A powerful brand identity is sticky. It's something people will remember. And if you're selling apparel, it's something your products will have to wear.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Oliver Cousins of Maap, premium cycling apparel designed in Melbourne, Australia.
He'll share the reasons they invested heavily into their brand identity by working with a creative agency very early on and why he thinks it was an important decision for their brand.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
For me it was one of the most important investments we ever made because you live with your logo forever, or variations of it. And if you get it right it’ll pay off.
Tune in to learn
- Why it’s important to nail down the branding right from the beginning in fashion
- How to work with a creative agency to create your brand identity
- The challenges of balancing a product that needs to have form and function
Show NotesStore: Maap
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Oliver Cousins from Maap.cc, that’s M-A-A-P.cc. Map sells premium cycling apparel designed in Melbourne Australia and was started 2014. Welcome Oliver.
Oliver: Hi. Thanks for having me on.
Felix: Yeah. Excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about the store and the apparel that you sell.
Oliver: As you mentioned we’re a cycling apparel company based in Melbourne. We focus on the premium end of the scale and that’s something that we’ve been … we launched the company years ago now, November 2014. This whole thing all started with my business partner Jared who is a long term friend of mine. It was really born out of our passion for the industry and it’s something we started with really no expectations but it was driven by the want to create something for ourselves. That’s essentially how it initially started talking about it. Then jumping headfirst into creating something, which has resulted in Maap. It’s been quite a fun ride along the way.
Felix: Very cool. What are your backgrounds? Did you guys work in industry before starting a business in it?
Oliver: [00:02:16] I had worked in the surf and street wear industry. I worked previously for Globe International , which is a skate shoe company. Under their umbrella that had a diverse group of brands including the Stussy license for Australia. I was the menswear designer for them. I was with Globe for about 12 years [inaudible 00:02:30] and finished as the design director. My background is apparel fashion designs, not a graphic background but more of a technical pattern making construction type of thing, which I studied down here in Geelong. Jared’s background was modeling. He had a lot of experience working with various brands and that’s how I came to know him originally. Aside from that, he ran his own building business. He had that base knowledge of setting up a company, the finances, accounting, et cetera, that essentially I had no experience in. Really the partnership formed pretty well and along the way our responsibilities have naturally assigned themselves to each of us. It’s been a really good fit in that regard.
Felix: Did you both jump into this business right away, because you mentioned that you started without much expectation. Was this something that you went into full time or were you running this on the side while you guys both still had some day jobs that you were doing?
Oliver: That’s right. Yeah, I was working full time for Globe and actually really enjoying what I was doing. As I said, I’d been there for 12 years and really never had ambitions of working for myself. It wasn’t something that I’d always said to myself, that one day I’ll do. I was quite happy working for the company and working my way up and I had a really good sound relationship with the employees. However, my interests changed as I grew up and I had kids. My interests sort of shifted from surfing to cycling. That’s what I became passionate about. We just wanted to do it more from a creative perspective and something that we wanted to … it was a product that we wanted to develop.
Obviously we saw a gap in the market and we were confused as to why no one had really addressed what we were looking for. That was exciting to us. It was always started as a passion project. It was started as a side project but quickly after launch or during the launch process and as soon as we started to share the brand we quickly knew that it was going to be something more than that. Essentially the brand in development took about 8 months to prepare. [inaudible 00:05:00] process, creating the brand identity visiting the factory, refining our product and getting it all ready. That was all done on the couch after hours on weekends. It was quite stressful, quite a lot of work, but it was definitely something that we were excited about.
After launch, Jared essentially wound down his building business to dedicate more time to the operation side of things. I continued to work full time for Globe. It was good because it didn’t put too much pressure on the business to make money online or it meant that the money did make could go straight back into the business to pay for the next round of production. Ultimately it was a great way to do things because we let the business self fund and grow. I think it wasn’t until November last year, 2015, that I was able to make the decision to go full time. I ended up resigning from my work and the company asked me for a long 6 months transition period, which I was happy to do. Again, it was that transition for me, which gave me a bit of money on the side as well and allowed me to work full time. Sorry, a couple of days a week on Maap while they were looking for my replacement and that kind of thing.
It was a really great way to do things. I had to be up front and honest with the company when we started Maap and they weren’t obviously super stoked about it but they appreciated the honesty and then to repay them for that trust that they gave me in order to start the brand, I was happy to give them a 6 month transition. Or 6 month notice period for example.
Felix: You weren’t direct competitors right? Because you were creating an apparel business in the cycling industry and it sounded like the company you were working at before, was it more like a street wear brands?
Oliver: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, so not direct competitors I guess. I was seen as a relatively senior member of the product team at Globe and I guess it was more a conflict of time and interest. As I was in a creative role for them so essentially they would want me spending my time researching and thinking about the surf industry and Globe products rather than switching off at 5 o’clock to go and work on your own project. I think that was more where they saw the conflict rather than us competing in the same segment of the market. At the time I didn’t agree with that but now running … having our own business now, I can see where there concerns are. As I said, it was amicable and I think that was just letting me know what the boundaries were at that point and I was grateful for them letting me continue with what I wanted to do, which was great.
Felix: Yeah. I mean, I would say 99 percent of entrepreneurs will start off this way. Probably most listeners are in the situation where they are working a day job and they are starting a business on the side after work, on the weekends. How did you … you mentioned that there were some boundaries that you were able to establish with your employer. How did you manage this? How did you navigate this potential conflict of interest where they expected you to constantly be thinking creatively about your day job’s brand but then know you wanted to shift your attention after work hours towards building your own brand. How did you make sure that they were as okay with it as possible?
Oliver: Yeah. Look, as I said, I didn’t really see any conflict. I just had to perform. I think I was really careful not to get distracted during work hours. I think it was really hard, particularly with iPhones and you’ve got multiple email accounts and people calling. I just had to remain focused on the job at hand with Globe during the day or try to at least. Then for me it was like, when you’re at home it’s fair game, but I think what really helped was having Jared available during business hours so as I said, he wound down the building company, was still consulting with fashion brands with his modeling projects but that was more flexible. Really he became the point of contact during business hours, which I think if we didn’t have that or if I didn’t have that it just would have been too stressful to try and manage both.
I think that was a huge advantage and then we would … as soon as I got home I’d have dinner and jump on the laptop and be able to try and get through what I needed to do. I guess it was just showing the company that you’re committed and for me I was essentially trying to output the same quality of work that I was prior to Maap. I guess there is other conflicts. I used to do a lot of travel for Globe in terms of sales meetings, research trips, buying … looking at the markets, assessing trends and that kind of thing. I guess at that point they’d start to get concerned. Am I walking to every second cycling shop that’s in there, in London? Or am I focused on the task at hand.
There’s a lot of trust that needs to be there between employer and employee and I think I didn’t want to sneak around. I didn’t want to be dishonest, because I think that puts a lot of stress on you as well. That’s not something you need to have to worry about. You want to make sure it’s on the table and there’s no conflict or no reason for them to get their nose out of joint. Look, it wasn’t perfect. They weren’t super happy as I said, like they [inaudible 00:11:11] me not to do it but at the end of the day it is what it is and I was really passionate about it so I was going to do it regardless. I think they understood that. They tried to make it work and then ultimately it didn’t work in their favor. It was something that, it could have gone either way, it could have been a project that fizzled out and became nothing and I would be still at Globe and enjoying myself or it could have been … as it was it became a success and I’ll end up leaving the company. It could have easily gone the other way.
Felix: What made you change your mind? Because again, when you first started off you had no intentions of, had not expectations but then after about a year in business you made that decision to leave your day job, your senior position as this company to pursue your own business. What made you change your mind?
Oliver: Look, I mean, pretty much from the launch of the brand, which was November 2014, we knew that it’d be a success. We had really good feedback. We had good placement in premium stores that we had put on our wishlist. We had at that point, I was like okay this is going to become something for sure. Then it became a case of, okay we need to manage this. Obviously we can’t support 2 salaries straight off the bat so then it became a case of, alright let’s try and build this steadily or organically or how we originally planned. It wasn’t until we looked back and said, okay we’re in a pretty good situation here financially that we can justify both of us working full time. I think that happened, I guess I resigned probably 6 months after it was launched and like I said, I had the 6 months transition. So within a year we were supporting both of Jared and myself.
I think that was, a lot of people tried to talk us out of that as well because I was like, no one pays themselves a salary in the first year, you’re crazy, what are you doing? But it was a case of we can’t do both of these jobs forever. It was stressful. I think if it was, if it wasn’t able to support us within let’s say 18 months or 2 years, I would have made a choice to probably go back to the full time job. Because instead of, it was probably the hardest 18 months of my life trying to do both work wise. We were lucky, we were confident that it could support us and we had some good advice. We partnered with a good accountant firm that’s been instrumental in guiding us along the way and planning. That was important. We had a bit of sales history or a nice sales history that we could forecast off. We had financial advice that gave us a bit more confidence. At that point it wasn’t, it didn’t feel like a risk. Then we did it and we haven’t looked back since.
That’s been lucky. It hasn’t been, it’s not something we’re going to look back on and gone, shit was that, excuse me, was that a bit premature? It was something that the business needed. It needed that, it was growing fast and it needed [inaudible 00:14:44] to do it properly. It wasn’t really a big decision. It was just something we jumped into.
Felix: Can you say more about why you both felt that it wasn’t a risk to, not just start the business, but to invest the time, the money, energy into it. Then of course 6 months later already both going into it full time. What did you see about the business, the marketplace that made you realize that this wasn’t going to be as large of a risk?
Oliver: We were just very confident that what we had planned to create wasn’t really in the market. There were obviously other cycling brands, some really successful, some new, but we had a particular style or preference for fit, fabric combination, aesthetics, that we felt wasn’t really being addressed. I guess I came into cycling with relatively fresh eyes only having been riding for 4 or 5 years. Jared had a lot more experience in cycling and racing and probably a 12, 15 year background in it. When I came across and started riding with him a bit more, I had the experience from the surf wear industry, which is saturated with brands. A lot of great brands had built lifestyle brands out of the industry.
Like the, there’s a lot of good brands in the surf industry and when I looked at the cycling industry it was very sports focused, very race or team oriented. I guess we wanted something that was more than that. We wanted something that would appeal to people that may have come from a surfing or skateboarding background or may appreciate design or art or not 100 percent cycling focused. That was us. We love cycling. We’re passionate about it, but we also liked good design. We liked fashion. We liked other, I guess, influences. It was just something that we felt, as I said we were really confident we could create something that maybe wasn’t being addressed. If we liked it, we knew our friends would like it. It just snowballed from there.
That was the idea, now it came to the case of executing it. Which was, it’s easy to I guess, determine what the niche is. Then it’s, we have to go through the process of creating it. That was a lot of work and I think all, I guess because we were so confident in the space that we, from the beginning we really invested in the best we could do in each aspect. That meant brand ID and logo development. We used a creative agency who was run by a friend of ours who was, he’s actually working for us now. At that point that was a big expense. We paid, it might have been a couple thousand dollars for logo development. From there we went into our first range and sample construction and that was an expensive process. It was a lot of trial and error. Multiple rounds of sampling.
We decided we wanted to make it in Italy, which is renowned, it’s the best country for producing cycling apparel. We flew us ourselves over to Milan and we drove to the factory. Hired a car and paying for hotels just to spend time in the factory and really refine what our products were. Again that was a big investment without having any forecast of what our sales would be or no outside investment. It was a big leap of faith but it all came back to that confidence of knowing that we were going to produce something exiting that we knew people would like and that wasn’t really being addressed in the market.
Look if it all went up in a blaze or all became a big failure I guess we thought, at least we’ve got some nice gear we can wear ourselves. It wasn’t going to be a disaster, but it was all initially, even to this day it had all been so [inaudible 00:19:17]. That was something else that was adding to the stress during that development period. It was a case of like, let’s put 5 grand in each. Have we got 5000 dollars Australian that we can put into this pool and use that to build this brand and that was just coming out of our savings, or coming off our mortgage. We thought, that should be enough, that’ll get us the first sample range and brand ID and that kind of thing.
That ran out really quickly and then it became a case of, or this month [inaudible 00:19:48] another thousand dollars in each. That was a bit of an unknown. We didn’t know where it would stop. We didn’t have a concrete business plan with all of our costs. There’s a lot of unforeseen costs that would pop up. Jared would hit me up and go, all right I think we need another 1500 dollars. So we’d put 1500 dollars in each. That was just coming out of our monthly paychecks. Eventually it got to be 18 thousand dollars each, that was the original investment and that was over the period of 8 months. It was at that point where I was, I was like this is it. I have no more money. We have no more money to put into this thing. This is getting a little bit serious now.
Then we launched our collection, our store, the Shopify store. We had product in stores, in wholesale stores. Finally, we were starting to see some money come back. At that point we cut off our investments into the business and we haven’t had to personally loan the business any money since. It sort of, as I said, I think a lot of timing, a lot of luck, a lot of whatever you want to call it, but it, we didn’t dwell on it too much I guess. We’re lucky that it was well received and from there it’s been growing steadily, which has been-
Felix: Yeah. Those initially sales must have been a huge relief for both of you after having invested-
Oliver: For sure.
Felix: 18 thousand each. You also mentioned, speak of the numbers, you also mentioned that you partnered with an accounting firm early on. Was this even before ever investing the money into it? At what point did you decide to look for like an accountant or look for some outside help to look at the numbers? What were you using them for?
Oliver: Yeah. Look we, initially we were using them for advice on our partnership structure. We wanted to get something on paper just to say, look it’s Jared and myself. We set up a partnership. At that point we hadn’t set up a company. It was just really early on bare bones advice. I think they were doing it pro bono at that stage because they were also working for my brother-in-laws company and my sister is an architect. They were also helping her. Instead of like, we were recommended this firm and we went and had a meeting with them and they were just giving us some really basic advice. Which was actually really helpful at the time, just to try and get a few things sort of. A few of the basics set up like, as I said our partnership [inaudible 00:22:30] et cetera.
Then once we launched the business we went back in to see them and we sat down and did a business plan. It was something more that we worked through with those guys and it just gave us a bit of a structure as to what our goals would be for the next 12 months and what our obligations would be. They really came into their own probably at the end of the financial year we roll that into all that tax and eventually rolling the partnership over into a company structure and setting that up. It started off really basic in terms of advice and now they’re taking on a pretty, I guess, almost full time role in terms of our obligations for running a company plus our payroll, our [inaudible 00:23:31]. All the sort of elements, book keeping, et cetera that we do. Yeah, they’ve been a really good asset.
As I said, I had no business experience, no experience running a business. I’ve always worked for companies since I was 21. Jared had a lot more knowledge about that than I did and he is sort of, as I said, he’s sort of managing the finance and sales side of the business. I think it’s, I would highly recommend finding a good trustworthy accountant that can give you advice along the way. Because it’s, I think one of the most time consuming aspects of [inaudible 00:24:13] the business. When you really want to be sort of focusing on the product or the sales or the marketing. It’s nice to get that done once and done well and set up properly from the beginning Not having to sort of double back and change things down the track.
Felix: When you are looking to partner with somebody, based on your experience, what are some key facts or terms or discussions that you need to have with your partner, with someone that’s knowledgeable, like an accountant or lawyer. What are some key things that you recommend other entrepreneurs pay attention to when they are setting up a partnership?
Oliver: It’s hard to know but we’ve always, I guess, sourced our consultants by referral. I think that’s probably the most trustworthy way of finding them. We’re working with a lawyer who is recommended by my sister-in-law who is also a lawyer. They’ve been fantastic. We’re working with a merchandiser planner as a consultant to, managing our production order process again through a contact. I guess that’s, for me that’s the, I would find it hard to just open up the phone book and try and source someone or even-
Felix: What about like with your co-founder though. If you have a co-founder or somebody that you’re partnering with for your business in terms of making sure that you have a solid foundation. What were some key facts or key terms that, you don’t have to go into details about your particular agreement or arrangement, but for other entrepreneurs out there thinking about partnering with a co-founder. What are some of those key facts or terms that they should look into establishing right off the bat?
Oliver: I think we just went into it saying, it was really really basic for us. It was 50 percent investment. It’s equal in every single facet. Let’s just keep it really simple. Obviously there was some, you’ve got to make allowances in the early days when some people feel like they’re doing more work than other people due to the restrictions people have on time and their personal situation and what not. I guess just keep it honest and keep it simple. I think it’s, you just have to be able to trust your partner. I think that was the thing that was, no matter what happens you’ve got to have each others trust and I think for us it was the most simple way of doing things.
It helps that we knew each other for 10 years prior to that but I think having a partner in general, I’d highly recommend that. I think particularly when you’ve got different skill sets. I really could imagine doing the business solo. It’s just not something that would be enjoyable either. It’s something that you’d really like to share with someone. Share in the wins, share in the losses. Have someone that’s not your family. There’s only so much your wife can hear about your business before they start to go a bit crazy. It sort of, it is really, I think a really important part of what has made Maap successful, is having such a great partnership. But look, I couldn’t tell you what other than keeping it simple and keeping it even would be the best thing to set up. We kept it really, as I said, we started as a partnership agreement. It was a one page document that sort of said, it’s 50 percent shares each. It was very basic but it was enough for us to say, this is where we stand and who knows where it’s going to go from there.
Now that it’s a bit more complex [inaudible 00:28:06] company structure, we’re looking at doing a shareholders’ agreement and that kind of thing. But that’s, I guess just take it one step at a time. You don’t need the [inaudible 00:28:17] contracts and over complicate things in and the beginning. You just need a really solid foundation and a good understanding of what the expectations are. I guess it’s really important to clarify the job titles and responsibilities. For us in our situation it sort of naturally fell that way and we didn’t have to, we clarified it and put it on paper and made it … You need to be accountable for certain elements of the business but really it’s been a pretty smooth ride the whole way through and I guess a real strength of what Maap is.
Felix: Right. So you mentioned as well that you both knew right from the beginning that you wanted to invest heavily in the branding, the logo design and making sure that you got that right, right off the bat. This is a, I think, there are two camps on this. Two sides that people take on this. One is to not worry so much about the branding and the logo and just worry about executing first and then of course there’s the other side, which you’re on. Which, it was really important to have that nailed down from the beginning. Now why did you feel that that was an important aspect to figure out and spend the money on, on all of this prior to having a product, prior to having any sales yet. Why did you find that it was, why did you guys decide that it was important to nail that down the right way?
Oliver: I guess that’s just my experience through the years of working in the fashion industry. It’s a brand that you want to wear, it’s something you’re going to live with for a long time and it also represents who we are. If you’re creating furniture or auto goods or … it probably is less important but for us we’re a design led business. We’re producing premium apparel for discerning cyclings essentially and it’s paramount for us. That was helping to create the image of the brand and helping us to find the art direction and what the brand stands for. For me it was one of the most important investments we ever made because you live with your logo forever or variations of it and if you get it right it’ll pay off ten fold down the track.
Even though it’s, as I said, less important for other sectors it’s still something I believe is probably the most important thing to invest in. We were actually at the point where we commissioned an agency to design the logo and weren’t happy with the result. We paid the fee and walked away from it because we knew it wasn’t at the level or it didn’t really fit the vision that we had for the brand. At that point we contacted a second agency who happened to be a long term friend of mine and it just clicked from day one. Like the logo development came naturally. It was something that we loved and we could see the whole brand being built off the back of.
We’re continued to work with Misha or Mass Current, the agency since that day. Now Misha is now, has now since become the creative director of Maap and working full time for us. It was one of the defining moments of the creation of the brand. It also gave us, as I said we had a really clear vision of what the brand was going to be, but that’s one thing. You can determine the niche but then it comes down to creating the brand. We started with the brand identity and the logo development and once we had that, it gave us extra confidence in what we were going to become. And that was like, well yeah I’m even more excited about what this brand is going to be now because I can, it’s starting to become real. I can see what it is. I like what it is.
It’s just that it helps give you motivation. It gives you more motivation to keep investing in it. Keep throwing some more money into it if you’ve got that or keep expanding the collection or whatever. So it was really one of those sort of key moments where we just sat back and went, yep this is becoming what we want it to. Which, was really good.
Felix: Yeah. There is definitely value in being proud of what you’re working on and having that great design early on. I can see how motivating that could be to keep you going. When you work with a creative agency to design the brand, design the messaging and design a logo. What’s involved? Talk us through how you work, any tips that you can give on working with a creative agency to make sure they, you get what you want out of it at the end of the day.
Oliver: Yeah sure. I, as I said, I was a design director or design manager for Australia brand so I had experience in building briefs and creating essentially a mood board or an idea of what the brand would be with visual references. I had done that. I had that prepared and had some pretty clear references of what we’re looking for. I think if you don’t have that, not ability but just design ability to put together a visual brief. It’s just a case of sitting down with the designer. I guess it’s important to know that they’re capable of achieving what you want to achieve so I would almost treat it like you’re interviewing them on your first meeting. You want to find out what they do, what they’re good at, what they’re style is. Are they great with typography? Are they great with vector art? What is, what can they bring to the table and I think that’s probably the most important decision, is settling on who will design it.
Then it’s just a case of working through what your vision is. What your market is. What you’re trying to achieve. What problems you’re trying to solve with creating your brand et cetera. Then a good designer like Misha who we’d been working with completely understood it and I think he gave us straight off the bat gave us 6 logo ideas. All of which could have been used that were great. We knew immediately, which one was going to be the one that we ran with.
It was a relatively easy process because the designer or the agency just got it, just understood. Having had no cycling experience or limited cycling experience, just understood exactly what we were trying to achieve, you know.
Felix: Yeah, I think one of the issues that people that are not design oriented, that don’t have the experience that you have run into when working with a designer is that the boundaries are often crossed, right. Because they’re entrepreneurs that have this kind of vision and they sometimes maybe give, I don’t want to say give too much direction, but do too much of the work that you might have been hiring the designer to do. Can you give us, maybe help lay out the boundary between what you should be relying on the designer, what expertise you should be relying on them for, where you should be contributing to this process.
Oliver: Yeah I think you’re right. I think you let the designer design. Let them choose the fonts. Let them propose the color palettes. Let them try and create or give them a chance for them to interpret your ideas. I think that’s important and then from there you can work more closely through the process. But I mean, they will really draw out of you in the first couple of meetings what it is you’re trying to achieve so as long as you can sort of paint the picture of I guess the niche that you’re trying to attract or trying to capture. Even references of styles or products outside the industry that you would like to reference. Look as much sort of visual references that you think are relevant but then I’d sort of step back at that point and just let them have a crack at it.
For us it was, we really had, because of my I guess long months of thinking about the brand. We sort of had quite a specific key color in mine. Which, was the aqua that’s become sort of synonymous with our brand. Some really clear brand, key brand identifiers that we wanted to run with. I think that sort of helped Mass Current really interpret what we were doing but … So I think, look I think a good designer will get that information out of you. I wouldn’t overthink it but if you’ve got some good references and good key points that are important to you, you put them on the table at that point.
It’s not an easy process. I used to work with a lot of freelance artists to create t-shirt graphics and board short graphics throughout the years of creating ranges for these brands and I guess I’ve had great results and poor results. You’re not, the only thing I would say is if you’re not really comfortable or really confident in what is being produced, don’t settle with it. It’s always, there’s always an opportunity to improve it I think and you’ll know when you’re super happy with the result and if you can just move on and be proud of it. I think that’s probably the most important thing.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now in terms of marketing the business and the brand, you mentioned to me that one of the things you guys invest a lot in is original premium creative content like lifestyle photo shoots, racing. I’m assuming is that racing events or what do you doing exactly to create a, maybe we’ll start there. What are you guys invest your time and your capital in to create premium creative content?
Oliver: Yeah, so we do some really great photo shoots. We’ve done, you know, I guess seasonal campaign shoots that have been in some really epic locations. For us it’s about showing the epic side of riding a bike. Wether it be in the Italian or Swiss Alps or the Italian Dolomites. From the beginning we’ve really tried to present the brand in the most premium way we could and that was working with professional photographers from the beginning. Which was at the time, seems like a big expense, and really trying to … We use that premium content that we’ve generated ourselves on our own so it should [inaudible 00:40:43] account.
We, probably Instagram I would say was initially the biggest, was a really important medium for us and we really wanted to rather than rely on re posts of riders or other peoples photos, we wanted to create our own content and really use that as a vehicle to show people really well art directed product shots or riding shots essentially. I think within the first year we took our photographer and a couple of riders over to Italy and shot our winter campaign riding around in the snow up in the mountains over there. Again, that was just a way for us to really make a splash and launch our first winter collection.
We had such an amazing response to it. It’s been really well received and people appreciate the investment that you’re making in the brand and it’s sort of really, it helps speed up the growth of the brand but also the perception of the brand. The perception of the size of the brand and you know for me that’s been probably one of the most important strategies that we’ve done.
On the other side of things, yeah we have, I mean one of our biggest focuses is technical performance of our product. It is a hard performance product and it’s important for us to support the top level of the racing that’s around the country. We’ve created our own race teams in the [inaudible 00:42:25] and also an amateur race team in Melbourne that’s out racing weekends. With that you’re creating products for the team exclusively, but then you need to document what they’re doing, the racing they’re doing, the personalities of the team, and we’ve used that as a marketing vehicle as well. To sort of show through our social media accounts. We also last year sponsored a continental race team, which was quite a big financial investment. But again, it’s important to us because these guys are racing at a really high level and using the product for what it’s intended for, it’s a race oriented product. They’re showing the product performing in real life. That’s social proof and it’s actual proof that it’s good product and these guys are enjoying wearing it and it’s performing. I think you can’t really, it’s hard to sort of manufacture that.
That was a key investment for us. It’s also, I mean it’s one thing to provide product to this race team and to sponsor the team and it’s another thing to actually generate content that is good enough to show your customer base. I think a lot of brands fall down by thinking sponsorship is enough but I think for us it’s, you know you can’t have the sponsorship without the premium contents and we again, we would invest in hiring our own photographers or creating our own [inaudible 00:44:07] assets. Making sure that we’re representing the product in the same way that we do, if it was a photo shoot. I think that was key. That sponsorship fell over at the end of the year and so we’ve sort of decided to take a break until 2017 on the continental race team but we’re looking again at opportunities for 2018. It’s, for us it’s global lifestyle brand. You know, the analogy is the same as the big surf players like Quicksilver or Billabong or Hurley, they’re global surf wear lifestyle brands and they’re selling T-shirts and chinos and board shorts to the average [inaudible 00:44:49].
They’re still supporting the top level of the sport and they are sponsoring the professionals. They’re encouraging the competition and competitive surfing. It’s all aspects of cycling that we want to be involved with and part of racing for us is a passion of ours and it’s really important to us. That’s something we really want to be involved with from a personal level but also from a product perspective and making sure that we’re producing products that compete with the best of them in the market. For us that’s will always be a part of what Maap is about.
Felix: Right. When you are creating, investing, creating this premium content. Putting a lot of time, energy, and funds into it of course you want to make sure the eyeballs, the people, your target customers actually see it. What’s been helpful for you, especially early on to promote this premium content that you’re creating?
Oliver: Yeah look, such media that’s just been amazing for us is Instagram, it’s an incredible platform where you can literally see the reactions instantaneously. From new content, new products or anything the brand is working on. Facebook has become really important for us. It started slow for us. We weren’t big Facebook users but that is a really important part of our strategy in terms of advertising or being able to determine demographics in the market and show them relevant content.
We have very rarely, if at all, paid for marketing up until ad placement in via print or online. We’re really relying on the ground swell of the brand to generate editorial with media partners. Visually it’s really been mostly those two channels. The other thing that’s been important is media partners and I guess collaborations. For us, something we wanted to do from day one is collaborate with like minded brands like, I guess then open up their audience to what Maap is all about. Initially we did a collaboration with a big Australian cycling media blog called Cycling Tips and that was fantastic. With the collaboration that we jointly sold, we then had some really solid free editorial through their channels. That really drove a lot of traffic to the site, which really established good back links and also good traffic.
Felix: What was the collaboration?
Oliver: It was just a kit design. It was a pair of socks, a bib, short and jersey that was designed collaboratively with the team at Cycling Tips. Launched on both of our sites and then jointly sold. It sold out really quickly. Then we did a second run and it was something that is still, peoples’ favorite kit designs that were done up until that now is still that collaboration. We put a lot of effort into creating it or making it good and at that point Cycling Tips had very rarely done a collaboration. It made a lot of waves in the industry and gave us a lot of free press essentially, you know. It ended up actually being a good money maker for us as well because we ended up selling through the kits really well. It was a great example of [inaudible 00:48:49] Maaps credibility in the space because Cycling Tips were a credible media blog. It was one of our first brand partnerships that we did.
We moved on to create a shoe with a Swiss company called Suplest, which has been really great. We also developed a phone, a waterproof phone wallet with an Australian company called Bellroy, which was also great. Bellroy was the first company that we worked with that was outside the cycling space and they’ve got a really big following globally. That was a premium product that really allowed customers to take Maap with them off the bike. It was the first product that we really produced that was not designed for riding. Well it’s designed for riding, but it’s just something that you can use off the bike as well as on the bike. It was a really good premium piece for us and that also gave us a lot of awareness through Bellroy’s database, which was good.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I want to talk a little bit about the manufacturing of a product like this because you were saying, it’s not just a well designed product based on the way it looks but then also has a lot of technical details that go into it for performance reasons. What are some of the challenges of balancing these two aspects of a product, the design and of course the performance side of it?
Oliver: For us we start with the technical aspect of the product. That for us is the basis of what the range is about. We look at what the problem is and then how to solve it. For example, we’re looking at a deep winter jacket. What are all the things that we need that garment to provide and we build from the ground up. That becomes a case of the trips to the factory in Italy. Sourcing materials, building the fit samples, refining the fit samples. Really signing off on the construction and the function of the piece. Then once that is confirmed then we look at the visual design of the garment. Our brand is quite graphic driven. Essentially we have all of our pieces, our blocks ready, our bib, shorts, our new jersey fits, our light jackets, heavyweight jackets, beanies, et cetera. Once they are all confirmed we’ll come back through and we’ll design, you know, the winter [inaudible 00:51:40] collection for example on top of those templates.
It’s a two stage process for us. We’re not really thinking about the graphics at that point. Yeah, so it works in a couple of stages.
Felix: So you start with the technical performance side first always and then layer on the design aspects later-
Oliver: Yeah, because with certain garments you’ve got … we do four seasons a year. You’ve got timelines, you’ve got ideas and sometimes those ideas aren’t refined enough to be ready by the timeline so you can’t really force something into collection. Particularly if we’re testing our products or developing new fits, sometimes it can be the season it’s ready, but more often than not it’s two or three seasons down track that it is ready. You’re really sort of working further out than what you would be if it was just a T-shirt or a hoodie or pair of jeans. You’re working a couple of seasons out more than what you normally would. Once they’re ready, then they become relevant to that next season. So you don’t want to really sort of design the graphics too far out. You want to keep that, keep the color palettes and the graphics relevant to the season you’re working on. Whereas the blocks in the fabric and the performance of the garment can be refined over long periods. It has become a two stage process.
A lot of our styles, once we have them confirmed, a great jersey fit that we run. You know, that may run, we’re still run the original jersey fit that we designed for the launch of the brand. So it just shows if you get it right and it’s well liked it has a long lifespan as well. You really do want to make sure you’re putting in the effort to the development of the product ahead of launch so it can be something that lives with you for a long time.
Felix: Makes sense. Awesome. Thanks so much for your time Oliver. Maap.cc is the website. M-A-A-P.cc. Where do you want to see Maap this time next year?
Oliver: I’d like to see it in more countries across the world. I think we’re really focusing on Europe and the USA at the moment. We’re talking about opening up a second warehouse somewhere in Europe this year, which is a big goal for us. For me it would be just allowing more people across the globe to be able to get into the brand without implications of tax and duties and VAT et cetera, et cetera. For me that would be the goal, just to make it more accessible for everybody.
Felix: I love it. Thanks again Oliver.
Oliver: Cheers Felix. Thanks man.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek of what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: Generally that multiple somewhere between 20x and 30x. So it’s doing 10000 dollars a month in profit. It’s going to fall somewhere between 200 and maybe 3, 320 thousand dollars in value.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters. The eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trail.