Jimmy Hickey is the Founder of Findlay Hats, a store that sells hats that have useful and customizable laces and hidden pockets.
In this episode you’ll learn how he drove $28,000 from a single post on Reddit that went viral.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How to validate a product on Instagram.
- How to balance life as a freelancer while launching a product business.
- What are "magic moments" and how to create them for your customer.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
- Store: Findlay Hats
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- Recommended: The Reddit post
Felix: In this episode, you’ll learn how an entrepreneur drove $28,000 from one Borrow Reddit post. In this episode, you’ll learn how to validate a product on Instagram, how to balance life as a freelancer while launching a product business, and what are magic moments, and how to create them for your customers. Today I’m joined by Jimmy Findlay Hickey from findlayhats.com. That’s F-I-N-D-L-A-Y-H-A-T-S.com. Findlay Hats sells hats that have useful and customizable laces and hidden pockets. It was started in 2013, based out of Portland, Oregon. Welcome, Jimmy.
Jimmy: Hey there, Felix. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Felix: Awesome. I’m glad to have you on. Tell us more about your story, and what are these hats that you sell? Tell us more about some of them.
Jimmy: Got you. You hit it on the head already. Basically we have this patent pending lace technology that’s unlike anything else on the planet. In a world that’s super saturated with hats that basically haven’t really evolved for years, we’ve brought something new to the market, and that’s with our lace technology. To describe to the listeners, basically it’s a lace that goes across the front of the hat that can be tied and styled at different styles, so for example you can put a red lace on a black hat, a blue lace on a black hat. Basically your hat can have many different looks, but past the fashionable side of it, it also has a functional side where the lace that goes on the front of the hat can also be brought down around your chin. Basically that will help keep your hat on your head through good times, and that’s what our brand’s all about, making headwear that’s designed to go out there and be your travel buddy, go out there on some adventures with you and just tag along on those good times.
Felix: Very cool, yeah. How did you come up with the idea? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hat like this before. When I see it, the image that comes to mind is probably those navy style hats where there’s a lot of decorations on the brim itself, but how did you come up with this idea? What were you looking at to arrive at this idea of combining a hat with laces?
Jimmy: It started when I was I think 12, 13 years old. I was rafting down the mighty Toutle River, if anyone from the Northwest is familiar with that river. It’s just a little iconic river that got washed out by Mount St. Helens when it erupted, so you’ll be rafting, and you’ll see these huge semi trucks that were taken out by the water or taken out by a flood from the mountain. Either way, I was rafting, and I lost my favorite hat. It was this beautiful Burton hat that had this quilted front, and I just was really bummed out about losing that hat. The next time I went rafting, I was wearing a hat, of course, because I feel naked when I’m not wearing a hat.
I took the laces out of my shoes and cut a hole in the side of my hat and jimmy-rigged this … I called it my water hat, and I just wore it every time I went rafting, and any time I was in the water I wore that hat. I kept the idea on ice for years. People always asked me like, “Dude, where’d you get that hat? That’s so cool.” It just had stayed like that for a good 8, 9 years until we started getting traction, started Findlay Hats.
Felix: You added this feature to your hat. What was the function, the reason for it? Was it to make it tighter, to make sure it doesn’t fall off? What was the …
Jimmy: Yeah, exactly. Sorry for the viewers or listeners at home. You really got to see a picture of the hat to understand where we’re coming from, but it’s basically a lace that goes down around your chin, and so what that does is that helps keep the hat to stay on your head. If you fall out of a raft, if you’re in a high wind situation, really any scenario where your hat could blow away or be lost forever or even just fall off, this lace will help it stay there. That’s the main intention, is just to help it stay. One of early models is just it stayed through some tests and whatnot showing what our hats are capable of handling.
Felix: Awesome, makes sense. What’s your background? How did you get involved in e-commerce or actually going from taking these hats that you made for yourself to actually wanting to start a business out of it? What was your background?
Jimmy: My background’s actually completely unrelated to hatmaking or running an e-commerce website. I’ve been shooting professionally photography. I’ve been a photographer since I was a 15, 16 year old dude. I started just with actually taking paintball photos, if you can believe that, at the paintball field, and it grew to portrait photography. I actually went to school in Seattle for commercial photography where I ended up making a decent living over the past few years after that doing commercial, portrait, and sport photography. That’s my background, a good mix of photo stuff. Photography is super saturated now, and I’m sure any photographers listening to this knows the pain of just how tough the photo market is right now and how the people who have been in it for a long time are having a really difficult time making money with it.
Clients just don’t have anywhere near the budget like they used to. In fact, the only client I’ve ever worked with that actually paid anywhere close to what I was taught a commercial photo shoot should be worth is Nike. Every single other company I’ve worked with just does not have the budget to pay anywhere close to what a photo shoot used to be worth or should be worth. With that in mind, I needed another project to work on, something to stay busy, especially through the off season, which is pretty much for me December through spring, and that’s where Findlay came into play. I had a couple different ideas, and this hat idea was just always in the back of my mind. I had so much reinforcement from friends and even random people who just really liked the idea behind this functional hat, it just went from there.
Felix: People, your friends and random people liked the idea of the hat, but you said that you also had other ideas to pursue or that you were thinking about pursuing. What else came up? What else were you thinking about? What other factors were you looking at to nail down that the hat was going to be the main thing that you were going to focus on as a side project at the time?
Jimmy: Oh, man. That’s a great question. As far as a couple other ideas, there was still an idea that I’m keeping on ice because I think it’s a good one. I’m not going to dig too deep into it, but it’s basically a company that makes plates, like plates you eat off of. That was one idea. My girlfriend and I kind of ran a jewelry company that she made everything by hand, and then I helped her with the marketing, so that was another thing that we were just put more energy and time into it except I was just not really passionate enough about the jewelry. I just enjoyed helping her push it.
Those are some of the bigger ideas that we’re looking at, but what I did to really decide on Findlay was, and I wish I could remember the name of this book, but it was basically a questionnaire that I highly recommend anyone listening to this that’s torn between a couple ideas to look into where you basically lay out your 3 or 4 top prospects for ideas, and then maybe there’s a name for this chart. I’m sure it’s nothing unique to just this book, but you list out the 3 or 4 things you’re most interested in, and then on a scale of 1 to 5, you list which one has the highest potential and for each one the potential for that. Then the next chart you do or the next … Sorry, losing my train of thought here. The next section is for how good you are at it, and the third is what its maximum potential.
You basically go through, and you list them from 1 through 5, and whichever one has the most points, has the highest potential, you’re best at, and has the largest market cap, and maybe a couple other factors that I’m forgetting, it’s been a couple years now, but basically the one that has the most points might be your best bet. It might be the one that has the highest potential for you. It might be worth your time, and for me that was Findlay Hats by a long shot. That was the deciding factor in why I decided to move forward with it was that [inaudible 00:09:06] chart that I definitely butchered the description of. Sorry about that.
Felix: No, I think hopefully we can find out what that chart is, but that makes sense that you took a really analytical approach to deciding what to pursue, and I like that just because it removes a lot of the risk. Can’t remove all the risk, but helps at least derisk some of the part of deciding what business idea to pursue. When you mentioned that one of the factors was to determine which business idea you’re best at. What does best at mean? Is it best at marketing, best understanding the customer? What did that mean to you?
Jimmy: I think in this department it was more so something I was actually passionate about, maybe not best at because skills-wise, at the time at least, a lot of what it takes to run a business I’ve had to learn. I’ve ran a photo company, but that’s completely different from being the product versus selling the product. I think it definitely had more to do with my actual passion for it, not that I’m passionate about fashion or passionate about headwear in particular. It’s just it’s something that I can relate to. I said earlier I feel naked without a hat, and honestly I put on a hat 2 minutes into waking up and take off my hat as I lay down to go to bed. I just wear a hat all day, and it’s something that hits close to home, and I’ve always been … I just don’t feel right without one, so I think that was one of the bigger driving points as far as something that I’m good at or passionate about.
Felix: Makes sense. You did this, took this analytical approach, determined what product to focus on. You’re already a professional photographer, but this is something you’re doing during the … You’re working this project in the off season, so tell us about how you got started. You knew this was the idea you wanted to pursue. You had some time on your hands. What were the initial steps to getting a business off the ground?
Jimmy: Some of the first steps after the idea was validated, another thing I did was post on my personal Instagram to see if people liked the hat. As far as some of the early steps was just to learn the different parts of a hat and the whole sourcing side of the business. Our hats have something that no other hats have, so I had to literally learn the names of what these little holes on the side of the hats are called. Are these eyelets, are they grommets, are they metal washers? That was just, it was more or less an invention that went along with the hat.
There was just a really steep learning curve with getting all the proper stuff lined up in order to launch: finding a place to straight up buy the hats from, finding a place to embroider the hats, finding the machines we need to grommet the hats or make the … Our hats also have hidden pockets on the inside, so we had to figure out how to sew. Just a lot of little things like that. Those are some of the early things we had to work on and get it off the ground.
Felix: Yeah, and because you had to learn so much and the learning curve was so steep and there was even just the product itself, forget about running the business, but the product itself had a lot of technology that you had to learn, did you ever feel like just saying like, “Screw this. Let me focus on my photography business”? Did you ever feel like maybe you should … Did you ever run into these kind of roadblocks and want to just turn back and to get back to what was comfortable?
Jimmy: Honestly, early on, absolutely not. Back when those were the problems we were having, it was all I was so motivated, and I believed so strongly in what we were doing that there definitely wasn’t a time back then. Fast forward a couple years, there’s been a couple times where there’s been some rough patches, but back then no, none of those problems were … It was more so the opposite, that I had more issues with my photography business and the fact that I poured my heart and soul into these trying to run my business and just it being extremely difficult and not really consistent enough to live off of.
Felix: Yeah, let’s talk about this then because there is this honeymoon phase that everyone goes through with their business where they’re super passionate, and they’re just living off of that passion. Any kind of work, any kind of problems they can overcome because, again, it’s still very glamorous in the early stages, but then obviously over time that wears on you, and eventually you hit a point where you can’t rely so much on just the natural early passion. When you do run into the issues nowadays where you do run into roadblocks and you don’t have the kind of, again, natural passion that came on early on, how do you ready yourself or correct yourself mentally to stay in the game?
Jimmy: Honestly, the amount of good things that have came from this company and the amount of love and support that we’ve had from the tribe that’s based around our brand, the Findlay Force, a shout out to anyone on the Findlay Force listening to this, that is so much more powerful than any of the darkest and negative things that we experience here. Just the very fact that this little silly hat that we make has spread around the world, and we have people wearing our hats doing activities they love and share photos with us and share stories of running into other people on the Findlay Force.
It’s not even a daily thing; it’s an every couple hours thing where we see a new photo of our hat in action, or someone e-mails us saying about a great experience they had, so even on the worst days, it’s tough to stay mad or bummed out for too long because I don’t know if that’s cheesy or not to say, but the good feelings from creating something that people actually enjoy as part of their life far outweighs the negativity.
Felix: Yeah, I think what you’re getting at, too, is look at the kind of impact you’ve had with your business, with your product. Look at the customers, look at the kind of joy or benefit that you brought into their lives as a way to keep yourself motivated. You almost look for those external things rather than look internally and think about, “Why am I doing this for myself?” Look at what you’re doing for others, and I think that helps you keep going during those times where things aren’t as easy. I think that that’s exactly what you’re getting at. Before we move any further along, I want to talk about the way that you validate it. You said that you went on Instagram and tried to get feedback that way, so tell us about that. How did you introduce the idea on Instagram? What did you post? What did you ask your audience on there?
Jimmy: I took a picture of my girlfriend, Sarah, who’s our co-founder as well and a huge, huge part of the company. I took a picture of her wearing just one of my original, at the time I called it my water hat. I took a picture of her wearing the water hat, and then I took a picture of it, one with the laces down around her chin and then one with the laces tied and styled on top of the hat, and I just posted it Instagram. I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about making this hat. If I did, would you buy this?” For a personal Instagram page, that one post definitely got a surprising amount of traction in about 45 minutes, I think.
After, I don’t know, between 30 and 50 comments or so, I just decided to delete the post and take that as there is enough interest in it. Backtracking to I think a more interesting reason why I decided to move forward with it is I think a lot of photographers can relate, and I think anyone who has ever pushed something that might go against the status quo or something that they truly believed in, was just the faith in my own direction and the idea that it would be accepted. That comes a lot from my photo background in that I do photo projects and come up with an idea and just hope that people would get the message I was trying to convey and get where the theme of the whole project or the underlying message to everything.
It takes a lot of, I don’t know what the right word is. You have to be brave in that sense, in that you’re going to put something out there and hope you don’t get judged, hope it doesn’t get torn to pieces, and hope it doesn’t get destroyed. When you’re doing photo stuff like that, it trains you to be ready for that, especially when you’re doing conceptual documentary work or anything like that. Having that experience behind, even when it comes to portraits, like when you’re taking a portrait of someone, and you’ve been shooting them for so long you know this is going to be a good portrait. You have no fear when you show them the photo and that they’re going to like it, even if they’re a really tough client and they feel like they’re … “I hate myself in photos. I always look bad.”
You have to learn to just trust your gut. I think photo and my photography background helped me train for, “Okay, I’ve had a lot of people tell me this idea is a good one. I’ve been asked about it all the time whenever I wear it, and it was just validated by however many people on Instagram. I think I’m going to go out there and bring something new to the market.”
Felix: Yeah, I think to develop that courage that you’re talking about, you just have to exercise it like a muscle. You just have to continually put yourself out there. Going back to what you were saying about how being a photographer helped train you to be that way because you’re constantly putting creative things out there and putting it in front of people and actually being there waiting for their feedback. I think the more you do it, the more you realize that it’s never actually going to be as devastating as you imagine in your head, and once you start getting that or having that realization, it becomes a lot easier for you to just put yourself out there, if you have an idea for a product, for a business, put it out there.
Don’t worry so much about what’s going to happen, because the worst that’s going to happen is people say they don’t like it, and then you just go back to drawing board. Speaking of that, what if people did come out and say, “We don’t like this”? I can’t imagine people would do this, especially people that are following you on Instagram, but if you did get negative feedback, did you believe so much in the product that you would still continue pursuing it, or what would you have done?
Jimmy: It just depends on what the feedback is. For bringing something new to market, we’ve really run into such little roadblocks as far as acceptance it’s been surprising. As far as if we were to have received bad feedback early on, I think like you said earlier that you take it back to the drawing board. Analyze, see if they’re coming from the right people and the right sources and either say, “You know what, that demographic, that person, whatever’s wrong. I’m right,” or “Okay, maybe they have some great points, and we should go back and figure out how we can fix X, Y, and Z.”
It really just depends on a couple factors on what the feedback would have been, and we would have played it by ear from there. As far as overall, any feedback we get, good or bad, we definitely bring it up in a meeting, and definitely if it’s something worthwhile, we’ll make changes as needed.
Felix: Makes sense. You were launching this on the side, and I’m assuming at one point there the 2 businesses, the photography business and the Findlay Hats business, were competing both for your attention. Are you still now still running the 2 businesses, or is it all your time, attention, focus on Findlay Hats?
Jimmy: We’re about 90/10 right now, 90% Findlay Hats, 10% photo. Luckily photo does branch over to doing photo stuff for Findlay, so that’s always a good time to mix the 2, but yeah, it’s actually been surprisingly … I think this is the first full year now that it’s been a 90/10 split. I’ve really stopped a lot of the old commercial jobs that would barely pay anything for a full day’s work or just be tedious, family portraits or anything like that, I’ve really cut back, and now I really cherry pick the few photo jobs that I do, which is a good feeling. That means I’m either doing a shoot because I enjoy it or doing a shoot because it’s paying well enough for me to enjoy it.
Felix: Makes sense. I think there are going to be at least a few listeners out there that are in the situation that you were in which is that they’re either contracting or working part time for themselves while trying to launch a product-based business. What was it like having to have these 2 competing businesses at the same time? Did you ever feel any point that you’re just spread so thin that you feel like you’re about to lose everything? What was the experience like when both things were going well and keeping you super busy?
Jimmy: Honestly, they were never competing too hard against each other. With my photography schedule, I generally for portrait bookings would have had an open schedule and had clients choose based on scheduled days that were best for me. Then with Findlay, since it’s the only other thing I do all day, there’s plenty of time in the day to make both of them work. I guess I’ve never had any experience trying to balance 2 competing options there.
Felix: Right, makes sense. I think one of the other issues as a self-employed person, as a freelancer, as a contractor is that when someone puts money in your face and say, “Hey, do you want to do this, and here’s money for it,” it’s I think people that are less experienced are ready to take anything. Any time anybody puts money in front of them for projects, for whatever it is, they’re ready to take it on. Do you have any sense, or do you have any experience on how to say no and how to evaluate what’s actually going to be worth your time?
Jimmy: Yes, absolutely. Saying no is super important. There’s times where out of desperation you just, you can’t say no, and with my photography company I said yes to pretty much everyone, even if that is a 15 hour photo shoot paying $200, plus another 10 hours of editing the photos. I would do the lowest paying photo gigs possible just because I needed the money. The tipping point for that was actually I did a indoor photo shoot for an indoor triathlon, and before the shoot even started, it was a full day shoot, before it started I broke I think a $1,200 lens immediately off the gate, and so that whole day’s labor didn’t even pay for 1/2 of the repair bill. That was the tipping point, but yeah, saying no, even with Findlay is extremely important, too.
We do a lot of custom hats for different companies and things like that, and we’ll occasionally run into someone whose requests are just … You can tell immediately after that first e-mail that we’re just not going to be able to make them happy. You get used to it after so many transactions, but being able to say no and even lose a little bit of money off the sale but save a lot of time and no frustration is just extremely important. It’s difficult, especially when you need the money, but it’s tough. You have to weigh if the stress and the time is going to be worth the dealing with that person. What if they don’t like the product, or what if anything like that? We generally try to say no before it gets too far down the road or just upcharge until it’s we’re at the point to accept it.
Felix: Yeah, definitely. Everything has a price, I guess, where it makes sense. Maybe another way to ask this question, too, is have you ever run into a situation where you have said no to something and then looking back on it you regretted saying no to it?
Jimmy: Ew, good question. Nothing comes to mind immediately, so I feel like if there was a big thing like that, I think it’d come to mind a little easier. There’s definitely been ones where in the opposite where we said yes, and we should have said no. There’s been plenty, like that photo shoot I gave you for example, but as far as where we said no and we should have said yes, I’m sure there’s plenty, but none of them come to mind immediately.
Felix: Yeah, I feel like once you have a business and you begin getting some levels of success, the more often you say no the better because the thing is once you have success, opportunities are going to come, and if you don’t focus on seizing specific opportunities, you’re going to eventually run out of them because you’re going to be inundated with all these things that you’ve taken on. All of a sudden you’re stalling out because you’ve taken on too much. The reason why I was asking that question was because I find that most entrepreneurs will answer the same way you did, which is that there hasn’t really been a time, because again opportunities are coming and then it’s your decision. It’s up to you to focus on specific ones rather than just say, “Give me everything,” because that’s only going to remove focus from you, and that’s never good for a business.
One thing you were mentioning a couple times was about this Findlay Force, so I’m assuming this is your community of fans, of customers. Tell us a little about this. How did you create this Findlay Force? How did you name them? What was the genesis of training this Findlay Force?
Jimmy: First off, alliteration is huge. We had to find a way that was a Findlay f-something. We didn’t know what, and I think we probably played with 10 or 12 different words before we realized force was just the perfect combination. It rolls off the tongue right, the Findlay Force, but either way, that’s the tribe around our brand. That’s the wearers, the people who wear our hats and go out there and adventure and have good times with the people they love. That’s the Findlay Force. That’s who they are. How we formed them was by really just we tried to … Another one of early mottoes were, “We’re your friends at Findlay Hats.” All of our e-mails, anything talking about us, it’s like, “Your friends at Findlay Hats.”
We really try to have a very, what is the word here, transparent relationship with our customers, with the Findlay Force. We show them behind the scenes, our story, and the struggles that we’re going through, and the extreme highs that we deal with, and the lows that we deal with. We’re on a very one to one basis with the Findlay Force in that we have people Snapchatting us all day. We have people talking to us on Instagram all day. We have people messaging us. We’re on a first name basis with a lot of our most popular or most largest fans. It’s just a community. We are very open with that. We’ve tried to have that from the beginning in that we want people to just feel like they’re a part of something. I know we’re just a hat company. We’re not doing anything major, but it’s cool.
It’s just like an extended family in some way. I mentioned it earlier, but we hear stories often of someone wearing a Findlay hat and seeing another person wearing a Findlay hat out in the wild. There’s a, “Oh, nice! You’re Findlay Force!” That’s the thing. We wanted to build a really strong tribe around our brand, and we didn’t want it to feel like just another company out there that’s just trying to make money off their customers. We really want to be an outlet for a community to be built. Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of people on the Findlay Force who are in this community now.
Felix: Yeah, I want to talk a little more about how you built this because if I were to wear a, I don’t know, specific pair of shoe sneakers and I saw someone else wearing the same sneakers or same brand, I wouldn’t really feel compelled to be like, “Hey, look. We’re wearing the same sneakers.” I wouldn’t approach them and feel like I belong, that I’m like them or that I’m a part of some community or tribe with them, but you’ve been able to create that around hats. What is it about what you guys do on a day to day basis or that you do for the community that makes them not just connect with you but want to connect with each other?
Jimmy: That’s a darn good question, and I wish I could fully answer it to its full potential. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people like supporting the little guys, and we’ve made our brand around being the small garage-based company. There’s people who’ve been with us from the beginning who saw when we were doing everything out of our living room. They saw that we started with 80 hats, and they’ve seen the story progress. It’s a little bit of spread word of mouth. I wish I could fully answer that. It’s just a lot of it has to do with luck. I think a lot of it has to do with being completely transparent and open with our customers and doing what we can to create that feeling of community. I know I’m just circling here, but-
Felix: I think you have a point about people want to help the little guy win, help the guy that they know almost personally, the brands or the company that they know personally, help them succeed. If they’re a part of that early on especially, they feel like it’s their baby, too, to some extent. I think what you go back to is that you are very transparent with your customers. You are to some extent vulnerable, too, with your customers. Why do you think being proactively transparent or proactively vulnerable is so important for you or for anyone else out there that is thinking about building a brand?
Jimmy: I think it’s important for us just because it’s definitely, on top of having a unique product, we also have a unique story. We also do a very large part of the production out of our garage, which not a lot of companies, at least in our space, do. There’s plenty of T-shirt companies that screen print in their garage. There’s plenty of other do-it-yourselfers out there, and I know the industry’s filled with that, but as far as headwear, there’s no one really doing what we’re doing. I think that is definitely one unique aspect of it that has helped us in that sense. Another good thing that I left out of the answer to the previous question that I think I want to bring up right now is how we’ve been able to create such a strong bond with our company is not only the one to one interactions but something I kind of stole from Disney, so please don’t sue me, anyone from Disney listening here, but creating magic moments.
I read about how at Disney Land supposedly, maybe I’m wrong here, but most, if not all, of the employees at Disneyland have exclusive permission to make magic moments for their guests. The story of that that struck me was a girl was in the gift shop, and another girl was getting head to toe princess outfit made for her or whatever, bought for her. This girl whose family obviously couldn’t afford that was watching. She’s like, “Mommy, why can’t I get the whole princess dress or setup?” A Disney employee heard this and long story short got that little girl set up with a head to toe princess outfit as well, and I think got to have her go meet one of the princesses after the parade. Long story short, they created a magic moment for that kid.
Keeping that mind with Findlay, every interaction I have with a customer, be it in person, or online, or on social media, or customer service or anything, I try to do what I can to create that magic moment, create that positive experience where they’ll look back on it and be like, “Oh, yeah, that was the company that I told them I needed a hat for my son’s birthday that is in 2 days and they overnighted it to me and gave me a free pair of sunglasses with it.” Just every little interaction, we try to do what we can to make it at least a miracle and a positive experience. If that’s a cost to us, we lost a lot of money by doing that, but at the same time it’s almost any person, if they’re going to mention something about Findlay, will have some type of positive experience in that sense. If not, we do what we can to make that happen.
Felix: Yeah, and this idea of magic moments requires long term thinking. You alluded to this by saying that it’s cost you money that maybe you haven’t recouped right away, and I’m sure you don’t even think about it this way, but the ROI on it right off the bat might not be positive. How do you justify this kind of long term thinking rather than just focusing on the short term gains on how do I maximize ROI for my customers? Again, magic moments, like you’re saying, requires not just effort, but you got to pay attention on your end. It requires a lot of energy from yourself, and obviously it actually does require some money, too, if that’s required to create this magic moment. How do you justify in your brain and to focus more on this long term approach rather than again on the short term gains?
Jimmy: I’ll answer that 2 ways. 1, if we mess up someone’s order, anything’s wrong, that anyone has any negative experience at all with us, we’ll go above and beyond to fix that problem and make them better off than they would have if we just did it right the first time. In that sense it’s really easy because I look at it as okay, we had someone who had a negative experience because we messed up or something happened for whatever reason. We need to make this right. We need to turn a negative to a positive and not only just a positive but a super positive, so what can we do? We’ll give them a refund, we’ll give them store credit, and we’ll fix it, or whatever variation that seems like the right combo there. That’s one way where it’s really easy.
Okay, this guy had a negative experience, and I need to make it negative, but the other way to answer that is the person who already is that we didn’t do anything wrong, and they’re already satisfied, but let’s say we’re running a trade show, and we run into someone who’s like, “Oh, yeah. I’ve been buying your hats from day 1. Here’s the hat I bought from you guys the first month you came out. This is one of the oldest hats in existence.” As a way to reward that guy for his loyalty, we’ll like, “Choose any hat you see here. You can have it.” That’s going to further dedicate that person to our brand and keep them coming back as a future customer.
The simplest way to put it is it might cost us the $10 in shipping and product to get it to them, but when our spring line comes out next year, they’re going to come back and buy a hat, and then in 3 years when our fall line comes out, they’ll buy another hat. It’s easy to look at they’ll stay involved at the company. They’ll have that positive experience, and they’ll push that word of mouth.
Felix: Yeah, that makes sense. I think it definitely does pay off. Especially if you’re rewarding your most loyal customers anyway, it’s certainly going to, again, pay off in the future. I want to talk a little about Reddit because that’s actually how I … I didn’t necessarily know you guys were on Shopify prior to seeing your post on Reddit, but one thing I remember seeing from you guys, from you the most, or from your company, was about how you saw one of your customers wearing one of your hats. Again, you’re based out of Portland, Oregon, but I guess you were traveling to Rome or to Italy, and you saw one of your customers wearing the hat. Tell us about that experience. What was that like seeing your product out in the wild like that?
Jimmy: Felix, I’m a workaholic. I focus on my work all day every day too much. I’ll admit it, and try to make time for family, and my dogs, and my girlfriend, and all the other stuff I love out there, but it was finally time for a trip. We went on a family vacation with my parents and my girlfriend to go visit my sister who was studying abroad in Italy. We had everything lined up. We had our guy back at the house who was going to handle production while we were gone. Everything just felt great, and so on our second day in Italy, we’re on a tour, a little private bus tour, a little private van tour, and we’re driving through this really, really crowded street in Rome, and I look out the window, and there’s just one of our hats, the Bluehorn, which at the time we had sold less than 100 of, so just walking a good foot from the van. I’m not even exaggerating.
The guy could not really have been closer to the van or me in the van, and so I immediately told the driver to stop and pull over and jumped out. I chased the guy down, and he was actually an English dude who was there on a stag for a rugby game. A stag is a bachelor party. He was confused at first. He was a little drunk, but he was really friendly. His friends were … I don’t know. They were kind of weird, but so like, “Yeah, man. That’s our hat company! We made that hat in our garage!” He was just like, “No, no. I got it a little bit ago from a guy at a bar. [A la la 00:39:06].” He didn’t really seem to care that much, and it’s just there’s some weird Americans who just chased him down. Then I was like, “Yeah, it has a pocket on the inside.”
As soon as he took the hat off and looked at the pocket, then his face brightened up, and he knew that I was legit, that it was actually the founder of the company of the hat that he was wearing. We chatted for a minute, and Sarah took a photo of me and him, and luckily she took just a really nice, good photo of it. He was on his way. I didn’t have any business cards on me, and so he just left. We left, got back in the van. I was extremely excited, no joke jumping for joy and just really amazed. We’ve seen our hats in the wild a couple times. We hear stories all the time about it, but to be on the other side of the planet more or less and run into one of our hats was just an amazing experience. Fast forward, I’m jet lagged, really sleepy, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll post this on Reddit. I feel like it’s a worthwhile story. It seems like something that people on Reddit will be interested in. I’m a long time Redditer myself. I think this is a worthwhile story.”
I posted under the pics, the picture sub-Reddit, and within 15 minutes or so you could tell that the thread was getting traction. I’ve had a couple old photos front page before, so I’ve seen it. I’ve seen how the traction will build up on there and what it looks like, so I think I e-mailed or texted my buddy, Nick, who was back at the garage working on production. I said, “Hey, man, be ready. I think the post is going to maybe get on the second page of pictures. You might get a couple sales today, so just be ready for it.” I’ll spare the details. I know we’re short on time, but long story short, the image made it to the front page of Reddit. I think it at one point was the second image or the second post on the entire website under All.
Jimmy: Yeah, that one night, we had our Shopify mobile app going, and it was just insane. The orders were just … It sounded like almost a ring tone, so many orders were coming in for a few hours. It was just alert, alert, alert, alert, alert, alert. No one for maybe 2 or 3 seconds, then another one. We stayed up all night, and we could do a whole podcast episode I feel like just on talking about this because there were so many little things like dealing with inventory, and customer service, and having our online web chat ready, and making sure everything’s right, and the website’s running, and have a little bar at the top that’s letting everyone know that we’re experiencing heavy traffic, and just all of this stuff going on that I’m trying to coordinate running on very little sleep and just a lot of anxiety about the whole thing. By the end of the night, we ended up doing through our e-commerce store alone $28,000 in sales.
Jimmy: Yeah, and I think we had about 60,000 views to the website from that. The biggest downside with that is we weren’t really prepared for that many sales, that many views or anything, so the next few days of my trip, my first time off since we started Findlay for this [inaudible 00:42:38] time was pretty much just dealing with our different vendors and making sure that we had all the boxes, and the tape, and the stickers that we include with our orders, and the hats, and the laces, and pockets, and just everything we needed for all these orders, and then to also deal with the hundreds of customer service e-mails that came through because someone misspelled their shipping address or because they want to switch out a different lace color. It was a lot of work is where I’m going with that.
Felix: Yeah, no, that’s amazing that $28,000 in sales. I’m sure a lot of those people continue to be customers of yours and just the word of mouth on that’s crazy. I think a lot of people will go to Reddit to try to generate this kind of virality, and because you nailed it with Findlay Hats and you said you’ve had experience in the past getting to the front page or getting very high up on Reddit, is there a key to doing well on Reddit? Obviously I think most people know not to be pushy or salesy on Reddit because you’ll just get down-voted to hell, and people will probably hate you more than anything from that. It sounds like you at least understand what kind of elements are required to get a post to do well on Reddit. Can you share some of your tips or your experience on how to post on Reddit?
Jimmy: Yeah. You definitely are right on a lot of that. If you go at Reddit with a salesy approach, you will get down-voted. You will. Your message will not reach anyone. I think it’s really important to just be interesting and genuine. I think those are the 2 main things you need to have, something that’s just interesting in and of itself and genuine. You’re not being upfront like, “Buy my product. Do this. This is the best thing ever.” I think being personable, being able to relate to something by expressing emotion and making the viewers feel emotion is something good. Banking on selling emotion is always a worthwhile thing, so a posting that will invoke emotion like talking about how excited I was that I ran into someone on the other side of the world wearing my hat. I think those are the biggest, the 3 main ingredients for that.
It was one of those things that you can hit the nail right on the head and have the perfect post, and you post at 2 pm, it fails. If you were to post that exact same thing at 4pm maybe it would have taken off, so the hive mind on Reddit is insane. I know there’s studies and people that are like, “Well, if you do this word to start it with and have this color image, it statistically will do better.” I think people try to make it more scientific than it is. I really think the Reddit hive mind is a crazy thing, and it really, even if you have the right ingredients, the right title, something coming from a genuine point of view with something unique and something relatable, I still feel like it really comes down to luck.
Felix: Yeah, I think one thing that you touched on, too, was that you don’t want to, even on Reddit, on social media, on Facebook, or Instagram, wherever you’re posting, don’t just talk exactly about your product. Don’t talk exactly about your company. Have a story to tell that does incorporate your brand or your [inaudible 00:46:04], your products, and that sounds like what you’ve done and what’s gone well for you between the transparency that you give out to your customers to the post that went really well on Reddit. The core thing there that all those things had was that there’s a story behind it. It wasn’t just about the company or the product itself.
There’s some other kind of interesting story that then tied to your brand. If you can find that, I think that that’s much, much more … People are much more likely to listen to you if you have that rather than just, again, pushing your product onto them. Again, you said $28,000 from this one Reddit post. You’ve been in business for 2 years, so tell us a little bit more about how successful as a business today. You said you migrated or you ramped down your main business previously. Now you’re 90% of your time on Findlay Hats. Give us an idea of how successful the business is today.
Jimmy: I think a good way to measure it is how many people live off this company, and that’s just an amazing thing that we have. It started with just me and my girlfriend as a side thing, and now it’s not a lot, but we’ve doubled. We have 4 people now that work for us and live off of it. When we have large production orders, like when we’re making hats for Zumiez or doing large custom orders or anything like that where we need the extra help, we have about 3 or 4 other people who are part time workers who are in here helping out with that. We have 4 full time employees who are making a living off it and then a couple part timers.
We’ve also seen a 235% growth rate year to date versus last year, so that’s been one pretty cool aspect with the company that we haven’t had to deal with is pretty much every month since we launched we’ve been growing. A lot of the things we deal with are not really worrying about growing. It’s managing the growth and managing the 1,000 problems that come with it.
Felix: Very cool. One other thing I noticed on your site was that you offer this Hat of the Month Club, and I’m really curious on how this is doing for you because I think a lot of brands and companies are looking towards this recurring revenue model, ways to guarantee revenue each month. The difficult thing is that if you’re not selling a consumable, something that people use and need to refill or re-up on every month, it becomes a lot harder. Did you find that that’s an issue? How is the Hat of the Month Club going for you?
Jimmy: 100% it is an issue having something that you don’t need 100 hats. You don’t need 50 hats. You need a couple, so that’s pretty much been the biggest reason why we’ll lose a subscriber is just the fact that they literally are just like, “I have too many hats. I’m going to hold off for a couple months.” Overall it’s been largely successful for us. We’re actually in the middle of making the June Hat of the Month right now, so basically it’s they’re hats that are only available for one month and then we discontinue them and they’re no longer available [crosstalk 00:49:12].
Felix: They’re all limited editions. That’s …
Jimmy: Exactly, yeah.
Felix: … a reason why people-
Jimmy: They’re here just for the 1 month, and then they’re gone for good, so another way to create more incentive to join the Hat of the Month, they’re also discounted. You’re getting a 1 of … Right now we have just under 100 subscribers, so you’re getting a 1 of 98-ish hat right now, so for a low price. Instead of $35 on our website it’s $25. Then we have another deal where it’s you buy 2 hats for $40. Yeah, largely it’s just been definitely a successful program. We do have an issue with people joining for a couple months then leaving or joining just to take advantage of the 1 month. We have no cancellation fees, no fees affiliated with quitting, or any contract. We wanted the barrier to entry to be really low, and we wanted people to be so excited on the hats that they’d want to stay around.
There’s definitely a lot of people that have been around from the beginning. Then there’s plenty of people who stay on for a month or 2 and then hop off. Overall the subscription-based aspect of our business, which is just 1 of the 4 kind of revenue models that we have within Findlay, has just been nice because we start off the month with an extra couple thousand dollars that we can use to fulfill the other aspects of the business. It’s just nice to have that certainty that we’re going to start the month off with some extra cash. They’re priced at the right point for us where it’s not an issue to produce them.
The design we use, we always try to make something that is unique and maybe relevant to that month but also at the same time something that is pretty easy for our embroidery machines to handle since we’re doing all the embroidery out of the garage. If a design takes 20 minutes to embroider, you’re spending a lot of time and money having the machine being ran, but if it takes 5 minutes to embroider, you’re saving time and money. That’s just another thing that we try to keep in mind when we’re designing these things.
Felix: Yeah, I think that makes sense that you add this limited edition feature to your Hat of the Month Club. I think that’s compelling enough for people to say that they would rather sign up for this, just because you get access to these limited edition hats, rather than just buy one off from your store, and also, of course, the better pricing. You mentioned that there are 4 business models or 4 revenue streams for your business. Can you tell us, give us an overview of those 4?
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. As you just mentioned the recurring business model, which is the Hat of the Month Club. Then past that we have just standard e-commerce, which I consider different since we go about marketing them different. They’re more or less different customers as well, so e-commerce through Shopify. Then we have the custom and collaboration side of our business where a company like Yik Yak or a coffee shop or any random company … We’ve really done it for just a really large variety of different places, but they come to us and say, “Hey, we really like your hats. They have something unique that no other hats have. We want to work with you. We want you to make our hats.” We’ll then go in and either do a simple Findlay modified hat or a fully custom where they’re getting sublimated bills and screen printed graphics and all this stuff on the hat.
The custom collaboration, that’s really big for us. Actually, one of our sales guys, that’s pretty much his entire job, is just to bring in new custom accounts for us, and that’s been a really profitable and busy side of our business. We bought a white board that has our job list on it, and we’re going to need to either buy another white board or start using a smaller pen to write on it because the board is just packed to the brim, and we literally don’t have enough space for all the orders we have for that right now. That’s been cool, just that all these different companies and brands and stores will see the potential in our hats, and it’s also cool because they’re buying the hats from us, and then they’re going out and selling them.
A very, I don’t want to say surprising, but an awesome amount of people that have collaborated with us have reordered again and again because the hats sell for them. That’s a good feeling, knowing that we’re helping other businesses by creating a product that they can sell and they can push. Then past that, the last, the fourth revenue stream for us is wholesale. Our biggest wholesale account is Zumiez, the action, sports, and lifestyle retailer that’s in I think over 700 locations in the United States. We, just as of this week, crushed it over the 100 store marker, so we’re in about 120 of their stores, I think, across the United States. They’ve just been an amazing wholesale company to work with.
They really treat their small vendors like us well. We started in just 10 stores, and we were extremely hungry and wanted to do everything we could to make sure we grew with them. That’s another thing I could expand on for a long time, but we’ve been doing well in there, and we are continuing to grow more doors with them. That’s been an awesome opportunity, and the potential with that is just insane.
Felix: Yeah, maybe, too, to wrap this up, out of those 4 revenue streams, which one, if you had to focus on for the next year, which one do you think would be your main focus out of these 4 revenue streams?
Jimmy: Oh, God. That’s a tough one. I guess it’d have to be between e-commerce and the custom hats, simply because those are the ones where we have the most control over. Wholesale, if our largest account were to stop ordering, or were to go under, or anything were to change, there’s not a lot of safety on that side of things, so I think the safest bet would be either the e-commerce or the collaboration. We could probably survive just off the e-commerce and probably just push that.
Felix: Yeah, the e-commerce is a backbone for everything else, so if you push that and then you get to work with these … These other companies find out about you for collaborations, and of course the wholesale clients also find out about you and see your marketing push through, so I think it all ties back to the e-commerce anyway. Awesome! Thanks so much, Jimmy. Findlayhats.com, again, is the website, F-I-N-D-L-A-Y-H-A-T-S.com. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out they want to follow along with what you’re up to, what your company and brand are up to?
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. Our Instagram, it’s just @findlayhats. That’s where our tribe formed, and then our Snapchat, which again is @findlayhats. We didn’t touch on it, but Snapchat is the future, and if your brand’s not using Snapchat right now, I highly recommend learning how to push it on Snapchat because we’ve been seeing a lot of amazing results with that. We’ve been really trying to grow our user base there and definitely put a lot of value on that social media.
Felix: Let’s talk about this just for a second then with Snapchat if you have the time. What’s-
Jimmy: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:56:34]. No rush, no.
Felix: Awesome, so how do you guys use Snapchat? What are some of the ways that you approach Snapchat differently than the other social media platforms?
Jimmy: First off, just when people are engaged on Snapchat, they’re actually genuinely engaged with your content. They’re not scrolling through 100 other things. They’re viewing what you have to say and viewing it for as long as you have to say it, so you can really capture their attention span for as long as you want to be in front of them. That’s just an amazing tool because you can tell stories, you can connect your viewers to … Like I said earlier, we do a lot of behind the scenes. We really want people to see the struggle like, “Oh, our embroidery machine’s not working today. This is a headache. I’m frustrated. This is how I’m trying to fix it,” or “Look at how cool these new hats we just made are for this company,” or “Hey, we’re thinking about making one of these 2 hats. Which one do you guys like the most?”
Just having that inside view on what’s going on behind the scenes and the process behind things, it really gives people a unique perspective inside the brand. It gives us a way to directly engage with the Findlay Force. It gives us a way to give them teasers. It gives us a way to just type something up in a way that’s not spammy or give teasers on a new line. The possibilities are just so much more on Snapchat than anything else right now, and especially after Instagram’s algorithm change, we’re just seeing a lot higher conversions and super, crazy high engagement and positive feedback through Snapchat. At this point, I value a Snapchat view twice as much as I value an Instagram like or anything like that.
Another good thing for us has been contests. We’ll do one every Friday. It’s called the Findlay Friday. We’ll go out there and have some type of contest where it’s … One of our most popular ones we just did last week is we post a picture of a blank hat and then say, “Draw on this hat, and we will make it a reality, whichever one gets the most votes.” We’ll have hundreds of people enter this thing where they draw on Snapchat. Some entries are horrible, some entries are surprisingly really good for drawing up something with your hand. Then we’re able to cross-promote our Instagram and say, “Okay, now go onto Instagram and vote for your favorite.” While we’re doing this, every single person who submits their entry, I’m directly engaging with them by saying, “Oh, man, that lobster, that looks awesome. Great drawing,” or “Ha ha, I get what you were you were doing there. That looks cool.” It’s a win for us to directly engage with people.
Felix: They enter this contest through Snapchat, or how are they drawing the hats?
Jimmy: Yeah, they enter through Snapchat. Basically they screenshot the photo of the blank hat and then directly message us the picture of that blank hat that they’ve then drawn on.
Felix: Wow. That must be … Yeah, that’s some Snapchat skills. I can barely draw anything nice on there. That’s amazing.
Jimmy: There’s some incredible ones.
Felix: Yeah, so with Snapchat, I think the common objection that I’ve been seeing recently about why you should, or why you should not, or maybe you shouldn’t spend so much time with Snapchat is about the demographics because what I’ve been hearing is a lot of people saying that the demographics … You have to make sure that your demographic, your target customer’s actually on Snapchat. I think your brand, definitely, there’s definitely people on there that are perfect demographic for you on Snapchat, but do you think that this holds true for others as well? What have you been seeing demographic-wise on Snapchat? Can it transcend above the 20 to 30 year olds that are on Snapchat? Do you find that there are people of all ages and backgrounds that are on there?
Jimmy: I’d say honestly I feel like all ages are on there right now. We’re definitely dealing with the 14 to 30 mostly, but that’s also our main demographic, both male and female as well. There’s plenty of 40 year olds that have us on Snapchat that keep us in the loop on their hats, too, so …
Jimmy: I think as general advice to other brands who are thinking about getting into it, and just because we’ve seen success with Snapchat and are really for it, really it comes down to where your audience is. Some people it’s Pinterest. Some people it’s Tumblr. Some brands it’s Pinterest, some brands it’s Tumblr. For us, Snapchat really just hit the nail on the head and has been a good way to tell our story and most importantly engage one on one with pretty much every single person that wants to talk to us. Another big thing that we do is every time someone follows us, we’ll give them a direct message and a video that says, “Hey, Shawn, thanks for following us on Snapchat. We hope you like the feed. Have a good one.” Just something …
Jimmy: … simple that acknowledges like, “Hey, man, we appreciate the follow.” It takes 2 seconds. I’m doing it throughout the day as I’m doing other work. We definitely spend a lot of time on there, but as far as engaging with customers in a real, personal, and one on one way, Snapchat right now is just killing it right now. I highly recommend anyone in the 14 to 30 demographic or anyone that has their demographic in that age group to at least investigate it more and look into some of the brands that are doing it well because it’s definitely the future of social media, especially after all these changes. At least right now, Snapchat is extremely important.
Felix: Yeah, Snapchat is I don’t want to say the only but the most popular social media platform that does not go to its algorithmic feed where you don’t see everything that you’re following, so I think that that makes a lot of sense. If you think about it, all the social media platforms that have launched that have been successful all start with that kind of demographic, the 14, to 20, to 30 maybe, at the most, year old at first. They are the first ones in using those tools or those technologies, and eventually the rest of the market catches up to it. You know what, maybe this is the same with Snapchat where right now it’s that demographic, the younger demographic, but over time, more and more people will get onto it.
I think that makes sense for all brands to invest time into it today, but regardless, I think it’s something that we should all pay attention to and see if it makes sense. Just survey your customers. See if they’re on there or not. Cool, so I think that that’s a great way to cap this off. I think Snapchat is obviously doing well for you, and I think other people should check it out as well. Again, findlayhats.com, this is your website, and I’m assuming you have the links and all that to your social media profiles on there. If not, we’ll link all that in the show notes. Again, thanks so much for your time, Jimmy.
Jimmy: Yeah, no problem, Felix. Appreciate it, and good luck to all you Shopify users out there.
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.