Luxury brands—like Rolex, Gucci, BMW—net higher prices by focusing on the smaller, wealthier portion of their markets. But these brands usually come with long histories to back up their reputations as symbols of wealth.
So how do you build a luxury brand from the ground up—without the luxury of a large sum of money or established reputation to start?
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Roman Khan and Jennifer Chong, the founders of Linjer: minimalist goods made with the finest natural materials.
Find out how these two entrepreneurs built a luxury brand from scratch, juggling full-time jobs and using multiple crowdfunding campaigns.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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They actually said they had fulfilled it. Sent us some tracking numbers. We passed them on to our customers. They said they were going to go active in like 2 days or something...we found out that those tracking numbers weren’t real.
Tune in to learn
- How to earn the respect of large luxury brand manufacturers when you’re just starting out
- How to work with a quality control agency to inspect your products for you
- How to test your Kickstarter campaign before launching
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Discount Code: Use discount code SHOPIFYMASTERS for 15% off at checkout until April 3rd, 2017.
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Roman and Jen from Linjer. Linjer sells minimalist goods made with the finest natural materials and was started in 2014 and currently based out of Florence, Italy. Welcome Roman and Jen. How are you today?
Roman: We’re good. Thank you so much for having us on.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s great to be here.
Felix: Yeah. Excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about these minimalist goods that you sell and in what way. I also know you have a Kickstarter that’s going on right now, so talk to us a little bit more about the products that you sell right now and also, what’s your launching currently.
Roman: Ah, great question. Yeah. We started our business roughly two and a half years ago. We sell high quality minimalist goods. We started out with leather bags for men, and then we added some for women. Then, last year, we launched really nice watches, too, for both men and women. Three days ago or a couple days ago, we launched another Kickstarter campaign for our new collection of bags, both for men and women. The exciting part is that we just introduced canvas bags and linen bags. They’re bags made out of Italian fabrics and they’re really nice, so you should definitely go check them out.
Felix: Very cool. What are your backgrounds? How do you get into creating products like this?
Jennifer: I used to be a Management Consultant. I didn’t have any formal design training, but I’ve always been interested in design. The same goes for Roman. Roman, you can …
Roman: Yeah. I spent the past couple years in e-commerce. I worked for a [inaudible 00:02:28] company called [inaudible 00:02:28]. But, as Jen said, we both shared a passion for design. I studied design in Oslo, Norway where I grew up many, many years ago. In high school, actually. There’s always been a lingering passion for design between both Jen and I. Yeah.
Jennifer: We started Linjer because we wanted to make products that we were looking for that we couldn’t find in the market. Namely, really high quality products that we knew would last for years and years and that were made with really high quality materials. It was just really hard to find bags, in particular.
Roman: A laptop bag made out of really high quality leather, made to last, and didn’t have this ugly, flashy logo on it. We just set out to make one ourselves. We launched it on Indie Go Go and that was the birth of the brand actually, the Indie Go Go campaign late 2014 kind of took off. We raised $144,000 US during that campaign for those bags. We’ve just been rolling on ever since.
Felix: Like you said, you launched the first product on Indie Go Go and since then, it seems like you’ve had three campaigns on Kickstarter. What made you decide to go with Indie Go Go with your first crowd funding campaign?
Roman: That’s a good question. I think it was just that we knew people there, so that made a huge difference.
Jennifer: The customer service was really excellent when we were just getting started. It still is today, but that gave us a certain level of comfort that we would have our questions answered when running a campaign.
Felix: Yeah. The first Kickstarter campaign that you ran appears to be, it was the watch. Is that correct?
Roman: The first Kickstarter campaign we ran was actually a followup campaign to the Indie Go Go one for women’s bags. We launched with men’s bags in Indie Go Go. Then, we heard from a lot of women who wanted bags. We launched a women’s collection. That was the first Kickstarter campaign. Then, we followed up with a watch campaign on Kickstarter, which did close to a million dollars in [inaudible 00:04:45], which is pretty crazy.
Felix: Yes. Very impressive. When you were deciding to go with the very first crowd funding campaign, let’s talk about the Indie Go Go one with the bags. What kind of experience did you have in creating something like this? Were you ready to take this right into manufacturing when you launched it? Were you still learning the process of what needed to be done to create a product like this?
Roman: Oh yeah. Great question. Yeah. We firmly having backed many Kickstarter campaigns prior to actually launching one ourselves in the Indie Go Go campaign, we knew that we had to have all the manufacturing pieces in place prior to launching. We lined everything up before pushing launch, and quite probably saying the first campaign was delivered in the timeframe of what we promised. Yeah. We had everything lined up from a manufacturing standpoint. In terms of experience between the two of us, I guess we had some manufacturing experience from work. At least where I worked before, I was working at a fashion e-commerce standup, and we had some private label brands. Had some fundamental understanding of how purchase orders work, the payment terms of factories, wait times and somewhat how to manage them. But, there was no tangible production experience whatsoever, which I think share with many of the people we’ve interviewed on this podcast.
Felix: Right. What surprised did you find along the way? What kind of surprising challenges did you encounter that you maybe didn’t expect on the outset with your very first crowd funding campaign?
Jennifer: Yeah. I think the struggles that we had with our very first crowd funding campaign really came down to working with the right partners. One challenge we had which was not actually a challenge after we solved it, was finding the right manufacturer to work with, specifically because we wanted to make luxury quality products. The manufacturers generally tended to be more wary of us than would I guess the manufacturers making mid market or low quality products. Just because we’re two people with no tangible production experience, and we didn’t come from luxury brands. The people that they deal with are at a totally different level from just two young punky people trying to start a startup
Jennifer: Eventually we managed to convince this excellent factory to work with us, so that was solved. A big problem that we had, apart from that, was with fulfillment. Actually, after our first Kickstarter campaign for the women’s bags, our fulfillment partner in Hong Kong just totally messed up. They were supposed to send out all of our parcels within five days. It was around a thousand parcels. It sounds like a lot of orders but any decent size operation should definitely be able to handle a thousand orders in five days, if not fewer. But, for whatever organizational reasons, they didn’t ship out all of our parcels until 45 days later. They shipped out a couple hundred the first few days and then, we just had no visibility into what was going on. We weren’t physically in Hong Kong, because we were dealing with production somewhere else at the time. It was just so, so awful.
Roman: Worst case was that they actually said that they had fulfilled it. Sent us some tracking numbers. We passed them on to our customers. They said they were going to go active in two days or something. Then, we found out that those tracking numbers were not real. Suddenly, we just had a thousand customers hammering at us. That was back when Jen was still in a full time job. We were taking turns building this business, so Jen was working in the evenings on Linjer. It was just like oh my god. What a nightmare. Yeah. That almost put an end to the business. We were just like after that incident, looked at each other, and were like oh my god. Do we really want to do this? After surviving that incident, we were just like okay, there’s only one way and it’s up.
Felix: Yeah. What actually ended up happening? Did they eventually ship it out? It was just super delayed, or what happened?
Jennifer: Yeah. The CEO and the COO were ignoring our phone calls, so we eventually had to call their investor to go down to the warehouse and find out what was going on.
Jennifer: Yeah. The parcels eventually did go out, but it took a huge toll on us health wise because we were just so stressed out from this. Of course, it was an awful experience for our customers and I think it really set us back in our trajectory.
Roman: Yeah, definitely.
Jennifer: I guess the lesson from that is just choose your partners very carefully. Ask for references. Micromanage them. Don’t trust them until they’ve earned your trust.
Felix: Yeah, so let’s talk about that. Choosing a partner specifically for the manufacturing end and the fulfillment that you ended up going with. You mentioned before you were just two people without any experience in this industry that wanted to create high quality products. Like you’re saying, they become wary because you’re not an established brand. You don’t have a track record. How did you get the credibility or earn their respect for them to start working with you when you were just getting started?
Roman: The first thing you have to do is find them, right? Kind of identify the pockets of where these manufacturers would be, and the way we did that was by attending trade fairs first. There are a couple big ones for our industry, for the bag industry, like leather goods industry. One is in Milan and another one is in Hong Kong. We practically attended both of those. There’s another one in Paris actually. Jen flew out to attend that one. We started with attending those, and by attending them, we were able to kind of identify who were doing the top tier quality level that we were looking for. Then, going on about convincing them was simply just meeting them in person. I think a lot of founders we’ve talked to have a tendency of just emailing a bunch of random suppliers, hoping to hear back from them and building something virtually. But, this is an industry that’s existed long before the internet. A lot of the suppliers are third generation, fourth generation. Their email addresses often end with @gmail.com, you know? They don’t present themselves the best online because they don’t need to.
Roman: They’re booked by other luxury brands that have sustained them for decades. First step, identify them. Attend trade fairs. Identify the trade fairs for your industry, your segment. Then, meet with them in person. Dress nicely. I think a lot of people kind of underestimate that. Don’t wear flip flops and a t-shirt. Dress as if you are presenting to someone who’s been in business the last 40 years. Make sure that you convey your brand vision very clearly. If quality’s really important to you, which it is for us, you start with that instead of talking too much about cost. You talk about what kind of quality you want to achieve with your products, and then it’s just going back to basics. Nurture that relationship by following up with emails, sharing your latest look book photos, whatever progress you’re making as a brand.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, you mentioned that when you do identify some partners that you want to work with, you still have to do your own due diligence and micromanage as you were saying, Jen. Now, when it comes to I guess finding the references and identifying which partners to go with at first, what do you do with these references once you get them? How do you work with the references to make sure that the partner that you’re thinking about picking is going to be a good fit for your business?
Jennifer: Yeah. I think it’s actually, doesn’t have to be too complicated. I think it’s asking other people who have worked with them. What has your experience been? What kinds of challenges have you dealt with? What do you think the limitations are of the manufacturer? Just with some very basic questions, you can get a lot of good information.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Is there anything that you look out for that’s a make or break when you pick your partners?
Roman: Hmm. That’s a very good question actually.
Felix: Especially with references. If you’re asking them, it seems like if you do ask these manufacturers or fulfillment companies, give me a list of references, they’ll probably pick the people that are of course, they’re going to speak favorably about them. How do you I guess get the juicy, not dirt necessarily, but as unbiased information as possible from them so that you can make an informed decision?
Roman: Yeah. With our watch manufacturer, for our watches, I went out and we divide and conquer. I went out and QC ever single watch. I don’t know how many we sold on the Kickstarter campaign.
Jennifer: I think he means quality.
Roman: Oh, quality control. I’m sorry. I’m using acronyms. I hate acronyms. I quality controlled every single watch myself with a team of professionals. We hired people who specialize in quality control of watches, luxury watches and high quality watches like the ones we make. That took three days, because we ordered thousands and thousands of them. Spending three days at a factory, and during that time, I met a lot of their clients. Of course, this is not prior to engaging the factory, which is a bit I’m not really answering your question. But at least, meeting a lot of their clients is the way to go about it. If they give you two or three references and you’re not happy with those conversations, do feel comfortable going back to them and saying I want to talk to more people. I’m not just completely convinced with the people I’ve talked to. We’ve done that in the past, and it’s just having an open conversation and saying I need to be more convinced that you’re the right partner for us.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). With micromanaging, what’s important to pay close attention to when you are trying to focus on a specific area of the manufacturing or fulfillment to make sure that it’s done right? What was important for you guys to I guess sort of micromanage in this process?
Jennifer: With production especially, I think it’s a bit tricky, because often, your manufacturer will be working on something for a few months before they show you the final product. One, you can prevent a lot of very nasty surprises if you go and visit them during production. Even if you don’t know exactly how everything is being done, because how could anybody expect that you know about how the whole manufacturing process works? If you just go and be smart and ask questions and observe, that’ll take you really far, because you might be able to catch some really silly things that people are doing before it destroys all of your materials or something. Yeah. Just prevent something worse from happening. I don’t regret it.
Felix: Jen, you had a full time job when you guys were doing this. How were you able to find the time to visit the manufacturers to make sure that they weren’t doing things that you weren’t wanting them to do?
Jennifer: Taking vacation time from work.
Roman: Yeah. That’s basically the first year Jen was working on it, and I was in a full time job. Literally, we would fly out to our factory during the weekends.
Roman: Do a bunch of stuff, and then fly back and be back at work on Monday and then just work on it. That’s really how you do it. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way out. Doing production, going back to your earlier question also, adding to what Jen said, I would also hire experts to help with the quality control. Find whoever it is in your industry. It’s really easy to find. You just go to the trade fair of your industry. Within those trade fairs, there are a subsection of just quality control agencies that kind of market themselves at these trade fairs. There are no stupid questions. Just ask them what could go wrong? Tell me a little bit about process. Talk to all of them. Whoever gives you the most insight, you should probably engage and spend a little bit of money on that.
Felix: Talk to us a little bit more about this. I think that this is an avenue that maybe a lot of entrepreneurs don’t invest in just yet, especially if they aren’t creating high quality products or aren’t creating products that aren’t complicated. But, it does make sense once you start going up in scale and trying to create a very high quality product like yours. What is the quality control agency do for you? How do you work with them?
Roman: Yeah. Really good question. Yeah. Often, there’s different steps to manufacturing. There might be sourcing the raw material that goes into the product, preparing that raw material, assembling it, and then post-assembly. You kind of identify all of these processes into making your final product, and then you can engage them to kind of control different parts of that process. As Jen said, the best thing to do is actually to do the first production run yourself with the agency or without the agency if you can’t afford them and you’re really tiny, your production run is really small, and you don’t have a one million dollar campaign. Then, we completely understand that this cost would be really high. But, in any case, you should try to identify these process steps. Then, observe and attend all of them to trial production. If you do that, you should be fine, because you just have to apply common sense. It’s not rocket science, making products. It’s just a lot of common sense and requires a lot of patience.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do these quality control agents, when they start working with you, can you work with them remotely where they’re going over there to visit the manufacturers themselves? What do they take off your hands eventually?
Jennifer: Yeah. Great question. With the watch quality control company, how we started out was that they made a list of all of the manufacturing steps and the checks that they usually do with kind of other watch companies when they’re managing their production. We went through the list with them, one by one, and we identified areas, things we thought that where things weren’t relevant to us or where we thought we needed to put a bit more attention. Then, from there, Roman went out with them the first time and he was just watching how they were doing all of the tests. Eventually, we added some more tests just to add some, because of some issues we identified during production. Yeah. It’s just being very clear about what the expectations are and then from then on, now we trust our watch QC agency to go out to the factory without us.
Roman: And our manufacturer, too, right? It’s really important that this conversation is not like you’re taking a stick against your manufacturer, because at the end of the day, they also need to make money and they’re your partner.
Jennifer: Everybody loses if a product comes out bad.
Roman: Yeah. Exactly. Especially the manufacturer, because their margins are small. Yeah. It’s just having an open conversation. Once you’ve done it once, you can definitely do it remotely. That’s not an issue. To just give you some context, our QC agency can also help quality control the labeling by the factory. When they’re packing out watches into these boxes, ensuring that they’re labeled correctly and these things can also be done. It’s a huge relief, and one way to work your way closer to doing things more efficiently.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You mentioned of course having the million dollar Kickstarter campaign helps you fund a project like this, helps you fund a hiring agency like this. Can you give us an idea, you don’t have to give us your cost, but an idea of what budget levels are you talking about before it even makes sense to hire a quality control agent? Are we talking about thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars to hire someone to help you out with this?
Roman: They charge by the day. For something really, really high quality like what we do, you really need experienced people. They’re naturally going to be more expensive than if it’s something you’re selling for $50 and you’re making for $10 or something. You don’t need experts, so it’s kind of hard for me to answer that question. But, the way they bill you is definitely the day rates and not hours. We’re not talking crazy numbers here. It’s not that crazy. It would be more like the real expense is flying out and you’re time, I think.
Jennifer: Yeah. Another thing I’ll add is that with the quality control process, you can choose what level, I guess what quantity of products you have checked. For us, we were really, really kind of paranoid about our first watch production run, so we actually checked every single unit. But, that’s quite unusual I think in this industry.
Roman: Yeah, no one does that.
Jennifer: Often, they’ll have something called AQL 2.5. You can Google it, because I wouldn’t be able to explain it very concisely right now. But, basically there are some rule regarding what percent of products to take off the production line to check. If a certain percentage of them fail the quality check, then you take more out of the batch to check.
Roman: Yeah. When we did the 100% check, the factory said no one has done this in 10 years. Blah, blah, blah. The QC agency was like this is really excessive, even though they would make money on us doing it. Yeah, as Jen says we were paranoid, and we just wanted to make sure everything was done to the tee. Yeah, there are ways you can go about it to reduce your costs, especially if you’re small and don’t have a mega campaign. There’s definitely ways around it.
Jennifer: Yeah. But generally, I think if you’re trying to build a brand for the long run, I think it’s a really great idea to get a QC agency in at the beginning. It doesn’t have to be a 100% check. It could be just a small percentage of the units that you check, but you will learn so much.
Roman: Yeah, exactly.
Jennifer: I think it’s really healthy for your long term success of your business.
Roman: Yeah. You’ll save so much money in the long term, just in this. Honestly, it’s a small investment up front. But, it’s kind of like a manufacturing MBA. You learn all these things about the category you are in from experts, and you sleep better at night, honestly. When we ship out a watch, we’re getting a couple of orders now. We’re doing the [inaudible 00:24:15] as he’s looking at it, there’s zero anxiety in me. Maybe because I feel super confident about the product. I’m just like I’ve looked at this product myself and yeah, totally worth it. When you price your product, let’s say you’re launching a Kickstarter campaign, a lot of founders just get caught up in manufacturing costs, shipping costs, and packaging costs. Then, they’re like okay, the rest is my margin. I think that’s a really dangerous thing to do. You should definitely just factor in this quality control cost and defectives if you have them, because you’re going to have a higher defective ratio if you don’t do quality control and factor that in, too.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now a days, when you are working with a quality control agency, are there different levels of percentages for how many products they’re checking or does it vary by industry? What’s a good benchmark for someone that’s getting started to tell their QC agency to check?
Jennifer: I think it varies by industry. I’m not too familiar with what other industries do, but if you talk to the QC agency, they’d be able to tell you what other clients similar to you would do.
Roman: Yeah. Then also, they could depending on your specs, if you’re doing something. I guess our specs are really at the top range of the spectrum for our watches. We talked about that, like our last QC experience. Maybe kind of give us a ballpark idea of what we would expect in [inaudible 00:25:52], like an open conversation about that. Yeah. There’s nothing set in stone, to be honest.
Felix: Sure. When you work with them, you tell them these are the things important to us. You give them your spec. Once they go in and check out the factory, check out the products, what do they deliver to you at the end of the day?
Roman: That’s a really good question. You get a report, so the report tells you a quick executive summary. We QC’d 10,000 watches or whatever, and then it has the signature and stamp from the factory, the QC Manager at the factory, and your agency and verifies what time slots they were at the factory, actually conducting the quality control. Right below that, they give you a breakdown of the issues in detail and put them in different pockets.
Jennifer: They take photos
Roman: And they take photos of each, for examples. Tangible examples and highlight them for you.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Can you give us an example of some kind of action that you’ve taken based off of a report that you’ve gotten, either for an existing production run or for something in the past?
Roman: Yeah. Actually, we didn’t really have any quality control issues with the watches. What did we have? We didn’t have any issues in the end. There’s no tangible things. We had one issue with the packaging. It was peeling, because it didn’t have enough time to dry after the logo being printed on, but that was 60 out of 10,000 boxes which is nothing. We didn’t really have any issues beyond that. They just came up with a suggestion and it was solved, so now they’re just pristine and beautiful and we send out really nice packages in the end, which is kind of nice. Yeah.
Felix: You mentioned, of course, they charge by the day. Do you have to coordinate which days they go there, for things like labeling or production? How do you actually coordinate the entire inspection with the manufacturer and the agency?
Roman: Yeah. You decide on those steps you want to QC, so we did the hundred percent QC of all of our watches. There were three big steps in our process. You ask the Production Manager at the factory when are you doing these three things and you CC your agency. Then, they just coordinate directly actually. It’s really an easy hands off process. Yeah, that’s basically what you do.
Felix: Got it. Yeah, I guess they have a lot of experience already doing a lot of this.
Roman: They know exactly how many days it will take. I think our first production run, first delivery was 10,000 watches. They knew exactly how many days it would take, and yeah. There was zero confusion.
Felix: For a high quality product like this, the materials of course, play a huge role. Talk to us about the sourcing of the material. How do you go about sourcing the material for the different products that you’ve released?
Roman: Yeah. Great question. We have two categories on our site right now, soon three actually. We have our leather bags. Then, we have our watches. Our current Kickstarter campaign has leather bags but also some bags made out of Italian fabrics. We’re doing this, too, from Florence, Italy, and we moved here just because we wanted to be closer to our supply chain and because our tanneries and our canvas suppliers are a 40 minute to an hour drive away from where we live. Now, for our bags, the materials are a substantial amount of our manufacturing cost. They are extremely important for the end product. They are for the watches too, but for the bags, we’re doing something very, very unique, because we use vegetable tanned leather. You can read about it on our website. We are very much involved in the sourcing. We actually split the sourcing of the material and the actual manufacturing, so we procure all the material ourselves and then send it to the factory. The reason we do that is just because we want full transparency and full quality control of the materials going into our bags. That’s number one.
Number two, we want a very agile supply chain because our growth has been pretty insane. We’ve gone from a Kickstarter campaign of $150,000 to a million dollars for our watches. Knowing that, now having launched this latest campaign, we did $125,000 in our first day of launch. We just wanted to make sure that we had a supply chain where we could scale up with several factories if needed in case this campaign exploded and ensure that we deliver a high quality product on time. That’s for the bags.
Jennifer: That said, it is possible to ask the factory to source all the materials from you. But, they have a lot of relationships from their years and years of manufacturing. But, for us, we just really wanted to have a lot of control over our materials. Our leather, we use this really nice vegetable tanned leather. It’s two to three times the cost of normal leather. If the factory were procuring the leather from us for us, they would be doing the QC. Then, we would still want to QC on top of that, just because the leather’s so important to the bags. It was just easier for us to just separate that out and manage the purchase ourselves.
Felix: Now, when you did move into creating the watches with the very successful Kickstarter campaign, almost a million dollars raised, you’re moving into an area where it’s no longer just the leather that you have experience, you’re now essentially creating a product that has moving parts to it. What difficulties, what challenges came up when you moved from creating the bags now to watches?
Roman: The bags really made life easier for us. We had two really strong campaigns. We had the hundred and forty thousand, and then close to 400,000 for the women’s bags. 370,000 I think at the time. Just having those two things in our pocket and ensuring that finding a good watch supplier was a breeze compared to the first time around. People were more eager to work with a growing brand, right? It made things a lot easier than we would’ve though, because we didn’t spend much time convincing them.
Jennifer: Yeah. We just had to show them our crowd funded or kick starter campaign and they would see that we have this public figure without anything else figuring in.
Roman: Yeah. It was just a lot easier. I don’t know how to answer that question actually.
Jennifer: Oh, what kinds of challenges? Let’s see.
Roman: Yeah. I guess we would have to deal with more vendors. That was one challenge. But, the way we solved that was by getting a QC, a quality control agency involved to help us ensure that the product was made well as we were scaling our production for both vendors. Yeah. That’s how we dealt with that. That was the only real challenge, I would say.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It sounds like your experience in launching other products certainly helped you gear up for a slightly more complicated product, like the watches. You obviously have created a luxury brand with these luxury products. I think one of the things that people see all the time when they look at luxury brands is that oh, it’s easy for them to slap on a high ticket price and push out these items. But, then, there’s a lot, a lot of marketing, a lot of branding, a lot of legwork that needs to be done early on to justify people to take the risk with a new brand, to pay the high ticket price essentially for luxury products. What goes into marketing and branding products to make it a luxury brand compared to a mid tier or a lower tier brand?
Jennifer: I think a lot of it is in the imagery and the storytelling. It’s also some element of the customer experience that you have to make feel premium, but with imagery and storytelling, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
Felix: Sure. I kind of want to ask you to go off of what you’re saying here. Storytelling and the imagery, so let’s start with the storytelling aspect of it. What does that mean to you? How do you tell a story behind your brand?
Jennifer: I think it’s having a vision that you aspire to yourself and thinking about how to communicate this through imagery without being too explicit. I think that’s the key to luxury and subtlety.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jennifer: Communicating something where people don’t realize it at first glance, but it’s something that kind of gets you in your stomach and you don’t understand.
Roman: You clearly see it right away. One thing at our last shoot for the campaign that we’re running right now for our new collection, the model is not holding the bag in an unnatural way that you would see in a Louis Vuitton or Prada ad, where the bag is on the table and the model’s pinky finger is barely touching it and the bag is front and center. In our imagery, the model is sitting comfortably on the sofa with a bag in her lap. It’s just a natural pose. Those are small, subtle details you have to think about in how you want to communicate your brand in terms of visuals. Going back to your initial question, it’s just sit down, think about what you want to communicate. Then, think about every single touch point.
How do you want that to reflect in your images, on your homepage, on your product page? How are your products going to show against a white background for the generic e-commerce photos? For us, that’s really important. Where does the light come from? Does it come from the top? From the bottom? Where do you actually light it? How is the touch point with your boxing? What does your box look like? Our boxes are made out of paper from an Italian manufacturer. It’s really high end. It’s done really well. Think about the inserts that go into that box. Think about the Facebook ads that person’s going to see. Is it going to be a powerful imagery of our model, and how is that portrayed? What does the copy actually say in that ad? Think about all the touch points. That’s kind of how you do it.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think with a luxury brand, too, you have to spend so much time upholding the messaging, the brand image, that a small slipup could very much dilute the brand itself. Now, especially when you were a two person company to start and for anyone out there that’s just getting started and wants to build a luxury brand, how do you know what to focus your attention on? Should it be in the product images? Should it be in the storytelling? What would you recommend people focus on when they’re just starting out and they want to build a luxury brand?
Roman: Yeah. With us, what we did, we were on a shoestring budget, too. We raised no money and we did this with our own savings. The first version of the webpage, what we focused on is getting mainly the e-commerce photos. Making sure that they are really nice, like really, really nice, not like shot at home kind of in a white box thing, but shot by a professional photographer and done nicely. Then, less is more. When you’re launching your first Shopify site, make it really, really simple. Use the simplest template there is to grid. We have a really super simple grid, so you kind of land [inaudible 00:38:28] CO, and then it was like products in two rows. We don’t have a lot of products, so it’s one page in two rows.
Felix: Why do you say that less is more and to make your site simple?
Roman: It’s easier to control every single element and leave things up to imagination for the visitor, right? If you just have some very good assets, just make sure those are in focus and remove everything else. It’s better to have three really high quality photos than 10 really shitty ones.
Roman: Quality not quantity, and have that reflect on your page, too. Yeah, that should take care of it.
Felix: Makes sense. Now, I want to talk about your kickstart experience, because plenty of crowd funding experience. You have an existing crowd funding campaign going on right now called the minimalist bags, without the luxury markup. That’s the title here. Currently raised $166,000 already. Yeah. I’m sorry. Currently, already raised $166,000 pledged with the goal of $51,000. Now, talk to us about your previous experience with Kickstarter, though. What did you learn from the past crowd funding campaigns, whether it be at Indie Go Go or on Kickstarter that you knew that these were strategies that you had to apply to the current campaign?
Roman: Yeah. There’s a really good podcast you did actually a couple of months ago or weeks ago with Lumos, the smart helmet company. L-U-M-O-S. I can’t remember which episode it is from your podcast, but anyone listening should definitely listen to your episode with Lumos. We use the same tactics as them. We had pre-launch page live and running. Actually, if you Google “how do designers raise $100,000 on Kickstarter in less than six hours”, you’ll find this article in detail about our tactics and how we actually did this pre-launch thing. We did it a little bit different from Lumos. Basically, we put up a splash page. We [inaudible 00:40:47] tested the copy on that page and the images. Then, on top of that, what we did is we added Zoppim, that chat software.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Roman: We had Zoppim on that page, and we were talking to all our website visitors just learning what they were asking and it was enormous confusion, because our first version had a really bad copy. Everything was kind of clear in our head, but not clear to our visitors. We iterated and we improved the copy as we went, and that helped us kind of nail down a perfect communication strategy for our final Kickstarter campaign that ended up raising almost a million dollars. I encourage everyone to listen to the Lumos podcast on the Shopify, and then also reading up on this article about how we did it in detail.
Felix: Yeah. I like that rather than showing up on the stage, where it’s a live environment and then learning as you go, you want to do all the learning before the time that really matters, which is the 30 days or however long you’re running the campaign for. The splash page that you created, what does it look like? Do you try to replicate what it would look like on a Kickstarter or what’s on the actual splash page?
Roman: Yeah. What we do is we have this … We’re really, really over designers first kind of thing, so it was very much on brand and it did not look like a Kickstarter page. It looked like our webpage. Same simple grid system on the left. There was an image on the right that was copy and then the inverse on the row below, and then it went on for five rows. It just had the benefits of the product, basically. We quickly described what made our product different, why it was such a good value, and the details of how it actually worked, so the idea of the interchangeable straps, etc.
Jennifer: We’ve seen a lot of landing page templates out there, and there’s also a lot of software or fast companies, like Kickoff Labs and Lead Pages, I think, where you can easily create a landing page to collect leads. I think that a lot of other templates are a lot higher converting than ours, just because they have more elements that are more salesy than what we felt we could fit within our design language on our website.
Jennifer: But, there are a lot of resources out there if you’re looking to build a landing page.
Felix: Got it. This landing page that you created, was it mostly focused on getting the leads, building the buzz, or were you more interested in learning about how to communicate the benefits of this upcoming project?
Jennifer: It was both.
Roman: Yeah, it was both. We wanted a big email list before launching, so I think we got 2,000 emails through that pre-launch page. Don’t quote me on that, but I think that’s roughly the number. I think we had 9,000 prior to that, so I think by the time we launched, we had 11,000 emails or something, something around there. What we wanted to do is nurture that list and not just say hey, we’re live. We designed this really beautiful drip campaign with amazing imagery that we only launched through [inaudible 00:44:20] first. Then, built that community around our launch and then, once we went live, everyone could see the assets, but the had first dibs on seeing everything and were in the know. They knew first about our launch and now our early bird pricing, so they got to grab all of those first.
Felix: I see. The incentive for them to sign onto the mailing list was the early bird, I guess, tier that you have for Kickstarter?
Felix: Got it. Did you have to drive any traffic to it, or was it all organic from people that were already visiting the main website?
Roman: Oh no. We definitely drove traffic to it. We sat down, we build a log in into Facebook, and we built a look alike audiences around our existing customers on our shop, and spent some money driving traffic to that page.
Felix: Got it. Was it a discoverable page on your site, too? Did you care about that? Did people stumble onto it without going to some other funnel?
Roman: Yeah. It was hidden actually, so we didn’t put it in the menu bar or anything. It was hidden. We wanted to make it seem, and it was, an exclusive launch for insiders only.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Roman: We hid it on the site.
Felix: Got it. You mentioned this email list. The mistake that I see a lot of times, people will build this email list in preparation for a launch and then no one will hear from them until a launch date on Kickstarter also, and they’ll send out an email for the first time. Everyone’s like who is this person? I’ve never heard of them. They forget about you already.
Felix: What did you guys do differently to make sure that you were on top of mind and that people were kind of anticipating or building buzz leading up to the launch through your email list?
Roman: Yeah. Jen does all our emails, so she built a flow where you sign up, you get an immediate confirmation email saying “Hey. Thank you so much for signing up. Here are the next steps. This is what’s going to happen next, basically”, and we kind of built the anticipation of more emails to follow and when our launch date would be. I can’t remember if we had our launch date set in stone by then at that time. I think we did, so we also told them we’re launching at this time on this date. Then, we followed up with two or three emails about the watch and the benefits.
Felix: Got it.
Jennifer: We had really high open rates actually. About 50% for most of them.
Felix: Oh, very cool. Now, once you did launch, especially for this existing campaign that’s going on right now, what other preparation did you do right up to the launch? What kind of marketing are you doing now that the campaign’s still going on? Talk to us about this experience that you’re going through with another Kickstarter campaign.
Roman: Yeah. This campaign was really interesting. We basically did the same thing. We set up a pre-launch page and drove traffic to it, so we built up an email list prior to launching. Then, the second thing we did was, we’ve gotten a big more sophisticated with Facebook, so we were really thinking of anyone with branded ads so far with the new brand ads from the new collection, basically, the new imagery, and driving people who are familiar with the brand to our campaign page. That’s been really successful for us. Beyond that, we’re focusing on press and then we’re doing naturally, email campaigns. We’re sending one out in the next hour, telling everyone who’s on our list, that we’ve reached our goal within hours and that we’re on track hopefully to a million dollars again. Those are the main three things that we’re doing. Some Facebook ads, but press and emails.
Felix: Awesome. You mentioned, Jen, that you created the email marketing flow for this campaign. What software do you use for that? I guess tell us what kind of tools and applications you use to run the business.
Jennifer: Yeah. We use Klaviyo for our emails. It’s been really great, because you can create flows, which are just series of emails with very smart filters, so you can say okay, I want to send this to all women who didn’t open my last email and who looked at this product or something. That’s not relevant for the pre-launch campaign, but just to give you an example of how strong these filters are, so that’s been great. Then, in terms of other software, we put our team on Slack a few weeks ago. We have a totally remote distributed team. It’s just Roman and me here, and then everybody else is just everywhere. Slack has been wonderful for keeping in touch with everybody and posting announcements, and just chatting. Then, finally, we use Front for customer service. We just migrated a few weeks ago and it’s been amazing, totally transformed our lives, so I highly recommend Front.
Roman: Such a good software. You need to check it out if you’re in the market for a customer service software.
Felix: Awesome. Linjer is the company. L-I-N-J-E-R.co. The running Kickstarter campaign is live right now is the minimalist bags without the luxury markup. What do you want to see the business this time next year? What kind of goals do you have for yourselves over the next year?
Roman: That’s a great question. Our current focus right now is just to make sure that we go big with this Kickstarter campaign. What are our goals?
Jennifer: We want to grow sales on our site. We’re doing a lot of conversion rate optimization work right now, and really investing in content, which we haven’t been able to do just because of time constraints. We’re also investing a lot more in different paid marketing channels, and we haven’t had a change to pay very much attention to until now. To be able to do all this, it’s helped a lot that we’ve been growing our team over the last few months. We’re also hiring. We especially need more customer care specialists.
Roman: If you need a job, please go to Linjer.co/careers and check us out. We’re hiring, as Jen said. The best thing about our business is that our whole team is remote, so you can work from anywhere. The hours are flexible for some of the roles. We think it’s a great place to work, and yeah, we would love to hear from you.
Roman: What are our other goals we have for the business? I guess we just want to be known for our quality and liked for the passion we put into our products. We feel like we’re slowly getting there now with baby steps. We’re getting some good reviews out there. We won the Wirecutter award for best leather briefcase, which was really big for us. We’re hoping to get more acknowledgement from respected sites like that. Yeah, that’s basically it. That’s actually it.
Felix: For anyone who wants to check out the products for the first time, that’s L=I-N-J-E-R-.co and Roman, you mentioned that there is a limited time voucher for listeners.
Roman: That’s right. I was going to get to that earlier. Yeah. We normally never do vouchers. We only do discounts during our Kickstarter campaigns, actually. We actually often get emails from other entrepreneurs who are like oh, I need a kick ass for my next investor meeting or what not, so we decided to be proactive about this one. We created a watch code called Shopify Masters. That’s ShopifyMasters, and you can use that on our checkout. Most likely, you have a Shopify store, so you know how to apply the discount code. Yeah. It’s going to be valid for the first seven days after the campaign ends, and will have a 15% off for our watches only.
Felix: Awesome. Yeah. We’ll put all those details in the show notes as well, for anyone that wants to try out these products for the first time. Thank you so much for your time, Roman and Jen. Really appreciate it.
Roman: Thank you.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 4: I had 350 specialty stores and a ton of stores around the United States and Canada and couldn’t get a major to pick it up. Amy and I started doing secret shopper.
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.