The Unfair Advantage of Making a Mega Influencer Your Co-Founder

Influencer marketing is only as effective as the fit between your products, the influencer, and their audience. Get that right and it gives you access to an engaged audience of potential customers.

Or, find an influencer to be your cofounder and you can launch a new business with a loyal fan base from the get-go.

In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who started a business with one of the biggest men’s lifestyle influencers on YouTube.

Rob Hoxie is the co-founder of Tiege Hanley: uncomplicated skincare for men.

We had a little bit of an unfair advantage, and that’s a credit to Alpha M. For about 35 weeks or so, Aaron had vlogged on his YouTube channel, about the making of the company.

Tune in to learn

  • How to educate your customers when you have a potentially complicated product
  • The foundations of marketing that you must get right
  • Why you need to create customized landing page for each influencer you work with
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Show Notes


    Felix: Today, I’m joined by Rob Hoxie from Tiege Hanley. Tiege Hanley provides uncomplicated skincare for men. It was started in 2016 and based out of Chicago. Welcome, Rob.

    Rob: Thank you.

    Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. So, yeah. Tell us more about some of your most popular products.

    Rob: Well, we like to try, as the name or the tagline goes, uncomplicated. We like to keep things pretty simple and straightforward. We’re men’s skincare, so mostly products for your face and we provide a how-to routine, really easy to follow, and we give you three levels of that routine right now on the main skincare line. So we’ve got a level one, level two, level three. We have four, five, and six products as you build up in your skincare routine. And we recently introduced two more routine boxes which are our acne versions. And we learned very, very early in our launch two years ago the need out there from our followers and customers.

    Felix: Got it. So, obviously products for men. Can you describe your target customer. Who is the typical customer that would buy from you?

    Rob: Well, it’s interesting. We initially set out thinking that it was gonna skew older, 40 plus, 35 plus kind of age range. But, it really … Because of the fact that we did a lot of marketing on YouTube, our user-base customers skew much younger than that. Of course it runs the gamut from sub–18 years old to in the 70s, but more of it’s towards the younger end.

    Felix: Got it. So you guys noticed this after you marketed on YouTube. What did you have to change about the way that you packaged or messaged … that the brand once you recognized that it was skewing more towards a younger generation?

    Rob: Well, we have … We like to think we had an unfair advantage in starting our brand and our company. We formed it along with a YouTube influence, Aaron Marino, who goes by Alpha M. and so he kind of had a built-in younger audience to begin with. So it was almost right from the get-go, we were already talking to folks of that age as he does. And so we haven’t had to change too much as far as that goes, because it just kind of was natural for us.

    Felix: Got it. Yeah, certainly have heard of that YouTube channel, that influencer. How did that come about? Where did the idea behind that come from and how were you able to partner up with him?

    Rob: This is a entrepreneur tip. Just reach out, or email, or call, and see what happens. So we started, Kelly Thornton and I started initially an initial iteration of Tiege Hanley where we were kind of curating what we thought was the best of the best skincare out there. And it wasn’t doing very well at all. And we just recognized that Aaron had been doing a lot of interesting things with skincare brands. And he does a real good job of really explaining how things work, and what you should do to improve your health, fitness, and lifestyle.

    Rob: And it was a simple email from me saying, “Hey, we’ve got this thing going on, and we’re trying to educate guys how to take care of their skin, and make it easy for them.” And for one reason or another he latched on to it, and responded, and kind of I guess the rest is history as they say. So we hooked up and decided to kind of embark on this all together.

    Felix: Yeah. Just based on this experience, what do you think influencers care about? If someone out there does want to approach an influencer to bring a product to market with them?

    Rob: I think the better influencers, as I’ve learned through the last few years, are really sincere in what they’re promoting and backing. So if you’ve got something that is a real good match with an influencer out there, just be honest and say, “Hey, this is what we’re trying to do, and this is what we’re trying to change out there.” And you can’t force it, so there may not be a match the first x times or x influencers you go to. But, there should be some that latch on to what you believe in and what you’re trying to do.

    Felix: So you’re not just selling one-off products, and just the way you talked about it in the intro is very different than the way that I’ve seen other stores sell products. Where did the idea behind this kind of business model come from?

    Rob: Well, we all kind of agreed that skincare is not like a one and done kind of thing. It’s kind of like working out, it’s like trying to lose weight, keep fit. It’s not like I do it for a month, and I’m good, and I’m set for life kind of thing.

    Rob: So we really believe that it is a system and so if you put the right things in place, and yous tick to them, it becomes a habit. It totally lends itself to a subscription model because it just keeps replenishing for you, so you keep on it. So I think that’s the … It kind of was just a natural fit for this category.

    Rob: Subscriptions may not be a natural fit for everything. But, certainly for this it is.

    Felix: Got it. Can you describe that first system that you released? What were the products in it and what was it trying to solve?

    Rob: Before we came to where we are now?

    Felix: No, I guess the first successful system, or the first successful routine that you guys sold.

    Rob: So we include in our level one skincare routine kit we have a face wash, we have a exfoliating scrub which you use twice a week. The face wash you’re doing in the morning and the evening. And then we include a morning moisturizer, which has SPF in it, so you start the day off protecting yourself from the sun. Even if you’re working indoors, there’s windows, all that.

    Rob: And then there’s an evening moisturizer, PM moisturizer. And it’s that simple. And we actually include a card in every box that shows you exactly how much, from a diagram standpoint, to use and when to use it. And it literally takes an extra two to three minutes of your day to pull it off. So something that simple, explained as simply as we do, really becomes a habit. And it works.

    Felix: Right. So being true to that tagline of uncomplicated skincare for men. I’m assuming there’s a lot of education involved, or at least maybe quick education, or ways to explain the benefits, how to use the products, and why they should be using it. Can you talk to us a little bit about the kind of content that you’re producing to help uncomplicate this process for men?

    Rob: Yeah, sure. Well, we do a lot of it via video in the form of content from our influencer Aaron, our partner. Our co-founder, I should say. And then we’re also spreading out more with blog content as well with professional skincare and dermatologists contributing to helping guys understanding the ins and outs of why they should be doing this.

    Rob: Guys don’t grow up with their dad, necessarily, talking about, “You gotta take care of your skin. You gotta do this and that.” Maybe they teach you a little bit about shaving, but girls have that advantage, right? They learn from their moms usually that … They just watch her taking care of her skin from an early age. So guys don’t have that education so it’s one of the things that we’re out there doing.

    Felix: Got it. So you’re working with Alpha M and he’s a partner, you consider him a partner of yours, which I think is different than the way that other folks work with influencers where it’s more of a team of people that they’re working with, like a sales team that’s out there pitching their products for them.

    Rob: That’s why I said it is an unfair advantage in that sense because he’s a co-founder. Partner is probably not the right word. So he is an absolute co-founder, owner, of the company with us. So, yeah. But, we work with a lot of other influencers as well because you wanna spread to different audiences and so forth.

    Felix: Right, makes sense. What’s the process like when you are sitting down with an influencer to create content? Especially when the purpose of it is to be educational?

    Rob: We’ve learned from Aaron and others that it’s really about presenting your product, and the benefits of it, and all that, and how to use it. But then, frankly, a lot of it’s trust in those influencers that they know how to talk to their audience, how to connect with their audience. So you really don’t do a lot of scripting for them. It actually backfires. It gets too canned, and that’s not the way these guys like to operate, and nor should they.

    Rob: And that’s why they’re so effective. Because they really truly believe in these products. We send them products before they agree to do anything because they wanna make sure that they really believe in the stuff. And we’ve actually … We’ve gotten a lot of free reviews out there prior to even working with some of these guys. So it’s pretty cool.

    Felix: Right. How many ways can you really create content around a [inaudible 00:11:16]? I think this is a challenge that people out there are trying to create content, educational content, they kind of just run out of ideas. But, it sounds like you’re actually churning out a lot of content, and working with a lot of different influencers who create content. How do you come up with the ideas, or how do they come up with the ideas maybe, to present the product to their audience?

    Rob: Well, I guess it’s two things. One, on the let’s say the blog or the written content side, that’s a little bit more internal brainstorming about different angles, about presenting tips and tricks when it comes to skincare, and in particular using our products. And then for the influencers, a lot of that, like I said, is really them coming up with different angles on how they would fit in talking about taking care of your skin. Whether it’s talking about relationships, dating, things like that. They find really interesting ways to introduce the idea of confidence.

    Rob: Once of the main things that comes really as a result of taking care of your skin is confidence. Your skin feels good, it looks good, and of course you start to exude the confidence that that brings. So there are a lot of different topics they could introduce the idea of confidence, and feeling great about yourself in the content that they’re creating.

    Felix: I see. So it doesn’t even have to be necessarily the main topic. The product itself doesn’t have to be in the main topic. But, it can be a tool that they can use to help them achieve the solution that the video, or that piece of content, is trying to solve.

    Rob: Exactly. That’s exactly it. And you see it in both ways.

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    Rob: That’s exactly it, and you see it in both ways. Some of it will be more directed, like we just introduced the acne version of our system, and that one if they could do some of them certain do an entire episode on acne because it’s such a big thing for those who have it, right? So it varies depending on the product and the influencer and so forth.

    Felix: Got it. Now talk to us about the product development process, because you are creating these systems and there’s multiple products within each of these routines, what is, where does it begin in terms of developing a new package essentially, and walk us through the steps to turn into reality.

    Rob: Sure, there’s a ton of moving parts, we could be here for hours, but to try to condense it, it all starts with what products and product mix that you feel like you need, in this case for a skin care routine. Some of that’s research, some of that’s our partners experience and so forth, of the three, or four co-founders experience.

    Rob: Then you target what type of products you’re gonna develop. We’re lucky, we have have our fourth co-founder is a lifelong chemist, he’s been at it for literally 35 years, and he works with some of the who’s who in the skincare and cosmetics industry, so we’re really lucky as far as that goes. We sit down with him when we’re interested in tweaking something or developing a new product, and it’s a process, an iterative process, they’ll provide samples, and we’ll say what we like, what do we don’t like, and the cool this is now we started to, we really include a lot of our customers in that process.

    Rob: For instance, the acne product that came out with we just launched last week, we had over a hundred of our followers, of our customers who are using the regular skincare system testing it. So it’s really cool as far as that goes, so you, and as far as on the skin care side of things, then you’ve got to do things, you’ve obviously got to contact a manufacturer, we’re not gonna build a factory ourselves, so we bring them the formulas, and we found for a good contract manufacturer partners, and you’ve got to be, a lot of things happen in parallel.

    Rob: So there’s the packaging, there’s the product itself, and then there’s the graphics for the packaging, all that stuff is kind of happening at the same time. So there’s a lot of planning, there’s a lot to it. But if you got the right people on the team and people who are spearheading different aspects of it, it works itself out.

    Felix: What about, what are some surprises or challenges that you’ve bumped into that you maybe didn’t expect before you came into the skincare industry?

    Rob: One of the things that we, both of our product lines, the regular skin care regimen, as well as the acne regimen, both have a product in each case that are actually considered a drug. So, there’s a lot of testing, extra testing, and paperwork and all kinds of tests that have to be done, so I think in the initial launch of our original skincare line, we kind of got caught with lead times on all of that where we learned from that though, and we were all over that when it came to the acne thing.

    Rob: In both cases, one was the moisturizer has SPF so that’s considered a drug, and of course the acne solution is a drug, so that’s one of those things we learned kind of the hard way by losing some time in development.

    Felix: When you do have a system or products ready to go, what about the marketing launch, what’s that like?

    Rob: We had a little bit of an unfair advantage in that we had built up a following before even our initial launch, and that’s credit to Alpha M, so we actually, for I think it was about 35 weeks or so, Aaron had vlogged on his YouTube channel, about the making of the company. About starting the business and making the company, so, we had on launch week, which was like July 11th, two years ago, this coming July, we had thousands of followers already.

    Rob: We had thousands of people, of guys waiting for the launch, and we treated them really cool. We gave them a real good deal for life because they were the first ones following us, they helped pick out the packaging for us during this whole vlog series, so we had, I guess I would say if you could pull that off and have a built in, have an audience waiting, customer base waiting for you, that was really, really smart, and so that’s how we started.

    Rob: Flash forward to the now to the acne launch, similar thing, we already had a customer base and we had a waiting customer base who really had identified that hey, I really need something serious for acne, so, we’re able to go to those guys right away as soon as we launched, so that was, that’s the way I’d try to do it at least.

    Felix: Yeah, I think a lot of your success just goes back to the very beginning where you had this entrepreneurial know how to try to reach other people, try to connect to the right people so you had the right partners, co-founders to launch with.

    Felix: What’s your background? How did you get yourself in a position where you were able to make these right moves?

    Rob: My background, I’ve kind of come full circle in my career. Out of school many years ago, 25 plus years ago, I actually one of my first positions was with Oil of Olay, which is a cosmetic company for women. I was on the brand management team, but I basically went about, then I went into high tech, I was with a software company for about 20 years, and mostly in marketing and business development, and so I think part of it is marketing is marketing for the most part.

    Rob: Whatever industry you come from, if you’re involved in marketing and speaking to customers and consumers and understanding what they need to know about products and things like that, it all pretty much translates to just about anything you get involved with from a business standpoint.

    Felix: Let’s talk about that actually for a second. You said marketing is marketing, I think that’s an important thing where you’re basically saying whatever industry you’re in, you get the foundations right, you’re 90% of the way there. Can you talk to us a little bit about that? What are the key things that you think new entrepreneurs need to focus on foundationally to make sure that they get their marketing right?

    Rob: Yeah, foundationally as you asked in the very beginning, it’s who is your market, who are you targeting, who are you trying to provide a solution to? It all starts with the potential customer, your target customer and what you’re trying to solve. Then you go dive much deeper into what they want, or how they’re gonna feel about this, that or the other thing, and that includes anything from packaging to your messaging to your offering, all of that really has to be customer centric if you’re really gonna pull it off.

    Rob: Like I said, we were able to do that because we had a following, and we were able to literally, we did survey’s, we did hey pick your favorite packaging, all that kind of stuff, messaging and all of that. So it really translated, we learned a lot about our potential customers before we even sold product one.

    Felix: And you’re learning about them, you mentioned, is it mostly through surveys?

    Rob: Surveys, talking to them, in today’s world it’s about the comments, right? So tons of voluntary comments, every single day we’re reading comments and people’s attitudes about this, that or the other thing about our product, or just the category in general, so it’s, there’s so much information out there obviously, it’s just more trying to decipher it all.

    Felix: Yeah. Even if you don’t have your own following, and people are commenting on your stuff you can still do research by looking at other peoples comments, other products comments, what do you look for specifically? What are some tell tale signs of direction that you can get out of reading comments?

    Rob: It’s starting to feel like trends, not meaning predicting trends but more like trends in the kind of things that guys are saying in our case about our products, or about whatever, our offering, or how we’re presenting things. You’ll start to see patterns pretty quickly.

    Rob: I think the better companies will act upon them as quick as possible. An example of that is the acne thing. Relatively early on we started, well two things, A, we knew that we had acquired a fairly young audience, and there’s, some of them were saying hey man, this has cleaned up my acne.

    Rob: This is before we even had an acne product, so it was just proof that having a healthy skin care routine didn’t have to have anything specific for acne is guess what, it’s really good for you. But we learned pretty early on though that was a big concern for our guys and they wanted something even more, and we acted upon it. It takes quite a while to develop the drug, as we learned the hard way the first time, but we jumped right on it.

    Felix: Got it. A lot of your products or one of the key ways that you sell your products is through the subscription, I think it says here twenty five dollars a month for one of the systems at least. How’s that process managed? How do you manage the supply chain essentially of having a subscription based business?

    Rob: We’re entirely subscription based, again, because we believe that if we’re really gonna help guys, it’s gotta be, they’ve gotta be sticking to it. It’s not a one and done kind of thing. And we’ve developed the products all to, if you’re following the routine, they’re all gonna run out at the same time, literally it’s a 30 day supply of each of the products, so depending on the product, it changes, the size of the tube, etc is different because it’s calculated to be a 30 day supply.

    Rob: Now, we do all that is managed around Shopify, and we use recharge to manage the subscription side of that. It’s, the subscription model is great for two major reasons. One of them of course is the recurring revenue of course, it’s a tremendous model, you can count on money coming in so you can invest. You know, you can count on that money coming in so you can invest in the inventory, and you also have a much better grasp of what your inventory needs are.

    Rob: It’s so much easier to forecast what you’re gonna need over time than just opening up -

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    Rob: Over time, then just opening up a shop and kind of wondering, you basically got to start almost from ground zero every month, as opposed to knowing you’ve got X thousands of customers that are returning.

    Felix: Yeah, I think one of the key metrics that subscription-based businesses will pay close attention to is that churn rate. What are you guys doing, what do you suggest other people do that are in the subscription business do to reduce that, to keep customers subscribed and keep them coming back?

    Rob: Well, one of the keys is, of course, is customer service. Great customer service. I think it all starts with that because happy customers of course make great customers. You also have to keep them engaged when it comes to content and to reminding them about things. And we’re getting better, you know, we’re still learning all of that. We’re still learning about the best ways to … On the retention side of things. There’s a cadence to how much you want to communicate, you don’t want to be too engaging, but you don’t want to be also out of mind. So it’s a bit of an art as much as a science, right?

    Felix: So you mentioned two things, great customer service and then keeping the customer engaged. What are some examples of providing great customer service? Or what are some direction or advice you give your team to provide great customer service?

    Rob: Well, part of it is just responsiveness. We really try to answer everything within hours, rather than days for sure. In the beginning, that wasn’t always possible because we were like three people, but as the team has grown, it’s become very feasible and it’s a real crucial need that we have and goal to make sure of that because we want to be … At the end of the day, it’s the golden rule. Treat others as you’d want to be treated, right? And so if you really follow that, most things fall into place. And we all know how we want to be treated as customers and we want to be treated like humans and like not just a number and we’ve got a great team that believe in that and do that and it shows and we get just a tremendous amount of great, voluntary compliments about how things are handled. And a lot of people tell you, you know, a customer with a problem, it can go one of two ways. If you treat them right, you actually will have a better likelihood of having them for life than someone who’s just happy and never contacts you, never has a problem because you can actually make a personal impression them.

    Felix: Right, it’s an opportunity to show your customer service. What are you doing to keep the customers engaged? To keep them coming back and continuing to subscribe?

    Rob: Well, we decided, we launched that blog as we were forming the company and we keep it going to this day. I think we’re at vlog number 130 to 140 or something like that. So it’s amazing. So there’s still tens of thousands of our followers and customers, our community basically, following us on a weekly basis. We do that on a cadence so they know to expect Sunday afternoon, there’s a blog out there and they can learn about what’s going on with us, they actually get business and entrepreneurial tips because they’re kind of learning as we’re learning and skin care tips and things like that. So that’s one of the major things. And then we’re also … Every month that you’re on the subscription, you’re going to hear from us say, “Your subscription is about to renew, just letting you know.”

    Rob: We also let guys really customize their subscription in terms of frequency and length and so forth. So while we design it to be 30 days, every one’s mileage varies, right? So you can set it to be anywhere from … Literally, some guys use it too fast maybe and so anywhere from 20 days to 60 plus days in between shipments and you can skip a shipment if you maybe had a bad month in terms of sticking to it. So there’s a lot of flexibility, but we engage them to come and go to their dashboard and get in, get out, and make the changes they need to.

    Felix: With the vlog, is that something that a team works on or is that just one individual putting this together?

    Rob: Aaron [Alphaem 00:31:02] does the vlog every week, he films it. Oftentimes, when we have company meetings or when we’re traveling to … Aaron and I work remote, so when we’re in Chicago, he’ll usually do filming of the headquarters and those are really fun vlogs because the whole company’s involved in it. And on a weekly basis, we give … Aaron, again, he’s a co-founder, he’s part of the company, he’s in meetings during the week, so he knows everything that’s going on and then he can kind of put his spin on sort of the company on what’s going on and what we learned this week and what we’re setting out to do.

    Felix: Very cool. So I’ll talk a little bit about the website because I think that it’s a very well done website. Was this produced in-house or did you hire out for this?

    Rob: We have a developer that was … Yeah, he was out of house, but still with us. Still doing things for us. So we’re happy with the site. Everything can always be improved. We’ve engaged the conversion rate optimization company or agency to help us and you know … But thank you, we’re happy with the site, but we’re going to keep moving it forward.

    Felix: Yeah, so you’re doing some conversion rate optimization. Are there any particular tests or changes that you’ve made to the site or that they’ve suggested making to the site that have had a big impact on the conversion rate?

    Rob: Yeah. One of the things that we did at first … It’s interesting because you have to pay attention to where customers are coming from to your site, right? And so we’ve added things like … We’ve gotten much better at landing pages so that if they come from a particular influencer, that they feel like, “Yeah, like Alpha sent me” or “Antonio sent me” or “Teaching Men’s Fashion sent me,” that kind of thing. So-

    Felix: So there’s that consistency in that messaging from where they left to where they land.

    Rob: Yes. That they know they’ve been handed off and they’re really … And they’ve hit the right place kind of thing. And the other thing is, I think, when we first launched, we knew that everyone was going to be coming from Alphaem’s channel, from his promoting us because he’s an owner. So we really … And influencers, the great thing about them, of course, is that a lot of times … So they’re basically sending you very warm traffic because they’ve already explained the product. They’ve already told you the benefits and why you should really try this. And so it’s not a … there’s not as much that you have to do to convert them. So initially, because of that, we were spending … It was almost too easy. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it was too easy to get to the cart. But we learned through the optimization tests and things like that is that a lot of folks really do need a little bit more information, even after coming from an influencer. So we started sending them to one extra step to make sure they knew the different options they had and maybe a little bit more of the benefits of this before finally getting to the cart. So that’s just an example of the various things you learn through the optimization process.

    Felix: Interesting that most of the times people focus on how can we remove all the steps possible, so it’s as short as possible, but you bring up a good point that you miss out on the opportunity to communicate and engage with them more and get them to discover maybe other products they might want to add to their cart as well.

    Rob: Yep. Yep. It’s a little bit of a happy medium, right?

    Felix: Yeah, makes sense. What’s your favorite part of the website?

    Rob: Well, I really … I really like our growing blog. Not blog, right? So I really like our growing blog. And part of it is also just for SEO reasons, right? So for search engine optimization reasons where we’re able to put really good content out there around men’s skincare and so we’re seeing obviously a spike in … Or not obviously, but we’re seeing a spike in our organic traffic, which of course is really important to sustain ourselves as a business. And so not always having to pay for clicks or pay for influencers and things like that. So that’s really coming along and then so that’s my personal favorite right now. It’s just the blog area.

    Felix: Makes sense. So you mentioned recharge as one of the applications you use. Are there any other apps that you like?

    Rob: We’ve used shipping easy since the get-go and they’ve been really rock solid for us since the get-go. And we actually changed … We switched from Woo Commerce and Woo Subscriptions about halfway through this process. So we were on Woo Commerce for about a year and we’ve been on Shockify/Recharge for about a year now and so we’ve learned a lot as far as the platforms go. And I think that Woo Commerce can be very good for the right company. We weren’t building actually a high-tech infrastructure and so Shockify really became a better move for us and we’re really, really pleased with the solidity of it and of course, you get what you pay for and so the uptime and all that is … It’s lets us sleep at night, literally, versus what we had experienced prior with a lot of interesting different things going on let’s say. So we’re really happy with where we’ve landed.

    Felix: Very cool. So thank you so much, Rob. So Tiege Hanley at if you guys want to check out the website. Again very professionally done. I think it’s a great example of what you can do with a platform. What can you tell us about the future of the brand?

    Rob: Well, we are … It’s upwards and onwards. We’re going to be … We’ll be adding more products and things maybe that aren’t necessarily part of the routine, but things that guys want to maybe add here and there along the journey. So we’re looking at all different kinds of things like that. We don’t want to … We got to be careful though to stay true to not being complicated. So we’re doing it as it feels right, as it makes sense time-wise. But yeah, it’s really … It’s going tremendously well and we’re going to hopefully just keep going upwards and onwards.

    Felix: Great. Thank you so much, Rob.

    Rob: Thanks Felix. Appreciate it.

    Felix: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Shopify Masters, the Ecommerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs powered by Shopify. To get your exclusive 30-day extended trial, visit