you have to buy thousands of square feet of leather, very expensive. There are minimums for production. You have to buy minimums of each unit, also very expensive. We did not have $70,000 to put into our first production run. I think the second thing is that it was a great way for us to test the idea generally.

I think a lot of crowdfunding project creators also create crowdfunding projects just to see what the appetite is for what they’re doing. Is this worth me quitting my job for? Is this worth the next few years of my life? So we were really happy with our results. We raised $50,000 in our first 48 hours, which was like totally crazy.

Andrew: And that’s largely because of Styleforum.net?

Jennifer: Yes. It was the community that we had built there.

Andrew: That was where the bulk of where your first sales came from.

Jennifer: Yes. It was the community that we built there. We had a lot of friends who were like, “Yeah, I’ll back your Kickstarter campaign or your Indiegogo campaign,” and then they’d give us like $1 or $10. Much appreciated, but they weren’t buying our bags. It was strangers on the internet who were really excited about what we were doing.

Andrew: I see. Tell me more about what you did before this one post I’m looking at here, which is the official affiliate thread.

Jennifer: The introduction post?

Andrew: Yeah. What did you do before that to build up this community or was it just this one post where you were answering questions.

Jennifer: That post started it all.

Andrew: That’s it? And in that post, the thing that stands out for me is the photos. I see a photo of a bag. I see The New York Times in there even though it’s a laptop bag. I like that The New York Times is in there because you’re giving us this old world feel. I see someone in a suit wearing it, someone without a tie holding it. It’s the photos, I think, that largely communicated it. How much did it cost you to get those photos done or how did you do it?

Jennifer: Great question. So our first shoot was on quite a small budget. We found a great photographer in San Francisco. Now he’s in New York. His name is Mark Wiggins. I don’t remember honestly how much we spent. But it was a few thousand dollars for that first shoot. We went super barebones, like we found the model ourselves and styled the model ourselves and just like did everything.

Shoots can become really expensive, though. We did a shoot a few months ago. If you look at our website now, we just completely redesigned it and pushed the new website live about four weeks ago and it looks totally different from what we looked like in the beginning because we finally have had more money to invest in creating these assets, which, as you said, are so important in communicating the quality of the products and what the brand is about. That shoot cost about $20,000.

Andrew: For one photo shoot, the one you have up on the site?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: How many photos do you get for that or is that a philistine question for me to ask you.

Jennifer: It’s not a philistine question at all. When we were talking to the agency, they tried to set our expectations and say, “Okay, this is going to be eight to ten photos.” But then if you have a great model and a great photographer and a great location where you have a lot of material to work with for making a nice photograph, you can get more than that. If you have a really bad model or a photographer who’s not as great or a location where there isn’t as much choice for variety, the output can be less than that.

Andrew: What about this one photo I keep looking at of a screw being screwed into the watch? Is that part of this $20,000 shoot?

Jennifer: No. That was not. I don’t remember who took that.

Andrew: But that’s a whole other shoot?

Jennifer: Yes.

Andrew: Man, this stuff is expensive. Okay. The reason that I said . . .

Jennifer: That was part of our . . . it’s a screenshot from our video.

Andrew: Okay. The reason I asked you about why you used a Kickstarter campaign is because that initial post on Styleforum that mentioned Kickstarter. It seemed like you guys were thinking of going to Kickstarter and you chose Indiegogo. Why did you choose Indiegogo?

Jennifer: At the time, the tech was a lot better. The platform was a lot better and it was much more appropriate for our needs. We actually went with Kickstarter for our last campaign. We’ve liked using both platforms. We decided to use Kickstarter because we already had a large Kickstarter community from our previous campaign.

Andrew: So look at this. I just happened to read someone’s post on here. “Greetings from Jakarta, Indonesia. I hate your black soft bag because I just bought one from Mismo.” Then the guy says, “Sorry, I’m kidding around here with you.” I thought, “Aha, I got someone who hated it. Let’s talk about that.” What else did you do to get people to come into the Kickstarter campaign and to get it to work? What works? Teach us. I keep saying Kickstarter, to Indiegogo.

Jennifer: So that first campaign it was all community, honestly. It was word of mouth. We felt that we didn’t have a lot of control over what was going on. We could do everything that we could to engage the community on Styleforum and engage with our friends who were also interested in our bags. But then there were no other levers that we could think about pulling every day. We tried doing some press outreach and everybody ignored us. So that was also like not really a part of that campaign.

That campaign was literally all community-driven. And I think because we got so much momentum on Indiegogo, we also got boosted in the Indiegogo algorithm. So we were higher up on their page, got more visibility, got in their newsletter and that also brought in a lot more people.

Andrew: Are there other communities that you were able to tap at all?

Jennifer: Not really, actually. It’s been very different with Kickstarter. Now we’re feeling a lot more in control of things and we have a lot of different things that are driving traffic to our Kickstarter page. But to your question about community, we’ve had a lot of people come in through Product Hunt, which has been cool.

Andrew: I saw that. I see that now for a lot of companies. Product Hunt is a big source of traffic. I like that you had to explain to them about the name and Product Hunt, that you had to do more of an intro there.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: Did you learn anything for your next crowdfunding campaign from the first one, something that you should do the next time, something you should avoid?

Jennifer: Absolutely. I think this feeling of not feeling in control of everything was not great. We ended up raising $180,000 in that Indiegogo campaign. That was more than three times what we initially set out to raise. We were very happy with it at the time. But we’ve realized since then that we should feel like we’re in control of our fate and our destiny.

So now we are running paid ads. We’re doing a lot more to engage our email list. We’ve gotten 5,000 customers over the last 18 months and now we can kind of use that as another source of community that’s like actually in our control. We’re starting to do press outreach again, hopefully with better results this time.

Andrew: I see it. I see Fuel Made ran an article about you guys, right? Did that help at all? Do you know Fuel Made?

Jennifer: Yeah. Fuel Made is an amazing . . . is this the web development agency?

Andrew: Is that what it is? Yeah, you’re right. It actually doesn’t look like a web development agency. I just happened to look at your SimilarWeb link to see where you guys got traffic and it looks like they’re sending you traffic. I clicked over and they just look like this magazine, where I see Beardbrand on there, I see FIGS and then I see you. I thought this is just an interesting article that you guys had written about you, but it’s not. These are the people who design all these sites.

Jennifer: Can I take the opportunity to just plug Fuel Made because they’re so awesome? Carson and his team, they’re so awesome. They helped us with our website redesign a month ago. I think our website looks better than a lot of VC-funded websites if I may say so myself. It just works beautifully. They’re excellent Shopify developers. I don’t know if they do non-Shopify, but I think they’re the top-ranked Shopify developer in the Shopify partner.

Andrew: I do notice now that there are a lot of agencies that are focusing on Shopify, that Shopify has become such a major force, such a platform for ecommerce that people create whole agencies just to help them out.

Jennifer: Shopify is amazing. We pay $1 in rent every day.

Andrew: That’s what it costs you to keep that site up.

Jennifer: Yeah. That’s how Roman and I as a two-person team are able to get $1 million in revenue in our first year and we’re on track to do $5 million this year and it’s because of things like Shopify.

Andrew: How much have you done so far, 2016? We’re about halfway through the year.

Jennifer: Yeah. So our Kickstarter campaign is at $300,000 right now. I think we’re going to reach more than . . . we’re trying to surpass $1 million in the next 18 days. So far with our bag sales we’ve done more than $1 million also. So by the end of the year, we hope to close at $5+ million. We have a huge uptick in December.

Andrew: What else helped you get to the $1 million the first year? I hear about the Indiegogo campaign. What else helped you get there? I’m just going to go off camera for a second to sneeze. Go ahead.

Jennifer: So we had our first Indiegogo campaign, which was $185,000. We had a Kickstarter campaign that was another $370,000 and then the remainder came through our shop. A lot of it was word of mouth, actually. We ask all of our customers how they heard of us. Most of the time it’s, “Oh, my colleague brought in the briefcase to work and I really loved it.”

Andrew: But that didn’t happen the first year.

Jennifer: It happened like after we fulfilled everything. The first year, we had like four or five months where nobody had our products because we were making the products. But then after that, like after we sent out our products, we got a huge spike in sales because people were bringing it to work or carrying it on the street. Other people were asking them like, “Where is this from? This is amazing. I’ve never seen such beautiful leather.”

Andrew: And you didn’t need to put your name all over it for people to figure out what the company was.

Jennifer: No.

Andrew: What was the second product?

Jennifer: Actually, our watches don’t have logos on them. I think this was a very bold move on our part. You rarely see a watch without a logo on it. For us, it’s a matter of aesthetic and not making our customers walking billboards for us. If they appreciate quality, then they’ll . . . I think they don’t need to show off that this is from whatever brand.

Andrew: I see that on your watch and I do appreciate that. I hate when I buy something and then they have their logo on it. I paid you. You pay me if you want me to carry your logo.

Jennifer: Exactly.

Andrew: How’d you figure out to do a watch?

Jennifer: It’s a project that has been in the works for a really long time, actually. We wanted to . . . well, I had gone shortly after starting Linjer, I remember being very stressed out generally and getting very stressed out because of my smartphone in particular. Every time I wanted to check the time, I would pull out my phone and I would see emails and text messages and WhatsApp messages and Facebook notifications and it was too much. It was too much.

All I wanted to do was check the time. I was just being reminded of all the things I had to do. Checking the time like 20 years ago, people used to wear watches a lot more than they do now. But you could just look at your wrist and not be distracted and not get stressed out. So I think at one point, Roman was like, “I think watches are a really interesting category as well. Why don’t we try making a watch?” So we started making a watch.

It’s been a very long and arduous journey because it’s extremely hard to design simple watches and get every single detail right. I think we spent 18 months working on it. With watch manufacturers, usually the manufacturer that you’re working with is just the final assembler and they have like 20 or 30 other vendors that they’re buying things from. There’s the case maker, the people who make the little hour indexes, the people who make the hands, the people who do the plating, etc. So they coordinate everything. So every time you make a watch prototype it takes like three to four months. It’s crazy. It’s not software.

Andrew: No.

Jennifer: You do a bit of code and then push it. No. It’s like four months every single time you want to make a single little adjustment.

Andrew: And that’s what you had to go through?

Jennifer: Yes. We went through this over and over and over again, went through three manufacturers until we found a manufacturer that could make to your high standards of quality. So we were so happy when we finally got the watches and they were perfect.

Andrew: And now that you have it, what are you going to do to promote it? You feel very confident that you’re going to jump beyond $300,000 where you are this moment. What are you going to do?

Jennifer: With our Kickstarter campaign, we’re going to continue doing everything we can to drive traffic.

Andrew: Like what? What’s worked for you so far?

Jennifer: So Facebook ads, engaging our backers and asking them to share with other people. We’re working with a PR agency.

Andrew: Which one?

Jennifer: We just engaged them last night. It’s called Brainiac.

Andrew: Have they done anything helpful?

Jennifer: We literally talked to them at 12:30 in the morning Italy time yesterday. So we’ll see what happens. I’m going to talk to them later today. And then after the campaign, I think where we really dial up our marketing efforts is in influencer marketing. We haven’t done any influencer marketing so far. We’ve just been so strapped as a team as two people.

Andrew: You’ve said two and a half people because there have been times when you each had a job, mostly.

Jennifer: One and a half, yes.

Andrew: Excuse me, one and a half.

Jennifer: This is how we bootstrapped, one of us working and the other person full time on Linjer.

Andrew: What are you going to do for influencer marketing? Give it out to influencers and ask them to take pictures?

Jennifer: Yes. I think it’s really important to find influencers who are aligned with your brand and understand what you’re doing.

Andrew: It looks like The Hustle . . . you and I met at Hustle Con. That was the conference. The Hustle did an article on you. It looks like that sent you a lot of traffic. Do you know if that resulted in any orders?

Jennifer: Yes, it did. For sure. We had a lot of people who ordered from us.

Andrew: From that?

Jennifer: They said they found us through that or their wife saw it and wanted a bag and they’re getting their wife a gift or something.

Andrew: Okay.

Jennifer: On the point of hiring, the people on the team, I did want to say that we’re hiring like crazy now. Our Kickstarter campaign has been such a success and we know it’s going to be a success in the next 18 days. We’re hoping to do more than $1 million and I think we will. We need a lot of people to join our team and help take us to the next level.

Andrew: Okay. I guess they can see the job opportunities on your website?

Jennifer: Yeah. Linjer.co/Careers. Again, Linjer, which is spelled like Linjer, like Jeremy Lin, Linjer.co/Careers.

Andrew: It’s Linjer.co/Careers or Linjer.co to see the photography that we were talking about and to click over from the watches section to the Kickstarter campaign that’s still going. Jennifer, thanks so much for being on here.

Jennifer: Thank you. It’s been great to talk to you.

Andrew: Super. And my two sponsors who I will be thanking here, the first one is going to host your website, lowest price they offer anywhere. It’s called HostGator. Check them out at HostGator.com/Mixergy. The second one will actually help you get on the phone or schedule meetings with people because it makes it super easy for them to do it and for you to coordinate. It’s called Acuity Scheduling. Check them out at AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy.

Thank you all for being a part of it. Thank you, Jennifer. Bye, everyone.


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