Every entrepreneur at some point learns the true meaning of "focus" and how it applies to so much more than just time management.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear from a founder who built a million dollar jean company by shifting from a broad focus to a narrow one with his life, his product, his marketing, and more.
Leo Tropeano is the founder of Mugsy Jeans: stylish jeans for men that are as comfortable as sweatpants.
I always tell our team, sniper, not shotgun...focus on who the core audience is, and boil it down as much as you can in the early days.
Tune in to learn
- How to get a retailer to give you a shot at selling your products in their stores
- What to look for when picking a manufacturer
- How to make your website replace the physical experience of shopping
- Store: Mugsy Jeans
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Inventory Planning (Shopify app) Exchange It (Shopify app)
Felix: Today I’m joined by Leo Tropeano from Mugsy Jeans. Mugsy Jeans makes stylish men’s jeans that are as comfortable as sweatpants and is a million dollar company started in 2016 and based out of Chicago.
Felix: Welcome, Leo.
Leo: How’s it going?
Felix: Good, good. So you told me that the most important lesson that you’ve learned so far is to perfect the product and that you felt like you wasted a lot of time and money trying to sell what you would now consider prototypes.
Felix: So tell us a little more about this. Like, how many prototypes do you feel like you went through before you got to the perfect products?
Leo: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s kind of one of those catch–22 things, ’cause while we wasted a lot of money and time with an imperfect product that we launched to the public, that was also the best way we learned how to perfect it.
Leo: But I think really if I could rephrase that, I would say don’t do like a full-blown launch of a full product line until the product’s perfected. So you know, an example with the jeans. Maybe we started with a few hundred units in the early days. Maybe instead we should have just done 10s, 20s, 50s of the units of a style, instead of in the hundreds. So just kind of minimize the risk.
Leo: But yeah, it was everything. So we launched…I quit my job in like 2015 to pursue this and naively thought I’d be profitable within six months. Turned out to take almost a year and a half before I really perfected the product, and did a real launch.
Leo: But yeah, I mean once you get the right product, you will immediately notice that instead of it being an uphill battle, it just becomes more of a downhill, and everything just goes smoothly and starts clicking and falling into place.
Felix: Got it. Can you tell us a little more about some of the big improvements that you made along the way between some of the initial prototypes and the what you would consider the perfect product? And how you’d learn about making those improvements?
Leo: Yeah, absolutely. So I’d say early on … I’ll just give a bit more background as to why I got this idea and wanted to start the company. But you know, for me it was, I went into the real world and I wanted to find jeans that looked better. I knew just the baggy clothes I’d been wearing in college were, it was time to just drop them off at Salvation Army and upgrade. You know, I was kind of in the professional world, I needed to have more appreciation for my appearance.
Leo: So went out looking for jeans, couldn’t find anything. And jeans are a little …well, the were at the time, harder for me. ’Cause I was a soccer guy, so I had bigger legs and bigger butt. So anything slimmer just became extremely uncomfortable, and like intolerable. So I was kind of left with this choice of sacrificing comfort or style. And I thought it shouldn’t have to be that way.
Leo: So the initial concept behind the company was if I were to solve a problem I would say that it was to make a jean that was both comfortable and stylish. And so the early prototypes didn’t … They kind of focused more on the style, and they didn’t quite meet the comfort aspect.
Leo: And so, I think it wasn’t until I really nailed down the fit and worked with a factory to come up with this proprietary denim. It wasn’t until we had that, and we started getting comments from people, like, “these are the most comfortable jeans I’ve ever worn,” blah blah blah. That kind of thing. That’s when you knew. Like okay, this is actually the solution for the problem. It wasn’t a half solution, as like our previous prototypes were.
Felix: Got it. So you mentioned that you don’t want to do a full-blown launch when you are just kind of testing the market, testing the product. But you should be getting out into the marketplace, getting out into the hands of your customers so that you can actually learn, and learn how to improve the product to make it perfect.
Felix: Can you talk a little bit about what kind of launches, or what kind of smaller launches you did do? Or maybe what you would recommend if you were to go back and kind of do it all over again? Like, how do you get onto the marketplace without kind of making a big kind of splash, when you don’t feel like the product is ready yet?
Leo: Yeah, no, this is … It’s the most important thing is just get the product to your target audience as soon as you can. And that’s when you’ll learn the most, and you’ll learn what you have to tweak to perfect it.
Leo: So for me, I kind of started with … We got samples of the jeans, the kind of prototypes. And I started by showing my friends and family. And that was kind of a mistake because they’ll never shoot it to you straight. You know, it’s not until you talk to a real stranger that they’ll just be like, “Nah, these sucks. I’m not going to buy them.”
Leo: But you tell friends and family and they’ll be like, “Oh yeah, this is cool. I’ll support you.” And then you have some friends and family buy a pair, and then you know, you’d see them out at the bar a couple of weeks later and they’re not wearing them. And you could get the sense that okay, they really just bought these because they were supporting me.
Leo: So what I would is, get with the minimum viable product. Get a few of ’em. And just start selling to customers. I vividly remember the first time I really tried selling my jeans to customers, and just the reactions and feedback you get from that alone immediately told me that I had to change the path, and I was like in the wrong place at that time.
Leo: So yeah, minimum viable product. And try actually selling to people. Listen to their feedback. Read between the lines of their like expressions and gestures. And you’ll quickly learn that if they’re not coming to you and kind of begging to pay for it, you’re not there yet.
Felix: Got … Where and … Or how are you selling these, the early prototypes early on?
Leo: Yeah, so early on I would kind of go to every denim store in Chicago, and it’s sad that most of them are no longer here. And I guess I’m partly to blame for that, ’cause the e-commerce space is kind of killing that physical store presence.
Leo: But I basically went to one of the better denim stores in the Greater Chicago area and got in with the founder, I just kind of forced a meeting with him, told him what I was about. And it’s funny ’cause early on he said, “I can tell you’re … This product isn’t it, but I can tell that you’re going to get there,” kind of thing.
Leo: And so he kind of extended an olive branch to me and said, “Here, come in next Saturday, bring your jeans, and you can just try and sell them to customers. I won’t charge you for anything. Just set up shop, and I’ll give you the opportunity to steal business from me to my own customers in my own store.” And that’s what I did.
Leo: So I showed up with 20, 30 pairs on a Saturday, their hottest day, and tried to sell it to customers. And you know, it’s kind of like I said, immediately you just get the vibe from people when you’re actually trying to sell them something. When you’re actually asking them to go into their wallet and give you cash, you can immediately tell if you’re on the right track or not.
Felix: So that’s a great way to get early sales, early feedback, is to go in person and go where the customers are already going. They’re going to these denim shops, these jean shops. They’re going to be interested in jeans. So it makes a lot of sense that you’re able to get in there.
Felix: So based on your experience, what do you find that retailers care about? What would make a retailer give you that kind of shot, now that you look back on your experience?
Leo: Yeah, it’s tough, ’cause even a lot has changed in the three or four years since that moment that I did that trunk show at the storefront on a Saturday. And we’ve since shifted the focus of the company totally away from kind of retail relationships, and focused exclusively online.
Leo: So I can’t quite say so much anymore. But at the time, I think the reason that I got in with that store was the owner just kind of … He was just cool. I don’t know how to explain it beyond that. He just kind of saw what I was trying to do here, and he … I think he appreciated the ambition.
Leo: And you know, I kind of hounded his phone system to get [inaudible 00:08:11] me going through a lot of different people in his organization to get to him. I think when I finally did, he had been aware of me just from people being like, “Hey, this Leo guy keeps calling you.”
Leo: And so finally he was like, “Alright, I’ll take the call.” And instead, I just went out there and met him one day. And we just hit it off a bit. But yeah, he appreciated the ambition, and [inaudible 00:08:31] at the same time, another thing I found from launching this company is you’d be amazed at how many people willing and excited to help you. I think they just kind of, people latch on and are drawn to others who are enthusiastic and ambitious and energetic about something.
Leo: So I think that would be my suggestion, is just go out there and just be yourself and show your passion for this product. And it’s contagious. And you’ll find people that will be willing to help you along the way.
Felix: Yeah. And I can imagine that most independent store owners are also entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial. They understand that kind of struggle. And I think if you are to try to reach out to them, appeal to that, right? Don’t go for maybe a big box or big chain, like go for more of the independent stores that understand … That can see themselves in your shoes at one point. I think that that certainly can help. Like that was the kind of person you approached. He was an entrepreneur. He understood the hustle, he respected it and wanted to give you your shot.
Felix: So when you first started selling the jeans, so it sounds like you went through a bunch of prototypes. You learned that there were … The jeans weren’t perfect. They had things you needed to perfect. What were some of the very first obstacles that you ran into when you first started to sell it, and how did you overcome those?
Leo: Absolutely. So your question kind of reminded me of an example of what I think about a lot. And that’s the founding of Reddit. You know, the website, reddit.com? So for anyone who’s unfamiliar, and I don’t know the exact details, but I remember reading this years ago and it was inspiring. But the founders of Reddit kind of pitched to an incubator their idea. And the incubator hated it. And they were like, “This is a terrible idea, but we kind of believe in you guys. We’re sold on you, but not the product you came up with.”
Leo: And the incubator said to them, “Just go back home and just brainstorm this a bit and come back in like a week and just re-pitch us on a new idea.” And that new idea eventually became Reddit. And they … I forget what their tagline is, but it’s like ‘The Homepage of the Internet’ or something.
Leo: And so I thought that was like really inspiring to me, ’cause it just shows that if you’re passionate and ambitious and eager, you’ll just keep evolving until you figure something out. ’Cause there’s always problems that exist. And where there are problems there are business opportunities.
Leo: So for me, it was kind of like I’m selling these jeans, no one’s really too enthusiastic. And like I said, it just kind of felt like an uphill battle. Like every sale, I’m grinding for. Getting attention in the press, you’re just like, it’d just drive me mad at how many people you have to reach out to and the dead ends.
Leo: But you know, once you kind of read between the lines, get that customer feedback, fix the product, it all just clicks. You know, even I think a bigger hurdle for me in the early days was finding a supplier, like a manufacturer that aligned with us. And that was kind of the biggest thing for me.
Leo: So after that trunk show I did at that store, I kind of went back to the manufacturer and said, “Hey, we’re off. Something’s wrong. We need to change to more like this.” And they kind of pushed back on it. And so at that moment, I knew, okay, they’re not aligned with me, they’re not going to be a good partner. I need to move on.
Leo: So I kind of mentioned before that I quit my job. And it took like a year and a half before I launched the real product. And that year and a half I really spent just kind of doing R&D. And the bulk of that was just finding the right factory. Working with them to get the right fabric and fit, and just perfecting the products.
Leo: And yeah, once I found the right partner, from a supplier and manufacturer standpoint, it was just smooth sailing.
Felix: So you mentioned that you quit your job and went into this full-time, and you spent about a year and a half kind of focused completely on this project at the time. What did you … Did you feel like you could have done this on the side? Like what kind of benefits do you feel like you gained from focusing on this full-time?
Leo: Yeah, it’s a great question. So I’d been working on it on the side. So you know, we launched … I consider our launch in Fall 2016. So a little over two years ago, at the time of this recording. I quit my job in the summer of 2015. But I’d been working on it pretty much from day one when I got into the real world. So like, dating myself a bit, but that was like 2011, 2012. So even though we’ve only had two years under the company, this has been like a seven or eight-year project for me.
Leo: So I started by doing it on the side. And just countless nights of staying up till like super late just figuring this out because I had a demanding day job. But it got to the point where I realized that if you didn’t quit and kind of focus exclusively on it, and I even call it just removing the safety net of, the safety of that day job, it just kind of puts you … Backs you in a corner and forces you to focus and make it work.
Leo: And at the time it was like insane, right? It was the most insane decision ever. And you know, family and friends were just kind of blown away. Just, “Really, you’re going to quit your very comfortable and successful day job to just pursue this dream of jeans?” But I just kind of knew deep down that if I didn’t kind of focus exclusively on this, it was never going to get off the ground. It was kind of one or the other.
Leo: And that might not be for everyone, that might not be the case. And there are definitely companies where people build them on the side. I think it definitely takes longer. If I hadn’t quit the day job, I think … I don’t even know if we’d be here yet. But that year and a half, it was just the catalyst, very expedited, getting to the right products.
Leo: But yeah, and I’d seen other companies who … Where the founders had had their day jobs and they were doing this on the side, and they really wanted it to work. But at the same time, they had that safety net, and they weren’t really giving their all. And eventually, those companies went under.
Leo: So I think it’s a no-brainer. I think you have to plan for it and make sure you’re prepared. But yeah, that exclusive focus is everything.
Felix: But what you feel like you started doing differently with that safety net removed, that you never did in the previous years while you were doing it on the side?
Leo: Yeah, just … When you have a 9-to–5, just getting stuff done for the side hustle is really hard. And my day job was super demanding. You know, I’d often work, probably on average it was like 70 hours a week, but you know, more in the 100 hours per week for a good amount of the year. So super crazy, and just couldn’t get anything done.
Leo: You know, it involves a lot of calling people during their normal work hours. And just correspondence during that time. So that was definitely a big one.
Felix: When you say that you had to … No, I think 70 to 100 hours, like that’s extreme. Like you’re basically doing two jobs plus this on the side, whatever that means, with whatever time you had left.
Felix: So you mentioned that if you are to do this, you had to plan and prepare. What does that mean? Does that mean like saving up money? Like what else do you need to do to make sure you kind of [land 00:16:15] … will hit the ground running, essentially?
Leo: Yeah, I mean it was crazy enough to just quit your job and pursue this ridiculous dream. But it wasn’t … I don’t view it as a stupid decision. It was very calculated. But even though it was insane.
Leo: So for me, I’d kind of planned the date I was going to quit. I’d saved enough money to kind of last me for six months to a year. I had health insurance plans, ’cause I knew I was going to get married in time for quitting, that kind of stuff. Yeah, and just … I think that’s probably good enough.
Felix: [crosstalk 00:16:49].
Leo: [crosstalk 00:16:49] what I was going to say in the last one, and why I paused, but it’s all good.
Felix: Got it. So did you have experience creating like apparel or jeans besides what you’re doing for Mugsy? Or did you kind of just learning as you went with that business?
Leo: Yeah, I had no apparel experience. I was more in like the finance consulting world. So from when I got the idea, my first … The first thing I did and set out to do was just meet everyone I could in the industry. And that ranged from owners of stores, owners of brands, to college students who were studying fashion and apparel. So just kind of learning as much as you can and meeting as many people as you can.
Felix: I like that, that you decided to not just kind of try and study this on your own, independently. But you went to meet people in the industry, meet people that are working, or planned to work in this space. Did you have kind of like an intention, or did you kind of set an intention before meeting them? Like how did you know how to make the best use of your time when meeting with experts or people that were going to school for, in this field?
Leo: It was more, I kind of had the idea for the product, and there were all these questions I had, that I knew it would take to get to the prototype stage. So I was just kind of, depending on who I met and who I was introduced to, I would just choose the questions and then eventually all of them were answered.
Leo: And yeah, as I pointed to you earlier, that ambition is really contagious, and that enthusiasm. So you’d meet one person, and they’d give you an answer that was great. And then they’d be like, “And you know what? You should meet so-and-so too, ’cause they can probably help you in this area.” And then next thing you know, you get passed along the chain. And you have this huge network, and just like this wealth of knowledge from, essentially experts.
Felix: That’s awesome. You mentioned that you had to change the manufacturers and try to find someone that understood more of where you were going, what you wanted to do. Kind of essentially be more agile, right? Switching or changing things up based on the feedback that you were getting.
Felix: How did you make sure that the next time around, that you would be able to find the right partner? And what kind of questions were you asking, and how do you make sure you have a right fit?
Leo: Yeah, it’s really tough. It’s kind of like hiring an employee. I feel like you don’t really know until you’re working with them. But for me, I definitely learned early on that you should trust your gut. ’Cause I immediately could tell, if my gut reaction was saying, “Hey, I think this is going to work, or it’s not,” it tended to be right. Much more than like my logical brain trying to analyze, would this work?
Leo: So that’s like really imprecise and kind of terrible answer. But early on it was kind of just yeah, kind of the gut check. But even beyond that, just try working with people and you’ll learn pretty fast if it’s going to work or not. And if you can take a low risk with that, then that’s definitely the best way to go about it.
Felix: What about looking back to like were there certain kind of either red flags for the previous manufacturers, or patterns that you see in the new partners that you have brought on, that you try to look for when you look to partner with someone else or some other company?
Leo: Yeah, I would say you can see that they share the enthusiasm with you. So kind of looking back at my first manufacturer, there were a lot of red flags. Like they would send me samples that were way off. And when I would go back to them and say, “Hey, these aren’t even close to right,” they’d be like, “Oh well, send us your changes and we’ll charge you again for the next round.” And it’s like, whoa, you know, you weren’t even close. Why do I have to pay again?
Leo: So I kind of got the feeling, hey, you’re kind of just trying to squeeze money from this. And even just other stuff, like would call them and email and they wouldn’t respond for days or sometimes weeks. And you’re just kind of left in the dark, like waiting around.
Leo: So I’d say communication is always a really easy way to filter out the bad. You know, if someone’s a bad communicator. And when they’re trying to get your business, they’re definitely not going to be good when they already have your business.
Leo: Yeah, that was kind of the big one to me.
Felix: Got it. You said to me that it’s all about focus. And focus exclusively on the product you’re tying to solve, and the audience you’re trying to solve it for. How would you describe the problem that you are trying to solve with Mugsy Jeans?
Leo: Yeah, so early on I experienced the problem. So it was great because since I was the target audience, I knew exactly what I wanted. So I was a little lucky there. I think it’s a bit harder to make a product for someone else.
Leo: But at the same time I also knew that my friend group and greater network were also the target audience. People that were similar to me. So you know, it was easy to just kind of be like, “Hey man, can I pick your brain?” Or go out, take a friend out to drinks and just ask him a few questions, show him a few things, and just learn from them.
Leo: But yeah, I just kind of started super small, you know? Me and my friend group. Let me solve this problem for us. And if I can solve it for us, I know it’s going to work for everyone else.
Felix: Got it. So when did this evolve or did the focus of the problem that you were trying to solve evolve as the business grew, or did you always have the same kind of focus from the beginning?
Leo: I’d say it was the same problem, but I don’t think I fully understood the problem until I just kind of got more into the weeds of it. So I initially probably thought like hey, I want comfortable and stylish jeans. And I think early on we focused more on the style aspect, instead of the comfort. And eventually I kind of went oh, comfort is kind of more key. And plus if you have comfortable jeans you can make ’em more stylish, and people don’t care as much, ’cause they’re comfortable.
Leo: So yeah, I think it was just more my understanding of the problem which just evolved over the course of me prototyping and talking to all those friends that were my target audience.
Felix: So were your customers saying things like … Like what were they saying to you that made you switch focus? ’Cause I could imagine a business or company that starts and then go years and years and years just focused on the stylish side, even though they could make much, much more headway by switching their focus onto comfort.
Felix: And you obviously caught this early on, and changed course and focused more on the comfort. But what did you recognize in the way that customers were talking to you in the marketplace that made you realize that the focus should be on comfort more than on style?
Leo: I think the main thing for me was, I was trying to get these jeans on a friend and he would just be like, “Man, I look good in these, I agree. But oh man, they’re so uncomfortable, I can’t wear these.” You know? “Imagine if I was trying to sit in these, I can barely stand or walk in them.” And you’re like, “Okay yeah, that makes sense.”
Leo: And you know, just listening to that honest feedback that they’re giving. And like I said, with friends and family you kind of have to read between the lines a little more. Kind of like what I said where you know, I’d sell a pair of jeans, or give a pair of jeans to a friend, and then a few weeks later we’d be out at the bar and he wouldn’t be wearing ’em.
Leo: And so okay, he really didn’t love them, then, if he went right back to his old crappy jeans. And the jeans that he told me were a few weeks before when we were brainstorming the problem.
Felix: Got it. So you also said to me that you want to nail down your target audience as specific as possible and then you market to that specific audience, digitally and physically.
Felix: So let’s start off with this idea of narrowing down your target audience. ’Cause I think a lot of entrepreneurs are like, they want to grow a big company so they kind of throw their nets wide and try to service as many people as possible.
Felix: You’re saying narrow down, focus on a specific audience. Can you tell us a little more about this exercise you went through? Like what was your audience initially? And then what was the result of narrowing it down?
Leo: Yeah, absolutely. So I always tell our team, sniper, not shotgun. Eventually, we’re going to have to move to a shotgun and then maybe like a rocket launcher, not to give a morbid example. But you know, really just focus on who the core audience is, and boil it down as much as you can in the early days. Because it’s a lot easier to sell something to a group of people that’s smaller and all in the same place and all like-minded and have the same interests than it is to try and sell to varying groups of people. And then now you have to spread your marketing budget thinner.
Leo: Whereas if you can just own this one group, it’s easier to then just expand to kind of groups that are just similar to them. And then next thing you know you have a much wider audience. Does that make sense?
Felix: Yeah I think that … Yeah, that makes sense. Because you got to kind of have a foothold, right? If you’re just trying to be everywhere then you fade into the background. But if you can, like you said, really dominate a small, small audience, you have a foothold, you have basically [social proof 00:25:41] to expand a little bit to the right, a little bit to the left, to grow that group.
Felix: But if you start off with both a little bit to the left, little bit to the right, from the beginning, you have less of a chance to getting a foothold and establishing yourself somewhere. I think that that being able to establish yourself makes a big difference in getting other people to be willing to adopt and try a new product, try a new brand out.
Leo: Yeah. I actually have a …
Felix: So when you are …
Leo: That reminded me of a … Sorry, that reminded me of a good example of an exercise I learned early on.
Felix: Yeah, please.
Leo: So early on, one of the mentors I found was kind of a branding expert. And he told me, he kind of explained this sniper versus shotgun approach to me early on.
Leo: And he said, “Go home, and just write like as many pages as you can about this target audience. And picture him as one person. Where’s he going on the weekends? What’s his job? How does he get to work? What does he do when he gets home? What kind of food does he eat? Like, literally just write this person’s biography, this imaginative person that you envision as embodying your entire target audience.”
Leo: And that was really insightful. Because you learn everything about this person. And then you know where they are, and how they’re influenced. And then marketing becomes a lot easier when you just fully have that understanding.
Felix: Yeah, I think the question that this begs is what if this person doesn’t exist? Like how do you know? How do you test to see if this person even exists before you … ’Cause you could spend years trying to reach this person, this avatar as such, that you created, but they might not exist. Like, did you ever have that fear? Like, how do you test to see if the avatar is a real person or a real group?
Leo: Yeah, absolutely. So for me, it was a little easier. ’Cause kind of like I said, I focused on me and my friend group. So I knew they existed. I knew they were … I’m not too special of a guy. So there are tons of me out there. There are tons of people that would fit into this category.
Leo: And for me, I just kind of said, hey, it’s like 24 to 35 years old. Probably an urbanite. Probably with a white collar job. And you can just kind of immediately know that that person does exist.
Leo: And I feel like if you don’t know that that avatar exists, then you don’t have a full understanding of the problem because … That you’re trying to solve. Because you have to know who the person is that is experience this problem, in order to solve it. Does that make sense?
Felix: Yeah, that does make sense.
Leo: Yeah, so I don’t know. It’s a tough one. But I guess I could also kind of expand on that and just say, start marketing, you know? Do this exercise, try and figure out who this person is, where they are. Market to them. And you’ll quickly learn whether they exist or not, based on whether the marketing is a success.
Felix: Got it. So let’s talk about that second half of your point, which is again, the entire was that you want to target a very specific audience and then market to where they are, both digitally and physically.
Felix: So talk to us about this. Let’s talk about the physical side, actually. What do you do in the kind of physical marketing … What is the strategy there?
Leo: So similar to that story where I went to that one denim store in the Greater Chicago area and I tried selling there. Again, it was just, when I wrote these pages based on who this target audience is, I’d say, where will they be? In Chicago, at a point where they’re interested in buying jeans. So it’s a little easier, ’cause just like, obviously a jeans store, you know?
Leo: But yeah, physically, just get where they are. Like other examples could be, okay, I’m in Chicago. And one of the main things I found when I did that exercise is that our guy loves sports. He’s playing sports, he’s watching sports, all of it.
Leo: So you know, maybe in Chicago I can find the intramural sports leagues, give them a ring. Can I set up a trunk show at one of the events, one of the game nights? Can I try and sell jeans to people? Can I give them discount codes and cards and show them the jeans? That kind of thing.
Felix: Got it. What about digitally, then? What’s the strategy to market online?
Leo: Yeah, so the great thing about the digital stuff is you can do it tomorrow. And you can do it for almost nothing. I think the minimum spend on Instagram or Facebook is like $5 a day. So obviously, that can build up quickly. But at the same time, that’s a really cheap experiment, when you think of like 50 years ago, you’d have to spend like thousands of dollars on a billboard to know if it’s working.
Leo: But yeah, I mean, and Instagram you can just, you can target down to people so finely, it’s incredible. Like the things that they know about people that you can kind of filter out. So yeah, digitally, that’s probably the first thing I would do, is go to Facebook and Google and really hone in on the person and the audience. And what’s cool is Facebook will also like tell you, hey, here’s the size of this audience. And they’ll even say, “We suggest you open it up a little,” or whatever.
Leo: Even beyond that, though, kind of like I said, my audience, my guy, he’s into sports. So he’s probably reading sports blogs and playing Fantasy Football or something. So he’s probably trying to figure out, what player’s hot this week? So for me, early on, it was just, okay let’s find out what blogs he’s going to. And let’s market on them.
Felix: Can you describe some of the most effective ads that you had running early on? Like what were you targeting, and what the ads looked like?
Leo: Yeah, so the first one I remember really distinctly. It was kind of like … How do I say this? So in 2015, when I quit my job and was kind of trying to sell prototypes, we had a certain number of sales. Let’s say it was X. And then you know, flash forward a year, when I launched the new product, November 2016. The first real indicator that … The first real major win we had was one of those ads. And we had more than X sales. So we did more sales in that one day, from that one ad, than we did in the entire previous year. Again, just like immediate validation.
Leo: And what was great about that ad is I knew my audience was there. It was like the site that we advertised on … You know, sites can give you … It’s called like a media kit. You know, they have a breakdown of their demographics. They know exactly what kind of person is coming there.
Leo: So before I went into this, I’d seen the media kit and I saw the demographic had perfectly aligned with my guy. I knew they were there. And then, so that was kind of like the first part. And the second part is, okay, how can I tell them that this product is solving a problem they have? So for us, our big differentiator is this crazy stretch, ridiculous comfort. So how can I show that in an image, or like a .gif?
Leo: And so for us, we just had this … I launched this image of me kind of pulling the leg of the jeans out as far as I could to show the insane stretch of these jeans. And then the other leg looked normal, so you could see like hey, these look like normal jeans, but you know, that they can do that. And yeah, it just exploded, man. So again, just, I knew my audience was there. And I knew … I showed them that this is a product that solved a problem they were experiencing.
Felix: Got it. So when you are creating ads and strategies today, is that [same 00:33:13] approach there that you take to try and show the problem that you’re solving, or has it evolved now that the company is larger and customer base is larger?
Leo: Yeah, no, it’s very much still similar. And I think you have to keep in mind that people are inundated with ads more than ever nowadays. You can’t go three seconds without seeing an ad somewhere if you’re on your phone. So you have to make noise and get their attention right out of the gate. So we do a lot of stuff that says, “Check this out. This is a problem you’re having. This is the solution.” And as short and direct as a way as you can.
Felix: Got it. So what about PR? ’Cause I see here that you’ve been featured in big publications like Men’s Health, [Barstool Sports 00:33:59], Esquire, Buzzfeed, [Thrillers 00:34:00]. So how did you get featured on those publications?
Leo: That’s another good example of finding the right partner. So another early mistake and kind of disasters of mine were working with PR people. So I think we went through four. And the first four literally had no results. It was just a total loss and failure.
Leo: But when we found the fifth PR person, who we still work with today, it just exploded. And she kind of saw the vision, she understood what we’re trying to do. And immediately, we’re getting features in Men’s Health and Esquire and all this stuff. So again, just like finding the right partners, who understand what you’re doing and believe in your vision.
Felix: When did you decide to hire someone, hire an agency or a consultant for PR? Like what stage in the business were you at where you realized that this would be a good investment of your time and capital?
Leo: Yeah, this is the toughest question, ’cause at some point, you’re going to have kind of take the leap. And you say, “My product’s good, now I need to kind of hand some work off to other people who know what they’re doing, to get it out there.” And to me, marketing, PR, was the first, most obvious one.
Leo: I kind of, I was doing the digital stuff myself, as far as the Facebook, Insta, and like social ads. But I knew that if I tried PR on my own it would just be a miserable failure and a waste of my time. So …
Felix: Well why did you feel that way? Why did you feel like that one was the most important … The best one to choose to hand off to an expert?
Leo: Yeah, it’s kind of like you create a list of everything that needs to happen in order for this to be a success, and just start tackling what’s at the top. And you know, for most businesses early on, that’s exposure. Getting people to know who you are and what you do. So PR and marketing is often the first place you’ll start.
Leo: And another kind of warning I would give people is avoiding agencies as much as you can early on, because they’ll just charge so much more, and you just … You won’t have as intimate of a relationship. Whereas with the freelancers that I used in the early days and still work with, it’s much easier to get direct attention and just more value for your money.
Felix: Got it. When you do work with a PR freelancer consultant, what’s the working relationship like? What is your involvement? And what do they need from you to succeed?
Leo: Early on it’s a lot, right? ’Cause they kind of have to download everything that’s in my brain and all my knowledge of this company and this product, and have to understand it as well as I do. So I mean, when you say outsourcing and working with freelancers, it’s not like it will be much less work. Especially early on. Because like I said, you have to kind of get this vision concrete in someone else’s eyes.
Leo: But it’s just more the carrying out of the work. So you kind of change your focus from doing the work to guiding the work. And yeah, leave it to the experts when you have to.
Felix: Got it. So we’ll talk a little about the site itself, the online store. I love the design. Was this done in-house?
Leo: It actually was. Yeah, we hired a director of marketing this past year, and he also happens to be a killer website programmer. And it made an incredible difference. So just kind of doing a re-haul of the website, and making it catch up with the times, and kind of what the standard is for e-commerce sites nowadays. Had a tremendous impact on our conversions, sales, everything.
Felix: Got it. Is the theme that you’re using, is that built from scratch or do you know if you guys used like a paid or free theme?
Leo: If I remember right, the base, kind of like the foundation of this site as it is now, definitely uses a theme. But it’s been like dramatically altered.
Felix: Got it. So when you went through this re-haul, what were some of the big changes there that you guys decided to consciously make that made a big difference in conversion rates or sales?
Leo: Yeah, absolutely. So when you have a website as your main platform for selling, you have to make that website replace a physical experience. And so for jeans, you know typically a guy would buy jeans by going to a store, trying them on, looking in the mirror. You can’t do that online. And that makes clothes shopping … Clothing shopping online very difficult.
Leo: So for us, it was just letting the use of our website show you as much as it can about how these jeans are going to fit, feel, look, all that stuff. And one example is we launched like a 360 product view. So you can just kind of scroll across a picture and see every angle of the jeans. And it just gives you a really good idea of what they look like and how they’ll feel.
Felix: Is that the favorite part of the site for you, or what is your favorite part of the site after the overhaul?
Leo: Yeah, that’s probably my favorite. ’Cause like I said, just showing people what these jeans are all about, it’s really hard on just like a computer screen. So that 360 product image … And you know, it … For those who can’t see, which is everyone, it’s just like a person standing and it kind of rotates them. But it even has them do a couple of different poses and stretching the jeans, so you can really just get like an immediate feel for what the jeans are about. So yeah, that’s definitely my favorite upgrade to the site that we did.
Felix: Got it. Do you use any Shopify apps or other apps to help run the business?
Leo: Yeah, definitely. So a few of the bigger ones…well, one that we just found that I’m really excited about is inventory planning app. So it kind of tracks your sales by size and style. And it tells you, hey, you’re going to sell out of this [skew number 00:39:52] in this many days. And when you do, you’re going to lose this much money.
Leo: So we’re kind of rolling that one out now. But when it’s fully functioning, it’s going to be major. ’Cause that is one of the hardest things that we have to do. I’d say probably the hardest thing at this point, is just guessing inventory levels and all that.
Leo: Another is, we have an exchange program we use. So when a customer wants to exchange jeans, Shopify’s platform doesn’t really have a great answer for that. But this exchange app really just simplifies it for us. So just a few little things like that just have like a really major impact.
Felix: That’s called Exchange It?
Leo: Yeah. Yeah, that’s the one.
Felix: Got it. Cool. So let’s talk about the operations, and like how big is the team that works at Mugsy Jeans today?
Leo: Yeah, we have a few employees, and we have a lot of freelancers. I’m a big proponent of freelancers, ’cause you can get expertise without having to take on a full-time employee responsibility, which comes with a lot of headaches, even just from a regulation and filing standpoint. That was something I was not prepared for.
Leo: You kind of set out, it’s like, “Hey, I’m going to hire someone.” And then like oh my God, I have to do this and reach out to OSHA and the, withdraw this and that and file this and that, and it’s crazy. So we have a whole team of freelancers that focus on very specific things, and just really kind of knock those out of the park.
Felix: Got it. What about communication [and management 00:41:22] between all of the team members, if it’s all a kind of like, freelancers? Like how do you guys stay in touch when you are working on a new product launch? Or how do you stay in touch when you’re working on a new project?
Leo: Yeah, that’s tough. And that’s something we’ve definitely been bad at in the past. And kind of working with the freelancers more recently, we’ve learned that. A lot of ’em sometimes feel in the dark, or, “Hey, we didn’t know about that. And if we had, we probably would have changed this and that.”
Leo: So it’s become much more like include everyone on everything. So like any email, you send out, CC the whole team. And if it doesn’t apply to them, they’ll just X out of it and ignore it. But at least they’ll have the opportunity to read it and you know, kind of get involved if they need to.
Felix: Got it. So thank you so much for your time, Leo. So mugsyjeans.com is their website. And I’ll leave you with this question. What do you think needs to happen for you this year to consider to 2019 a success?
Leo: I would just continue to build the momentum. So we’ve kind of got the rocket off the ground, and now it’s just, let’s keep it going, you know? Just keep pursuing our goals and aligning with the [forecast 00:42:32].
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much, Leo.
Leo: Cool. Thanks so much.