From coming up with consistently fun themes to curating new items to include, a good subscription box can be challenging to put together month after month.
But what exactly does it take to produce a box that your customers actually want to stick with?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who started his own monthly subscription box to introduce an entire culture to his customers.
Danny Taing is the founder of Bokksu: a premium subscription service that delivers thoughtfully curated boxes of authentic Japanese snacks and teas to your door every month.
As we scaled up, the boxes were expensive in and of themselves. So we had to go looking in China for box printing.
Tune in to learn
- How to keep your subscription box customers subscribed
- How to creates themes for your monthly subscription box service
- The power of recording and sharing your own unboxing experience
Listen to the podcast below (or download it for later):
- Store: Bokksu
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Subscription School, Recharge (Shopify app) , Turbo Theme (from Out of the Sandbox), Wishlist Plus (Shopify app), Klaviyo (Shopify app), Gorgias (Shopify app), LoyaltyLion (Shopify app)
Felix: Today I’m joined by Danny Tang from Bokksu. Bokksu’s a premium subscription service that delivers thoughtfully curated boxes of authentic Japanese snacks and teas to your door every month. It was started in 2016 based out of New York City, New York, and has shipped almost one million snacks worldwide. Welcome, Danny.
Danny: Thank you. Happy to be here, Felix.
Felix: Yeah, excited for you to be here. Tell us a little more about the brand. Who are your target customers?
Danny: Yeah, Bokksu as a brand, is actually, it’s in the logo itself if one looks at the website. There’s an English translator kind of Romanization Bokksu. The character’s name is actually pronounced [Hokko 00:01:28]. As a brand, it’s interpreted as a modern interpretation of a traditional Japanese culture and food. My target demographic are people around the world that have this same, if not more, passion for Japanese food, culture, language, all of that that I do. I wanted to reach them, especially because there’s a dearth of authentic Japanese food and culture worldwide. It doesn’t seem like it, because there is a lot of it, but a lot of times it’s a little bit more mass produced or slightly targeted towards a anime manga crowd, which I personally love as well. To get into more of the traditional makers and modern culture that is in Japan nowadays, I wanted to start Bokksu.
Felix: Got it. What’s your background? How did you get into starting this business? Have you started companies in the past?
Danny: This is actually my first launch startup. I have been doing entrepreneurship here and there, like as side gigs. For example, this, actually I never brought this up before. In high school I used to raise a little bit of money for one of the groups I was a part of. I would go and buy donuts at a local donut shop and sell them for a dollar each at my school, and raise a little bit of money that way, so I’m used to doing side projects. However, in terms of official company, this is the first. I did a startup with a friend before launching Bokksu where we worked on creating a marketplace for a while. We never officially launched it. It was just the two of us. Bokksu has been the first.
Felix: Yeah, your story’s not that dissimilar from others, especially entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, where they start off in high school or even earlier, being a reseller of products of that they buy, and that. That’s a common trait that is in your DNA, essentially. You started a bunch of side projects. You’ve attempted to start a lot of side businesses in the past before, but this is the one that has taken off, it sounds like. What makes this one the one that has become successful? What did you do in this particular instance that made it a success compared to your other attempts?
Danny: Hmm. I think that one really big difference is the fact that, this almost sounds a little cheesy, but is the fact that I’m so passionate about this company and what we do. In the past a lot of times, it was just to get my feet wet, or make a little extra money, but for this, especially because I was pivoting away from another startup that never took off, this time I decided, if I’m going to do a new startup and commit myself fully to it, it has to be something that I personally care about and have a bit of an advantage in.
I speak Japanese fluently. I lived there for four years. In the beginning when it was just me toiling away every day, writing all the guides and sourcing everything and packing everything, if it wasn’t for the fact that I personally just enjoyed it a lot, I think I might have given up at some point.
Felix: I see what you’re saying. You mentioned one thing, which is advantage. You listed that the reasons why you had an advantage. Did you recognize it in the beginning that hey, I have a competitive advantage here? I already have built in knowledge, built in passion for this particular industry, or just something that you look back on later and realize, hey, that’s why I am successful?
Danny: I would actually say, it’s a bit a both. Certainly when I was pivoting and looking into what my next idea should be, I did think, okay, what are my advantages? I’d realized that it’s hard to compete, the startup entrepreneurship space is incredibly competitive, and there’s a lot of other companies that have a lot of funding, as well as just a lot more backing and resources. What can I do that has a higher barrier to entry that I already possess? That’s why I sat down, thought about it, talked about it with mentors and friends, and came up with this idea, is because, like I said, I speak Japanese fluently. I have a lot of deep connections in Japan because I used to work there. These are just things you can’t get off the shelf, or just figure out by browsing online.
However, having said that, as time went on and I kept growing the business, there were other advantages that popped up that I wasn’t fully cognizant of, that also helped me grow the business.
Felix: Can you say more about those?
Danny: For example, my ethnic background is, I am Chinese. I was born in America. However, I speak Chinese fluently in addition to Japanese. Eventually, we first had our boxes printed in the States, because that was just small batches, and we had to get a faster iteration of improving on the boxes. Eventually as we scaled up, boxes can be expensive in and of itself, so we had to go looking in China for box printing. In that case, a lot of times, you have another advantage if you can speak Chinese, and speak directly with the box printers in Chinese too. Stuff like that came up. When I looked around, a lot of people were getting their boxes printed in China, especially if you’re printing 10, 20, 30,000 at a time.
Felix: Got it. Now, when you look at your next step, where you’re going to take the company next, do you look for where you have advantages, or is that something that, or do you just make a decision without that in mind, and hopefully there are things in your favor to help you get to where you want to go?
Danny: Hmm. At this point, now that we have more resources as a company, and now that we have grown quite a lot, I would say that it’s less daunting to go ahead and maybe enter a field where we have fewer advantages, because we have in some regards, proven trial and error, which is business models, we’re experienced to leverage to succeed as these other new ventures. Having said that, I still would like to work on new expansions of things I’m passionate about personally.
Felix: You mentioned that in order to compete in this space where there’s, in e-commerce specifically, where the people have backing, it’s important to have these advantages. Did you have any backing, or is it completely bootstrap business?
Danny: Up until now, we’re actually still completely bootstrapped. Certainly, I put a little bit of money in myself, and I got a little bit of family money, but in terms, we haven’t gotten any traditional investments of sorts yet.
Felix: Got it. When you were first starting out, was this a full time thing you were working on, or were you doing something else on the side to help fund the project, fund your life?
Danny: This, I went full time into this. I wanted to seriously, this was actually, I made a promise with myself that I was going to work on this full time for at least six months to a year, and if it didn’t work out, I had enough runway in terms of my personal savings to last that long. Then if after a year it didn’t work out, I was going to go look for a job again, because I’d been working on startups for a year already, yeah.
Felix: Right. Did it take that long? Did it take six months or a year, or did you find, or did you hit that realization, this could be something big sooner than that?
Danny: I would say that it wasn’t necessarily a super aha moment, per se, but it was like a slow building realization where I was working on it, I was grinding away at it, and then the numbers kept increasing. People were excited about it, got good feedback. Some things needed to be improved on, I improved on that. I think once I reached, grew big enough where I was starting to get attention, and people even were applying to work for me when I wasn’t even putting out job offers yet, I figured this could be a real thing. Then the revenue started increasing and coming in as well. This made me think that this is something that can get pretty big.
Felix: Was that within the first six months? How soon before you felt comfortable that this was going the right direction?
Danny: To be perfectly honest, to be honest with everybody out there, there’s still times now where there’s a little bit of self doubt, like is this the real thing? I don’t think there’s ever a moment of pure clarity. Certainly to kind of stick with it, I would say it was at the six month mark when we hit our first milestone of having surpassed a hundred subscribers, way back in the early days of our business.
Felix: Got it. Speaking of getting these subscribers, how were you able to get your first batch of subscribers? How were you able to get people to pay you to subscribe to your service when you didn’t really have much going on yet?
Danny: Yeah, great question. That’s always the big thing. With very little funding and bootstrapped, how do you get it out there? A lot of it was from content marketing I guess is the general term, but a lot of it was organic content we created from writing articles for our blog, to really religiously working on Instagram and Facebook. Getting from 100 to 10,000 followers on Instagram was a lot of work. It took daily, if not multiple times a week posting, to hashtagging and following and commenting. Just making sure that you put out good things into the world so that people want to follow you and spread the word about you.
On top of that, we were very, very focused on quality and curation. We didn’t want to just put out our boxes for the sake of it. From the very beginning, it’s always been something I’ve been very focused on and careful about. Of course, in the beginning I had a couple of stumbles, but we always iterated on it as quickly as possible.
Felix: The content marketing that was involved, it was just photography, or writing articles? What was the content marketing?
Danny: It was a combination of both of that, and then some, where we would try and write lengthy, if possible, 500 if not 1,000 word articles about different aspects of Japanese culture, from hot spring bathing to the proper way to eat a traditional meal in Japan. Just to really also improve our website SEO, as well as show that we’re experts in this culture that we’re trying to spread throughout the world.
On top of that, one of the first teams that built out internally was the design team. That was also something that is incredibly important to differentiate myself in the market, is does this company have great design, not only in terms of our website and the photography, but also in the package itself. The unboxing experience. All of that, a lot of focus was put into design.
Felix: When you were creating these articles, do you have a team? I’ve seen on the website at b-o-k-k-s-u.com, check out the team that’s working behind this now. Early on, was it just you, or did you have people that were helping to write these lengthy articles?
Danny: In the very, very beginning it was just me and one contracted designer who helped out. I have a background in online marketing and, as I mentioned, Japanese language in culture, and in web development, but design has always been something that I never got my hands dirty on yet. I contracted a designer. He helped build out the very beginning, with the terms of the assets of the logo and photography. Then after that, it was me running with it. Then I built out with starting to get interns to help out with a few things. My first hire, then more interns, the second hire, and it’s just been very organic growing since then.
Felix: Got it. You mentioned that you have to have a quality product. Like you said, the curation is an important aspect of this, which I think makes a lot of sense when you’re talking about retaining customers, right? They are getting a quality product every month. They’re going to want to keep on keeping their subscription alive. How do you show brand new visitors the value in the boxes? How do you make sure that comes across when they haven’t been able to go through the unboxing experience? They haven’t been able to see the packaging and see the quality that you are curating? How do you get that message across to them?
Danny: Yeah, great questions. Especially I think in a lot of the subscription box space, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get, because a lot of times it’s a bit of a surprise. For us at Bokksu, we are incredibly proud of the local artisans that we work with in Japan, that have been creating these snacks and teas for hundreds of years, so we always publish exactly what’s going to be in the box. We have a section of our website called upcoming box, where we not only list out the snacks and descriptions of what you’re going to get, but also we always try and, very in a timely manner, upload an unboxing video where we unbox the video, so they can see even the quantity of items they get, and what it feels like. You get a little bit of a taste of it in advance with your eyes, so that when you subscribe, you can then try with your tongue later.
Felix: I see. You are using video, it sounds like, to show them what’s coming up in the box before it actually is available. This unboxing experience, I think is an important aspect I think a lot of stores might ignore where the packaging is sometimes an afterthought. What is your process for designing a great unboxing experience?
Danny: For me, part of it comes down to, what do I envision, what’s the difference between a curated premium subscription box, and buying something on an e-commerce marketplace like Amazon? A big part of it is that, if you buy normal goods or anything from a normal e-commerce store, it just comes in a shipper box, and there’s just some packing material, and it’s just very haphazardly put together. How can we think outside of the box and go beyond that, is with this first step.
Then the second step is to, as I mentioned, reiterate, the very first iteration of our box was a store bought craft brown box that was just kind of a bakery box, and I just slapped a Bokksu sticker on it. That’s when I was doing the beta and getting started. After that, I would kind of iterate around that, and I got it custom printed with the branding. Then moving, as we got bigger and bigger to, what’s the most premium thing you can feel? I fell in love with this concept of this gift box, like you were gifting yourself something special every month, which is why our main classic box is actually a separate top and bottom lid piece, where you slide it off and it makes this …
Felix: This whoosh sound.
Danny: -gorgeous whoosh sound, exactly. You know what I’m talking about, yeah. You open it, and we always make sure the first thing you see is this, what we call the tasting guide, where the tasting guide customer has some beautiful image of Japan, whether it be a region or a food or a season. In our April box that was blossoming spring, we had a gorgeous pictures of cherry blossoms as soon as you open the box. It kind of transports you, yeah.
Felix: This process you went through, for anyone else out there that wants to improve on their packaging, improve on the unboxing experience, what tips do you have there on finding vendors to work with to create something for you?
Danny: Yeah, there are so many vendors out there now. It can definitely be a little bit tough. I’ve personally found a couple of good ones, but a lot of it has to do with shopping around. I would say my mistakes, that hopefully other people can learn from, is sometimes I didn’t plan far enough in advance. I suppose that’s a big problem for a lot of startups, where I would, the deadline would be coming up, and I would just have to go with one.
My best advice would be to try two to three different vendors. If you just Google around, there’s a whole bunch of them out there that will do boxing for subscription boxes. Submit the design, get a couple of sample boxes printed, and see which quality you like better. The quality can be vastly different between them. That will be the first step to ensure that initial quality. Then from then on, you can then keep working with them, or keep shopping around for box vendors.
Another great way, I would say, is look for referrals and recommendations. One of the ways I got the current vendor we work with in China, even all the way over there, was from a referral from a Facebook group called Subscription School, I believe, where people were talking about the vendors they used.
Felix: Got it. Do they, when you have a design in mind, what kind of assets do you need to provide these vendors so that they design the box, they print the box, they create the box the way that you want?
Danny: I believe that you, as I mentioned, I personally don’t handle a lot of design, but you would submit a pdf with the exact dimensions and the shape of the box. There are these dye lines that they can give you that’s templated. The vast majority of boxes, unless you’re going for something incredibly custom made, the templates and dye lines exist. You can get those and work off of those to then submit them.
Felix: Got it. You mentioned planning far in advance. I think with a business model like a subscription service is one of those models that can become a logistical nightmare. You have to coordinate so many different things. Everything is on a timeline. How far in advance do you have to prepare for an upcoming box?
Danny: That’s a really good question, because that has, the answer has evolved over time for that. In the very beginning, we were literally planning just a month or two before, just because things were so tight. We had so little manpower. Nowadays, now that things are a little bit more flexible and we’ve set up our system a little bit better, we do plan at least six months in advance.
For example, it’s around May or June right now. We already started planning October and November, and getting ramped up for the holiday season too, which is always a big time for us. That gives us a little bit more breathing room when that rolls around, so it’s not as stressful too.
Felix: How do you estimate things like inventory in that case, where you don’t know for sure how many customers or how many subscribers you’ll have six months down the line, but that you go in, there’s a process of procurement already?
Danny: Yeah, that’s always a big struggle, is how to get the perfect forecasted number where you’re not under, you’re not over. A lot of it for us, recently, has been very data driven, which is definitely the way that, I’m excited for us to go into the future running the business that way. Last year it was less so, because we didn’t have data to base off of. We, looking at last year’s trends, the peaks and valleys, and kind of factor into our own personal goals of how hard we want to push to increase the traffic, increase the conversions for that month. A lot of it is to basing off of month after month, or season, quarter after quarter growth.
Felix: Once you do have someone that’s subscribing for the first time, what are some ways to, I think the magic number that everyone looks at is the return rate. How often are they coming back to, and not canceling their service. What are some ways that you found to help you successfully navigate that, to make sure customers are coming back. I think one thing we touched on already was making sure it was a quality product. Making sure you’re actually delivering on the promise that you’re making to them when they are giving you their money for their subscription. Anything else to remind them of the values and make sure that they continue to subscribe?
Danny: Oh yeah. We try our best to basically pull out all our stops. Actually, a good part of it that I learned from is from even Shopify articles. There’s been a lot of amazing Shopify how to articles, and how to retain customers and win back loyalty. Things we do include, the day after any time a new customer buys from our site, I have a email that goes out to them, that’s personally actually from my personal email address. it’s not just a support email, thanking them for signing up and that they’re always welcome to give me any feedback, because we always want to improve the service. That kind of little personal touch has gotten me a lot of really warm replies from customers saying, wow, thank you. It’s so rare that companies nowadays would spend this time to listen to their customers. This is something that doesn’t take too much time, because you can automate it, but yet still get that direct pulse on what your customers want or need or have trouble with.
That’s one thing too, inside the box in addition to of course, the high quality of curation of snacks, and the tea pairing, and the tasting guide, I always include what we internally call a founder card, but it’s a card that is from me, that is explaining about, thanking them, or maybe talking about some new changes and improvements in the service, so they always feel like they’re part of this inner circle of the company.
Funny anecdote is that in the very, very beginning when we only had a handful, a few dozen subscribers, I used to hand write those cards just to have that personal touch. Then once we started getting bigger, I couldn’t do that anymore, because I was literally spending hours handwriting those cards. Then we moved to me just signing them, but then now it’s all printed with my signature printed on it. After a while you have to find scalable ways for things as you evolve up.
Felix: For sure. I can’t imagine with the million snacks that you could personally write a letter for everybody. That would be your full job. Maybe. Maybe more than that. What are some of your favorite pieces of constructive, or what is maybe some of your favorite constructive feedback that you’ve gotten from this open communications with your customers that you’ve been able to implement?
Danny: How wow. There’s been everything, from constructive feedback to positive ones. I’ve, let’s see, some of the constructive ones, to start off on that is, even just UX design things. Like oh, during the checkout process, I was confused which is the shipping address or billing address, or why I had to do it this way, which allowed me to immediately just go in and make those changes, especially because Shopify, and I use Recharge as a subscription platform, make it pretty easy to make some of these changes. To things like, I really like these snacks, but these weren’t really to my taste. If I get enough feedback, then I know how to iterate and improve the curation for future months. To even the fact that they really enjoy receiving this product, and how they share it and how they use it.
I think one of my favorite positive feedbacks was this granddaughter whose grandmother was Japanese and has been living in the states for like over 20 years or something, and hasn’t been back to Japan since. She subscribed to it for her grandmother so the grandmother would get a piece of her home every single month delivered to her. Her grandmother was just delighted the first time she got the box. It really brought the family even closer together. That made me so happy.
Felix: Yeah, I can imagine. That would certainly get you going right there to work hard on the business to bring that kind of joy to someone’s life. I’m looking at the website, and one thing I notice was that there are different frequencies for the boxes. There’s every month, every three months, six months, or twelve months. How did you figure that these were the frequencies that people wanted?
Danny: For us, we were trying to set it up in a way where it’s still very flexible. We like to be very open and transparent. As I mention from the feedback to even just our policies, our customers can pause, skip, deactivate any time. One of the things we wanted to do is allow them that flexibility, but then if they love the product and want to get it more, they can subscribe to three months, or six months, or nine months at a prepaid. That way it just kind of rolls over without the, worrying about it on a monthly basis in terms of payment.
I guess we could have added in a nine month. It felt like there would be a little too much option, because you can just to three months for three times. One, three, six, twelve, I think was just a standard when I did my competitive research in the industry as well.
Felix: Got it. You mentioned earlier about how there’s an upcoming box that you display on the website, but also I see here that there are past boxes that you have listed. What’s the purpose of that? What’s the purpose of showing people what’s been released in the past?
Danny: It’s what I was mentioning a little bit earlier, which is that we’re incredibly proud of each and every snack and tea or product that we put into our boxes, so we want people to see what has come in the past. Every theme is very meticulously curated. Our sourcing team works very hard, and there’s a lot of pressure on them to perform. Especially if a month does really well, there’s always this expectation you got to go better the next month. We don’t want to lose that historical pride, so we list that for people to see. This was what was in previous months, and this was what you could get as an example of future months. We’ve published our upcoming boxes, but if people are wondering what’s going to come later in the summer and in the fall, they can look historically and be like, oh, it looks like every year in the fall they do a fall gourmet, fall harvest box. Every year in the spring, they do a blossoming spring box. The curation’s a little bit different. They can expect that year round to see what they get.
On top of that, I wanted to show the evolution of the company, because if you actually go pretty far back to our first boxes, the curations are different than what they are now. We’ve improved over time, where in the very beginning we used to have five or six different types of products, but multiples of each. Nowadays, we’ve increased both the quantity and the variety, just because our supply chain has gotten stronger. We have better relationships with our suppliers. We’ve gotten that feedback from customers that they want more variety and different types in the box. Besides the fact that the older boxes look a little bit emptier in terms of the variety, I want people to see that we’ve improved and we’ve listened to their feedback.
Felix: Yeah, I think it serves as much value as the upcoming boxes, just because you can see what’s already possible, what are some things that, what are the promises the company’s already delivered on. Being able to see that, I think, builds a lot of trust with the visitor and encourages them to try it out.
When there’s a box that you’ve released that has a product in it that everyone’s super excited about, that they love a lot. What do you do with that? Are you able to put that in a future box, or is that just a one time deal only, or do you sell that one off of your website? What’s the process when you get the feedback that lots of the customers love a particular product?
Danny: Yeah, for the first maybe year of the company, when I first started, that feedback was really helpful for iterating as mentioned in knowing what to put in the box. Then it was a bit of a, so many customers asked, how do I get this delicious white strawberry snack product that I can’t get anywhere else? That was something that we then worked hard on. It took us about six months to a year to then fully launch what we call the global boxing market. Starting January of this past year, we do actually sell many of our popular products on demand one off on our store, where people can [inaudible 00:28:54]. They can either go through there from our box in market page where it has its beautiful collection of all the snacks laid out by category, or they can go into the past boes and they can actually click in through there, and they can order the things that they really enjoyed.
What is especially wonderful about that is that, for us, we have direct relationships with over 50 snack and tea makers, artisanal local makers in Japan, and we are the global exclusive retailer for most of them. If people really, really liked some specific product, they have to get it through us. Otherwise they can’t get it. We definitely needed to provide that on demand marketplace service. Very happy that we have. That’s been pretty tough as well, but it’s been getting a lot of great feedback from our customers.
Felix: What’s your approach when you as a team identify a particular product that you want to add into the box? How do you being a process of finding a vendor that sells it, and how do you approach them? Is it a process that’s pretty well trodden, where they understand the business model that you’re coming with, or something that you have to educate the vendors on?
Danny: It’s definitely not a well trodden business model in Japan, actually, to be honest. It was very much a struggle in the beginning, and it’s still sometimes difficult now. We’ve gotten a lot better at it, at the sales pitch to the suppliers, but we have to do a lot of education, because subscription boxes, or just a lot of e-commerce in general hasn’t taken off nearly as much in Japan as it has in the rest of America and the west.
When we first contact them, first and foremost, it has to be in Japanese. You have to be fluent in not only the language, but the business culture in terms of emails, and in terms of assuaging any concerns they might have about us as a company that’s outside of the country. Once we start making that contact with them and talking and explaining the product, we try and sell them on the fact that we have this worldwide audience of people that their product can reach to, and that it’s really great way for them to expand their global reach. That usually works with some of them.
Felix: Are you one of the first ones to approach them with idea, or have they heard it from other businesses in the past?
Danny: For the majority of our makers, we are the first that has approached them about it, yes. A lot of our, other competitors out there that might be doing something similar or something related, primarily worked through importers or wholesalers. We’re the first that actually directly contact with these local makers in Japan.
Felix: Got it. Why do you think the other competitors aren’t taking that same approach? What are the, not necessarily disadvantages, what makes it a more complicated approach where you’re working directly with the source, essentially?
Danny: Part of it has to do with the fact that any competitors that we may have mostly work with more mass produced snacks. If you want to talk specifically Japanese snacks, people may be familiar with Pocky or Hi-Chew. These are things that are pretty mass produced by the big makers in Japan. In order to acquire these products, you generally have to work through the wholesalers, because they sell to the wholesalers, they produce in big quantities. In order to, if you want to get more of the authentic local stuff you get in Hokkaido, or Kyushu, or Okinawa, these are like amazing regions in Japan, you got to go directly to the manufacturers. A lot of times, they don’t sell to wholesalers, they just sell themselves. They’re a small team of 50 that’s been around for decades, or centuries, you know. Like passing down to the families and such.
Felix: Got it. I want to take it back a little bit. When you are, before you get to the part where you identify the product and everything. When you guys sit down and say, okay, we have a box coming up six months down the road. What does that mean? What are the considerations that come into play when you guys begin to design a box for the first time?
Danny: I would say that a lot of it comes down to what fits the right month or season. Now that we’ve been in business for a good two years, actually this is our two year anniversary. May 2016’s when we launched, so it’s been a pretty exciting ride. In the first year there was a lot of trial and error, certainly where we had never done this before so we would try out a theme that was maybe exciting or fun, or we would personally like. Then we would see the customer feedback from it, whether it be through emails, or through, we have a review section on our website as well, where every single product and our website can be reviewed by our customers. We take that feedback very seriously as well.
As now we have two years of data collected, we know what customers like, and we also still know what we want to share with them. It’s always difficult to strike this balance. For example, as I mentioned six months from now, in October there’s this fall harvest. Japanese people eat very seasonally. Only certain foods in the fall and certain foods in the spring. As I mentioned, cherry blossom flavored things ad strawberries in the spring, chestnuts and persimmons in the fall, which is a very common fall food. Sometimes it also has to do with the weather, like chocolate we ship quite a lot in the winter, but in the summer we have to actually cut back on it, because with international shipping from Japan to the world, the package is in transit for weeks at a time, and could potentially melt halfway through. All of those things come into consideration.
Felix: You recommend then, if anyone is creating a subscription service, to have themes around each box?
Danny: I would think it depends on the box they’re trying to sell. If they’re trying to actually, if it’s more of a discovery box where they can learn more about some culture or some, like you’re trying to teach people things or they’re trying to give them this full unboxing experience, yeah I think themes are great. That’s been one of the biggest positive feedbacks we’ve gotten from our customers is how they really enjoy that. It’s not just eating delicious, authentic snacks. It’s also that they get to learn about Japan in a meaningful way every month while they’re eating and having a great time.
Felix: Got it. I’ll talk a little about the website. I think it’s a beautifully designed website, so I recommend anyone out there, check it out. Was this all done in house with your designers, or did you outsource any of this?
Danny: It was actually all done in house. Shopify made it incredibly easy. They had it where everything is templated, and there’s themes. I personally also used, my favorite is Out Of the Sandbox, is one of their theme developers. They have this wonderful theme called Turbo, which has all these really great features, from sections to being able to add video and move things around. It’s also incredibly fast theme, so things load very quickly, so it includes your SEO. Thanks to how easy the templating was, I was able to start, I actually launched the website by myself in just a week when I first got started.
Felix: Yes. One thing I’ve heard is that lots of people can launch the website without even having to pay for it right away. Make sure you launch with them, that trial period you get. Personally for you, what are some of your favorite parts of the website? What are some of your favorite pages on the website?
Danny: For me, this was an idea that I personally championed in the company, and has born fruit in terms of its usefulness in forming community. In terms of direct sales, it may not be as important, but in terms of just fostering this community, which is what I care a lot about with Bokksu worldwide, is our community page. There’s a page on the website where we not only pull in Instagram feed of people that post Bokksu around the world, so you can see people in Sri Lanka to Korea to America, of course, and to Europe are enjoying their boxes in many different scenarios. We actually have something called member spotlight, where we actually reach out to a Bokksu member that’s been with us for a while, and we interview them in a very loose, cute, kind of a casual ten question FAQ type of situation. They respond and they include a headshot. It’s kind of like the multi faces of Bokksu members around the world.
Felix: This community page, are you using a specific application to pull in all these social media posts?
Danny: Yeah. There’s one called Juicer that’s fairly reasonably priced and does a great job. They have really great support too. Every time I reach out they respond really quickly. It really cleanly pulls in Instagram. I think it’s like $20 a month. I highly recommend it. In terms of the member spotlight, that’s just simply just a Shopify blog. It’s a blog separate from the normal blog that we create, and I pull in.
Felix: Got it. You mentioned a couple things so far. You mentioned Recharge. You mentioned that you’re using Out of the Sandbox’s Turbo theme for the website. Juicer, there’s another application to pull in all those social media posts. What other applications are used to help run the business or help run the store?
Danny: Let’s see. There’s a lot of great ones. I’m also very appreciative of the support I’ve gotten from a lot of them. A really fun one recently that came up because of this customer feedback as I mentioned and we always listening to them, was a customer reached out asking, I wish there was a way that I could just add this product to my wishlist so I can buy it later because I can’t buy it right now. I said, oh wow, that sounds like it might be a lot of work to have to code that myself. When I just looked around the app store, there was this app called Wishlist Plus that did exactly everything we wanted and needed. I was able to launch that within minutes, and then the customer was delighted that we took their feedback seriously and immediately launched in our store.
On top of that, there’s a, we use Clavio for our mail list, because it’s integrated very closely with Shopify. Gorgeous is what we use for our customer service tickets. We used to use End Desk, but because Gorgeous is specifically a Shopify integration, it can pull in a lot more data into its API interface that End Desk may not be able to, and it also integrates with Recharge, and Clavio and all the other, the ecosystem is quite wonderful. It makes work a lot more efficient and fast.
Felix: In the CRM Gorgeous, what kind of data does it pull in that you were able to use?
Danny: For example, when you’re looking at a ticket inside Gorgeous, on the right hand side there’s widgets that show you the customer’s last orders, their lifetime spend, their shipping address, tracking number if you set up a tracking number. You can also see it pulls in from Recharge if they’re an active subscriber or not, and you can see how many points they’ve accumulated through loyalty alliance, and where else are you loyal for the loyalty program. Not only can you see it but you can actually modify those things in Gorgeous. You can cancel their order, you can refund them, you can give them updates, and it automatically just pulls them in and you don’t have to type. It’s all done with macros, and it’s very seamless.
Felix: Because the big part of the experience for the customers is this unboxing that you go through, do you guys make use of influencers, or work with other people to unbox your products?
Danny: Yes, that was actually one of our early strategies as well, in addition to the organic content, and Facebook/Instagram was with influencers. That’s been definitely a tough trial and error, in a lot of ways. Influencer strategy can work, but there’s not a lot of consistent, easy, conditions to help figure out which works. A lot of it has to do with putting it all out there and see what comes back to you.
For us, we experimented with Facebook. We experimented with Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, like a whole bunch of the social media platforms Influencers there. What we found has been most effective has been YouTube, and specifically has to be YouTube influencers that have really engaged audiences, and that the influencers themselves really love eating. Our product is so hands on and sensual in a lot of ways. You have to unbox it and show the snacks, and eat it and talk about it, like a good five to ten minute YouTube video gets the job done a lot better than an Instagram post.
Felix: Right, that makes a lot of sense. What re the future plans? What do you guys have planned for the remainder of this year? Where do you want to see the business go over the next year?
Danny: Yeah, we have a lot of big plans actually, now that I’ve built up a team of, like as I mentioned when I first started it was just me, but now we have a team of nine full time starting in June. It’s been a really exciting growth from bootstrap up until this. Once we have everybody in and all trained up, we want to start expanding to not only other boxes, but to really build out our boxing market. We really believe that in addition to a subscription box, where we can educate and teach people about our wonderful products, we want to be that portal to authentic Japanese products to the world, where people can buy it on demand any time from our website. That’s going to be one of our big focuses.
On top of that, I personally love tea. I drink tea every day, multiple times a day. I want to start building that out a little bit more. Where up until now, we always put in a complimentary tea paring that goes with the snacks of that month, or goes with the theme, in the future we potentially would work directly with tea farmers in Japan to create our own Bokksu branded teas. Now that we’ve built up a reputation of this purveyor and curator of premium Japanese products, to then sell that on our market, put it in our box and just get that into shelves around the world.
Felix: Awesome. Bokksu.com, b-o-k-k-s-u.com is the website. Thank you so much for your time, Danny.
Danny: Thank you, Felix. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you about this.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peak for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: In our category at least, upsell creates this distraction, and it’s like, I’m not sure if I need that upsell. Let me save this page and I’ll come back.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce 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 to shopify.com/blog.