Justin Clark is a serial entrepreneur who loves to launch new products and build brands. In 2017 Justin and his friends decided to give male rompers a chance and launched the company Romperjack.
From ideation to production to marketing, Romperjack went from an idea to a physical product within 60 days.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Justin Clark of Romperjack on how he validate product-market fit, work with manufacturers, and move from a viral brand to an everyday brand.
The lifespan of a viral product, it can range between one to two years.
Tune in to learn
- How to go from viral idea to a live product in 60 days
- The lifespan of a viral product
- What it means to focus on your brand instead of your products
- Store: Romperjack
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Alibaba, Klaviyo (Shopify app), AdRoll (Shopify app), TaxJar (Shopify app), Firepush(Shopify app), The Lean Startup (book)
Felix: Today I'm joined by Justin Clarke from RomperJack. RomperJack is the maker of the male romper, perfect for parties, hanging out with your bros, picnics, events, and many other things, it was started in 2017, based out of Valencia, California and it's projected to earn over $900,000 in revenue this year. Welcome, Justin.
Justin: Hey, thanks for having me, Felix.
Felix: Excited to have you on, so this whole idea started with you, and the team finding a product on Kickstarter, and it wasn't one that launched yet, so tell us more about this.
Justin: Yeah, yeah, so I believe it was May of 2017, we were on Kickstarter one day, and we were just looking at different products that people were launching, and we happened to come across this product called the Male Romper, and the company that was launching was called RompHim, and it was being launched out of Chicago, I believe. So, they wanted to raise about $10,000 in about 30 days, and the current campaign that was on Kickstarter at the time was about three days old, and it already raised $330,000 in three days. So that kind of stood out to us that, "You know what? They have a bunch of traction, they're onto something that's really great here, that has a lot of potentials." So we decided to give them a competitor, so we kind of took their kind of idea, put our own little spin on it, found our own audience, and quickly ordered some product from overseas. Got some samples, and then launched our own brand called RomperJack.
Felix: Awesome, so you were on Kickstarter specifically to the kind of come up with product ideas, or just someday you were browsing just for fun, what was the reason why you were on Kickstarter?
Justin: Yeah, so we use Kickstarter a lot of times to validate products. It's a good place to find a product that already has product-market validation because the public is already kind of proving that people want this product. So it kind of stops you from taking on that task yourself, of trying to prove if you should launch a product or not. And it kind of stinks in a way that you're kind of stealing someone's idea, but I mean, it's an open market. So, all ideas are open to everybody, that's what makes America so great at the end of the day.
Felix: Right. So I was wondering, did you get any kind of backlash for this approach because I mean, you're right, no idea for the most is original or least most ideas are not original, it's usually improvements or working off of an existing one. I mean, a lot of people out there listening might feel like, "Oh, this is something that I might not be comfortable doing." Or that they might have a reaction to. What was the result of you doing this?
Justin: Yeah, that's a great question. So you would think that you'd get a lot of backlashes. But when you think about it, we're not the only ones that saw that campaign. We're not the only ones that kind of took that opportunity on to try to launch something similar, it's a similar product. And I think that happens a lot with all the other campaigns as well, is that people launch their ideas, and they need to go on there, knowing that there are other people that can see this. You're kind of showing the whole entire public your idea, and sometimes, in my mind, I believe competition's good because it makes you work faster, it makes you work harder, it makes you build a more superior product. So, we didn't get much backlash, because I think the people launching it kind of knew that someone else was going to come along the way. Especially when they're launching a product that's not patentable, or has no IP protection.
Felix: Makes sense. So, it sounds like you guys have done this before, so have you started other businesses and products in the past?
Justin: So, we actually have five companies right now, but product-based companies that we've started in the past as an example would be, about two years ago the floaties, there were these floaties that became really popular, they were like big swans. And then they had these really big unicorns, and you saw them over Instagram, and they had this huge viral vibe to them. So, we were kind of on the board of launching those as well, so we kind of look, we find viable products and then we kind of get them going as fast as we can and to validate those products, a lot of times we use Kickstarter.
Felix: And when you say use, you mean use it to do research, or you're actually launching on Kickstarter?
Justin: Research, we don't usually launch on Kickstarter, because usually if we're finding a product on Kickstarter, it's already on there. So having two of the same thing on there doesn't do well. So we just get funding ourselves really quickly from friends and family, put our website together, order our product overseas, and then hopefully launch it and everything goes to plan.
Felix: That's awesome. So you obviously have a lot of experience launching businesses and obviously sustaining them since you have at this point. What is your process even earlier than this? You go on Kickstarter to validate the idea, but it sounds like you are able to identify trends or viral products even prior to this. So what is that kind of step zero to identify products that you might want to try to throw against the wall?
Justin: Yeah, so since we're not designing our own products, we're kind of taking products that are already out there and either adding to them or targeting a different audience. So the first thing to identify a viral product I guess is really to go online and look at what people are tagging on Instagram. If it's product-based, or what's really popular on Instagram, Facebook, or social media at the time, and then you can also use Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, or one of those public raising campaign websites. And you can use that to validate what is popular by the amount of money it's raised in a certain amount of time. If it's raised a lot of money in a certain amount of time, it shows you right then and there that there's traction. Another cool way of doing this is going on Facebook, and you go to the video section, and then you can type in certain product names, and you can find which videos have the most likes and views. And that's another good way to validate products as well.
Felix: So almost sounds like it starts off with some kind of hunch that you either see yourself within your friends, within people that you follow online, maybe you saw a bunch of friends posting at the pool with these floaties. All of a sudden then the kind of brain starts running, and then you start doing research to see if it is a viral product or not. I'm just trying to figure out where does it really come from, it sounds like does it come from you just as a team just seeing things in your life?
Justin: I think most of it's from research.
Felix: Research, okay. Because I mean, you said that you were kind of searching for things on Instagram or on Kickstarter, how do you know to, I guess, to search because I figure it has to come from somewhere, right? The search term, the idea behind doing the research behind these pool floaties had to come from somewhere.
Justin: Yeah. So, a lot of times those things come from just what I hear in public, just from friends talking about it, or heard in the news, and an idea sparks in my mind.
Felix: Okay, so keep your eyes and ears open essentially, to initiate that spark, but then go on Facebook, Instagram, Kickstarter to validate it further. Okay, that makes sense, so I mean, five businesses, I'm sure you've launched others, many in the past too. It sounds like you guys have a process you like going through for launching, tell us what is the ideal timeline you like to have now between having an idea, to actually setting everything up in a way where you can deliver your first order?
Justin: Yeah, so I think once you find the product that you want to do, and you're sure that that's the right product, usually the time table's about 60 days I would say because the first step to that process is to obviously find a manufacturer that can make that product, and make it at a price that you can afford. And then also, the next step would be to order some samples from multiple manufacturers and then see the quality of it, see how it feels. If you have to wear it, try it on, wear it for a couple days. If it's a tangible product or some kind of device, I mean, test it out a bunch, and then find the best manufacturer that made the best sample at the best price. And then once you establish that, you need to go ahead and talk to them about ordering a minimum order quantity, and just finding out how much that's going to be, and what their lowest numbers are. And the very important thing about this is that you need to order such a small amount in the beginning, because you need to mitigate your risk as much a possible because at the end of the day you could be wrong, it could not succeed.
Justin: So once you get that small amount order in, the next step would be to actually build the website, and we use Shopify obviously because Shopify, in my mind, they make the best e-commerce platform out there. And they have all the tools you need to launch a successful online store. So, once you get a Shopify account, you're going to get product pictures, put that up, maybe get some lifestyle photos of people using the product. And then put that on the website as well, build an Instagram, social media accounts for the product. Get a brand name, and then launch the product, and then from there, you need to start marketing, and that's a totally different game within itself as well.
Felix: Okay, so let's start with the very first thing that you talked about, which is find a manufacturer. Based on your experience so far, how many manufacturers do you usually have to be in contact with before you're able to find one that meets your criteria of being the cheapest, the lowest minimum order quantity, and the best product?
Justin: Yeah, yeah. So, I would typically say about three to four, you're going to order about three to four samples from three to four different manufacturers, and then kind of compare them and contrast them. And then you'll probably land on one or two really good manufacturers, and then the next step would probably to kind of get them to compete with each other on pricing, and on minimum order quantity, and then whoever gives you the best quote at the end of the day is probably who I would go with.
Felix: Got it, and what's your research process to find these manufacturers?
Justin: Yeah, so we actually use the most popular place to go online for manufacturers, which is Alibaba, and so we just go on Alibaba, and most of the times we'll search for manufacturers if it's a specific product we can find on there already. And if it's not a product that you can't find on there that's being created or being sold, what you do is you find a manufacturer that makes something similar, or something in the same vertical, and then you contact them and be like, "Hey, I have this idea, I want to launch a product similar." They're going to ask for product photos, they're going to ask for other information about the product, maybe some designs, and you're going to send that over to them. And then hopefully they can actually pull it off and make a sample for you.
Felix: Okay, got it. Now during this whole process of finding a manufacturer and the product photos and getting samples and everything leading up to the point where you have your website set up, what do you think is the hardest part that you see or you think most people will trip up along the way?
Justin: I mean, just getting started is the first thing, a lot of people have an idea and they know it's a good idea, and they've validated it, but they never took the next step of actually ordering samples. So that's probably the first part, I mean, once you get-
Felix: I'm sorry before you move on, but why do you think that happens, why do you think they get that-
Justin: The cold feet.
Felix: Okay, is it because they're worried that it won't work? Or the investing in the business, what is it that you see?
Justin: I think there's a couple things that come into play, I think the first thing that comes into play is they're afraid that they don't have enough capital or enough money to sustain a company like that or to get it going. Which is not usually necessarily true, because sometimes you really need a very limited amount of money to launch an online store. And then the next thing is, is just the fear, can they actually pull it off? Do they actually have the knowledge and the know-how to actually make it work and to actually start a business? And a lot of people think it's really hard in the beginning, but it's really not, I mean, it's pretty simple and once you get it going, it kind of starts to run itself. You learn as you go kind of on the way, and then the third thing I would think is they're not sure, they're not sure if they have the right product, or they judge themselves too much even though it's kind of already validated. So they're not 100% sure, they're not 100% confident in their choice.
Felix: Yeah, I think that the biggest thing is that a lot of people will get cold feet because they feel like they need to see the entire path from where they are to quote-unquote whatever success is to them, and if they can't see the entire thing, they don't want to get started. And you kind of have to put blinders on a little bit where you just got to see enough to take the next step, right?
Felix: Don't try to worry so much about being able to see everything before you get going. So I think that that's a very important point about how a lot of it's just doubts or doubts about whether you can do it or not. You almost fail yourself before you actually have the chance to truly fail, and then obviously if you're going that then you never get the chance to react to those failures and adapt. So, have you had any of these kinds of failures yourself along the way, like these kinds of businesses that you've tried launching and based on the thing you're talking about now, those things that have tripped you up?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, I've ordered a lot of samples and thought about starting a lot of different businesses, and I've gotten to that point where I didn't take it to the next level where I ordered product. Or even sample and usually that happens with something I hear, or if I talk about it with friends, or I talk about it with other people, it's not usually me beating myself up about it. But it's more about what I'm hearing or what if people are judging it differently than myself, then I just won't take that next step. And sometimes you can apply that to everyone else in the world too is like, what they think is a good idea, maybe their friend or acquaintance doesn't think it's a good idea, and that can stop them from launching it. And I that stopped me from launching a couple of businesses that could have been successful. Which, I mean, I kind of regret at the end of the day.
Felix: So these days, do you just not tell anybody, or do you just get better ignoring what they say?
Justin: You know, it's really hard not to tell someone when you're really excited about something. So yeah, usually I still tell them, but I'm just hoping for the best, that they say it's a good idea. But sometimes they save you too, sometimes it may not be a good idea and you're just not thinking right.
Felix: How do you differentiate between the two, because you've gone through this a bunch of times, when you look back on it, I'm sure that the ones that have been successful too, I'm sure maybe even RomperJack, someone out there must have said to you that it's not a good idea. How do you differentiate between what was good feedback and what was not, looking back on the successes and failures you've already gone through?
Justin: Yeah, yeah. So, I think that all comes back down to validating the traction. So, a lot of times friends will be like, "I can't believe you're launching that." Or, "I can't believe you're starting that product." And we can use RomperJack as a great example. I mean, if you type in the word male romper into Google in 2017, you would have saw all these articles coming out about how they just tore it apart. People just hated it, it was the worst thing ever created for men, and that no one was ever going to buy it. But then you have this Kickstarter campaign that just made $30,000 in three days. So you're like, "Okay wait, which is what? Do I go down this path, or do I go down this path? Is this something that's going to do well, or is this something that's going to do poor?" And we had to really think about that. But we made the decision to launch it, and it's done great since, and we found an audience that loves it. So, we don't regret our decisions at all at the end of the day.
Justin: But if you look at another product, I mean, for example, if we look at the floaties that we started too, everyone loved those, everyone was saying, "You should start these, you should do this, you should get it going." But that only lasted for so long. The sales in that company only lasted for six or seven months and is very seasonal, and then next year someone came out with the newest floaties, and then now you never see the floaties anymore in the pool. So it's something that kind of died out, so you just have to be careful and do your research at the end of the day.
Felix: What about that, are you able to get better at foreseeing the lifespan of a product, a viral product especially?
Justin: Yeah, so the lifespan, I know the lifespan. The lifespan of a viral product, it can range between one to two years, and then after that it kind of dies out and there's something that comes and replaces it. Either something that just is slightly changed or something that is brand new, that is completely going to take over. Especially in electronics, I mean, if you look at electronics, there's always improvements along the way, so electronics are kind of not a great thing to get into because you know that the next good version's going to come out. From what I've learned in the last three or four years of doing this, is that it's not as good to focus on the product as much as the brand. So, if you focus more on the brand itself, and you have an idea, and a vision to bring a brand to life, that is a much better play. And I can tell you from experience from RomperJack is that when we started RomperJack we focused really solely on the male romper, and we knew that that was going to lose traction.
Justin: We knew that it was going to die out, but how do we carry the brand RomperJack on? So, under our audience, we had to make sure that we were going to give them new products and new things every month, or every couple months. So, now we offer shorts, we're offering overalls next month, we offer jumpsuits. We just added more and more things, so now we're actually becoming more of a household brand name versus just this one product. But the product was our gateway to entry, and that just got us going, and now we've got to build that brand going forward.
Felix: Got it. So when you are offering these new products under the brand, are you trying to break your kind of viral customers outside of that I guess novelty reason for purchasing into buying from you because of the brand or are you looking to expand into new audiences with these new products?
Justin: Yeah, so we initially thought that it was probably in our best interest to actually go to new audiences as well. So, we started to focus on that, but we also did try to focus more on offering new products that we think are going to become big again. For example, men's overalls, there's not a lot of companies out there that sell men's overalls, and there's not a lot of companies out there that sell men's rompers, I mean, there's probably only three in the whole entire world that I can think of. So, if we can make products that other people are not necessarily doing, or you can't find easily, we can keep that viral kind of content with our own brand going.
Felix: Okay, so you're trying to expand the size of your audience over time?
Justin: Yeah, yeah, with different products that they may be interested in, other than the rompers.
Felix: Okay. Now you've gone through these two phases where you've been super product-focused and now you're brand focused. Can you give me an example of activities or things that a product-focused business might be spending their time on?
Justin: Yeah, so product-focused business would most likely be spending their time on is making viral content about the content. Usually, if you're a product business, you only have one or two SKUs, or maybe three SKUs, and your focus really is to drive content and create content around that product that you can market or advertise with. And then, hopefully, you get people through the door at the end of the day.
Felix: And on the other side, the brand-building focus that you now have, what have you decided to add to the things you guys do on a daily basis, monthly basis to make sure that you are focused on the brand more so than the product?
Justin: Yeah, so now we focus more on R&D, so we create probably 30 to 40 different samples month, and then we have other people try them on, and then we give them to our customers, some of our high-end customers, or some of our influencers. We have them try them on, give feedback, maybe have them do a story about it, if it goes really well we'll order that product. We also do a lot of campaigns, like social media campaigns where we make our current followers and customers vote on new products that we should launch and that kind of gives us a little bit of product-market validation. And hopefully, we can actually launch something that many people, like our customers, will actually buy.
Felix: Okay, so your approach is almost to focus on increasing your product launches and your SKUs, the number of products that you're releasing, because there's a two-fold effect to that, one is you can get your customers involved to get them to give input and kind of bought into the product ahead of time. Which gets them to buy into your brand because now they feel like they're more a part of it. And a second thing is, like we've mentioned before, to expand the prospects, especially the potential customers that you could bring in.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely. So for example, we have about a 22 to 23% repeat customer rate, so we want to keep that rate as high as possible because we can actually use our email campaigns and our current customer list to future sales from now until forever, that's what we're hoping. So, to do that we need to give them something new, something that they might purchase in a month or in a couple months.
Felix: Okay. So 60 days we talked about from the beginning of that idea, to actually having a store ready to take orders, and I think the one key benefit of going this fast is just the speed, right? Because I think a lot of times, people will give up because they kind of languish, they have a lot of friction along the way and they feel the drag like, "This is taking too long." Eventually, give up, or get tired, or get bored, just don't feel like they're making any progress. So what do you think people will spend too much time on that they could remove and then also be launching as fast as you guys, within 60 days?
Justin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So I think a lot of people focus too much time on getting the product exactly right, a lot of times they won't even order a sample until they have it 100% right in their mind, "And this is the design, this is how it should look." But a lot of times the feel, touch and seeing it physically in your hands can make you actually launch a lot sooner than you think because you may be missing out. So I think a lot of times people, they're their harshest critic, and they critique everything too soon, too fast, and if I were to give any piece of advice, that if you're not embarrassed by your MVP, about your first product when you launched, then you launched too late.
Felix: Got it. So how many iterations do you feel like you've gone through for RomperJack between the time that you had that first sample and the product that exists today?
Justin: Yeah, we actually went only with the two. So the first sample we got was absolutely horrible, it was meant for maybe a seven-year-old child or something like that. It didn't fit anybody, it was so tight, the material was just horrid, it was the worst cotton ever, it would give you a rash. So right off the bat, we knew, "This is not going to sell, we've got to change this up right away." So, the good thing is that having that product in hand, it showed us exactly what we needed to change, and it made it so much easier instead of just going over email or doing it online. So, we went to the store, we got a little measuring tape, one of those little rolly measuring tapes, we figured out the length that it needed to be, we compared other shorts and shirts. We wrote it up in an email, sent it to the manufacturer, said, "Hey, look this is what the sizing needs to be, this is how it has to be. And then here's the material." So we went and bought material that we thought was up to par, and we sent them that material as well.
Justin: So he made it based off those iterations, he sent the second one over, it was perfect. And we said, "Okay, we're ready to talk about getting an order in."
Felix: Yeah, I think that's why setting a deadline is so important just so that you can just stay focused on trying your best to get it out by that date because I think getting the store up, getting the product ready gets you into the game. But you're not actually playing it until you actually have something to throw against the wall, to put up against potential customers as beta testers. So when you did get those samples early on, did you test this within just a team and figure out, "This is not what we want." Or did you try to set up some way to get it out to potential customers?
Justin: So actually we just tested it internally. I mean, I think I tried it on, my brother might have tried it on, a couple of buddies, my other co-founders tried it on, and the first one we all agreed collectively that it was just terrible. So, we went back to the drawing board, and the second one we all agreed collectively like, "This is great, this will work." And then kind of went from there. And thank god it worked.
Felix: Right. So now you mentioned already there are five businesses that are live today. When you move from business to business, how do you make sure that you're able to maintain the existing ones before you launch a new one?
Justin: Yeah, so some of the businesses are in different verticals, so some of them are more automated than RomperJack, and some of them are not as automated. So I think it's really just time management at the end of the day. Sometimes if I'm really excited about a new product, or something that I see is really viral, or something I saw on Kickstarter, I'll order some samples, I'll try to see if I can get it going. If I can find another partner to join me on it, it could be one of my current co-founders or someone in the past I've worked with. I usually don't do things alone, and I think the reason why is because my skills are better suited in certain areas, and I like to bring on someone that has other skills in other areas so we can kind of work together and it's a lot easier for our own time management. But also it takes off a lot of the stress as well.
Felix: And when you do something like that, I think a lot of people have been burned, or are afraid to go into partnerships because they're not sure who should be doing what, at what time. How do you make sure that's established so that everyone knows their role essentially?
Justin: Yeah, I think that should be decided before even the product gets started, or before you start ordering samples. I think that really has to be with trust too, do you trust this person? Is this the right person you should work with? I mean, I feel like most people have that intuition, that internal feeling themselves, they just need to make sure that they're making the right decision at the end of the day.
Felix: Mm-hmm, now I feel like you have the best of both worlds too where you have this shiny object syndrome where you're constantly launching new businesses but then you're also able to focus on just launching one thing at a time. Tell us how you do that, how do you continue to want to launch businesses, but then make sure you're staying focused and actually getting one thing out the door at a time?
Justin: Oh man, if you asked me that question two years ago I would have been like, "You know what? It's not working out at all, I'm never going to launch another company again."
Felix: I think it's the biggest problem.
Justin: Yeah it is, it absolutely is. I think you learn over time how to start to automate certain other businesses, especially at certain levels. So, when we first started RomperJack, I was so stressed, I was so over in my head because it was growing so fast and I didn't know what to do. I had to get more money in through the door, and then I had this other company, another tech company I was running at the same time. I mean, I was so stressed, and I said to myself, "I can't ever do this again." But then when everything kind of calmed down and I start to get a grasp of it, and what I mean by grasp is, I started to learn how to manage my time. And I learned how to do marketing and advertising more efficiently, I learned how to do bookkeeping more efficiently. I learned all these things to do better over time, and I think once you learn those things and you get really good at them, you start to become more confident and you're able to actually bring on new companies and launch new companies.
Felix: Now speaking of time management, what is your strategy here? How do you make sure you are spending your time correctly?
Justin: The best strategy for that is to bring on new people that can help you, whether that be employees or family members or something like that, that you trust, and you're paying them. But you're bringing on these people to help you to take over a certain job that you were doing in the past. And you just teach them just everything you know about that job and how to do it, and once they become comfortable, you give them 100% trust and you let them do it on their own.
Felix: And how do you know what to delegate and what to keep?
Justin: Oh man, I can't answer that question because I'm still struggling with that one myself, right now. I mean, at the end of the day, I still focus a lot of my time on the marketing and advertising side and I don't really give that away to anybody yet because I'm kind of picky about when it comes to design and marketing and advertising and getting that content out there. So that's probably the one thing I don't really delegate yet, but when it comes to customer service, or returns and exchanges, or running email campaigns or something like that, I'll delegate out.
Felix: Okay. But you probably would not recommend ... Would you ever start delegating and bring on people before you actually start bringing money through the door?
Justin: No, absolutely not. I mean, you want to use all of your time during the day to get this thing going, you want to learn every avenue of the business too. You don't want to bring someone in the door and have them start running one end of it unless you have a partner that you're launching with. But you want to learn ever avenue because if you don't learn every avenue, you can't teach someone if once you do get to that point, where you do have enough money coming in through the door. But also you can't afford to bring on anybody too in the beginning, so you need to focus a 100% running it yourself.
Felix: Right. I mean, I'm sure that you might have potential issues here too because you have again, multiple businesses, multiple revenue streams, when you are launching a new business do you try to keep the revenue streams separate like as you're starting from scratch and you have nothing when I started RomperJack? Or do you funnel some of your own kind of savings, or I guess revenue from existing business into it? How do you approach that?
Justin: Yeah, yeah, good question. So, sometimes what we'll do is if we think that a new product is going to be good, or we have a new idea, we actually will use some of our current revenue from our other companies, or from the other successful products we're doing. And we will use those funds to start a new one, but only if it's collectively agreed upon. So if I have a founder or partner that I'm taking those funds from another company, usually I'm starting another company with that same person or we agreed that we're going to use those funds for that.
Felix: And are there downsides to having I guess more resources than typical?
Justin: In the beginning, I would say probably yeah because you kind of need to go through the trenches, you kind of need to get beat up a little bit to learn. If you have resources right off the bat, I mean, I think the probability for failure is probably higher in my mind because you're not willing to push through the hard times. You'll just pivot really fast, or you'll start something new because you never stayed in it long enough to see if it was actually going to play out.
Felix: Right, I think that makes sense, I think money and capital and these kinds of resources gives you a lot of speed, but then some things just take a little bit of time to materialize. But because you have so much speed, because you have so much capital, or more than someone that started from scratch, you kind of speed through things and change your mind sometimes to quickly, you don't give the kind of time for it to play out, essentially.
Justin: Yeah, and there's a lot of companies that started at the level that we started at, just small mom-and-pop shops on Shopify. They had a lot of capital and they didn't give it enough time, enough man-hours, but they pumped money into it, but it just never worked out. And then you probably could find another competitor that didn't have that, and then it did work out.
Felix: Right. Now you also mentioned automation, which is something that maybe people can do a little bit earlier than hiring. What are some things that you've automated that you recommend other people look into as well?
Justin: Yeah, so what makes Shopify really cool is that they have all these third-party apps where these third-party companies come in and they make these apps, so these apps are designed to help efficiency with your online store, and one example is email marketing. You can use a company called Klaviyo that helps you set up and automate all of your emails when someone comes to your store, buys a product or adds it to cart, they may not buy it, but they add it to cart and you collected their email. And then you can have this whole series of emails that go out to remind them, "Hey, we're still holding this product in your cart, come back and buy it." And then if they don't buy it in a day, another email will go out, and another email will go out the next day maybe with a discount code. So, that helps automate all your emails, let's say someone did buy a product, they'll automatically get an email update with their shipping and when it's going to arrive.
Justin: So that's one example of automation, another example of automation with marketing is retargeting campaigns where you're using Facebook retargeting or maybe a company called AdRoll. They'll make all these ads for you, they actually make them for free, they'll make the ad content for you and then you just set up the campaign and it runs automatically. and any customer that comes to your store will see these little banner ads all around the internet and you'll get followed around. It's kind of like subliminal marketing, and you're hoping that they'll come back and click it. So there's a lot of things out there that you can automate, even collecting taxes can be automated using apps. There are so many things.
Felix: Got it. Now I want to jump back to something that you mentioned earlier which is that whenever you do see a viral product, or maybe someone wants to take the same strategy and goes on Kickstarter and sees a product that seems to have a lot of momentum and inertia behind it, and they want to pursue basically the same path you took. You mentioned that you either look for a way to add something to the product, a spin, or you find the best way to look for a new audience to target for that product. Talk to us about that first one, what are some ways that people can start thinking about how to add a new spin to an existing product or product that is about to come out?
Justin: So, adding a new spin to a new product, it really depends on the product itself. I mean, it can go down different verticals. I can use the rompers as an example, so when RompHim was launching their rompers, their focus, you could tell from their marketing campaigns and the way they designed the rompers, their focus was more towards the fraternity market, college market. People that like to party, people that wear this romper to an event, like a July 4th event or something like that, or like some brunch. That was cool, but we were going after a different vertical, because we thought it would be in our best interest, so their rompers were more designed for that market, so we decided to take the idea of the romper and make it more fitted. So, we kind of narrowed the shorts, we made the shirt more fitted, the top part of the romper more fitted, we kind of stuck with designs that are more modern trendy.
Justin: And then, we launched it towards the LGBTQ audience or more of like a metro male audience, and so that's the different approach that we took.
Felix: Now when you want to target a new audience, you almost always have to change the product? Because that sounds like that's what happened, right? You changed the product, which then almost by default or by consequence also changed the audience that you would have to go after?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, I would think sometimes you would have to change them ... Actually probably maybe 70 to 80%, you're probably going to the audience because a lot of the times a product is a built for a specific audience, or will perform better for a specific audience. I'm trying to think of an example that I've seen in the past where you were-
Felix: One where you could change the audience without changing the product?
Justin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Felix: Does that exist? Yeah.
Justin: Yeah, I can't think of one in my mind, but for example, if you just take a cooler and you're selling a really cool cooler that you can plugin and it has a battery and you can unplug it and you can take it on a family trip, or camping. That audience, you're focusing on a family audience and people that go camping. But if you launch a cooler on Kickstarter, which there is one that launched before, that has a built-in blender, a built-in speaker, built-in power cords for plugin. That audience you're probably not mostly focusing on family, you're probably focusing more on the college or young 25 to 30 market that goes to the beach and goes with their friends. So that's one example.
Felix: Right, yeah, I think the tighter you have that product market fit, the better anyway. So even if there were more examples, I think you're more likely to succeed by creating a specific product for a specific audience anyway. Rather than taking one from another audience and trying to apply it to the other, if you can make it more specific towards a new audience you're targeting, which is what you guys did, I think you're more likely to succeed anyway.
Justin: Absolutely, absolutely. And a lot of times when people see a product on Kickstarter, there seeing it from the eyes of their own audience themselves, I would say, and when they have that idea to add something, it's because it's something that they want personally or there's something they like. And there's a bunch of people out in this world where you can find the lookalikes.
Felix: That makes sense. So, you mentioned that one of the key things that entrepreneurs should do is to start small and lean. Don't ever just jump into the deep end with an idea and hope it will work, prove it first. So you mentioned things like doing that research on Kickstarter to make sure that there is a product market fit behind it already. And you also mentioned that you've got to create a brand and a story behind the business, which makes it more viral. So what does that mean? What does it mean to create a story behind the business?
Justin: Yeah, so I personally feel like starting lean is the most important thing, and I think that's the number one thing taught if you were ever to start a startup company or go through an accelerator program. They always teach you, as lean as possible in the beginning, just as much as you can, and thank god we got that experience from one of our other companies that we had. We went through an accelerator program, so we learned those tools really early in the beginning, and a really important book that I would recommend is a book by Steve Blank which is called The Lean Startup and that kind of gives you the ideas. But what was the other question for tools as well?
Felix: Yeah, you mentioned that about stories specifically, that you want to make sure that there's actually a story behind your business or at least a story that you can tell, or a story that I'm assuming is the reason why the business was created. Can you give an example of what it means to create a story behind your business?
Justin: Yeah, I think creating a story actually helps you define more of your audience. So, stories are powerful when you're using it as viral content. So it helps you create ad images, it helps you create videos, and those stories help you sell your products. For example, if we use the rompers, the story was, "We're starting a romper that's more fitted, that's going after the metro male, and we're using designs that are more modern and trendy, and we want people from the LGBTQ market to be interested in our product." And they were at the end of the day because the story was built around them, we're building a product around them. Even our branding and marketing was more around them as well, so that could be one idea of a story as well. The other idea of a story is what the product does, and how it can help you, and how it can save your life or something like that. So you can take Ring Doorbell, for example, they started small and then became massive, their story was you can see someone that came to your door and is at your home, no matter where you are in the world.
Justin: And you know who visited you, or if someone took something, and that was a viral story because people could relate it to their personal experiences when it came to losing packages, or something like that.
Felix: Yeah, I think what you're getting at too is you almost need to have a really good hook or almost like a headline for all of your products that can capture people in just a sentence, right? That explains to them like the Ring Doorbell in the example you gave, being able to see who's at your front door from anywhere in the world. That's a hook that makes people think, "oh, that's interesting, I want to learn more about it." So I think that that's as important, that makes your marketing way easier when you have a business or a product that has kind of a hook, a headline built into it already. So, I want to talk about giving up, so you mentioned that because you could go in lean, I'm sure you've had to abandon businesses in the past, and you've made that call to give up on a business, on a product, on a category. And you mentioned that if it doesn't work out in a couple of months and you know that it's not working out, it's time to move on, don't try to fight or force a market. So can you tell us more about this, how do you make that decision? How do you have that conversation with yourself so that you know when you're being delusional or when you're actually being rational and knowing when to continue or to give up?
Justin: Yeah and that's a hard thing to discover, because of a lot of people when they start a product, they believe in it a lot, they put their whole heart into it, getting it going, getting samples. If it's something brand new that no one's ever seen before it probably took them years to design or come up with. So, from their own point of view, a lot of times yourself is biased when it comes to that question because you believe in it but maybe other maybe not, and you're not getting sales through the door. So really I think in my mind, you need to set of goals and deadline of, "Okay, if I don't reach this number by then, or if I don't have this many people coming to my store, I either one, need to pivot, or I need to shut it down." And I actually did that, I think I just did that, what was it? About six months ago, I started a backpack store with high-end backpacks, and the backpacks weren't really designed for me, I was buying from a manufacturer that already was designing really nice backpacks.
Justin: And I launched the store, and I did ads on Facebook and Instagram, and I followed all the things I've used in the past to make my other store successful, and for some reason, I couldn't get any traction. I was getting some sales, but I couldn't get any traction, and the cost to keep the store running just wasn't justifiable to keep it going. In my mind, I wanted to keep it going because I really liked the product. I believed in the product, and I mean, I even owned a backpack, I was using the backpack myself, and my other friends love the backpack. But for some reason, I couldn't build a strong enough store, and I couldn't build a strong enough marketing campaign to get people to buy it. And also the other thing could have been is that there's already a lot of competitors out there that are selling something similar, or you're competing with too big of a pool of people.
Justin: So, I didn't do my necessary research I think in the beginning to see how big that market was, and who I was competing with. I was overspending on keywords on Google just to compete with these other big companies. So I think just realizing that "You know what? Sales aren't coming in, it's been three months." I would probably say 90 days is the deadline, "You know, it's been three months, I spent this amount of money, this is how much I got in return, it won't keep on going on successful, so I need to shut it down."
Felix: So when you look at this effort in 90 days, are you looking for the entire business as a whole to be profitable, or just that there's the potential for a profit sometime soon?
Justin: I think in 90 days it needs to be able to make itself sustainable. Not necessarily profitable, because profitability will come later on, a lot of, a lot of, a lot of early on Shopify companies, people that start on Shopify with a product, they focus more on profitability or trying to make money right through the door in the beginning. Which, that doesn't happen because you need money to spend on marketing and advertising, you need money to buy more product in the future. Especially for example, if you're growing, if you have more growth the following month, you're going to need extra capital to make up for that growth. So, profitability's probably not the best thing to focus on because that will come over time when you get things more efficient, and you're getting conversion rates up and all these things. But you need to focus on making the business sustainable. And that's the most important key in the beginning. So you need to make enough money to afford marketing and advertising, and being able to buy product for the following month or the following next two months to make sure that you're not out of stock, and you still have people coming through the door, and the customers are still happy.
Justin: And the profitability will come later on in about 12 to 16 months.
Felix: Got it. So you also mentioned that most of your customers are coming now organically, I think you said 65% of customers are organic, where do you think they are finding out about you, where are they hearing about RomperJack?
Justin: I think from their friends and family, from people posting on Instagram. If you go on Instagram, you type in hashtag RomperJack you're going to see thousands of pictures, and these pictures are amazing that people are posting all over the world. We sell in about 44 countries now, all over the world, and that becomes viral, over time more and more people see that and more and more people see that and they get excited and they're like, "Okay, I want to buy that, I want to see, where can I get that?" So, the brand name is becoming more of a household name, especially for the audience we're targeting, and that was our main focus, up until about nine months ago when we said, "You know what? It's time we build on the brand." So, the fact that our organic traffic is so high is just proof to use that the brand is becoming more and more powerful, so we need to spend more time on growing the brand versus the product.
Felix: Is it because by nature the product is viral and sharable, or are there ways to kind of get the ball rolling on this word of mouth?
Justin: I would say a lot of times that can be true, yes. But in this case, the product lost its viral content last year. I think that it's not as viral anymore, people are used to seeing the romper. I remember when we first started the romper company, about three months in we would get friends together, we would wear the rompers out to try to get traction, get people talking about them. And people would be just amazed like, "What is this person wearing? This is crazy." And they would come up and take pictures with you, and be so excited, and they're like, "Oh my gosh, where'd you get this?" But now it's more like if we wear it out in public, the public is kind of used to it. They've seen the rompers before, it's not as viral, but now our audience, however, we're targeting, is not buying it based or viralability, they're buying it because they like it. They like the product we're launching, they like the brand name, they like the new products we're coming out with.
Felix: That makes sense, okay. So, you mentioned as well, when it comes to paid marketing, you basically focus on Facebook and Instagram, can you talk a little about that strategy, what is the strategy for buying ads on Facebook and Instagram?
Justin: Sure. So over the past four or five years of doing this stuff, we've tried every platform out there, I mean, probably 30 different platforms on marketing, and some avenues work better for others, and some don't. For example, we have a start-up company called wiztutorapp.com, and it's a place where students and parents can find local and on-demand tutors in their area. We have an app and you can book a tutor to come meet you at your house, and that runs in three states. And we launched on Facebook and Instagram to try to get people to use it, and we got zero conversions, the cost per conversion was crazy high. And the reason for that is that people go to Facebook and Instagram to find cool things, they go there to get their daily cool news or see what their friends are doing. So, marketing that company on there is probably not the best bet, but marketing that company on Google AdWords, where people are typing in, "I need a tutor or a math tutor." Is much more powerful.
Justin: So that's an example of something that works well for one company and not so well for the other. The other example is RomperJack, we use Facebook and Instagram to do RomperJack and it worked amazingly well. Our conversion rates were so, so strong, especially when it was very viral, and another platform we used for RomperJack that wasn't so successful and don't really know why was Pinterest. But we would have never known if we didn't test it, so you have to test those things out to see if it's going to work or not is probably the best bet.
Felix: Right, and you're basically trying to look for what is the kind of state of mind that your customer is in when they might be looking for your product. Like you're saying if someone that is looking for a tutor, they're probably not looking for one or thinking about one even when they're on Facebook. Or when someone is looking at beach photos, or party photos, or photos of a pool, then the romper fits right in with that kind of content.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely. And there are different stories in marketing, there's brand awareness, there are conversions, there are clicks, you could use brand awareness to get people to know that you exist, about the tutoring company. But you're not using it to get conversions or get people to sign up, you're just letting them know it exists. So you can use Facebook and Instagram to do that. But it still might be kind of pricey.
Felix: Right, it might not be feasible for a bootstrap, solo founded company.
Justin: Yeah, and if you're bootstrapping, my 100% recommendation is to utilize Facebook and Instagram because that's the number one used platform where people go to see what their friends are doing and things like that. The other one is Snapchat, I've used Snapchat in the past, but it wasn't very successful for us. But hopefully, down the road, I might find a company that it doesn't work for.
Felix: And you're saying to run ads, or to create content?
Justin: Run ads and create content. Facebook and Instagram are the most affordable place to do that. Another really good place to do that stuff too that may work for certain products and it's super cheap is actually Reddit. Reddit Ads are very, very, very cheap, very affordable, and they give you thousands and thousands of visitors to your website. So you would use Reddit to kind of create viral content, not to necessarily sell your product, to get people to talk about it. And then you can use Instagram to retarget those people, so they may have seen it on Reddit, they may have heard about it, and now you're reminding them about it on Facebook and Instagram. And that's another way of starting off bootstrap too, is kind of using that method.
Felix: So, are you using Reddit to run ads to content pieces and to actually product pages, or trying to get sales?
Justin: Yeah, I don't think Reddit's very strong with getting conversions, and their conversion tags and that stuff, they're not really built for that, their infrastructure's not really built for that yet. I think they're leaning towards that way, but right now I would use it only as brand awareness, to get people to start talking about it. You can even use Reddit to send people to a YouTube video, or to a Kickstarter campaign. But you're not trying to get a conversion or sale out of it, with Facebook and Instagram, it's built-in a way you can actually purchase on Facebook and Instagram. You're not going to the website, you're purchasing through them.
Felix: That makes sense. So you mentioned a couple of apps earlier, Klaviyo and AdRoll are the two that you mentioned that are in the Shopify app store. Are there any other apps either on the Shopify app store or off of Shopify that you use to run the business?
Justin: Yeah, so we do a lot of sale campaigns, there's a lot of countdown timer apps, I don't know the names specifically off the top of my head, so we use those. We use TaxJar to kind of make sure that we're paying taxes correctly in certain nexuses, certain states, so we use that. What else do we use? Obviously, there's a Facebook app and stuff like that, that need to be integrated. And then we use an SMS app where if you buy a product you can opt in to automatically get a text message of when it's going to be delivered, or if it's on its way, or left the warehouse. We can also use that SMS app to send SMS marketing campaigns, just like you would use email campaigns, and you can automate that, that app's called Firepush. And then I can't think of them all off the top of my head because we have so many different apps, but I would definitely stick with Klaviyo, AdRoll for retargeting, Firepush for SMS, a count down timer app. Things like that of that nature.
Felix: Awesome. Now so one final question, so what do you feel like has happened this year for you to consider this year a success?
Justin: I think this year for success, I was blown away that our sales for RomperJack have doubled from last year to this year without changing much of our marketing campaigns at all. Budget.
Felix: Mm-hmm and you're thinking that that's what you want to invest in more for this year, or?
Justin: I would say yes. I've never done this before for an e-commerce company, I've done it for our tech companies, but we actually just raised funding and we got capital for RomperJack to take it to the next level. And we're really excited about that because we're not just going to be product-based, we're really focusing on the brand. And that capital is really going to give us a huge runway to offer a whole bunch of products. So, within Q3 and Q4, we plan on launching about 20 different new SKUs, and opening up a warehouse in Mexico as well as in Australia to do two to three-day shipping out of those two countries.
Felix: Amazing. All right, thank you so much for your time. Romperjack.com, again, thank you so much, Justin, for coming on and sharing your story and experience.
Justin: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me, Felix.