On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from Alex Ikonn, Co-Founder of Luxy Hair, about how they grew their YouTube channel to nearly 3 million subscribers.
Luxy Hair sells high-quality, luxurious, 100% Remy Human hair extensions at an unbeatable price.
Learn More: Find out how to make money on YouTube.
In this episode, we discuss:
- The difference between self-employment and being a business owner.
- Why freedom is tough to manage.
- How to sell without selling.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
- Store: Luxy Hair
Social Profiles: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
- Recommended: The Four Hour Workweek, Seth Godin, Linchpin, Alex Ikonn, Mimi Ikonn
Felix: Today I'm joined by Alex Ikonn from LuxyHair.com. That's L-U-X-Y-H-A-I-R.com. Luxy Hair is for clip-in hair extensions. Stores offering luxurious quality, one hundred percent ready human hair clip-in extensions at an unbeatable price and was started in 2010 and based out of Toronto. Welcome, Alex.
Alex: It's good to be here. Thank you for having me.
Felix: Definitely. Tell us a bit more about your store and what are some of the most popular products that you sell?
Alex: Our story starts, I think we're store number four thousand or something like that on Shopify. We were there early days, but when we first built our store, it wasn't even on Shopify. It was just on WordPress. It was just a very simple template. I kind of put it together myself. It all started with I guess the idea of wanting to be an entrepreneur and I think too that definition is having freedom over my life and what to do and not having a boss kind of thing. I actually got fired from working at a bank. Prior to that I thought I was going to be in corporate all my life. I really thought that I'm going to rise through the ranks. Actually before I went to university I'm like, "I'm going to try to get a job at a bank before so that by the time I'm out of university I'll already have four years experience. I'll be way ahead," and stuff like that.
Actually as I was in university I was working at the bank full-time, I was going to school full-time, I got fired. I got fired for having a little side business. When you work for corporate, really when you work for anybody, you have to fully dedicate your time to them. They found out I had a little side business, they said, "Sorry, you breached the conflict of interest, and although you were doing awesome, meaning you were meeting all your targets, it's against the contract that you signed." That's when I learned that corporate and just business, a lot of times it's very black and white. It's not whether you're an awesome person or not. It's just policy, right?
I really want to be an entrepreneur so I can create my own policies and my own business and my own life. I really think that's what really entrepreneurship is about. Entrepreneurship is a way of creating your own lifestyle. "The Four Hour Work Week" was of course a huge inspiration to me, my wife, who's also my co-founder and partner in business. Business really just started out really humbly. We just wanted to make fifteen hundred dollars a month each, so make three thousand dollars together. We're like, "We'll live humbly. It'll be fine." The business really just grew rapidly and organically because we were one of the first and we still are in a way, a shop that has grown with YouTube and utilizing video to grow our website.
Felix: That's awesome. Yeah, lots of great things in there. I want to kind of break this down a little bit. Very interesting I guess, beginning to your career, your entrepreneurial career, because I think other listeners out there might be in the same situation where companies have started implementing this thing called ... Not start implementing, but I've started seeing it more frequently called moonlighting policy which is that they don't allow you to moonlight, which is kind of crazy, right? You work typical, you have a third of your day essentially to a business, to another corporation, and then ... In my opinion, you should be able to do whatever you want outside of that, but there's obviously a lot of a policies involved. If you were to give advice to somebody that is working a corporate job or working a nine to five and wants to start a business on the side, are there ways to avoid this? Are there ways to talk to your employer so that you don't run into an issue? So that you don't get fired while you're still trying to start a side business?
My biggest advice would be, to anybody starting out, you can. Just do it very stealth, but most importantly I would say ... I feel like it's another advice, just looking back, I still recommend ... It's a catch twenty-two. I'm in a good place right now, but you can work for a business whether a corporation or a smaller business, and give it your all and really be successful that way, but that's a whole different conversation. I'm truly grateful for being fired. It is one of the greatest things I have happened in my life. Want it happened to me I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me because I'm like, "Oh my God, my life is over. I thought I was going to be an investment banker. Now my resume is screwed," and a lot of stuff, but that's when I made a decision that in this life I will only be responsible for my own life. The only way to do that is to be a business owner.
Felix: Yeah, that's definitely an eye-opening spirit as whether you get fired, you get laid off, or you basically just lose that security you thought you had originally of climbing this ladder or you stay in corporate all your life. You had this dream or this goal or this plan, it sounded like, for a long time of stay in the corporate world, so when you got fired ... I want to talk a little bit more about this feeling because I think others have gone through this where they get fired or laid off. Why not just go back to the corporate world? Why not just find ways to get back? Why did you decide to go off and do something at least seemingly more risky?
Alex: I guess at the same time it was a really great opportunity to explore because I still had two years of school left. Like I said, even though I was in school full-time I was working full-time. I'm just a little hardcore like that. I'm like, "You know what, instead of just jumping through another job, which I could do ..." I could have just worked for a different bank. I still was a good employee. I still met all my targets, I was still great. I think it was just more of a realization that, why not try and give this is a shot? "This is a different possibility. I've always had ..." Especially if you're getting fired for having a side business, maybe it's an inkling that you should have a business. That was my experience.
Felix: Right, definitely. This side business you had, it wasn't Luxy Hair right? Tell us a little bit more about your previous entrepreneurial pursuits.
Alex: Oh man, I had so many. Literally when I was ten years old I was selling flowers on the street and trying to get some money because I was an immigrant from Russia and we really didn't have money. When I came into Canada and I would see kids have lunch money and stuff like that and I would be like, "Mom, I need money," and she's like, "We don't have any so go figure it out," and I'm like, "Okay." My sister was like, "There's this guy. Go get some flowers. Go in strip mall plazas and he'll give you a bucket and you sell these flowers and by the end of the day you split the commissions."
That was one of my first hustle experiences, which I'm really grateful for. Looking back, it's probably like, "Oh my God, my mom could have probably got child services called on her," something like that, but once again, I'm super grateful for that experience. I think too many kids are not given those raw, real experiences that allow them to be more independent. My mom always talked to me, "It's crazy, you were always independent when you were eleven years old because you were always making money on the side."
Then of course, several other gigs and then I got my retail job when I was sixteen, like, "Okay, let's get a real job." The thing that I got fired for it was actually me and my friend, he was also in university with me, he had this thing where ... He was from Russia, he knew people in Russia who wanted cars and at that time there was a currency situation where it was very fairable for them to get a car from US, buy it, export it, put it together. We would be these middlemen brokers who brokered a deal, who bought a car for them and ship it over for them and you get commission. It was still a service business.
I think the world of e-commerce and product was kind of open to me once I also ... Right after I got fired, it's not like I started a business right away, right? I think a lot of people misses that. Even in our story, they think, "Oh, he just started Luxy Hair and then became successful. He just got lucky," but prior to Luxy Hair there was a period of two years before Luxy Hair since I got fired where I was just figuring it out. I was trying different things, meaning I was trying to do a website design services agency.
Felix: This is while you were still in school, is that correct?
Alex: Yeah, of course. I think school, especially university for me, I never took it seriously. I didn't really fully embrace that experience. I would just skip most lectures and just do the exam and pass that and do great at that. As long as I finished, I get to be pretty cool and I got a degree, it's all good. To me it's still kind of useless anyways. What happened was I tried these little service businesses. I had this website design agency on the side then social media was just blowing up and Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and all these tools. I'm like, "Wow, this is really going to change a lot that's happening." I was trying to be a social media consultant for a year. I was a failed social media consultant, meaning ... Especially at that time, it was very hard to sell your services because back then and even now, "Oh, you're a snake oil salesman. They don't have any experience and they're trying to sell people on these services."
What happened was one of my friends, he had this startup and things were going well and he knew that I was doing the social media thing and he's like, "Hey, I'd like to hire you full-time to do this stuff for us." I'm like, "Hey, I wasn't doing so well anyways. I'm by myself trying to be a business owner or really ..." It's not really being an entrepreneur. You're self-employed, right? I think that's a big misconception a lot of people have when they provide services is that you're self-employed. You're not an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is somebody who had a business who works for them while they do other things or they sleep. It's a machine. It's a different kind of thing. Even after so many years, I'm still getting to that place. That's a whole other side story as well. To finish that point I guess, I took that job because I really needed money and I'm like, "Cool, I'll do it."
I was really employee number one. That's where I really got to learn about e-commerce and product because he was actually doing it, meaning he was actually selling this product internationally. That's where I got to learn about fulfillment and ship-wire and how do you import goods, how do you source goods from China, how do you do it. Literally in two months I was able to learn everything about the business. I was like, "Whoa, this is amazing." At the same time I was reading "The Four Hour Work Week" and "The Four Hour Work Week" is a great mindset book. I'm still really grateful for that book because it shifts your mindset to the possibility of a different reality. I tried to do some of those things while I was working for my friend, but it just didn't fly, meaning I couldn't work remote. I tried to do it but he's like, "No, you're doing this too much. You've got to step back."
I came to a point where I was being, once again, very naïve and young. I'm like, "Hey, I'm going to totally change your business with my social media strategy. I was equity in the business," right off the bat. He's like, "No. I'm not giving you equity," and I'm like, "Okay, fine. I'm going to leave." I left. I guess that was a real, kind of also another turning point for myself where ... Once again, I'm really grateful to my friend who took me in, who showed me the way. We're still friends now. He actually does some consulting for us at the moment as well, so it's how the world changes around. Once again, that experience was ... I learned in those two months working for this small startup business, I learned more about business than I did in my four years at university.
This is why I recommend to so many people nowadays to go out and work for smaller companies, organizations, where you can work directly with the founder because your learning curve's going to be so much higher than if you work for a big corporation or a big company where you just get slotted and you have a specialty and that's what you do. So that's another really great tip for many of you people. I know so many people now try to buy work from us because I give this advice. Now I think we're trying to actually catch people so they're not trying to work for us just to learn and more are there for the long haul.
Felix: Awesome. You were trying so many different things initially, right? You were mostly also focused on services and then you basically almost took on this apprenticeship role where you came in, worked directly with the founder. How long did this engagement last? How did you put yourself in a position where you were getting all the things you needed to learn out of the relationship?
Alex: That's a great question. I was literally, like I said, only there for two, three months. I think most importantly you have to be curious and you have to ask a lot of questions. Not only are you doing this for yourself, you're also doing this to do your job better, to actually excel in the company. Any time even people who work for us who don't ask questions, I'm actually like, "Why are you not asking questions?" A lot of people, they don't want to look stupid, right?
Alex: I think at the same time it's very important, I think it's a very good quality to not think that you know everything and if you really do have questions and you should have questions especially when you're starting to work for somebody, it's to ask as many questions as possible. If the founders are people you're working with our your management are ... Most likely they will be open because they want you to know and excel and a lot of times they just don't even train you properly a lot of times. It's up to you really. Like I said, whether you want to excel at a job or learn more about the business, you have to really take that on to yourself and be curious, ask questions.
That's what I did. I would ask questions like, "Okay, how do you ...?" Even though my role was social media ... You're working for a startup meaning you have to do multiple roles. I have to do customer service, I have to do some sales, I have to do some other things. I would also ask him questions. I would be like, "Okay, I need to know how the business works just in order for me to do my role better. How did you start this business? How'd you source products? How do you do this? How do you pay tax?" Just ask questions. Like I said, that was the best school I've ever had.
Felix: You said something a little bit earlier that I think is really important to talk a little bit more about. You talked about a difference between being self-employed versus being a business owner. Can you talk a little bit more about this? What are some of the biggest differences or maybe benefits of being a business owner versus being self-employed?
Alex: Yeah. I guess this is one of the biggest learnings that I had to go through myself. I think so many times people believe if you have a business, meaning if you provide a service, that's a business. You're a business owner, you're an entrepreneur. They can be. Everyone's definition is different. However, I have learned through experience that being self-employed is not for everybody. It's really difficult. I think a lot of times even people starting out having their own business, they don't really realize what they're getting themselves into because there is a lot of work that's going to come with it. We're all sold on this dream of, especially now, the entrepreneur lifestyle and what it is. I'm part of it. People who check out my Instagram or watch my YouTube videos always think I'm traveling all the time.
Felix: A glamorous self- employed ... Glamorous entrepreneur.
Alex: Yeah, glamorous entrepreneur, but that's not the reality. I think especially most importantly when you're self-employed, meaning when you provide the service of some sort, let's say you ... It was also a dream of mine, even still is, to open a café or a restaurant. It's very romantic. I love it. At the same time, if you open any physical business, you are tied to that. You will not escape versus ... Of course you can grow to a level where you put management in place, do everything like that, train people, get a process up in place, all that. That's where you move into that next level, but most likely at the beginning you will have to be heavily involved.
Same thing with me, I'm still at a level now where we're growing, we're putting people in place, we're hiring, we're creating structures and processes and even now, like I said ... I live in London. My team is in Toronto. It's totally separate from me, meaning we have a person who manages the team, who runs the team. Same thing for our other business, which is IntelligentChange.com. Same thing, there's my partner UJ who runs the company there. It's that next level where it's not just about you. It's about building a team and having people in place who can do things that they're way better than you at and you have to let go of control. I think that's the biggest measure of becoming a business owner or becoming an entrepreneur is are you actually free, right? I think that's the biggest measure, is of freedom.
Felix: Makes sense. You mentioned a little bit earlier about self-employment's not for everybody. Do you think that there are some common misconceptions about people that maybe are in the corporate world or working nine to five and then transition to self-employment and get hit by some realities that they might not have expected? Can you think of any?
Alex: I think the biggest thing for a lot people is to realize, like I said, I was very fortunate that when I was starting out I had a very low goal. When we were starting out we had a very little goal of how much money to make, to replace. Our income for us was livable income. Before I was used to living on just ... I was a student living off my part-time jobs or little gigs or even my full-time job at the bank, it didn't pay me that much. At the bank retail level you're getting paid thirty K a year. After tax you're making maybe two grand or something like that. I put it low. I'm like, "What do we really need to live?" I'm like, "If I made fifteen hundred dollars clean, I'm good. That's all I really need." Especially if Mimi makes that, we combine our income, we live humbly in an apartment, we should be good. Most importantly for us is the freedom.
Why I'm talking about this is for a lot of people, especially if you're going to step out of your close to a high five figure or a six figure job, you have to understand that you have to replace that income. In order for you to replace that income, that means you have to generate a lot more income because when you run a business, there's a lot of costs associated with running a business. Even with our business with have actual physical goods, we actually have to buy inventory, we have to move inventory, we have to pay for fulfillment, we have to do all that stuff plus there's tax. So many people forget about tax. You'd be surprised how many entrepreneurs starting out never think about tax. You're like, "Hey, that's part of the equation as well." You have to pay business tax, personal tax, these different taxes. It's like, what are you really left with? Is this going to be worth it for you to leave your job to possibly get paid less and do more, right?
I think the most important thing for you to realize is that for some people, they will be happier making thirty grand instead of sixty grand and working more, but that have their own freedom, right? Meaning they're the decision maker, they're the boss, and that's how they live their lives. For example, at this point I can't work for anybody. I call people like myself unemployable. Even recently somebody was looking for a job and they were looking for a job to work for me so they can learn and I could kind of see that and their interview and I told them straight up, "You're unemployable," meaning, "I can see that you want to be the boss. There's no problem with that, but you have to recognize that and just doing it," meaning, "Yes, you'll have to sacrifice the current comfort or cushiness you might have of your corporate thing, but in the end you might actually be better off," meaning, "You'll be more fulfilled not having to answer to somebody," right?
However there's a different crowd of people, right? What I'm saying is there's a different crowd of people. I think most people forget when you are an entrepreneur or a business owner or self-employed, whatever you are, but when you work for yourself, meaning you have to call all the shots, you have to make all the decisions, I'm telling you for most people it is a lot easier to work for somebody than to work for yourself. I don't know why. As human beings it's easier for us when somebody ... We've probably trained over millennia to be in a way of, "Hey, do this," and if somebody tells you to do it, you do it.
The thing is when you have your own business, you need to be a leader for yourself. Even if you don't have employees, meaning you have to lead yourself, you have to manage yourself, you have to manage your time, when you come in, when you do this, because freedom is actually very tough to manage. The same thing in even one of our products for our other company Intelligent Change is the productivity planner. I created the productivity planner and people are like, "Why'd you create this productivity planner?" I created it for myself, meaning over the years I needed to create the structure for myself to allow me to work more efficiently. Otherwise it's going to be not efficient.
Felix: Yeah, all that you're saying make a lot of sense about how the entrepreneur, the self-employment, business owner lifestyle seems to be glamorous and a lot of people are attracted to it, but it's not for everybody. Are there any ways for you to tell if you are ready or you are naturally inclined to be better at being self-employed before making the jump from something safer like a nine to five or a corporate job, before you do it?
Alex: It's a tricky question. It's a very, I think, personal one. Only an individual themselves will truly know. You really won't know until you jump in. I think for me, once again I'm very fortunate that I got fired because I had some options, but I'm like, "Hey, this is opportunity to give this a try." I'm being strictly honest, most likely if I didn't get fired I may not have a business, right? I didn't know if I had the guts to actually do it, right? For example, my wife Mimi, she probably had the guts. I'll be honest, right? We met at the bank together. That's how we met each other was at the bank where I got fired from. She didn't get fired. She then later on quit because she's like, "I'm going to do this as well, I'm going to do this," and she made that decision. For me, this decision was made for myself.
I think for many people it's a very personal thing. I think the biggest way you can tell is just how do you feel working for somebody else, right? If you have some sort of resentment or feeling of, "Hey, this is not fair" or "They're getting all the benefit," if you have any of that, go work for yourself. At least try it out. Even if it doesn't work out, you will then have a tremendous appreciation for people who run businesses, who even provide you a paycheck. You'll be like, "Holy crap, I didn't know there was so much to that," because I think so many people now undervalue how much work it usually takes. Like I said, what I tell so many people is that even now, this is a hot conversation, but I think the most important thing is people are just ... Once again, they can't put themselves into those shoes until they're actually there. That's why I say you have to do it, especially if you're young.
It's why I'm so grateful for my experience because I didn't have no dependents. I was living with my mom. I can understand how it could be more difficult for other people to make this decision when you have kids, when you have a mortgage, when you have all this stuff, but especially if you don't have the burdens of life that build up over time and you have that opportunity, you definitely have to try it out just for yourself. Once again, if you have that feeling of, "Hey, the world is not fair, I'm not getting my fair share ..." That's what happened when I asked my friend for equity. I would have been grateful for two percent, but in reality I didn't deserve it.
Looking back now, I'm like, "What a cocky guy." If I did that to myself right now, if I had somebody who worked for me ask me for equity before they even produced anything for my business, I would probably sell them the same thing or I would tell him, "Hey, you know what, let's figure out a plan where if you do produce something, there's a possibility of something." Before you've done anything there's no point in even asking for anything of, "Hey, I want my piece of my pot." If you want that, go create your own pot.
Felix: Right, I love that. I think that's a great barometer to look at. Do you feel like you deserve more? Do you feel like you're not getting a fair deal when you are going to work for somebody else? Like you're saying, you can't really know for sure because there's so many things involved, so much work involved, so many things you have to be good at or that you have to like when you are starting your own business that you don't really know until you actually give it a shot. It sounds like your goal, and I think a lot of listeners out there, their goal, is more and more freedom over time. That's when you make that transition from working a nine to five, working for somebody else, to working for yourself and then ideally becoming a business owner. Is it possible to set yourself up so that you jump right into being a business owner or do you always have to start off being self-employed and creating your own job first and then transition out of it?
Alex: We have examples of that in real life of both people who ... They never had a job, right? They just jump straight into entrepreneurship or trying to have their own business and many of them succeed still. There's many living proofs of that. I really don't think you need to do that. You can be way ahead if you are okay with being a student, like I was with my friend, and just apprenticing. I think so many people, including myself, miss out on that. Even looking back now, if I myself, for example, quit right now and go work for a bigger e-commerce company that I currently have, I could probably scale my business way quicker after, you know what I mean?
Felix: Yeah, that's funny. That aspiration you have is a gift and a curse, right? You want to own your own thing, you want to be working on your own stuff, but then it could also hold you back because you're missing all these opportunities to work for somebody else that could teach you a lot as well. That's funny that it's almost like a balancing act that you have to go through to find out what's the right balance of pursuing your own thing versus potentially being an apprentice or working for somebody else.
Alex: Exactly. This is what so many of us today forget is the value of actually learning from somebody else on their own dollar.
Felix: Getting paid to learn, yeah.
Alex: Yeah, getting paid to learn. What I'm saying is you can do that for a longer time. For example, people who work for us right now. They are getting to be part of the company that's able to spend a certain amount of money, be at a certain level and be able to do certain things that you wouldn't be able to do when you have no money and you're starting out for example, right? You just wouldn't be able to experiment with such budgets or you wouldn't be able to reach such people as, for example, we can with our YouTube or our Instagram channels or anything like that. That way you get to learn how do they reach that level, what do they do? Especially when you're really in it, you get to learn so much.
I have a really good friend who had a very successful company in Toronto. He hired almost a hundred people. They're big. They're making money, seven figure business plus. Now he works for Facebook. People would be like, "How is he working for Facebook? Why is he doing that?" I know him and also I'm like, "Dude, why are you doing this? You don't have to work for somebody," you know what I mean? He said, "You know what, I guess I'm getting older but I'm realizing there's so much value in this, to be inside this machine and learn from some of the greatest people." He's like, "I'm actually humbled by how smart the people that I'm working with." Sometimes I think it's important to put yourself out of your comfort zone and do something radical like that.
I'm not saying you have to do that, but the point I'm trying to make is for so many of us we're just in this rush to succeed and succeed by ourselves, but I really believe there's so much tremendous value that you can have ... There isn't just a one way. It isn't just to become by yourself and to be an entrepreneur yourself. Like I said, you can work for a smaller business where you can work there with the founder, or you can go try to work for even a bigger organization and work your way up there and learn the things there, but most importantly don't take those opportunities for granted because so many people, they just work and they just do what they're told and that's it.
In order to truly gain from that experience, you can't see that as a job. You have to come into and work for anybody and put yourself as an owner. Meaning, "If this is my business, how can I contribute to the maximum ability for me to actually grow this business?" When you do this, when you have a mentality of you're the owner of this business as well, it's the same thing as you would be an entrepreneur by yourself but you're able to learn so much faster because you are able to have tools at your disposal that you may not have when you're alone. When you, for example, work with Shopify, I've been in their offices, you just don't have those resources working by yourself, you know what I'm saying?
Then when you do that, number one, you will rise in your career so much faster because what there's not enough of is people who are owners who are taking leadership and charge of their position and what they're doing. They're being curious, they're being students, they're learning, they're adapting. Regardless, you will get promoted and you will grow within an organization. Even if not, you will then learn certain things for yourself that will then allow you to when you're starting your own business to learn from these processes. Let's say when you work for Shopify that Shopify has certain processes or how they ... You learn from their own successes, or you work for a different e-commerce business and you understand what their thing is.
Like I said, if I haven't worked for my friend for those two months, it would have taken me a lot longer to learn all those things through trial and error, through trying different things, but here I go into and I get put into a system that works, that is successful, that is already generating money and profit and I get to see how a business functions. Like I said, the biggest difference was just me saying, "Oh my God, I'm so grateful for this experience." Thank you for my friend and thank you for just me being there and being able to utilize my time well spent while I'm there.
Felix: Awesome. Yeah, I think the quote that I've heard about this, I think it applies here, is that if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room, meaning that you can only learn as much as the people that you surround yourself with. If you get yourself into a situation, a job, an apprenticeship, and you are outside your comfort zone, you're not the smartest person anymore, that's the time where you can learn. That's the time where you actually get the most value because they're there to teach you things that you don't know. I want to talk a little bit about the business now. This is a great history on how you got to the position you're at today. You guys started off, you said you had a goal of three thousand dollars. You wanted fifteen hundred dollars each. I definitely want to talk about YouTube. Is this before or after the YouTube success?
Alex: No. A lot of people ask ... I was just speaking the other day at this event and one of the questions was also, "Did the YouTube channel come first or was it the e-business? Was it the product?"
Alex: It was the product, it was the business. When you go to our website and you read our story, that is the actual story, meaning Mimi was looking for hair extensions for the wedding and at that point I was reading "The Four Hour Work Week" and I was like, "I need my muse. What's my idea?" I think for so many people it's like okay, great, you have this feeling that you want to be an entrepreneur or you want to have your own business, but what is going to be your idea? I think that's one of the most important things for you to really understand or to know. Mimi just really came ... She was complaining to her sister Laila about how she was unable to find good hair extensions. I had no clue what hair extensions are, and I was just once again curious. "What are hair extensions? What do you need this for? What's the problem?"
She would answer and then bam, bam, bam, we looked at it and I said, "Okay, wow. There isn't really anybody doing the type of product that she wanted in the US market." I'm like, "Hey, what would it cost to produce this?" Because I had that experience of sourcing and Alibaba and how to do that, I'm like, "Okay." I quickly looked into it. I was like, "Let's see how much the product costs." I'm like, "Okay, cool. This is the profit margin. We can sell it for this much. We'll just do that. Cool." Then we just kind of was like, "Let's do this."
Because of my social media background I knew what I believe would work. Like I said, I had no experience. Nobody was hiring me because I didn't have a track record. I had a feeling that this is the future. This is how business will build themselves. I said, "We're just going to make videos that are going to provide value to people through hair tutorials and you and Laila," Laila is her sister, "Will create those tutorials if you guys want to be a business." Because we were all employed at that point because I quit at that point, we were all unemployed and everyone said, "Yeah, cool. Let's do this." That's how it all started. It was just from those humble beginnings.
Felix: That's awesome. Did you see other people, other businesses do it? How did you know that YouTube was the platform that you would build first? Today there's just so many other platforms you can use. How were you able to identify that YouTube was the right one for your business?
Alex: The reason we chose to go with this strategy was really, I'll say my two virtual mentors that really inspired me were Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk. Seth Godin always talks about providing value and creating your art. The book "Linchpin," it's probably my all time favorite book. Gary Vaynerchuk at that time, he was just starting out. I think what he did with Wine Library and creating that content was the predecessor to what is possible and with creating, once again, unconditional content for people and then having a product on the back end. I'm like, "We're just going to do exactly that. We'll create hair tutorials every week and we sell hair extensions." Done.
Felix: Obviously this content marketing approach of business is definitely proving to work and is defensible. Once you have a lot of content it's hard to replicate that same thing, but today people are really focused on PPC or just driving ads and focusing on that side of things. It's sounds like obviously it's a longer road to get to actual sales because you had to build up all the content, build up the following. What were the early days like? I'm assuming you weren't getting tons of sales at the very beginning when you started a YouTube channel with zero subscribers like everyone else starts.
Alex: Of course. I think this is the most important thing to know is that we all start with zero dollars, zero subscribers. I think for us the most important thing was taking this more longer term approach and for us is that because we really didn't like selling. What I mean by this, in business you have to sell. You have to sell your product. You have to pitch it, you have to whatever. We felt there was this new era coming in where you can provide value and by providing value you expose people and you get people to know you and then they'll become interested in your own product. Our gig from the beginning was how can we provide content that people are looking for that we can then redirect to our own website and our product? Mimi and Laila started making videos right away, meaning we talked about, next week we already started making them.
You can watch those first videos. They were made on laptop webcams. In those videos they just went, "Okay, what are people looking for?" Mimi was like, "Okay, a lot of people are looking for examples for reviews of products." Our first video ever was a review of a hairstyling tool. That video got some things and some views and it's what people are looking for. They would just create content that people would look for. Especially back then how to and beauty content, a lot of people were looking for that, so how to style your hair, how to do makeup. We chose to do just hair because we had a product that was hair-related. We had to control a certain niche. That's really how we became one of the biggest hair channels on YouTube was just focusing on doing that one thing that is relatable to our product.
I had this little formula. I'll kind of quickly go through it because years after I'm like, "Okay, what is it that made us successful in business, on YouTube, through our content strategy? What was it in our content strategy that allows you to grow? It comes down to these four things. I call this formula QVCA. The first one is quality. When I talk about quality, the quality doesn't have to be super high. Like I said, we started with laptops. A lot of times people right now, you can start with a pocket camera, your iPhone 6, the latest smart phone. It can be pretty good because on YouTube the content that really connects with people is not super professional content. It's not the content that's going to have two, three camera angles. People go to YouTube for that personality. How do you consume Youtube, even yourself? Do you watch it mostly on your cell phone, on your laptop, do you watch with a group of friends?
Felix: I usually watch it on your cell phone.
Alex: Yeah. On your cell phone by yourself, right?
Alex: Exactly. It's important to understand that most people, that's how they consume YouTube content, meaning the content has to be very personal. That's why you don't have to get super fancy on the content in a way of multiple camera angles. Just keep it simple. Of course when it comes to talking about quality of content, you have to be providing, which is the second word, V, value. The first one was quality. You don't have to have super high end. Also it can't be too low. You still have to be able to hear, see, and all that stuff.
The second one is value. Most importantly is when you create content, you have to provide a lot of value. Most importantly provide it unconditionally because so many people ... This is the problem once again with so many people is that the biggest thing I could tell you right now about business and the biggest mind shifts that I had personally is the moment ... Before when you were unemployed or you don't have money, because this was my situation before, I would think, "How do I make money?" I need this. This is a missing element in life. How do I make it?"
The thing is no one cares. No one cares that you don't have money. No one's going to come to you and be like, "Hey poor Alex, here's money." You have to provide value into other people's lives. That's what business is. What is business? When somebody's buying something from you, that means you're going to deliver them some sort of value and they're willing to exchange their money for what you're going to give them in terms of value. We kind of flipped everything on a switch and we just provide value unconditionally, meaning when we're creating our content we never think, "What's the ROI of this content?" We honestly don't think like that to this day. We just think, "Hey, how can we provide tons of value to people?"
Same things for our website, same thing through our product, anything else. We just redesigned our whole website. We had a pretty kick-ass website. We didn't have to do that but we redesigned our website because we want to provide more value to the people who are on our website to be able to provide a better experience. That's why we do that stuff. Same thing with our content, we just create all this free content unconditionally. Whether you need hair extensions or you don't need hair extensions, you're watching our content because we might be helpful to you. Even if a person who never wants to buy hair extensions watches our videos and they get something out of it, they learn how to make a braid, and then their best friend's getting married and is like, "Hey, I'm looking for hair extensions," guess what happens? Who is she going to remember? Is she going to remember some no name shop that has never done anything good for them or provided them some value or Mimi who she watched her video and she learned how to create a braid through her tutorial?
Our business story has really just been built on us delivering unconditional value. However, the most important thing to keep in mind ... These are the last two letters of the formula. It's quality, have decent quality, don't go too fancy. Value, provide tons of value to people. Third, consistency. This is where a lot of people miss out on it as well, right? Felix, the reason you have a successful podcast is because you're consistent, right?
Alex: You put out a podcast how often?
Felix: Twice a week.
Alex: Twice a week. How long have you been doing that for?
Felix: We've been putting out podcasts for two years straight.
Alex: Two years straight. Think about it, us at Luxy Hair, we've been putting out a video pretty much every week for the last six years.
Alex: When you look at it, it's not luck. We're not just successful because we're lucky, right? We're successful because we're consistent and we're consistent at driving value to people and same with you, right? You're consistently delivering people information, value. That's why people will find you. They look for you. That's why you now work with Shopify directly because you created tons of value and you have consistency. Consistency is also talking about consistent content meaning if you're going to especially connect something with a business, you have to have some sort of a niche. For you for example, you created a niche around yourself by being with Shopify Masters, right? You have a niche on Shopify and e-commerce stores, that's your niche. We had a niche that was just Luxy Hair. It's all about hair. We were then able to carve out a niche for ourselves and become known for the hair people, right? We're known by hair and we sell hair products, sweet. That consistency plays an important role.
The last important piece that has made our content really successful, and I believe it's the same reason why your content is successful or any other people who have been successful. We have quality, we have value, we have consistency. The last piece, authenticity. What I mean by that is that when we create content, Mimi genuinely still cares about the content that she makes. Her whole strategy is, "Hey, I'm learning something and I'm going to teach you while I learn this as well." That's authentic to her. Mimi doesn't pretend that she's the greatest hairstylist or she's certified and she's worked in a salon. Mimi has no hair experience, but she's authentic in just saying, "Hey, I'm a regular person like you. I'm learning and I'm just going to teach you this hairstyle that I've learned recently." Boom, right? That by itself, that genuine interaction and authenticity, most people come watch our videos not even for hairstyles. They just come to watch and interact with Mimi for that authentic relationship that we have built over the years.
Felix: I love that. You talk about how people go to YouTube for relationships and not just for content or to learn things. They go there and, like you're saying, sometimes they'll go and not even ... Not necessarily not care, but they might not even be going to learn the tutorial. They just go to hear Mimi talk or just to have that weekly check-in with her because you have that relationship. I love that you point that out because a lot of times when people think about creating content they think about, "How do I create value?" Value is definitely the key as one of yours in the QVCA formula, but then you have to build that relationship, you have to build that connection with your audience or your fans essentially.
Alex: Exactly. I think for us, I've also talked to a lot of people who watch our stuff and I'm always curious, "How do you watch our content? Where are you?" They'll be like, a lot of times, "Just at breakfast. I'm alone so I just wanted company." I'm like, "Wow, cool."
Felix: Yeah, that's cool.
Alex: It's surprisingly but I think this is what so many people especially in business miss, right? You try to be all professional and corporate and all that stuff. You can do that, it's cool, but I believe a thing that people can do, especially people who are starting out, is be authentic and genuine with your story and how you're starting out because people are a lot more likely to help you out if you're honest and you're like, "Hey, I'm just starting out building this business. I'm just figuring it out." It's surprising to me as well, trust me. It's still surprising. When you look at our first website, you're like, "Who the hell would ever order from this website?" I'm honest, right? Now that you look at us, we're all fancy and stuff, right? We just spent tons of money on our website. It's expensive.
So many people, especially when they're starting out, you always have to look at the beginning of anybody. I'm sure even Shopify's first website sucked, right? They probably look back and cringe on their website. They're like, "Ugh, I don't know. Our website's way better now." Yeah, obviously. You have five hundred plus staff and crazy little people running around doing all this amazing stuff. At the beginning the thing that you have is your authentic story. Like I say, even Shopify, "We had our own store. We weren't happy with the platform providers over there, so we created our own platform." That's a powerful story. I think another powerful thing that so many e-commerce owners that don't do, they don't put their story on their product page on their website. I'm telling you, you can go Google right now. Just type Luxy Hair, L-U-X-Y dash hair. Google populates the popular pages on our website. You will see our story is one of the most popular pages on the website.
Felix: Yeah, right next to your shop.
Alex: Yeah, exactly. I would say that page is what helps us convert so much. That's why we expanded on it now with our new redesign, but even the story that you see there is the same story we had as when we started. It's real. That's the story. I think one of the, once again, biggest things you can take away if you're a e-commerce or you're starting out e-commerce is share your story, especially if it's authentic. Yeah, you're story's like, "Hey, I just want to make money," maybe that's not the best story. Really think as to why you're bringing this product into life. A little segue as well, so many people who don't know what kind of business they should even do, start a business out of a problem you have in your own life. Hair extensions is not a problem I had in my life, it's not my problem, but it was a problem that Mimi had. Through creating this business we solved that problem. Most likely if you're solving your own problem, you're going to solve a lot of poeple's problems in the world.
Felix: Yeah, it definitely becomes a lot easier when you are your own customer because you don't have to spend so much time figuring them out because they are you or they are, in this case, Mimi. You don't have to spend so much time in the early days learning more about them because you already have them inside your company. Just kind of close out on this and give the listeners an idea of how much success there's been, the Luxy Hair channel itself has closing in on three million subscribers. You guys also have your own channels. Alex, you have one over a hundred thousand. Mimi has another one over five hundred thousand subscribers. This QVCA model, I love it. I love that you broke it down like that. I think it makes a lot of sense. For people out there that are thinking about putting their story out there, thinking about finding ways to connect more with their ... Find people with connect with, specifically with YouTube. Here's a lot. Is it still possible to get started today when it's "so saturated" in that market? If so, how do you get yourself to stand out in the crowd?
Alex: That's a great question. I think when we started people were saying it was too saturated. I think no matter what it will always be like that, even in business. If you're starting a business, it's too saturated. There's too many businesses, you know what I mean? I think the way you stand out whether it be in business or on YouTube or on Instagram or any of these social platforms, it goes back to that last piece of the QVCA formula, is authenticity. I'm telling you the best way to win in business or on YouTube and you grow is to be authentic and just be your authentic self. Authenticity is actually lacking in our world right now meaning people are going to a lot more likely ... The reason people watch us is because they still feel that we're genuine. They feel that we're for real. When I'm talking here, I really don't ... This is me. I don't really have anything to hide. When you watch my channel, I'm the same guy. When you meet me, I'm the same guy. I'm going to give it to you straight.
I think with that, and it's the sole reason, same thing, Gary Vaynerchuk, he's really successful right now. He's really on point and trending because he's being himself. He's not perfect, right? He doesn't try to be perfect. I think the important thing is, same thing, when you create content, don't try to be Gary, don't try to be me, don't try to be Mimi, just be you. So many of us are afraid to be ourselves. Hey, I'll tell you that, six years later, I'm still working on myself. That's one of the most important things to figure out is it's not like you're going to find your authentic voice right away, but as long as you're putting yourself out there and you're willing to put it on the line and be a little risky and don't try to always be perfect, make mistakes and that's okay, be public about it and say ...
One thing we did with our videos at one point, we started making them polished and edited and it was like nothing. Then we actually saw we lost some engagement. Then we're like, "What's going on?" Then we figured out that people actually like the bloopers. People actually like when your English is not perfect and you make a mistake. It's fine. Of course it has to be clean to a certain point, but still leaving in that touch, that quirk that you have is very important.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much, Alex. LuxyHair.com, L-U-X-Y-H-A-I-R.com is the website. Where else should folks go check out if they want to follow what you're up to, what Luxy Hair is up to, what Mimi's up to?
Alex: Yeah, I produce blogs at least one or three times a week as well as my channel, so you can find me on YouTube at Alex Ikonn. It's A-L-E-X I-K-O-N-N. Same thing for Mimi, it's called Mimi Ikonn. If you want to watch some hair tutorials, Luxy Hair. You can also find me on Instagram. I'm Snapchatting these days as well sometimes. I'm available. You can really follow our journey so it's pretty exciting.
Felix: Yeah, we'll link all that in the show notes. Again, thanks for much for your time, Alex.
Alex: Thank you.
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 extend thirty day free trial.
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About The Author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.