There's usually a line drawn in the sand between for-profit and non-profit business models. But today, cause marketing has blurred the line and become a norm, encouraging businesses of all sizes to give back.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear from Jess Ekstrom, who started Headbands of Hope when she was in college, and now offers a wide range of beautiful headbands and hair accessories for all ages.
Headbands of Hope is a for-profit business that donates a headband for every purchase to a child with cancer, and 10% of sales to cancer charities from their #BandTogether campaigns. Find out how Jess balances making an impact with making a living.
Just because you give back doesn’t make your business unique anymore.
Tune in to learn
- The pros and cons of starting a charitable business
- Why you should show out of stock products on your site
- How much of an impact public speaking can have on your business
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Felix: Today, I’m joined by Jess Ekstrom from Headbands of Hope. Headbands of Hope offers a wide range of beautiful headbands and hair accessories for all ages. For every item purchased, one headband is donated to a child with cancer. It was started in 2012 and based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Jess: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Felix: Yes, yes. Same here.
So, tell us a little bit more about your background. Where did this idea for this kind of business come from?
Jess: It actually started when I was a college student at NC State. I originally interned in Disney World, which was really fun. And I was photo pass photographer, and I got to photograph a lot of kids that were there on their wish for the Make A Wish foundation, and absolutely fell in love with cause and did my summer internship there the following year.
I saw a lot of kids that were losing their hair to chemotherapy, and they would be immediately offered a wig or a hat, something that was basically telling to cover up their hair. They really didn’t want something to cover up their experience. They wanted something that could just restore their self-confidence after hair loss.
So, I saw this commonality of all of these kids wearing headbands, and started to look up organizations that gave headbands to kids with cancer, and couldn’t find any, realized that was a connection that hadn’t been made yet.
So, my junior year of college, I founded Headbands of Hope, and for every item sold, a headband is donated to a child with cancer.
Felix: Yeah, definitely a very powerful story, and very important cause. So, you recognized that there wasn’t something like this out there already. What were the beginnings of putting this entire thing together? Did you already know about how to create, and to sustain an apparel business?
Jess: Not at all. I was studying communications at the time with a minor in Spanish, but don’t test me on the Spanish part. Fortunately, my dad started a company when I was younger, and so I had that as a role model, and he could really help me with a lot of the logistics of buying a domain name and things like that.
But, actually, I was really fortunate to be a college student at the time, because I had so much access to all of these resources on a college campus. So, when I didn’t know how to create a logo, I worked with graphic design students. When I didn’t know how to manufacture a new product, I worked with the textile design school.
And, so, a lot of people asked me how I started my company when I was in college, but I would actually argue Headbands for Hope is what it is today because I was a college student, and not in spite of it.
And I actually started off with Shopify. A professor referred me to that, and said it makes it easy to start your own business, and that was definitely true, because I knew nothing.
Felix: Based on your experience, because you did start pretty much from scratch-
Felix: … you didn’t have any background in this. What do you think, looking back on it, what do you think that you either should have spent most of the time on, now that you’ve had five years of experience under your belt. Looking back on it, what would you say, Jess, if you could go back and talk to yourself, “Jess, this is what you should focus your attention on.”?
Jess: Yeah, I think I was so stressed out about the manufacturing and I didn’t raise any money. I started it from scratch through my savings. I was actually planning to study abroad in the semester, and realized, now I’m gonna use this to actually stay here and start a business. So I had very limited funding, and I was worried I wasn’t gonna have all of these skews of products for people to choose from.
Instead, I just started with just a couple core products, and built it from there. Now we have over 100 skews. But I think I was so worried about the product but in hindsight, people just really loved the concept and what the product did. And our products had gotten better, and better each year, but I think in the beginning, I spent too much time worried about the product and if I had enough, and not enough time communicating the messaging, which was what ultimately made our sales.
Felix: So, obviously, your business was started with charity from the very beginning. I think a lot of businesses out there either do that, or decide they don’t really want to give back, and start a charitable aspect of their business.
Based on your experience, what do you find are the pros and cons of starting a business from the ground up, that it has a charitable aspect to it?
Jess: Yeah, that’s a great question. I thought about this a lot.
Headbands of Hope is a for-profit company. So, one of the things I discovered along the way is that you really shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and making a difference. With your business, you should be able to do both at once. But a lot of times, we’ve felt that it’s a choice. We’re either focused on profits, or we’re focused on purpose.
With Headbands of Hope, I’ve learned that our business is fueled with purpose, and that’s okay. And so, one of the major benefits is you can feel good about what you’re doing. I mean, I’m thrilled to work every day. I mean, not every day, of course, of skipping through meadows and picking flowers, but at the end of the day, I know that every single thing that I do matters. And I can connect it to something greater.
And, there’s very few cons. The only con that I would say is that, it is another element that goes into your operations. With every item we sell, we donate a headband. So that’s communicating with hospitals around the world. It’s other shipping fulfillment. It’s an added step, but it’s also what makes us who we are.
I think that sometimes people think that, “Oh, giving back with what you do is trendy.” I don’t think that it’s trendy, I think that, if anything, it’s gonna become an expectation of businesses. Not if you’re giving back, but what are you doing to give back?
Felix: Hmm. And what about on the other side? Do you find that there are certain things that maybe you cannot do as a business, or things that hold you back because of the charitable aspect of your business?
Jess: Yeah. I mean, the only thing that could potentially hold us back is, a lot of our money that we are making, is going towards added headbands for the kids in the hospitals. So, it doesn’t leave us this huge marketing budget. But we also don’t need a huge marketing budget because of how unique our concept is, of giving headbands. Because that’s the other element to cause-related business that I feel is not really talk about is, just because you give back doesn’t make your business unique anymore. It’s great that you give back, but that’s doesn’t necessarily make you different from the rest, because it’s amazing that so many companies are giving back.
So, how you give back, and how you communicate how you give back, is what makes you unique. So, whether it’s the tangible products, like what we do with headbands to kids with cancer, and then we’ve also created this level transparency with our customers, where they purchase on our site [inaudible 00:08:20] two weeks after they get their order, they’ll get a donation confirmation email with the exact hospital that their headband went to.
So, creating that level of transparency, I think, also separates you from the businesses that might raise of the question of, “Well, where did my purchase actually go?” Or, “Where is this money even going?”
Felix: Yeah, I like that. I like that it’s not just, “Hey, we used your money,” or “We used the profits from the purchase of the product to help,” you say specifically how their money is going to work, essentially, because I’ve donated to plenty of people. I’ve donated money, and you don’t know where it goes. You just assume that someone is making good use out of it. But I like that you do follow up and tell them exactly what’s going to happen with the money, or what has happened with, essentially, the headband in your case, that they’ve purchased and-
Jess: Yeah. It’s great too because, not only can we be transparent with our consumer and share with them with pride exactly what happened when they purchased, but it also gives us another excuse to reach out to our customers and stay in front of them.
Felix: Yeah. So I said exactly that, is that you have another reason to reach out to them.
Felix: It’s not just, “Hey, here’s more products that you can buy.”
Felix: There’s actually something that goes beyond just your product, beyond your brand. I think those types of messages always resonate better. Now, if someone else out there wants to set up a cause-related business, how simple or complex can it be? Let’s say someone already has a business, or just thinking about starting one, and they want to … maybe they don’t even have a cause. What are the steps involved to find your cause, and to get it integrated into your business.
Jess: Yeah. Well, I think that the best businesses that have a cause component, is one relevant to what their industry is, and two, isn’t forced, if it’s naturally into that flow. So what I would do is maybe look at industry-related problems. If you are in health, maybe looking at food in schools, or exercise programs, and figuring out how you can work that into your business model. Partnerships are great, so figuring out maybe someone else out there where their sole purpose is solving this problem, and how you can work with them to do that.
Because I will say, what we do is great, giving headbands to kids with cancer, but we’re doing that on our own, and that’s a whole other operation within headbands of Hope, is the donations side. Whereas there are some companies out there where have made an alliance with a nonprofit partner where they, after every purchase, are funding that nonprofit partner, even if that means each fund that they give them is equivalent to a tangible product. They can still use that in their marketing. It takes that weight off of the business’s shoulders, to have to fill those donations in that cause, when they can just align it with someone who’s already doing that and help scale it quicker.
Felix: So, essentially, outsource that aspect-
Felix: Why did you make the decision not to do that, but you keep it in-house?
Jess: One, because no one was doing that. There wasn’t anyone out there that was. And two, it’s allowed us to put our own personal touches on it. We even are now doing what’s called, Make Your Own Headband days, in the hospital where we actually aren’t just bringing in headbands, we’re bringing in flower crown kits where we have heroes, headband heroes across the country that go into the hospitals and actually make the headbands with the kids. So it combines art therapy with our mission. And so things like that, that we’re able to do because it’s in-house. And our communication with the hospitals, getting pictures, testimonials, there’s no middleman in between that. So that’s one benefit of doing that in-house.
But as I said, it’s a whole part of our operations is just doing that, whereas we also need to be focused on doing sales, because the more sales we make, the more we can donate.
Felix: You mentioned earlier that you now have over 100 skews. What did you start with when you launched the store, launched the business for the first time? How many products were you working with?
Jess: Three. Very limited as I said, and I think, it was helpful to have such a strong cause. It was helpful to be young, and people wanted to rally around a college student trying to do something big. And so again, I think that goes to not waiting to start your business. If you have the idea, just go for it. And so even though I started off with so little, to grow something organically, I didn’t realize would be so fulfilling.
Felix: Yeah. I like to you did start three. I think a lot of times entrepreneurs get hung up on launching a perfect store, with as many products as possible. And they wait around for so long that they eventually, sometimes, lose the steam and they launch at all. So once you launched with three, what were the next steps to expanding that catalog? How did you know what to add next?
Jess: Yeah. To expand, was really just growing in our sales, so we could have the capital to place bigger orders, to buy our volumes. I think it was really just focusing on the marketing first, because that was ultimately what we’re selling. Even if it was just three skews, it was still getting people to the website. So just selling more, we worked with a couple … Once we did have about 10 to 15 skews, that’s when we started putting together catalog, pitching it to stores, and starting to scale, but it really started off small. And I think at the time, and this is gonna sound so naïve, but being 19, I didn’t even know that it was an option to seek outside funding, or money. I just really worked with what I had at that time, which was, I had enough to buy three skews and start my website, and that was it.
I’m glad that I didn’t know that was an option, because I could own 100% of the company, I didn’t have to report to any outside investors, and I worked with what I had. And so I think, understanding that, that’s an option too when you start your business, is just looking at your current resources and not always having to think that you have to go elsewhere.
Felix: Because your catalog is pretty large, over 100 skews, you find that the sales are concentrated around a select few products, or what are your thoughts on that?
Jess: It depends on the industry. We have more of a fitness, yogi, demographic, where it’s very concentrated in certain collections, but then we also have Fashion Forward, 20-something movement that is very concentrated in different ones. But it’s pretty spread out, but we do have some core products that have withstood the test of time, and have been on our website for the past few years. But it is one of those constant battles of trying to keep what people like in terms of styles, and also keeping things fresh, and sometimes you can’t make everyone happy.
Felix: Do you ever remove products from a catalog? Or is it just keep on growing?
Jess: We do. We remove products just to create a sense of urgency, where people don’t know how long they’re going to last. And that was something that we started doing about two years ago, was really just not saying that this is going to be out forever, because then it eliminates that step in someone’s mind when they’re shopping to say, “Well, maybe I’ll just come back and get it later.” Now they can ask themselves, “Well, will it be there later?” Which has proven effective for us in our conversions.
Felix: Yeah. That’s a great point that, if you just leave something around forever, even if someone might want the product, they just might never make that decision to actually buy it. So making sure that they recognize that this might not be around forever, will force them to choose to buy sooner.
Jess: Exactly. Yeah.
Felix: Is there a lesson that someone has to be, like is burdened by, they just have to learn the first time before they recognize? Or are there ways for you to communicate that, “Hey, this headband, or our entire catalog is always going to be curated, and things might go away that you might have wanted.” How do you make sure people understand that there’s this urgency?
Jess: Definitely, with some of our more seasonal products, or a limited time collaboration that we do if we have a celebrity designer headband, or something like that. But a good example is the Fourth of July Memorial Day. We had an American flag headband that was sold through very quickly. And so we kept having to get it back in stock, and back in stock. And so in our marketing, whenever it would come back in stock, it was proven that it kept selling out. And so, one of the features that we use in Shopify is having a sign up list for a product to be alerted when it’s back in stock. And that’s something that has been really great for us, because when that person gets that alert, they know that they’re gonna have to get it because it was something that was out of stock that they wanted.
Felix: Yeah. I do see that sometimes where stores will just never have anything out of stock. They wanna remove everything from their catalog that has gone out of stock, but that’s a great opportunity to show people that, “Hey, these products are in the manual that has social proof to it.” It’s kind of a strange thing, but people will care if there are things that are sold out. They’ll want some more, and is an opportunity to collect those emails like you’re saying, to be alerted when it does come back in stock. So just because … Even if you don’t have the entire store has nothing in stock, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few things out of stock because it creates that image, and it also allows you, again, to collect the email addresses.
So other than these seasonal, or collaborations, are there other reasons or other, I guess, statistics, or data points that you look to decide that a product should be removed?
Jess: We also look at social media engagement too, posting lifestyle pictures about product, who’s commenting on it? Who’s tagging it? We also do very heavy influencer marketing. We love working with bloggers, celebrities, and having them pick products that they would like to feature. If it’s just not at the top of their list, so it shouldn’t be at the top of ours, because that’s who people are looking to for fashion inspiration and advice. If it misses the mark then, which we’ve done that before, I mean … And it’s also hard because with production and also with pitching to press and media, you have to plan so far in advance to get the product in, send it to magazines, to plan their spreads, like six months in advance. So, I mean, it’s like July, and you’re thinking about spring, which can be hard to shift your mind like that, and also anticipate trends.
Felix: Hmm. Yes, so P.R., I think you mentioned to me offline, was one of the key marketing channels for you. What’s your approach to getting into these magazines?
Jess: Yeah. P.R. has definitely been a game changer for Headbands of Hope, and it has really been because we have … I read this book called Zag, where it’s when everyone else zigs your company, zag. So it’s not about making your product cheaper, better, bigger, it’s just about finding white space on a canvas that no one else is doing. So he had a film, A blank in the Book, it was my blank company is the only blank company that blanks. So my headband company is the only headband company that gives headbands to kids with cancer. And so when you can fill in that blank, that’s the forefront of your marketing. That’s the forefront of your press releases. And that’s something that we have at the front of our website, because it’s what you can fill in that makes you different.
So a lot of media are just looking for those companies that can fill in that blank. What are they doing that no one else is doing that they can highlight? So that has been great for us, and just casting a net with P.R., just putting yourself out there, sending samples on samples to editors, understanding that rejection is a part of the process, and one day you might get ahead.
Felix: These days, what are some things that you … I like the way that you describe about finding white space, finding, essentially, [inaudible 00:21:52] for you to show off your company. What are some other examples that maybe you are implementing today or recently, that allow you to stand out amongst the crowd?
Jess: It goes back to our transparency as well, not just how we give but the way we communicate that we give, so doing that. And then we also hopped on the subscription train, and figured that we have a lot of repeat customers. We have people that love our mission and wanna continue to contribute. So why don’t we just make that easier for them? And so we have a quarterly subscription box of headbands that give three headbands for every box. And so, that’s something that was a risk on our end, because again, it’s another operational component to what we do. But it makes us different. It’s a headband box. It keeps the good going as we like to say, and something that, again, we can put in that zag, that white space that we’re doing.
Felix: So the subscription business, how is that different to run than your, I guess, typical business that you’re running outside of the subscriptions?
Jess: One of the benefits that we offer our subscribers is exclusive products. So what you get in the box, you can’t get online. That is the whole other manufacturing run that we have to do, and also just different marketing, different customer acquisition. You’re not just asking someone to buy a headband once, you’re asking someone to commit to continue to purchase. So that’s different for us in terms of our marketing. How can we communicate that? How can we get people on board? Even if that’s providing a discount or incentives just to get people signed up, so they can experience how good it actually is.
Felix: Yeah. I’ve seen this approach where the subscribers will get something different than what everyone else can get. I think the challenge then it becomes, you obviously wanna creative a cool product, a product that people want in the subscription, but then you run this issue, like if it was so good then you want to also sell it outside the subscription. How do you balance that decision?
Jess: Yeah, it’s really hard because sometimes we’ll get a product in the box, and we’re like, “Man, we wish we could blast this out to everyone on social media.” But then we use that as a marketing incentive for the box too, give a select tow products to some influencers who will post it, and the only way that they can get that particular product, is by signing up for the box. Now we do offer, with the box, any time cancellations. So if they, honestly, just wanted to get that one product in that one box, they could, along with the other products they get in there. But our hope is that they would get that box and want the next one.
Felix: Makes sense. Now, so outside of P.R., I think something else that’s related is influencer marketing. You mentioned this a bit. What’s your approach to it? How do you find the influencers? How do you work with them?
Jess: Yeah. It’s something that we have been doing that we found sometimes that it’s more effective than Facebook ads, or some of this other paid advertising, is really putting our products in the hands of the people that our customer base follows. So first of all, understanding who that it is. We first just targeted Fashion Forward, college influencers. And then all of a sudden we realized that we had a following in the yoga community, and there’s a ton of amazing yoga accounts on Instagram with millions of followers that love supporting good causes. So understanding who is your customer base following, and then figuring out your approach from there.
Another benefit for us, is that a lot of influencers are more than willing to collaborate because of the good mission that we have, that they wanna share. Sometimes we send products, and then a couple of cases, we’ve had influencers even go to the hospitals themselves to pass out headbands and document that process. So I think it’s important to understand who you’re following base is, and also be willing to give away free product in exchange for those shout outs.
Felix: Hmm. So it stars first with understanding who your customer base is following. Is there a process? Or if someone come up to you and asked that they have no clue who their customer base is following. What steps can they start taking to understand more about what their customer base is interested in, who they’re following online?
Jess: Yeah. There is actually, I mean, I’m sure there’s a digital way to do that, but for us, there’s a branding exercise where you actually talk about your customer as if they’re an actual person, and who they are, where would you find them on the weekends? Probably, our customer base is volunteering, or going to farmer’s market, or a fitness class. We probably won’t find them at a heavy metal concert. And so understanding where you might find your customer by actually speaking about them, as if they’re a person standing in front of you, can sometimes get down to details that maybe you wouldn’t typically think of, is a good, simple way to start. But also identifying similar brands as yourself, or similar accounts and seeing what their followers are too.
Felix: Hmm. Okay, so two things here. First thing was that, when you talk about your customers, you’re not even talking about where they visit online, you’re talking about what their offline life is like. Where they’re going? Where they’re hanging out? You start there first, before tying that to some kind of online following. And the second thing was that, are you literally going to competitors or similar brands, and clicking on the followers, and just going through these profiles? Or how do you-
Jess: Yeah, not as much competitors as much as it would be, like brands that we would collaborate with or partnership with. Like for example, we’ve done a collaboration recently with mantra bands, where it’s words of encouragement on your bracelet. And for one day, if you bought a headband, you got a mantra band in your bracelet. We knew that, even though they were a different product, it was similar messaging, similar branding, similar mission, this kind of stuff, empowerment. And so finding those similarities but not in a competitive space, I feel is the most effective way to do that.
Felix: Hmm. Yeah. I would love to know more about why you would focus more on the collaborators, people that you wanna work with, versus competitors. What difference do you see there in the types of, I guess followers that they would have?
Jess: Yeah. I mean, first I just strongly believe in collaborative entrepreneurship versus competitive entrepreneurship. I mean, it’s not only, are you learning about what other people are doing that may be close to your field. It’s an opportunity to scale both of your brands quicker. And I find that more times than not, other companies and entrepreneurs are more than willing to collaborate, and cross promote, and a way to overlap audiences and hope that one buys the other and vice versa. And so I just think opening those doors for a relationship or a partnership, is the best way to figure out more about your audience, while also gaining an alliance.
Felix: Hmm. So I guess for you, you almost like don’t see any company out there as a competitor. Everyone out there you can work with. And I think that’s an important mindset to have. I think there is just abundance versus, I guess famine mindset where you think that the pie is a set amount that cannot grow, but you approach it as a win-win that, how can we work together to benefit the both of us. I think that’s an important mindset, a positive mindset to have for an entrepreneur that maybe a lot of people don’t recognize.
Now, you mention one thing. There’s was this thing, which is that, for you influencer marketing can be more effective than paid advertising or Facebook ads. And I’ve certainly seen this, that people get very successful from collaborating, or being featured by an influencer. I mean, a challenge then becomes scaling this up and finding enough influencers, because with the Facebook ad, or paid advertising, once you figure out what you wanna do, it’s literally, you pump money in and then when it comes out, that-
Felix: … what influences. It’s a lot more. It’s not as-
Jess: Definitely. It’s not as tough and dry. Yeah, definitely.
Felix: Yeah, exactly. So how do you manage that?
Jess: Yeah. I mean, and we had a lot of success with Facebook advertising. And Facebook advertising, it’s amazing because it’s so clean cut, what you’re giving and what you’re getting. But what influences, I think being a company that is focused so much on messaging and branding, how it’s told and by whom it’s told, is something that’s really important to us. And so we might not see a clear up [inaudible 00:31:39] from someone with 100,000 followers doing a post, but we’ll see followers come to our account. We’ll be able to use those photos that that influencer took and gain that credibility of, we’re a brand that they like, and that they wear.
And so as far as operationally managing them, I mean, we are all about the spreadsheets at Headbands of Hope. We know when an influencer’s products are sent and we put it into Shopify as if it’s in order, but just create it as like, a zero dollars order, so we know that it’s actually shipped. So the influencer gets an email when they’re on the way, same as if they would actually purchase the headbands, and do a follow up after they’ve receive them, make sure it’s up to their standards, and we create an influencer Dropbox where they just go in and upload their photos when they’re done, and hopefully they put them on their account as well.
Felix: Got it. Now one other that you mentioned to me offline was about how public speaking and sharing your story has been beneficial for your business. Can you share some examples of opportunities that you’ve had that have been valuable for your business, to share your story?
Jess: Yeah. When I first started, being 19, it was cool to be asked to speak at different schools about, how you and start a business when you’re in college. And it was personally fulfilling to be able to do that, but I didn’t realize how much it would really compliment the company as well, because when you’re there, not only are you sharing your story and hopefully inspiring other entrepreneurs to start a business one day, everyone in that room now knows about your business and will most likely go follow you on your accounts, and hopefully place an order as well.
So it’s a way for us to reach a wider audience in a really human way of speaking and sharing a story. And I think that there are ways to do that, where you don’t have to travel around to schools across the country, or be on a plane every day, but through video too and really hearing from the founders. I always love whenever I make a purchase or something along those lines, where I hear from the founder, and what feels like personally hearing from the founder, is always cool. So for me, that avenue of public speaking, being able to share that.
But I encourage other companies to communicate about the founder voice in a channel that suits them, because it’s been really great to see there’re relationships that have stemmed from that. And maybe by the stores that have been in the audience, or some patient that received a headband in the hospital that happen to be in the audience that day. Things that come from just natural storytelling about the founder.
Felix: Hmm. Yes. So for anyone out there that is thinking about taking the same approach as you, and going to conferences, going to events and speaking but they don’t have any experience here. What the tips can you give to someone that’s may be trying to get their first speaking gig?
Jess: Yeah. I would say, it’s really not about your business when you’re speaking. It’s about what you learned from your business. Because understanding that, you’re probably not gonna be speaking to a room of entrepreneurs, or a room of people that wanna be entrepreneurs. You might be you speaking to a room of [inaudible 00:35:22], or a room of sales people at a company. And so what is it from your story that you can pull that’s the greater lesson applies to a wider audience than just entrepreneurs? That’s one piece of advice. And then I would use that as your marketing for your speaking, is like what lessons can you pull that doesn’t necessarily mean starting a business, but what did that teach you about solving problems? Or what did that teach you about people? And how can you share that?
Felix: I think that’s important, that you don’t wanna go there and talk at them with your business. You want them to learn something. They wanna hear something that they can actually relates to, and I think teaching a lesson is one of the best ways to do that. You were just speaking of talking to entrepreneurs. You have a lot of articles written for entrepreneur.com. First of all, what’s that experience been like? How was experience been like, sharing your story on a large platform like entrepreneur.com?
Jess: Yeah. I think it’s something that when I first started my company, I was just hanging on to every word of articles that I would read from entrepreneurs, and just really wanting to absorb up all of their lessons. And then once I started to have some of my own, and things that I learned either from mistakes that I made, or things that went well, things that didn’t go well, I almost felt like it was like my duty to share them, because it’s a tough road being an entrepreneur but as I was saying before, we can be more collaborative about it and understand that we’re all in this together, and help each other out with lessons learned or ways to make things easier. Let’s all do that.
So for me, I love writing, so writing for entrepreneur.com, Huffington Post, was a way that I felt like I could quickly share some of the best practices, or even just funny stories of things that have happened. But even if that’s just an entrepreneur network in your local community, or something that you find online where you can just help each other out, and hopefully through your lessons, help scale another business.
Felix: Which article of yours has been your most favorite to write?
Jess: Actually, a topic that we discussed before was like, how to apply a purpose to your company, and why you should do that. I think conscious consumerism, as I mentioned before, is just going to become an expectation. And I think that companies who aren’t thinking ethically, or morally, or thinking beyond a transaction, are going to fall behind. And so I think that’s one of the greatest ways that I can serve the entrepreneurship community, is by helping them figure out what that means to them.
Felix: Hmm. Because you have experience writing, you enjoy writing, I think blogging, or sharing that entrepreneur journey for a lot of listeners, is something that people feel compelled or to pull to, because that exercise of putting your thoughts down on paper, I think is an exercise that is beneficial for a lot of businesses. What kind of tips do you have there for someone that wants to get started writing for a publication, or a platform like Entrepreneur, or any other big publication?
Jess: Yeah. I mean, you’re right. It’s funny, like sometimes when I’m writing something, I’ll think I’m going on one direction, and I go on another, and I almost am like teaching myself as I’m writing. Things just become more clear. And so if anything, even if it’s not for publication, I just think it’s therapeutic and helps sort out your mind as an entrepreneur. But I think that if you want to start contributing to some of these bigger platforms, so many of them are just run off of contributions and people willing to volunteer their time, and their work, and their lessons that they’ve learned, to share with the community.
So first, I would debug the myth that it’s really hard to get published by a lot of these online resources, because it’s not. If you have a story to share and you can organize your thoughts, you usually, preferably in some kind of segmented list, I know that, especially with entrepreneurs, we like to get to the point, and read it in the most efficient way. So if you can think of, maybe five things you learned going to your first trade show, or what you wish you would have done when you started your business, and what that that means to you. The best things that people relate to are the personal stories, and specific scenarios. And if anything to teach, but also just as a way to put yourself out there and to the community, and hopefully gain some connections and relationships along the way.
Felix: Hmm. I was gonna ask you, what kind of doors have opened for you? Because you have put out so many articles, and written so many of these articles for entrepreneurs.com and Huffington Post.
Jess: Yeah. It’s been a lot of the people that I’ve met, that I’ve just said yes to opportunities. Like, for example, Jeff Hoffman, the co-founder of Priceline, was at one of the speaking events that I was speaking at. And we just hit it off. He loved what I was doing. And [inaudible 00:41:04] my board at Headbands of Hope, just because of a single opportunity like that. And so that’s one thing I also try to do that I think I got in a bad habit of, when I first started, I always had an agenda, and I always maybe thought about what I was committing to, or what I was doing, more transactionally, than I was just for the sheer experience of it.
And when you are an entrepreneur, and you value your time so much, it’s easy to ask yourself, “Okay. Well, who’s gonna be there? Or, ”How much are they gonna pay me?“ And, ”How long do I have to stay?" But sometimes just showing up, you never know what’s gonna happen, even if you don’t have that agenda.
Felix: Hmm. Yeah. I think that’s a great point there, because we don’t have that much time, resources are limited, we want to derisk everything every movement we make, right? We want to know the possible outcomes of everything. But sometimes, you can’t know. And a lot of times just putting yourself out there as much as possible, you’ll catch something eventually.
Jess: Yeah. Just decide to be there.
Felix: Now, when you’re running this business, do you have a team? Is it you, yourself? Or who’s behind the company?
Jess: Yeah, I have a team. There is seven employee’s now. And I am grateful for them every day. I never thought that I … When I started my company, and this was a mistake that I made in the beginning, I never thought that I would find anyone that cared just as much about my business as I did. I thought like, there’s no one out there that is going to work as hard as I do, or going to work through the weekend, and stay up at night, and I was so wrong. For me to say that and to think that way, I was really closing myself off to amazing people that were smarter and better than I am, and could scale my company a lot quicker than I was.
And so the first step to hiring for me, was to understand that I don’t know everything, and there are people out there that will rally for your business as if they were a founder. And you don’t always have to be the founder to care so much and put your heart and soul on the line for something. I’ve just been blown away by their work ethic. And I think that, that also is clearly connected to again, that mission of our company, and also what that does for hiring too. I think there was a stat that I read recently, that over 50% of millennials would take a pay cut for work that is meaningful to them. So having a mission driven company can also be a great hiring method as well.
Felix: Hmm. And to keep the team all organized, are there any applications or tools that you guys rely on to help keep the business running smoothly?
Jess: Yeah. I mean, To Do List, is a great productive app that we use to keep our priorities in a row. But really, I think that one of the biggest things was just really identifying people’s roles, but also having a common goal, so where everyone knows where their responsibilities are, but yet, we can all still brainstorm as if we’re all a part of the solution. It’s a healthy balance between having your company, but having people do what they’re good at but then also having everyone come together, and go to the drawing board. Because it’s important to make everyone feel, and utilize everyone, to be a part of a solution. Because, I mean, personally I don’t feel that someone will work towards a solution that they don’t feel that they’re an integral part of.
So involving everyone in that has been key and also great, because there’s a lot more ideas that are coming out of it.
Felix: For sure. Thank you so much, Jess. So headbandsofhope.com is the website. So what’s the next big goal for you, and for the company?
Jess: We are actually going into all thousand alter stores this fall. It’s really exciting move for us, and something that is gonna really scale up our distribution and we’ve had to learn a lot on the back end from that as well. But yeah, we’re excited for that big milestone we’re about to head.
Felix: Very cool. Sounds an exciting but very busy upcoming season for you then.
Felix: Awesome. So again, thank you so much for your time, Jess.
Jess: Thank you, Felix.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: All of our design. It doesn’t have all of our photography. It doesn’t have production, manufacturing, logistics, sales, marketing. All of that is under one group.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also for this episode show notes, head over shopify.com/blog.