Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Usually, it’s software entrepreneurs or web-based entrepreneurs or app-based entrepreneurs. Those are all software entrepreneurs, aren’t they? But today, I’ve got an entrepreneur who actually is in physical products, and she manufactures physical products. Go figure. And Suuchi, it’s all in the U.S., right?
Suuchi: Yes, it is.
Andrew: In the U.S. All right, Suuchi who you just heard is Suuchi Ramesh. She is the founder of a company called Suuchi, just named after her. And she has this idea. A lot of people out there who want to create their own apparel, but how do they do it? Where do they go? What country do they go to? How do they make it work? And if they’re too small, who is going to ignore them until they finally figure out a way to get big enough to get people to pay attention to them.
She said, “You know, that’s my people. I’m actually going to be empowering those people to create their apparel brands. I’ll actually start to manufacture when they’re tiny.” And as a result, she’s built this business. And I invited her here to talk about how she did it. It’s bootstrapped. It’s something that she had to really pivot and adjust and get to by realizing a lot about herself and about her customers and where the revenue was.
So I invited her to talk about how she did it. And we can do it thanks to two phenomenal companies who are sponsoring. And Suuchi, frankly, they’re paying me. Can you imagine? I get paid to talk like this. If my mother only knew. I swear. No, my mom, I think, would always think I was going to do something big. My dad said, “Your mouth is going to ruin you.” But look at this. I’m getting paid by HostGator to flap my gums, and I’m getting paid by Toptal, which is a phenomenal company. They both are, to talk. And I’ll tell you guys more about those later.
First, Suuchi, good to have you here.
Suuchi: Good to be on. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: What’s annual revenue? Let’s say, 2018, how much revenue did you guys do?
Suuchi: So 2018, we did ten and a half in booked revenue, and we did 7.2 in billed revenue, million. And 2019, we’re on track to do $27 million in billed and $33 million in booked.
Andrew: And billed means you’re paying people. Booked means you actually produced the thing that you’re getting paid for.
Suuchi: No, no, no. Billed would just be the work that we complete versus booked contract value. So we just record both. Now we have investors, so we just started raising a round. So now we record both those numbers. But to keep it simple, we did $7.2 million this year, and next year we’re going to do $27 million.
Andrew: I’m with you. And look at this. You actually told our producer, “Look, we’re in the process of raising money.” It sounds like you had raised it. You did it.
Suuchi: Well, it’s in the process. We haven’t closed the round. We’re close.
Andrew: Oh, so you didn’t even see the money in the bank.
Suuchi: No, not yet. We’re in the process of closing it.
Andrew: Still all your money that got you here. You know what? I want people to get a sense of how you operate, who you empower. Tell me about this woman, Kelly Sullivan-Santiago. She’s one of your customers. Who was she before she created her company? I want to give people a sense of who you’re serving, and then we’ll talk about how you got here.
Suuchi: Yeah, so Kelly is a fantastic, strong leader, and she still all those things. She’s a leader. She’s a mom. She’s hyper-smart. And been in corporate and she had this idea. She’s the mom of three kids, and she understands what other young mothers want, which is safe clothing made locally for the children. So she really came up with this super simple idea, which is fabulous, and most fabulous ideas are simple, in creating really kids clothing that was organically made and made locally. And so we helped take her idea, and bring it to life, and produced her clothing in small batches so she could take it to market. So we really helped be the backbone for her company in bring her idea to life.
Andrew: When you say small batch, how many are we talking about?
Suuchi: We do batches as small as 50 units a style. I’ll do even smaller . . .
Suuchi: Fifty, five-zero, and that’s can be spread across different sizes. Yes, yeah.
Andrew: You can actually make it pay to just produce 50 different items for her?
Suuchi: Yes. I mean, we have a very interesting model. We’re super excited and passionate about empowering microbrands. I mean, of course we work with very large companies as well, but what’s truly exciting is the opportunity to really revamp and renovate the supply chain to microbrands. So we really are vertically integrated. We do everything end-to-end from design, sourcing, production. And we do that, we have our own factory, but we also have a network of factories that are part of our community locally in Jersey and PA. And so we clearly have capacity and capability.
We have the ability to really kind of . . . and we have our own proprietary software, which is [PLM 00:04:42]. So we use that to kind of provide intelligence on, “How do I assign what?” So we leverage all our partners and our in-house factory to make the right product with the right quantity. So not all the factories are set up for small batch, but some work with small batch in a certain type of product. And some factories are more for big batch in a certain other type of product. Because we have so many in our network, because all of them are scored and managed through our platform, we have the ability to make some intelligent assignments and relegate it to the smallest of needs and the biggest of needs.
Andrew: Wow, okay. Let’s go back and understand how you got here. And one thing that I heard about you that I wasn’t even able to research is, you told our producer that you’re the daughter of a famously failed entrepreneur. I feel like Arie, our producer’s, a little nicer than I am, and so she didn’t dig in and ask, “Who was your dad? What did your grandfather do?” And so I started Googling you. And believe it or not, Ramesh is not an unpopular name. Ramesh is like all over the internet. So tell me about who your dad was. What happened?
Suuchi: Well, I mean, you know, when I say famously failed, it’s not that he had a huge enterprise or anything, but his dad, my granddad was fairly successful in India. And they had a motorbike company called [Enfield 00:05:49], and the generation after that was not able to keep it up. And my dad was that generation. Him and his siblings were not able to carry the glory on, so he tried a few things out and failed. He’s a very smart man, but couldn’t really succeed at his own enterprise. I thought, really, you know, big success and . . . and thought he was the stereotypical failure, but he clothed me.
Andrew: Why do you think it didn’t work out?
Suuchi: It could be a lot of things. I mean, I think that many times when you’re the kids of successful entrepreneurs, maybe . . . and I’m just hypothesizing here. Maybe you don’t have that same hunger in your stomach or the same sense of hustle. It could be that. It could just be that, you know, sometimes it’s all about staying on, persevering, and not giving up. It could be that as well. It could be one of many things. I don’t think smarts is everything, because my dad’s smart, as are a lot of other people. I think sometimes just you need the hunger, the hustle, and the willingness to not give up.
Andrew: And that’s what you took away from it. At the time, you felt like, “If I ever get started in business, I’m going to have the hustle all the time.” Is that right?
Suuchi: No, I don’t think I necessarily started thinking, “Hey, I have what it takes.” You just develop that muscle over time. You know, all your learning starts to make sense in retrospect. So when you actually are in the moment and you’re seeing all this happen, you never think it’s going to be . . . you’re going to apply that later on. So learning starts to make sense, I think, in retrospect. Right? But also, I don’t think I started the company feeling prepared to do what I’m doing now. I just like learned as we’ve gone. And, you know, I have a fabulous team. And so it’s just really been a day at a time.
Andrew: I don’t know, Suuchi. I’ve got to tell you, my dad had a really successful company manufacturing women’s clothing in New York, believe it or not. And then it closed down, and then he started a local store, and then he went back into manufacturing, and I remember his heart wasn’t in it. Like, going back door to door, store to store, showing, “Here’s what I have. Will you buy it?” He said, even, at the time, “I don’t care to sell someone a dozen pairs of pants. I was selling dozens.”
And I remember taking away that he couldn’t go back to the beginning and still feel as hungry to get to the top, instead he felt like he was less of a person for doing that. I said, “If I ever start back again with nothing, I’m going to always have the same hunger that I had before.” And believe it or not, a lot of things in my life I had to go back to start from nothing at. Right? You look at Mixergy was a start from nothing several times. And I still keep reminding myself, “Don’t think this is less than. Give it everything. Work late night and appreciate that it’s here.” Did you take anything like that?
Andrew: I see you’re smiling, so you kind of did, didn’t you? What did you take from it?
Suuchi: Oh, yeah, no, absolutely. I think that I took away that I had an ambition to do something and that I would definitely hustle a lot more. And I always had a burn to scale things, and there was some kind of a leftover inspiration from my granddad that I didn’t know very well. And so there were definitely a lot of learnings from that. And I think I saw my dad’s intelligence not being applied the way I wish. I would just think that, “Wow, that intelligence, but if it could just be applied to immense and unforgivingly relentless focus, what could that do? That could just create massive scale magic.”
Andrew: If you could be focused. If he could have been focused. I see. And one of the things you’re taking away is you want to be super focused.
Suuchi: Yes, and I try to be.
Andrew: It’s a little uncomfortable to talk about our dads, isn’t it? I know it is for me. I don’t understand when people can just go talk about their parents publicly all the time.
Suuchi: And so you want to ask the uncomfortable question.
Andrew: You know what? Because there’s a part of them that’s us that we have to own and talk about, because that helps us become who we are. But there’s also a part of them that’s their own lives, that I want to give them space to be private and not do it. I would hate it if my kids, now they’re four and two, if they started a YouTube channel, they videotaped me while I was around the house and posted it online. You know? I wouldn’t want that. I’m not going to do it with my parents. But I still have to understand we all have some of our parents in us, and we need to understand them to fully understand ourselves.
All right, let’s go on to something that’s a little more comfortable. You ended up coming from India to the U.S., working at Intel as an engineer. You moved on to two venture-backed startups. You told our producer you watched them scale fast. You learned from them. What did you learn from these companies, and why are they not on your LinkedIn profile?
Suuchi: Yeah, no, I should put them up there. It was me just trying to rush through the LinkedIn profile. I should put them on there. Thank you. Note to myself.
Andrew: Please. Which ones did you work for?
Suuchi: So after Intel I worked for Mu Sigma, which is a very famous predictive analytics company. And then I went on to Manthan, which is another company, a really cool company in the analytics space. So I am a software engineer. I did my MBA in software and marketing, so I was pretty much the geek, and I love that. And I think that [plays stack 00:10:45] has carried on with what we’re doing at Suuchi, Inc. as well. So yeah, I mean, both these companies were run by . . . I mean, Intel, of course is super big. It was corporate. I was a drop in the ocean. But Mu Sigma and Manthan, both of them, had really cool founders. When you work very closely with these awesome founders that have taken something from nothing to billion dollar scale, and have the opportunity to work closely with these founders, not once but one after the other, two really kooky, impressive founders, that was really formative.
Andrew: All right, And it shows you, “Hey, they could do this. This is real. This isn’t something I just see on Mixergy, or read about online.” Got it, okay. And then the idea . . .
Suuchi: Sorry, go ahead.
Andrew: No, you go ahead. I want to hear about you. I know me.
Suuchi: No, I was just saying it wasn’t just working with them, right? These companies that they’ve become, they also have really awesome thing about their cultures, and that’s there’s a way of doing things, there’s a way people think, there’s a way people interact amongst themselves and I think that’s what . . .
Andrew: What do they do that was so awesome?
Suuchi: I think every company has a unique culture of its own, sort of like a cult, right?
Andrew: What did you see specifically that was appealing at those companies?
Suuchi: Well, for example, I think at Mu Sigma people were just very radically transparent and blunt with each other, but that was what was helping the company to succeed, right? And then at Manthan, again, it was a different kind of a culture. It was a lot more experienced people, but that was unique to them because they were building a really solid product versus services at Mu Sigma. So they weren’t the same cultures, but they were unique cultures in and of themselves. And it’s easy to build something really big that scales, you really have to focus closely on, “Who are you? Who are your people? What is our value system?” And I think that sometimes becomes almost the most key thing to scaling the company.
Andrew: The idea for Suuchi, the company, came to you when you were trying to buy clothes for yourself. Am I right?
Suuchi: Yes, I mean, that idea was the extension of what we are today. Like super [inaudible 00:12:49].
Andrew: Right. Let’s go into the original problem and talk about the evolution as we go. I can see that you change a lot. What was it? What was the original problem you personally had?
Suuchi: So I’m 5’2″ and tiny, and I’ve always found it tough to find things that fit me off the shelf. So I said, “Hey, you know, what if I used my background in data to create clothing that was fit for me and fit for women like me within five days of receiving measurements online?” So with that idea, which is custom fit clothing, built out on 3D technology, to show consumers that submitted their measurements, have something which fit on their avatar.
So the idea was really cool. Our 3D product, we invested a lot of money in it. I brought in some developers in 3D from UK, which was, yeah, this was about three, three and a half years ago. And at that time, it was [totally 00:13:47] early. And the product was cool. The idea was cool, but the sales were not really coming in. And I think maybe because custom clothing for women, creating that is still not that easy and the industry is not yet where we could scale it fast.
But in the process, we created a really cool team of designers, pattern makers, and software folk. And so we said, “Why not take what you’ve built and pivot that?” Because I knew B2B. I enjoyed B2B. I sucked at B2C. And I knew how to scale things, because that’s what I’d done at the two venture-backed startups before. So once we made the pivot and started converting . . .
Andrew: We’re going too fast here. Let me take a moment. The first thing you said was, “Look, I’m 5’2″. I need to find clothes that fit me and it’s too hard.” Second thing was, “You know what? What if it’s custom clothes for everyone? Not just for 5’2″ women, but for anyone who has a different shape who wants their own.” And you said, “I’m going to get 3D,” what? What was it that allowed you to then start creating this? Was it 3D hardware? Was it what that let you get women’s measurements and then what were you going to do to create those outfits?
Suuchi: So we created a product specific to our website. We integrated, we plugged in our own 3D product to our website.
Andrew: What’s the 3D product? Yeah.
Suuchi: We called it Bee. We called it B-E-E. And the code still belongs to the company, but it’s dusting because there’s no use for it right now. But Bee would take measurements from . . . and we named it after that avatar. Her name was Bee. But the measurements that we would take from consumers would take the 2D pattern and transform that to 3D and wrap it around the avatar. So with the 3D product, you could really go onto our website and you could choose a jacket and a shirt and a skirt, and really put the entire outfit, that entire wardrobe, on the avatar, to see how it would fit and how it would look as a fully complete wardrobe. So we wanted to give consumers the experience to not just see how something would fit based on measurements, because we had different avatars for different sizes. But we also wanted them to have the experience to see how, by putting different things of the wardrobe together, how something would fit on different sized avatars.
Andrew: So I see the original website. I’m on the Internet Archive, and I could see that there are different dresses, different outfits. I could pick the one that I want. But instead of adding it to the shopping cart, what I have is a button that says, “Customize.” And when I press the customize button, I can see the outfit on the left and I could see different fabrics that I can pick for it on the right. So I would pick, for example, for this one, let’s see, for this turtleneck, I’m going to pick this dark black almost pattern. I put it in there. The next thing I do is I pick my standard size or custom size. What’s the custom size? How do people do the 3D customization, is the thing I’m wondering about?
Suuchi: Yeah, I mean, so the custom size is where we would take their measurements, right?
Suuchi: And they would submit the measurements. I don’t have the website. From what I remember we would just give them [sleeve length 00:16:58] to build that shirt, sleeve length, the actual length of the shirt.
Andrew: Oh, they would just take a tape measure and you’d say take, you’d measure . . . I got it. I keep thinking there’s some kind of hardware, or a phone for augmented reality. No. What is it they [wanted 00:17:10]?
Suuchi: Well, we could do that today, but at that time either it wasn’t available or we didn’t explore that, and I think that was the problem. That is why we weren’t able to scale it because all these measurements that were coming in were either incorrect, because tape measures are never consistent in the way they measure. Or the measurements were right, but you know the way they were translated were not right. So that was a fundamental flaw in the hypotheses of the business model.
Andrew: Got it, got it. All right. So that was it. You were starting to get customers, but not really enough. Did you do anything to get customers? I kind of went back and I saw that at one point, you did things like you were writing an article for different sites. Like there was a UPS. I said, “Why do I see Suuchi on UPS’s website? Was she delivering packages at one point in her life?” No, you wrote an article for them. It was you trying to do, like, marketing. What kind of marketing did you do? Did any of it work? Did it not work?
Suuchi: Well, the UPS I think, if I’m not mistaken, was well into our present business model, which is B2B.
Andrew: Okay. So then what’d you do before?
Suuchi: The B2C, the consumer thing, was what, we tried that 6-7 months, not too long. Did a bunch of Facebook advertising, and I think we did a few articles. But look, one thing I learned is that consumer marketing is very different from B2B. And I officially sucked at consumer marketing. I don’t like it. I don’t know what to do with it. So I focused on the product, which is a 3D product. That I enjoyed doing, because of my background. But the marketing on the consumer side was a weak spot, because I didn’t really understand that. And so thank God we switched to B2B, because we’d have poured a lot more money down the drain on the B2C model, but we learned a lot from it.
Andrew: Got it, all right. It was more than just the marketing that you didn’t like for B2B. You just said, “Look, I don’t like catering to individual customers.” It feels almost like there’s a part of you that’s like my dad, who didn’t like selling individual skirts at his store. He said, “I used to sell dozens and dozens at a time. Now I’ve got to sell one to one person, who’s going to go back and complain in a minute about how this and that is off.” Right?
Suuchi: Yeah, I think it’s really different, right? Selling to consumers is very different. I mean, I would say that right now, the work we do with microbrands is not too dissimilar, right? You’re really working with consumers that are trying to start businesses, and they’re not enterprise. The bigger deals are more like a traditional B2B. But I think what was tough about the B2C was just that when you’re trying to set up a supply chain that’s so customized, scaling it is tough. And what I had enjoyed doing in the past, and what I enjoy doing, is setting up the process to scale, and I didn’t see the opportunity to scale.
Andrew: All right. Let me talk about my first sponsor, then we’re going to go back in and continue with the story. My first sponsor is a company called Toptal. I’ve got a case study for you, Suuchi, with a guy named Derek Johnson who I like a lot. I thought he liked me. We were friends. And still, I asked him to do a Mixergy interview recently. He said, “Not yet. No way.”
Anyway, here’s the deal. Derek Johnson was on Mixergy a while back. He was also a Mixergy listener. And what he’s got is like this text messaging app that works for bigger and bigger organizations. And the problem that he had was his CTO could not find the right person to hire, the right developer. And they started putting up Craigslist ads, and this ad, and that, and waiting, and wasting time as they interviewed people, and it just took for frickin’ ever.
And they finally said, “You know what? This Andrew guy I met him. I had scotch with him. He seems like a decent person. He’s not going to steer me wrong and do an ad for someone just because they’re paying him. Screw it. Let’s just give it a shot.”
So they went to toptal.com/mixergy, and through that they got introduced to two different people. His CTO said, “You know what? Either one is good. I can’t tell you which one is good. Go for either one of them.” They picked the one that they liked the best. They hired that person from Toptal. And then, not only did that person do a good job, but in private the CTO said to me, “You know, this guy’s so good, he can actually do my job. He’s that caliber of goodness.” I said, “Wow, Derek, congratulations,” thinking that was the only one. He later told me, “We’ve hired other people from Toptal. We keep working with people from Toptal.”
If you’re out there and you’re listening to me, and the hiring process stinks for you, and you want . . . not just ordinary people, really. There are tons of great websites, frankly, even for you, Suuchi. Tons of great websites if you just want to hire somebody on the cheap. If you want to hire someone good, like Google-caliber goodness who can solve problems in a way that no other developer could, who can challenge you to push your development chops further, you got to go check out toptal.com/mixergy.
They make it super fast to hire, because these people are already in their network. You get on a call with them, they understand what you’re looking for, they put a list together of people you should meet. Often, it’s like this, like Derek only had to talk to two people, and then you can often hire them and get started within days, and build your company so big that you could ignore me and never have to talk to me again in your life.
Derek’s still a good guy. But he told me, he says, “Look how good we’re doing. I don’t have time for this.” I get it, Derek. Here it is, toptal.com/mixergy. That’s top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. They really pride themselves on having the best of the best. If you go to toptal.com/mixergy, you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. Really, if you’re not happy, you will not be billed. Toptal, thank you.
When you wanted to pivot, how did you figure out how to pivot and what to pivot to?
Suuchi: Well, I mean, the first thing I knew was, “Okay, you know what? Let’s look at what we’ve created here that is fun and that can be [huge 00:22:31].” Which was the supply chain. We had created a vertically integrated full stack supply chain.
Andrew: I’m sorry. I keep interrupting you, not because I don’t want to hear you, but because I want more detail. When you put together a supply chain on your own, you told our producer, “This is one of my skills.” A supply chain seems like something really complicated and hard to put together. What does it mean, and how did you put together this supply chain?
Suuchi: Well, I mean, a supply chain is nothing but . . . it could be really simple or could be really complex, right? We had a simple supply chain that took demand and converted that to finished product. It was as simple as that. So in order to do that, we had designers, we had pattern makers, and we have cutters and sewers, and we had this all throughout our brand. So we said, “Let’s flip and let’s take this supply chain we’ve created,” and the hypotheses was that there would be other brands that would need it and need that same solution, which is fast into market, and we’re locally.
And so that’s what we did. We said, “Let’s take that.” And then we said, “Okay, we’re going to flip it to other businesses. We need to reach them.” And that’s the part I kind of understood. I knew how to reach other businesses, because I’d done enterprise marketing and sales before.
Andrew: How did you do it? How did you find these other businesses?
Suuchi: I just got a bunch of data sets and A/B tested the shit out of like a bunch of different campaigns.
Andrew: You mean ad campaign? You did say to our producer you did some A/B testing. What do you mean?
Suuchi: Yeah. We just wrote up some different emails and tested out some different subject lines. I had a bunch of data emails. And so that’s what I did. I just sat down a couple of weeks and just tested out different [inaudible 00:24:10] tested . . .
Andrew: How did you get those email addresses?
Suuchi: Well, I just had some, you know.
Andrew: You had your own database, or you had someone scrape? You can be open with me.
Suuchi: I did have some data that, you know . . . I was in a day job that I used to reach out to a lot of intimate customers. And I used to reach out to them to sell predictive solutions. But the same companies could also need, you know, clothing. Or you go to a Macy’s and you sell data to them, but Macy’s also needs clothing. So I had access to data that I could just flip the content and what I was offering them.
Andrew: Got it. Okay, and so you went back and you sold them. And then the first customer, do you remember who they were?
Suuchi: Yeah, it was [Cintas 00:24:50], and they’re still a customer. So Cintas is an $8 billion firm. And so we started by, you know, offering a very simple service. So we just started cutting and sewing for Cintas, right? And we did that through our factory and a couple of other factories that were by us. So that was our early platform, our platform of three factories including our own small factory. And today, our platform is about 90 different factories.
Andrew: And all these factories are in the U.S.?
Suuchi: Yes, they’re all in Jersey and PA.
Andrew: Okay. Why does it have to be in the U.S. for you? I can see that New Jersey’s really proud that they’ve got you there. I’m wondering why you care about being in New Jersey versus somewhere else.
Suuchi: I mean, I think that New Jersey has a lot of advantages and a lot of heritage and legacy. First of all, it’s so close to New York, and that’s a big advantage. So you’re really almost lucky you’re outside looking in, because we can’t afford the space in New York, but we’re close enough that we have access to the talent and the customers.
There’s also a lot of, you know, older factories that were waiting to be revived in Jersey. There was a lot of work that used to go on here 10, 15, 20 years ago. But also, this is home to me, right? So it’s nice to be able to build something in your home state. But we definitely plan to expand. We’ve already started expanding into PA. But, you know, while we have our headquarters here, we hope to kind of expand our community further down the East Coast and ultimately across the U.S.
So making it in the U.S., there’s a certain fight to it of course, but it has to make business sense. So for us, it’s all about, “What is the business value that our end customers are getting to make it in the USA?” Which is faster, better, and in the long term, cheaper, right? So we want to make local for local a real economic advantage. So made in the USA, the feel good is more the cherry on the cake.
Andrew: So I understand when you tell me, “Andrew, we empower smaller, newer apparel companies to actually get their things created.” But when you tell me that your first customer was a big client, I wonder, what do you do for them that they can’t get somewhere else? What advantage do you have?
Suuchi: Yeah, we actually have a good mix between really large, you know, the whales and the mammoth players and then also the microbrands. So they’re really two different divisions within our company from a sales and marketing standpoint. So the bigger guys give us the bigger contracts, right? But within that, a lot of the players, the big guys, still are realizing that for them to stay relevant, they have to have a big variety in design, and they have to be able to release relatively smaller batches for each of them. Which can be anywhere from 500 to 5,000, 10,000 units, which is still a relative small batch, and be able to release them really quickly, and be able to track and monitor the data across everything. So we’re able to, a) design fast, release the units fast, but through our next generation PLM, or our own platform really, we’re also able to track the data across the supply chain so we can give them more intelligence on what’s doing well and how to reduce cost over time.
Andrew: So this is their way of, got it, of kind of having a little bit of a startup culture to create small batches, find something that works. Am I right, or am I missing something?
Suuchi: Yeah, exactly. The biggest companies are realizing that they have to change the way their supply chains are. And so the ones whose supply chains are not nimble are headed for debt. So the smart big corporates realized that they’ve got to change the way the whole demand network is playing out, and those are the ones that work with us.
Andrew: So I asked you for an example of a small manufacturer and what she was getting from you, right? She had this idea that she . . . or small company . . . she wanted to make kids’ clothes, and she didn’t even know if it was going to work. Do you have an example of a bigger company and what they needed that only you could do? What were they trying to accomplish? Can you give me a specific?
Suuchi: Yeah, I mean, there’s a bunch of different big companies I’ll take. Because we were talking about kids’ clothing for Kelly. We’ll take a big company that’s also for kids, which is Little Giraffe. You said you have kids. So, I mean, they’re pretty much a household name for kids. It’s baby towels and blankets. And we are the sole supplier for all of their production.
Andrew: For all their stuff. Oh, yeah, we have their stuff at home. Little Giraffe, that’s a pretty big company though, isn’t it?
Suuchi: Yeah, we do about 15,000 to 20,000 units a month for them, so well over a quarter million units a year. And it’s pretty cool, yeah. So we get to make all their stuff.
Andrew: So then what do they get from you that they can’t get from someone else? It seems like they’re buying in bulk. Couldn’t they just have somebody manufacture this in China? What are you doing for them?
Suuchi: Yeah, well, some part of their supply chain used to be in China before, but we’re super lucky. This is a great case study for us in that we’ve been able to become 100% solution for them for all their products. And I think what they get here is they’re not stacking as much inventory. When they were in China, they were buying product three, six months ahead of time. With us, they literally give us purchase orders every couple of weeks. And so our cycle times are as quick as a couple of weeks, and so they’re only making what they need. I mean, overall, it’s still a lot of volume, but they’re not carrying the cost of excess inventory. And they’re not marking down as much, because we’re really making it real-time for them. And we’re doing that at super competitive rates as well.
Andrew: By the way, I notice as we’re talking that you keep saying hi and goodbye to people. It’s 7:15 p.m. your time, right? Are there still people in your office right now?
Andrew: There are.
Suuchi: Yes, yes. Yeah, there are.
Andrew: What time is everyone going to go home today?
Suuchi: You know, most have left. There’s always the last four or five that stay on until about 9, 9:30. So it’s long hours, but it’s a fun group. So we’ll probably be here . . .
Andrew: You’ll probably be there until what?
Suuchi: We’ll probably be here until a little after 9.
Andrew: What do you do that keeps people excited about staying at a manufacturing company after 9? You’re not like a tech startup where there’s foosball tables and this tech like atmosphere.
Suuchi: Yeah, no, for sure. So two things there. So first of all, we are a tech and a supply chain company. So we do have our own technology that is not being sold as a separate solution of its own. So we have our own next generation PLM, or a project lifecycle management software. So it just was informed by the learnings we had as subject matter experts. And now that’s being sold as an independent product of its own.
But it’s not true that we’re not a tech company. It’s just that we’re not only a tech company. So that makes us unique. But I will say that we’re definitely not the kind of culture that’s going to spend money on foosball tables or fancy stuff in the office. It’s a very down to earth atmosphere. And I think people are just happy and proud to be a part of the build. And because we’ve got this far without any outside money, it’s just really credit to super awesome people that we have here, really hardworking folks, and we are here because of the team that we are.
Andrew: How much money did you invest in the business to get yourself started?
Suuchi: About $800,000 so far. But obviously that in and of itself wasn’t enough to get us through every other thing. It’s just been a real focus on sales, and . . .
Andrew: You said $800,000? Oh, got it. How much of your own money did you invest in this business?
Suuchi: All of that is my own money, yes.
Andrew: You had $800,000 from these startups that you worked in?
Suuchi: I mean, I saved. There was that, plus savings. For a while, for about a year or so I was doing both. So basically my entire salary was getting plugged back into this entirely. So yeah, it was a combination of different things. But yes, it was everything I had, so I’m all in and then some.
Andrew: Wow. Did it feel scary at one point when . . . it did, didn’t you? I remember you telling our producer that it was scary.
Suuchi: Yeah, it was in parts. I mean, at the beginning, it definitely was, because I was a corporate at [inaudible 00:32:49]. They were startups, but they were also kind of like stable startups. But to give that all up and to do this was definitely a big risk. But I think that it was a little scary at the beginning, but, you know, after that though, I can’t imagine it being any other way now.
Andrew: All right. Let me talk about my second sponsor. It’s a company called HostGator. Trying to come up with a good case study on the fly. So here’s the thing. I tell my people, “Can you please get me a good case study so that I can tell stories?” I don’t really like the case study that they got me for this, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell my story instead. I’m going to be running a marathon on every continent on the planet. I had this idea that I was going to do it. A friend of mine said, “Oh, Andrew, you should make it into a thing. And if you’re going to make something into a thing, it needs a website. People will believe it. People will talk about it. People will feel it viscerally when there’s a website to something.” So I did it. Suuchi, I went with, here’s my URL, runwithandrew.com. When you go there, you’re going to see how I’m running a marathon on all seven.
Suuchi: I’ll check it.
Andrew: You should. Seven marathons, seven continents, in one year. I’m up to 21 miles. I’m training at that level. My first one’s going to be running from the U.S. into Mexico. And then once I’m in Mexico . . .
Suuchi: Wow, wow. I’m looking it up.
Andrew: And I’m going to do interviews with entrepreneurs in Mexico in person. Because I have never interviewed, as far as I know, an entrepreneur in Mexico. For some reason, they’re avoiding me, so I’m coming and running to them. But here’s the thing. Suuchi just went to the website to check it out, to see what I’m up to. Right? If I just said, “This is the thing,” it would have felt like another New Year’s resolution and not seem that important.
Whenever you have something and you want to make it into a thing, just build a website for it. It’ll instantly give it more credibility. I always talk about how Seth Godin, when he has this new program, a new course, a new whatever, when he gives it its own website, not a slash at the end of his current website, but an actual website, it feels more real. It feels like something that you can share with your friends. It feels like something that has more substance and is a business or a thing on its own.
When you want to do that, here’s what I recommend. Don’t just go to hostgator.com/mixergy. But instead, go to hostgator.com/mixergy and pick that middle option, the one that gives you unlimited domains. So anytime you have an idea, you can create a website for it.
Suuchi, I’ll tell you one of the best uses I’ve seen for that unlimited domains. There’s this young guy. I think he was 21 years old, just right out of school, starting on a business, wanted to get to meet entrepreneurs that he admired so that he can possibly work for them. He started building a website for each person that he wanted to meet. You know how easy it is, Suuchi, right? Go install WordPress, which is always one click on HostGator. And if you want to meet someone like Sam Parr, who was someone he wanted to meet, he just created a website, “Hey, Sam Parr, I want to meet you. Here’s where I should meet you.” Right? Sam Parr feels honored, feels like, “All right, great. This is more than I need now.” Meanwhile, ha ha, it’s like a little more expensive than an email.
All right, hostgator.com/mixergy. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring. Let’s talk a little bit about the lowest days. Do you remember? Did you ever feel like, “I’m going to close this business down,” when you invested so much in this custom production and people weren’t buying it, and you hated consumer products?
Suuchi: No, I mean, I don’t ever think I got to a point where I thought, “I want to close it.” But there’s definitely been many times that I thought it would close because we couldn’t make payroll, or we were close to not making it because we didn’t have the outside money. I mean, I don’t know how we’ve always figured it out, but we’ve always somehow figured it out, but we’ve always been so close. So there’s been a lot of those. But yeah, I mean, it wouldn’t have been as much fun if there weren’t those moments too, right? It makes it all real, and it makes it all worth it.
Andrew: Let me like really identify with you. Give me a time that you remember where you thought, “This could be the end.” Or was it always at the time easy for you?
Suuchi: No, it was never easy. I think my worst fear always, at least for me personally beyond an angry customer . . . I think it’s always we don’t want to let our teams down, right, in any way. Because we also have a lot of cutters and sewers that work paycheck to paycheck. So to me, the fear is, “What if we can’t pay our people?” And luckily, that has never happened. But I think the lowest points have always been where we were worried about whether we would make payroll.
Andrew: That was it. And you were up nights for that?
Suuchi: Oh, yeah, for sure. We definitely were. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Andrew: When you say we, is it you? Is it just you at the company? You say we sometimes like it was really tough, and we were at our lowest. Who else is there who’s like sweating this stuff when things aren’t working out for you?
Suuchi: Well, I mean, for good or bad, I didn’t have co-founders, but I have a fantastic leadership team. And I made it a point to surround myself with folks that had a lot more life experience, but also experience on the manufacturing and operation side. And I think over time we figured out the kind of people we wanted around us, and even around me. And so when I say we, I just really talk about some of the senior folks here that are really awesome. So at least I’ve had that. I [realized 00:38:05] at the beginning I didn’t have investors or a board. I definitely have a really cool leadership team that’s kind of been . . . we’ve all been a part of it together. So that’s why I say we.
Andrew: Let’s look at this. Up until now, I’ve been going to suuchi.com, which is pretty cool that you’ve got your first name as a domain. I started hunting around to see, “Where has suuchi.com been getting traffic from?” And it turns out the number one source of traffic is from suuchilabs. So I go, “Why did I not know suuchilabs?” So I go to suuchilabs. Suuchilabs clearly explains this whole thing where you were going to create apparel for companies. Where is that top line? Launching your brand just got a lot easier.
And you’ve got these three packages. The cheapest package you call London, which includes like CAD, tech pack, includes one edit, the pattern’s going to come, pre-production samples, two rounds of those samples, pattern grading. And then you do the whole thing for what, $1,250? Excuse me, $1,250, that’s it. I get my whole thing. So if I decide, “Hey, Suuchi, I have this idea for a button-down shirt.” I come to you, $1,250. The whole thing looks nice. Couple of edits. I don’t get to drive you crazy. And then I pay per piece for you guys to make it.
Suuchi: Yeah, it’s also about democratizing fashion. And the reason that’s a different domain is that we do cater to the microbrands and the super big guys as well, right? So we have a different message for the microbrands. But yeah, it’s all about saying, “Hey, listen, you know, whatever you have, you should be able to start your company tomorrow. And we’ll make it happen with whatever you have in your pocket.”
Andrew: And that’s it. And once you have that, it costs how much? If I want to make a button-down shirt. Let’s say that was my thing. A new button-down shirt. Like Untuckit, I’m going to do super tuck it. For men, it’s the kind of shirt that you tuck in but it snaps underneath to make sure the shirt always stays tucked. That would be my idea. I come to you. How much would it cost per shirt?
Suuchi: I mean, you know, we can make a really good shirt for like under $25 all inclusive, and at smaller quantities. It could get even less expensive than that if you make it into quantities. But honestly, if we wanted to launch a brand today with that kind of shirt with . . . I don’t know, a bodysuit shirt? Is that how I describe your idea?
Andrew: Yeah, I guess so.
Suuchi: So you could really have, I don’t know, like $3,000. You could go finish your design, your development, your CAD, you tech pack, your patterns, your samples, and about, I don’t know, 10, 15 units, and there you are. Boom, you’ve got a business.
Andrew: Think about that. Everyone’s making t-shirts. Imagine somebody’s listening to me right now and he says, “You know, instead of making t-shirts, I’m going to make pants. I’m going to make a sweater. I’m going to do something that stands out.” I don’t see a lot of people doing this. How are people finding out about you? I’m in the world. I didn’t know you existed. How are people finding out about you? I went to SimilarWeb to get a sense of it, and it’s not telling me enough.
Suuchi: So, again, we’re just two and a half years old, right? And a lot of our sales today, pretty much 95% of that $7.2 million for 2018 was all inbound. And we didn’t spend any money on marketing in 2018. For 2019, we have a budget for marketing. So it’s really been, you know, a ton of organic. The press has talked to us. We had a lot of organic press. And we also had a lot of blog content out there. But mainly, I don’t think we can really even credit the content of the press. I think it’s just pretty awesome. There’s a lot of demand for this, right? There’s a whole ocean of microbrands but also big companies that realize they have to have a microbrand methodology to how they approach their business. And they don’t really have a clear [ethic 00:41:37] to put it all together and also apply the digital technology and to lay it on it. And so we’re really a full stack solution, and there’s a big need for that.
Andrew: Let me break down what you said. I still really want to break down how you get your customers. So you’re saying blogging and press. Absolutely, I saw that. your blogging is so-so. Your press is phenomenal. You’ve gotten into a lot of places, right? You won the Ernst & Young award, which it gives you another bed of credibility. I think it was a Forbes article out there. All that stuff leads back to people understanding that. The fact that you’re in the U.S. and New Jersey is stuff that leads to press. You do your own press, or someone else on your team does press for you?
Suuchi: No, people have searched us out and we don’t have anyone working on the press. We have an manager now in the last month or so that started reaching out to people, but that’s only been since early 2019.
Andrew: Okay, and so those articles have been really helpful. Where did I find you? I saw you in Money magazine, money.com, right? Nobody even goes. There are hardly any good articles on there, but you got a really good article from there. Cbsnews.com. This is before you even had an intern. That’s just them all finding you?
Suuchi: Yes, yes. And I think it’s also there’s a part of it that’s culturally relevant, politically relevant. And so I think, you know, we got lucky there because it’s the right time as well. And there’s a need, there’s a demand for what we’re trying to do.
Andrew: And there’s also this idea that if you are the random, unusual American company to manufacture in a world where everyone is shipping, manufacturing overseas, that becomes a news story. Are you still doing email the way you did in the beginning, still reaching out to your network?
Suuchi: Yes, we are. For our enterprise customers, we do a lot of email reachouts. We’ve now started buying data sets but then we have some ways to hack emails, and sales teams will send out a lot of one-on-one emails too.
Andrew: Like what? What’s your best tip? Give me one tip for email that’s worked really well for you. Come on, Suuchi, give me something relatable that’s manageable.
Suuchi: I think, so. In terms of finding email, Lusha is really good. You know, you can just go on to Lusha, pay about like $49 a month and then you can get emails. But I think in terms of content, something really simple like subject lines makes a big difference if a CEO of a big company will open your email. I think people should really shorten their subject lines. Subject lines make all the difference. Spend all your time on it. Because the content could be super awesome, but if the subject line’s boring, no one’s going to open it. Because you’re getting like 100,000 emails a day if you’re a CEO. So focus like 99%, if you’re split testing, on your subject line.
Andrew: Got it. You know what? I didn’t even know about Lusha. Lusha.co. You type in someone’s name and they give you their contact information. Do they also do it by category and title? So if you said, “I need to find manufacturers,” or whatever, you’d be able to find a bunch of people there?
Suuchi: Yeah, so what we use it for is to get the right email to reach people. So we just say, “This is who we want,” and it spits back an email for us, which has been pretty accurate.
Andrew: All right. I’ve learned a lot here. I think it’s kind of interesting that you were able to build this up so much. And I can see why you’re getting press. Congratulations. What do you think of this interview? I’ve been trying to read your face here. I feel like it’s sometimes you think, “What am I doing here with Andrew?” and other times like, “Kind of fun.”
Suuchi: No, it was fun. I’m sorry my face is, “What can I say?” It’s just a long day in the warehouse. No, this was really fun. I think it’s very distracting, because, you know, I’m in the . . . let me show you where we are.
Andrew: Yeah, please. Let me look around. Let’s do it.
Suuchi: It’s just that the reason my face gets contorted like that is there’s 140 of us sitting here. Right now, it’s totally empty. But there’s a lot of noise, and so it’s very tough to focus on a one hour . . .
Andrew: This is a real factory floor there, real manufacturing.
Suuchi: Yes, and this side is where our technology team sits. Our sales and marketing team sits here. But the reason if I look distracted is because there’s a million things going on here at any point. That’s our 3D team, the team that does our 3D services. We’re also selling virtual reality and 3D services.
Andrew: What’s 3D services? What do you guys do in 3D?
Suuchi: We’re making samples in 3D. That’s [Bijan 00:45:55]. He’s the head of our 3D team. That’s [Aleava 00:45:57]. She’s the head of sales for microbrands.
Andrew: Hi, look at her.
Suuchi: These are my guys . . . She’s eating . . . [inaudible 00:46:06]. This is some of the [gang 00:46:09] here.
Andrew: 3D is what, where people get to see using virtual reality glasses of what your clothes would look like?
Suuchi: You don’t need the VR glasses. We do have a VR experience show sampling too. That’s Bijan and his team. But really, if you wanted to make your body suit shirt, we don’t need to make a real sample. We’ll show you how it looks in 3D, and we can approve it and move to production.
Andrew: On a website, not virtual reality glasses, on a website where I can kind of spin it around.
Suuchi: You can do both. You can do both.
Andrew: Both. I could say, “I want to see what my tucked in shirt looks like,” and you’d give me on a virtual reality headset a view of it?
Suuchi: Yeah. We sell that, yeah. And we can have you sitting on a beach, drinking a beer, and trying on your shirt. Yeah, we also sell the headset as part of the package, the VR headset.
Andrew: Which headset are you using? Which company makes the headset? Is it Oculus?
Suuchi: Which company headset do we use? Oculus? Yeah, Oculus.
Andrew: Yeah, Oculus. Because for $200 you can now give people a virtual reality experience. I was thinking [inaudible 00:47:08].
Suuchi: Yeah, so that’s the fun of what we’re doing too. We’re trying to change how people are sampling and designing and producing.
Andrew: Suuchi, if you want to get some press, you should talk about that. We get people actually to try and on clothes in VR. It’s actually a part of our business. All right. Thanks so much for coming on here. You opened my eyes to a whole new type of business. I had no idea this even existed. I’ve had friends who wanted to create stuff and it’s such a pain because they get turned down a lot. And there’s always someone who has a friend of a friend who can make this happen and the rest of them have to go and beg that person to introduce them to the friend of the friend. I’m glad that we got to see it. For anyone who wants to go check it out, it’s suuchi.com or frankly, if you’re in my audience, you’re going to want to go check out suuchilabs.com and Suuchi has two Suuchi, S-U-U-C-H-I.
And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will host your website right, it’s called HostGator. And the second will help you hire phenomenal developers, it’s call Toptal. Be so big with Toptal that you could ignore my calls for the rest of your life the way that . . . Actually, he doesn’t ignore me. It’s just, boy, the guy’s gotten so frickin’ big. I don’t think he likes me talking about how big he got. But Derek Johnson from Tatango, frickin’ company got real huge. All right. But he did it partially with Toptal. Go check them out, toptal.com/mixergy.
Suuchi, thanks so much for doing this.
Suuchi: Thank you, Andrew. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: Have a good evening. Bye. Bye everyone.