Pick a name. Design a logo. Buy a domain name. Create a Facebook Page. Use a free business card maker. There are a hundred things you could be doing to get your business off the ground—it's easy to gets side-tracked by tasks that aren't as important as you might think.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from Dan Demsky, an entrepreneur who knows how to execute. He’s launched 4 businesses in the last 10 years, and is here to teach us how to go beyond the ideation phase and get into the mode of doing.
Dan is also the owner of Unbound Merino (the ultimate travel hack): simple clothing with extraordinary performance that lets you travel anywhere in the world with nothing more than a backpack.
You just need to focus on one thing. If you can eliminate all the other distractions you have, so much can get done.
Tune in to learn
- How to work with an ad agency to launch a crowdfunding campaign.
- How to increase word of mouth marketing with your product packaging.
- Why you should include long copy with your video ad.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Download this episode on Google Play, iTunes or here!
- Store: Unbound Merino
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Command Partners, Facebook Blueprint Course
Felix: Today I’m joined by Dan Demsky from Unbound Merino. Unbound Merino is the ultimate travel hack, simple clothing with extraordinary performance. Travel anywhere in the world with nothing more than a backpack. It was started in 2016 and based out of Toronto. Welcome, Dan.
Dan: Hey, how are you?
Felix: Good. Yeah, when we first started talking over email you mentioned to me that you’ve been entrepreneur over 10 years. You’ve built multiple business north of seven figures and crashed and burned countless times. Very excited to have you on to talk about your war stories. Let’s start off there. What kind of business have to started in the past. What was your experience with them?
Dan: I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost 10 years, probably just under. I’ve been in, these past 10 years, in four businesses now. The first business that I founded was called BizMedia, which is still going today. It’s a video production agency. We would work with large brands and do the video content strategy for their online video as well as the production itself. I was a partner in a business called dbrand skins, which is vinyl skins for smartphones, laptops, video game consoles. I was bought out over two years, almost three years ago from that. Still really, really close with the business and good friends with the founder.
From there, I founded Hitsu Socks, which is a sock brand that in all the socks were designed by street artists from different cities. The experience from those three businesses led me to where I am today, which is Unbound Merino, which is my full-time focus now. We’ve been going since December of 2016. That’s about half a year now.
Felix: Yeah, very cool. We’re very much in the early phases of your business, but already a successful business. We’ll get into all that in a bit. Now that you have the experience of launching for businesses in under 10 years, how is your approach to launching a new business changed or evolved over time?
Dan: It’s amazing to think what would be different if I were to know what I know today and to start back right at the beginning. You make such colossal mistakes as you go. They can seem so debilitating at the time. I really don’t know if it’s possible to learn and grow and to have it in your nature as an entrepreneur to act a certain way if you didn’t tinker and try something one way and mess it up or go in the wrong direction. I do spend a … I wish I read more now. I have spent a ton of time reading over the decade a lot of business book. I have mentors. I have a lot of entrepreneur friends that I’ve made over the years. You can learn from other people, but nothing will teach you like running into the wall and learning the hard way.
When you look back at all of the mistakes you make along the way, you actually look back at them with … It’s such a positive feeling. What may have seemed like the worst thing ever at the time, it just made me understand the landscape a lot better. Yeah. I don’t know if that answers the question?
Felix: Yeah. I think what you’re saying is that there is no better teacher than just jumping in and know that you’re going to make mistakes and don’t let that discourage you from getting started. I think where a lot of entrepreneurs get stuck at is in this ideation phase where they have all these ideas and it just kind of stews around and they never pursue them, they jump from idea to idea. Obviously you have executed right? You have started and launched businesses four times. What’s your approach to getting out of the ideation phase into actually executing and launching a business. Have you always been able to make that jump? Do you have some kind of, I guess, advice to give people that are stuck in the idea phase?
Dan: Let me give you an example. Someone, I think it was just a couple days ago asked me for my business card. We’ve been active for about six months, but obviously, it took a little bit more time until we launched. I haven’t even thought of a business card until that person asked. It didn’t even dawn on me that maybe I should have it, because sometimes people get caught up in these, “I need the branding. I need the business.” There’s nothing that matters other than putting a product or service out there so that someone out there will pay for it. That’s it. The create value that someone will pay for. Anything else that gets in the way of you creating that opportunity and it could be a terrible website, but getting a terrible website up that … This is a Shopify podcast. There’s no better way to get started then to use Shopify. I’m not just saying that because I’m grateful to be here. Truly, it’s a platform that makes it really easy.
Learn more: Use our free business card maker to create your own custom business cards. https://www.shopify.com/tools/business-card-maker .
The first Shopify website we built for Hitsu Socks, I’d built with my business partner and myself. We have no web development experience. We’re not designers. The site looked great. You can make a site. It doesn’t even have to be that good. That’s step one. Just start a business. Offer your services somehow. Offer a product somehow. The faster you get there, that’s when you start figuring out the mechanics. I’ve never had a problem getting started. I think that’s maybe circumstance. I’m lucking in the sense that BizMedia when we started, I was in school and we were in my mom’s basement. If you live with your folks and your rent is covered, you don’t have to pay rent, like I didn’t have to when I lived with my folks. I also got free food because lived with my folks. There’s no better landscape to start a business.
I wasn’t planning on starting a business. We were doing video production for fun, because we wanted to make our own videos. We started taking some gigs that we find on Craigslist because we wanted to get a little extra money to buy an extra light for the camera or microphone or whatever it might be. It sort of just became a business because we were really into the work and word of mouth led us from one, 200 to a $300 project to another $300 project to a 500 to $1,000 project. To we ended up doing work with GE, which we had to register a business because they weren’t the kind of company that’s going to slip cash into an envelope and pay us that way like we’re used to. That’s why we created BizMedia.
We first did a general partnership, then an incorporation. All of that stuff came out of necessity. We need to be a business now. It wasn’t like we registered a business and said, “This is how we’re going to go make money.” We were making money doing freelance, turned into a business. We grew that business very rapidly. Maybe that’s inherent in me, but I’ve never had that problem where I overthink. I just get started. I think that’s … There’s nothing to lose. If people think your idea’s silly or stupid, it’s like, really it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re moving ahead. That’s how I’ve worked. It’s worked out well for me. At least that part of it’s worked out pretty naturally well for me.
Felix: Yeah. I think what you’re getting out too is there’s a timing for everything. Maybe you didn’t need business cards at first, or clearly you didn’t until someone asked for it. Then, you just … It sounds like your approach is to plan less and execute more by doing things out of necessity rather than trying to think six months down a road when you haven’t even launched your story yet. Just do things that are necessary to get the product out there in front of the people that you need to get in front of so that you can collect the data, essentially, whether it be quantitative or qualitative, to validate whether it’s a good product or that has a fit with the market or not.
Speaking of that, what is your approach, especially early on, if someone has an idea, and they want to, let’s say they want to spend this weekend to launch their store, launch their site and then want to get that product out in front of as many people as possible. What’s your approach these days to get the product out into the market as quickly as possible in terms of driving the traffic to your store?
Dan: What’s, sorry, so you want to know what’s my process for getting the website itself set up or the whole business? Like, I mean, there’s two parts. The first aspect is do you have a product at your disposal that you could sell, right? In our case, we had the idea. We wanted to make sure that the product was great. We had to make the product first. That was a huge part of it. That was just the only focus. We weren’t planning a website. We weren’t planning a crowdfunding campaign. We weren’t really planning a brand at all. We were just focused on getting the product.
Once we started getting samples and we knew we were getting close, we decided crowdfunding was going to be how we were going to launch the business. We switched our focus entirely to that. We set deadlines and tried to treat our own deadlines as seriously as possible. It’s just … I think a lot of times people get wrapped up in the whole vision. You think of a website and think, “Maybe I can go and do three versions of the homepage and send this out.” Then, what about the brand? What about … All of the little pieces and they concern themselves with all of the pieces at once. Sometimes I think, you just need to focus on one thing. If you can eliminate all of the other distractions that you have, so much can get done. Not right now, I’m not worrying about the name of the brand. I’m really just focused on sourcing the product and finding a great high quality manufacturer. Make it sound like just the way I’ve always operated. Sometimes I’m victim of the exact opposite. What I’m saying, I get distracted. I have too many priorities.
We make a really conscious effort to what matters now. What’s the thing that needs to be really ironed out now. We do as much of that as we can. What’s the next thing and just one after the other, after the other.
I think if you can go and you have a product that you could sell or a service or whatever it is, if you could flip up a site, I think get it up as fast as possible, rather than trying to shop around, get the right design, because once you have it out there and it’s live, nothing will burn and pain you more than seeing something that doesn’t look right. I could go and have three versions of our website and get a dozen or couple dozen people that I know to look it over, give feedback and try to come up with the best way or I could launch it and then, I have a fire under my ass that this thing’s already on the web and I need to fix it if it’s unperfect. I feel that about a lot of the things in our business right now. Like, this page is crummy. This section’s crummy. I don’t like this part of our packaging anymore.
People look at them. They say it’s great. They don’t see it. For me, because it’s live, it’s already out, I have that fire to fix things and get things moving. If the website wasn’t live, how long would it take me to get to that place where I’m happy? I probably will never be fully happy, to be honest.
Felix: Right, that makes sense. You mentioned that for this product, for this store, this brand that you built, a lot of the time, in the early days, was spent on making sure you had the perfect the product, or you had the best product to put out into the market, even before focusing on driving traffic or even getting a store up right away. Did you have to spend time validating if this was a product that would be successful in the market?
Dan: Here’s what we did. The story of the product itself and I’ve wanted to launch an eCommerce, product based business for many years now. I became a partner in dbrand which is a very, very successful. I was in very early. It blew up while I was there with the company and exponentially blew up after I was bought up. The guy, the founder of the business is absolutely brilliant. I was learning about eCommerce from being on the inside of a rapidly growing eCommerce business. I was lucky for that.
That wasn’t my product. I came in to help and be a part of that growth. Wasn’t my business. I started Hitsu socks. It’s still going. I’m not active in the business any more. I’m still a partner in it. It was a really creative and fun exercise for me to learn how to start. When Unbound came around, it was the idea hit me like this product doesn’t exist. There’s stuff similar to it. There’s stuff like it. I’m not saying we invented this textile. It’s used in activewear and outdoors type apparel. It just doesn’t look right. It’s not normal. It looks like outdoors clothing. A lot of it has timber wolves on it and stuff like that. Some of it looks like if you wear it, you look like you just came from doing a marathon. We wanted stylish, simple, really high quality merino wool T-shirts that were plain, simple and classic looking.
I had a really hard time finding it. For me, I’m like why doesn’t this exist? Why can’t I find the right looking merino wool clothing. This stuff is so good. If I did find stuff that kind of looked right, it was made really cheaply or it was blended with synthetics which I didn’t want. It hit me that this is for me.
I knew what I needed to create. I knew what the bar that I needed to achieve as far as quality was. When I was sourcing, I was making the product for me. Now I’ve heard this before, that a lot of times, the great entrepreneurial story is someone just says, “Huh, why can’t I get this product? Or why does this service not exist?” This idea I haven’t seen before. It seemed so obvious. Then they just go and do it. Oftentimes, those stories can lead to great success because the person who created it was the core consumer.
That’s who I am. I really made this for me, originally. My partners totally aligned in that. We live and breathe this stuff. Everything about getting the product to the right point so that it’s of the quality that didn’t exist in the market, we were the perfect people to understand that this is the way it needs to be. All of the marketing that wraps around that, we understood.
I knew that I wanted it. I didn’t know if the market wanted it. That’s the second piece. What we did and the way we validated it, and for two reasons, we chose this path, is we did an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The obvious first reason why we did that is because it’s very expensive to go and manufacture mass quantities of stuff. It’s even expensive to do prototyping. We feel like between just winding up with dbrand, all of the work I was doing with BizMedia and Hitsu Socks, I was spread so thin that this idea of having a new business was ludicrous. The only way that I figure we can do it and not sink a bunch of money into it and to validate the idea was to go the crowdfunding route.
That’s the second part. The obvious reason is you get money. It gave us, we raised $370,000 on our crowdfunding campaign. We had a very, very well thought out budget which included trips to our manufacturing facility north of Shanghai to inspect, because we had to make sure the quality of product is everything. That was our main, main, number one focus and priority and continues to be our number one priority, quality of product. We raised the money through crowdfunding. That the money for the business, to start it.
The major piece, the other piece, was the validation. If we were to create this crowdfunding campaign, put our heart and soul into it, make a great video, great messaging, really pitch the product to the best of our ability and nobody were to buy it, my thoughts would be, “Oh, well. It didn’t work out. At least I’ve got all of these samples.” I got the shirts for myself now, which is what I really wanted. I didn’t crash my life savings. I didn’t sink tons of money into building a website and getting an inventory in. It was created on the interest of people who wanted the product. The market validation was there.
Once we had the validation that, hey, we raised that money. We’re off to the races. This could potentially be a real business. At that point, it wasn’t even a real business. It’s not a real business until you have a web store, in our case, on Shopify. That web store is getting traffic. That traffic is converting. People are buying it. We just had a start. We had a great start. Can we get people at our website.
That’s when the business started. That’s when I made a choice to sell off shares of my other businesses, get completely out, laser focus entirely on this because I know this can work. I know we’re making the best product in the market of this type. I know I’m the person who understands how to position this, how to market it. I believe in it so much. That was how we validated the idea. It couldn’t be better.
I would strongly recommend if … It might not be for everyone, but crowdfunding is just one of the most beautiful things. That’s a start. The real business is on your own eCommerce website, but crowdfunding is just, for me, I’m just the biggest fan ever. It changed my life.
Felix: Yeah, this is certainly not something new where people launch on a crowdfunding platform to validate a product. You’re probably one of the first ones I’ve had on the podcast that chose to launch it on Indiegogo. You hear a lot of times where people that launch on Kickstarter, that the most popular crowdfunding platform for launching products. You launched Indiegogo. What was the decision behind that?
Dan: We chose Indiegogo, a friend of mine had some connections there. He said, “If you go on Indiegogo they’ll cut a deal with you where if you raise 30% of your campaign total within the first,” I think it was 48 hours, “then they’ll feature you in their newsletter, which is really, really good for traffic to your campaign. You’ll get lots of orders.”
What we did is, well, that was enough. He said, “Trust me, just go with it.” Like, “All right. What’s the difference?” People are going to come to our crowdfunding campaign. They’re going to buy it on Kickstarter or Indiegogo if they want. I don’t know why one … The idea is what’s going to sell people, not the platform. That deal was enough to say, “All right, let’s give it a go.”
In hindsight, I don’t think I could be happier because, I think Indiegogo has that we’re in second place complex where they have to work a little harder. The support that we got from Indiegogo was fantastic. We’d get on the phone with them any time. They send resources. They were in Toronto and they even came to visit just to say what’s up. Just to let you know they got your back. What we did is we really needed, I think it was $74,000. That was the budget that we needed to launch this business at a minimum.
We said we need 30,000 just because it was easier to reach 30% of 30,000 than it would be for 74. If we were to only end up raising 30,000, we would have had to refund everyone’s money, because really we … Or I would have had to kick in the extra $34,000. Indiegogo gave us that setup. That newsletter was magic. The first, I remember, what we did is we said, “We’re going to get the first 30%, 33%, which was $10,000 just from friends and family.” For weeks leading up to the campaign, I reached out to all of my friends, family members. I said, “Listen, we’re going to launch this campaign. I’m going to need your support. We’re going to be selling these shirts. They’re kind of expensive. The material is a lot different than normal cotton T-shirts. If you can buy something from us, you’re going to love the product. It’s going to make such a difference.” Everyone wants to help out a friend.
What we made sure not to do is have those one dollar or five dollar thank you perks. Our entry level perks was a T-shirt. You’re actually making a real purchase. The smallest was 50 and it sort of went up from there. We had enough friend and family support to get us to that $10,000. I campaigned hard for that. Once we got that $10,000, we’re in this newsletter. I remember seeing all the orders coming in. It’s like, Brian Demsky, that’s my brother. Then my cousin. Then my best bud. Then my business partner. Then this, and it was all just everyone I knew. Then you hit the newsletter. Then you start seeing these names come in. A guy in Germany, and then France, and then the US. Then on the other side of Canada. It just started rolling. Then you are trending on Indiegogo, which is easier on Indiegogo because it’s a smaller platform.
I wonder sometimes, if I went on Kickstarter, would I not be in this business right now. I’m not saying I wouldn’t. Perhaps I’d have triple the campaign. I don’t know. I wouldn’t change that for the world. Indiegogo’s fantastic and I would highly recommend it.
Felix: I mean, even though, of course, not everyone the connections to someone at Indiegogo, I think the rule still applies to some degree where if your campaign does show promise, whether you’re at Indiegogo or on Kickstarter, if your campaign has a lot of traction early on, it’s typically in the crowdfunding platform’s best interest to feature you because you have a promising product. A lot of you are interested in it, and of course, they want to feature brands and new products that people on their platform are interested in.
Once you were able to gather friends and family to help support it, you got featured in a newsletter, did you also do any kind of promotions or campaigning outside of the crowdfunding platform to drive traffic to your crowdfunding page?
Dan: Yeah, the only one that … We tried a bunch of things. We really did a push for getting newspapers to write and that contributed a little bit. I think it was good. It really didn’t have a ton of traction. The thing we did that was pretty great, was we did hire one of those ad companies to help us push the campaign with their ads.
We used a company called Command Partners. I think they changed their name recently. They were great. The good thing about them is you would pay them a setup fee. We paid them 500 bucks. After that, the budgets we put into ad buying is up to us. They use our ad dollars and they don’t charge. What they charge is a percentage of what they drive to the campaign. If the ad buying they did brought in zero sales, they would make zero dollars. They’re obviously incentivized to really make the ads work.
In the lists that they have, they try targeting various different lists based on different demographics. They have their own lists that they’ve built up over time of people who back crowdfunding project through all of their campaigns. That’s the money list. That’s what you’re paying them to get in. When you factor in, and we were very careful to makes sure that the cost of goods sold, along with the fees that would be associated with Indiegogo and their referral fee, it would still be profitable. Every week through the campaign, when we got a report, we made sure that the ad spend would at minimum be break even.
It ended up being profitable at the end. Not that profitable, but what made it so often is you’re driving so much traffic to your campaign through buying these ads, even though you’re just kind of doing a slightly profitable, it’s not like … I think we made, out of the $370,000, I think maybe 30–35,000 came from the advertising. What it did do is it drove tons of traffic and awareness. That traffic and awareness can bring people back later. I don’t know how many sales they don’t get credited for. They’re fully aware of that. That’s just the nature of their business and they have to accept that.
Also, being trending on Indiegogo, that’s really big. If we weren’t driving all that traffic, would we be trending as long? If we weren’t trending as long, would we be driving as many sales? That was another big piece that I would highly recommend. They were good. I didn’t shop around. I just ended up on them and I was pretty satisfied.
Felix: This is like an ad agency that focuses specifically on promoting crowdfunding campaigns?
Felix: Got it. When you work with … I guess you only worked with this one, what’s your involvement? How do they? What do they need from you and what’s … Walk us through the process of working with an ad agency to push a crowdfunding campaign?
Dan: They wanted a certain commitment of ad spend. We committed to $10,000 which is a lot more than we wanted to put in. When we were starting this, remember, this was, we were putting our all in to make this work. We wanted this to become a business for real. We were using the crowdfunding as a means of validating the idea. We didn’t want to pump in lots of money. We wanted to put in as little as possible. They wanted 10. I think that they suggested 10 or our friend who helped connect us said you should do 10. I don’t remember how the $10,000 number came.
Right at the beginning I said, “I don’t want to put this money in right away. Can we start out with something smaller?” I think it was 2,000. We started with that. We spent that after a week or so. Then I kicked in another 1,000. I slowly got to it. Then, we ended up having a two month campaign. Indiegogo agreed to release some of the funds. I asked them, this is an interesting thing that you can do. They did it for us. I think any campaign that’s in the midst of being successful. I said to them, I said, “Can you release some of these funds now, because this ad thing is really working for us and we want to spend more money on ads.” Up to that point, they released all the funds we made.
This was a game changer for us. Now we had this advertising money. I gave the rest of the money to spend to fill our $10,000 in ads. I may have ended up spending a little more, but I also was able to put deposit payments on the manufacturing of our product to get that going a little early. That was huge for us. That’s how it worked. We ended up putting more than 10,000, I think? Yeah. A little bit more than 10,000. It was funded from our campaign, which is great. Well, mostly funded.
Felix: That’s great that they were able to release some of the funds, because now you have even some more capital to invest in then potentially grow the campaign funds even more, the crowd funding campaign funds even more. That’s a great point. I don’t believe Kickstarter has those exceptions. I think you have to either wait until the entire thing ends or … If it’s unsuccessful, you get fund and then you don’t get anything. That’s an important point that anyone that’s running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo should consider doing because you can drastically improve your crowdfunding goals by doing that.
Dan: Right. I felt with Indiegogo they were always there to have that conversation. I bugged them so much. If I type Indiegogo into my email box, I mean, I can’t. It’s so absurd how many emails I send them. I’ve called them so much. That’s what’s good about them. They’ve really … I mean, clearly, you’ve heard just a few stories, but they’ve really, really hooked us up.
Felix: Nice. Now when you were running this campaign, did you also have a store at that time. Was that something that you launch after the campaign?
Dan: We just had a really crummy landing page that drove to our campaign.
Felix: Got it. How were you able to transition the traffic and the attention, even the branding from the Indiegogo campaign. That was probably the most popular, I guess, landing page for your brand at the time, because there’s getting a lot of attention, a lot of press, but then you eventually want to drive them over to your Shopify site, your dotcom, your own website. What was that process, what was that transition like?
Dan: In terms of getting the page set up itself?
Felix: Not so much the page, but how did you, were you able to drive traffic from Indiegogo, the people that were landing on there, maybe through search engines or maybe just within Indiegogo itself over to your Shopify store?
Dan: Right. Once we had our campaign end, we were really focused on getting the product in and then concerning ourselves with fulfilling it. Lightly, we’re setting our store up in the background. We didn’t want to waste too much time. As I said to you before, I think it’s pointless. Just get it up there. We really had to make sure that the inventory was coming in before we started taking money. Also, we didn’t want to sell stuff that we didn’t have in yet. Maybe we could have done a preorder on the website. We just didn’t think. We were focused on getting the product in.
Once we were really close, we really put getting the website up into overdrive. I kid you not, I don’t even remember the process of making the website because it was so simple. We found a theme we like. We paid $100 for the theme. We took all of the assets we created for Indiegogo. We took a bunch of big blank sheets of paper. I looked at the theme and I copied the structure of the boxes. I just looked at how can we take what we already have and fit them into this. I don’t want to do any custom coding. I just want to … That’s not what we’re interested in right now. It’s also costly. We built this site like it was nothing.
Felix: When you say you took a blank piece of paper, you’re talking about designing this entire thing by printing out the elements of your Indiegogo campaign and placing them on like the physical sheet of paper?
Dan: Right, that’s how I always … That’s how I created every website ever. It’s just the only way my brain works. I can write some idea for a copy on like a Google Doc. I’ll take a sheet of paper and we put the boxes that looked like the boxes of the theme. There’s a big header. Then there’s three little circular things that can pop up and a little arrow. This is the framework of the theme. Let’s make our content fit in that rather than create our idea of a wicked website and then try to find a theme that fits and then try to customize any of the elements.
We copy, because that was the easiest, fastest way. I took … We had this big long box for the header, for example. We said, “What do we want it to say?” It’s a simple clothing, extraordinary performance. That’s a good line that we have. That might be our header. We drew it. I drew it by hand. I can’t draw. I draw really crude stick figures. We made this website. Then we took those pieces and we had probably hired a freelance designer to help us, “Can you take this photo of this guy with this shirt, crop it out put this thing here?” They made all the assets for us, plugged it in and we launched our website. We got it up.
Then, the next step from there was okay, let’s promote the website. Let’s get out there. My two partners, still in full time work at the time, we have our meetings on Friday nights and then on Monday and Wednesday mornings before work and after work, so really late. I remember we had one of our early morning sessions. Our website was up for a few days. We were just getting to the point where we were thinking, “Okay. We’re going to do a email blast to launch and announce it. What are we going to do a sale?” Like, “What are we going to do to make this launch great?”
I went into the backend, the Shopify. There were a bunch of orders. We’re like, “What the hell is going on? Who even knew this site existed?” In all the three, four days that went by, we didn’t even think to look that maybe orders are coming in. We didn’t get notifications in our phone, because we didn’t even install the app yet. Holy. The people are finding it. That was crazy exciting. We were already starting to ship. We had a small run that already went out. We were waiting for the bigger shipment to come in.
These orders just came in. We realized the campaign itself was generating enough word of mouth that that was enough at least to get started. I started thinking, “Hey, maybe we have an actual business here.” We got it up. I kid you not, no launch, no nothing. It was so fast to make, I don’t even remember actually making the site. That site will sell it. I really think that’s the quality of the campaign before it and the project itself.
Felix: Yeah. You mentioned word of mouth as the way that people were discovering the site as soon as you launched it. You didn’t even know these orders are coming in. Nowadays, now that you know, I guess, now that you see the power of word of mouth, especially with this brand, with this product, have you found other ways to encourage or to increase the word of mouth for your brand and the products?
Dan: We’re always trying to find more ways to do it. What we have done, and this works really … This has been really awesome for us, is we’ve done an email blast as well as we’ve posted on Facebook and Instagram a few times encouraging people. It’s for anybody. You can’t use our product. I don’t even think I talked about what the product was. It’s merino wool T-shirts. It’s super comfortable, amazing feeling T-shirts that they never smell. You can wear them every day. I’ve done tests months in a row wearing it every day. I kid you not, I’ve been wearing the same T-shirt that I’m wearing right now at least three weeks without washing. It never smells. People say, “Oh, that’s gross.” No. It’s not. Think of the last time you’ve washed your jeans. I wash my jeans once in a while and I don’t even know why I wash them. If I spill mustard on them, I’ll wash them. Sometimes they’re like, “I feel it’s time to wash this,” but I’ll wear them for like dozens of times.
Merino wool is completely antibacterial and odor resistant. I’ve worn it in the gym. I’ve worn it in the sauna. It won’t smell. It won’t retain bacteria. It’s just like putting on a shirt right out of the wash. That’s the product. We really position it towards travelers. We want travelers. That’s why I got into this in the first place is because when I went traveling I didn’t want to check luggage because our luggage sometimes got lost, super frustrating. It’s annoying. I hate luggage. I want to have a carryon. I figured if I could bring less stuff with me, I can just have a little carryon. I don’t care if I’m going away for a weekend or if I’m going away for three weeks. I now live with not like one of those big duffle bag backpacks that like is the size of your body. I have just a little normal size backpack. I’ve taken that to South East Asia for three and a half weeks. That’s all I needed. You only need to bring minimal stuff because the stuff you bring is antibacterial and odor resistant. You can wear it multiple times even in the sweltering heat.
What we do is because we’re positioned towards travelers, we did a thing where we said post a picture of you on the road, in your travels, on your adventures with Unbound Merino and use the hashtag #unboundmerino. If you do, we’ll give you $100 gift card if we repost your photo, your campaign. Some people, people are buying this for trips. They’re going to Machu Picchu or Hawaii. They’re going all over the world. They have their phones with them. They’re taking pictures. Now, they’ll post it. They’ll put the hashtag and write a little something about Unbound Merino, because hey, why not? Let’s add the hashtag and maybe we’ll get $100.
We’re getting all of this travel photography of people using our product in the real world on the hashtag. We give them $100. They love the product. They’re trying to get more of it. We’re happy. It’s a small price to pay for real use cases of the product. They share it with their friends. That’s really helped. Try to do more of that.
One thing that we’re going to do, inserting to our packaging, we’re working on now, we kind of do this in our little booklet that comes with the package. We’re going to make a separate little card for it. We’re just literally going to write, “Hey, thank you so much for supporting Unbound Merino. Word of mouth completely drives our business. If you love our product, would love if you’d share it on Facebook.” We’d just ask. I got that from a buddy of my, Gareth, who’s the founder of a company called Rockwell Razors, which makes a really cool like razor [crosstalk 00:40:09].
Felix: Yeah, he’s been on the podcast before. Great guy.
Dan: Oh, has he?
Dan: Yeah. He puts that on the little bill, the invoice slip that goes in his package. He asks. That’s so simple. What a simple way of encouraging, like asking. People do. People share the product, because they asked. They liked the product they’re going to share. That kind of simple thing can make such a difference. I’m excited to do that. We’re just constantly trying to find other ways to get people to share more.
The challenge that we have as a clothing brand, we don’t put our logo that’s visible on anything. When you see a picture of me and I’m wearing a black T-shirt, you’re going to know if you know me that that’s an Unbound Merino T-shirt, but people that don’t know me, they just don’t even see T-shirt. It doesn’t process. Whereas if it’s a brand like the Yeezy shoes or I don’t know, any brand that has a logo, Chanel, Gucci, they’re covered in logos. We don’t have that opportunity to have the product speak for itself just by being in a picture. We have to get people to talk about it and explicitly explain, that makes it a little more difficult for us. We’re constantly trying to encourage, incentivize or just ask people to do it.
Felix: Right. You need them to write in the caption or something if they’re posting it. You need your customers themselves to talk about your brand because your logo is not on your product.
Now, that first approach that you talked about, about asking your customers to post and hashtag a photo, is that part of like your email followups? When are you asking them for them to post a picture themselves with your gear?
Dan: We did it in an email blast to all of our customers and backers once. Then, once we started getting them in, as we dripped them out, sometimes on Facebook we’ll post one we’ll post but we’ll also add in that call to action again. You’ll see a really cool picture of a guy, he’s in Africa or at Machu Picchu. We reiterate that, “Hey, if you’re traveling with Unbound, post your picture.” We’ll try to remind and make that a thing. Yeah. Hopefully we can continue to drive that awareness.
We get emails all the time of people that put their order in to say, “Hey, like I just put an order in. Can we get, I need to make sure it gets in before Friday because we’re going here.” The amount of people that are getting it as a tool for their trips, it’s very, very clear to us. We just know how much it’s being used all around the world. It’s just a matter of pushing that, getting our pack … Whatever we’re going to do.
Felix: Right. Now you mentioned to me as well about Facebook ads being a big driver of your traffic and sales. Talk to us a little bit about that. How are you using Facebook ads to help power your business?
Dan: Facebook ads, we’ve been trying to crack for months. I think we’ve finally gotten really good at it. A lot to learn. It’s unbelievable what you can do with Facebook ads. At first, I was pretty skeptical. It’s absolutely unbelievable. At first we were just trying, I mean, the targeting was so aimless that we didn’t know how to target. If you’re completely new to Facebook ads, it’s incredibly daunting going into that platform and trying to figure out what’s the starting point. There’s so much that you could do. There’s so many ways that you can approach it.
We tried so many different things that I won’t even mention because they’re just us taking a shot in the dark and not really knowing what we were doing. It wasn’t until there’s a course, a Facebook Blueprint course, which is a very basic overview of all of the functionality of the platform. I think kind of like if you think of it almost, if you equate it to like a musical instrument. You have to understand the structure of it first. On the guitar, you might need to learn chords. With the Facebook platform, you need to learn the language. Just like, the way it works. Just at it’s core, and that helped at least frame a better start for us to figure out how to start toying with campaigns.
Go familiarize yourself. The Facebook Blueprint course is a great thing. It’s free. Just go do it. I spent a couple hours every day just digging through, just setting up fake ad sets and stuff like that. Seeing with my background, I have a video production agency. Obviously we were able to create. That’s an advantage for us. It’s maybe an unfair advantage. We can create really good videos pretty easily. It’s not hard to create a good video. We created a video ad. What we did at first was we decided to create four different segments, so to speak.
One was our competitors. The interests that we were selecting for our targeting were people who are interested in activewear, performance clothing, stuff like that. That was one. The other was backpackers. We’re targeting backpackers. We picked four groups like that. We just took our best stab at creating interests that aligned with what that person is. Like, what are backpackers interested in. We created a whole list of interests. We just targeted to the United States because we just wanted to keep it targeted to one. There’s enough people in the United States. We don’t want to go international with it. We want to start with something a little smaller that’s still huge.
We did our four ad sets. We broke each one up into three age groups. Is that right? Four, yeah, so we had 12 ad sets. We put five bucks into each of them. We did the same exact ad. We just let it run for a couple weeks. Then, after a couple weeks. It’s very hard to not go in and start changing things right away. We’re like, “Let’s just do two weeks, see what data comes back and see if we learn anything from that.” What we noticed from doing that was there was a few of them that were performing pretty well and there was a few of them that were completely just absorbing and burning money.
Now, each one, the ones that weren’t working, we’re losing five bucks a day. We were willing to lose that for the information, the data that would come back. The ones that were looking good, we took that budget out of the ones that weren’t working and added to those. Now we cut them in half. We’re still spending the same amount per day overall, but all of the money is in these ones that appear to be working.
Fast forward another week or two weeks or whatever. Did the same thing. Narrowed it down to just a few. Sort of discovered these are kind of working. Then what we did is from those ad sets, we split up the ad and made four variations of that ad but just not the video itself. The video’s the same. Instead of it saying simple clothing, extraordinary performance as the headline, we switched it to something else. Or, we took a huge piece of copy from the website that’s like two paragraphs long and we dumped that in. It’s this big text heavy ad.
We switched one from learn more when you click to shop now when you click. In those ad sets that were working, we had four versions of the same ad. Then we let those run for a week. What we discovered was once we … It’s crazy how it was just like tinkering, tinkering, tinkering until bam, this one ad is killing it. That’s the one I mentioned that has lots of copy, like two paragraphs of information. This video starts auto playing for people, and I guess having all that extra information helps them understand a little bit more about what this product is.
Those as were killing it. We have some of those ads. We’re running, I think, not many, we’re still like pretty new to this. We’re running maybe less than 10 different ad sets that we’re targeting. The ones that are really performing we’re at a few hundred bucks per day now because they’re performing. For every dollar we spend, I mean, some of them are at like $10 are returning.
Dan: Now, but here’s the thing. This has been probably a couple months now. It’s been working really well. We’re growing at like 50% a month. It’s I think, largely because of Facebook ads. It’s a huge part of it. Also, word of mouth. I think word of mouth is still probably the biggest and Facebook ads is a huge driver.
We’ve been running the same video ad the entire time. Now we can go in and we can say, “Okay.” I actually have an idea. I think we can create a much better video ad. Ours is long. It’s like a minute, 20 seconds. Who wants to watch that on Facebook. It’s the most ADD platform on the planet. Let’s create. Can we do this in a 30 second one and ad that and compare it to the same ad sets. There’s so much more branching out we can do but I’m so focused on these particular ad sets that we figured out that worked that we can just hone in and not spread ourselves out.
It’s amazing what a few months of paying attention daily can do. Right now, I feel like we can unleash Facebook. We are. It’s been amazing.
Felix: Right. Just to kind of break that down real quick, the way that you did it was that you first tested the targeting, kept everything the same, just tested the targeting to find out which targeting, which targets, which segments preformed the best. Then you updated the copy, changed the copy after you see what worked. Now you’re thinking about how can we change the video or in some cases, for others, maybe changing up the photo itself. That’s kind of the process you’ve taken, which I think makes a lot of sense. You want to nail down your targeting first before you start tinkering with the copy and the messaging that way. You can kind of make it a lot more, I guess, actionable, and I guess a lot more consumable and a lot easier for someone out there that wants to take the same approach to go about it rather than just trying to change a bunch of things at once.
Dan: Yeah. I think that we were lucky in that we did have a good ad. It’s a good video for its purpose. We first spread out a little bit of spend for as many different targeting groups as possible and then just found the ones that work. Now we’re just honing in on those. [inaudible 00:50:57] little tweaks. Spending more on them. We’re always monitoring daily to make sure that the return ad spend is good enough that when you factor in your cost, because you’ve always got a think of profitability, it has to be profitable. We know what our return ad spend needs to be for us to maintain profitability. Once we get to a point where I’m like, “This is not looking profitable anymore.” It’s on red alert. If it’s not profitable, just turn it off and more on.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Dan. Unboundmerino.com, U-N-B-O-U-N-D-M-E-R-I-N-O.com is their website. Where do you want to see the business be this time next year?
Dan: Oh, man. We’re growing really … We know where we want to be in a quarter. We know what … Like we have it planned out. I think … I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. I think we’re going to blow it up, man. That’s my plan anyway. It’s been 10 years in the making. I’m doing really well for the six months in the business, but it’s been 10 years to get here. Unboundmerino.com check it out. Thank you. Maybe I’ll give a code for your listeners.
One more thing. I sometimes post on the entrepreneur subreddit and I get tons of emails of people asking questions. If you’re just starting out, I really do love to talk about entrepreneurship and the grind I’ve had. My blood’s on the streets from 10 years. I love when people are entrepreneurial and just starting out. I really … If people want to reach out to me, you can hit me. I’ll check Twitter once in a while. They can email me through the website. I would love to talk to entrepreneurs. I’m happy to help and give extra time and answer questions wherever I can. dandemsky on Reddit is a good way to find me. I’m checking Reddit like way more than I should. Hit me up. I’d love to chat with all of you. Once again, thanks for having me. Hopefully I gave some value here. I hope.
Felix: You sure did. Thank you so much, Dan.
Dan: Thank you.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: Start with the stupidest, simple thing that kind of looks like your product and then go from there.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial. Also for this episode’s show notes, head over to shopify.com/blog.