On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Yong-Soo Chung, Founder of Urban Every Day Carry, a business and community supporting creative makers and designers of knives from all over the world.
Inspired by the families of his high school classmates whose parents were C-level executives working in big companies and being a South Korean immigrant in a white-dominated private school, Yong-Soo was driven to start a company one day. A few years later, he built not just one but four ventures or businesses. He did not just build a money-making business but also built a community that brings people with a certain passion.
Yong-Soo’s first company is Urban Everyday Carry, a company that helps small-time knife makers and designers all over the world which brought together a community of people with the passion of collecting knives, sharing stories with each other. GrowthJet is a climate-neutral 3PL that was primarily just a solution to a troublesome order fulfillment for Urban EDC.
The third one, Spotted by Humphrey, an online dog products boutique, was an unexpected venture after Yong-Soo and his wife’s French Bulldog suddenly became an Instagram sensation. Lastly, First Class Founders, Yong-Soo’s podcast where he shares his experiences on a podcast in hopes to inspire and prevent business owners to commit mistakes that he had made while he was still starting his own.
It’s an awe-inspiring episode as you’d hear Kunle and Yong-Soo talk more about Urban EDC’s core values, operations, and growth, GrowthJet’s First and Class Founders’ advocacies, and Spotted by Humphrey’s story.
Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:
On today’s interview, Kunle and Yong-Soo discuss:
Q: Are you a morning person?
A: Yes, I am.
Q: What does your morning routine look like?
A: I get up, walk my dog, make myself some green tea, do a bit of meditation, and then get some work done that doesn’t involve email so it’s deep work.
Q: Are you into sports?
A: Yes, I’m a big sports fan. I follow Boston Sports. I’m originally from the Boston area.
Q: What is your favorite sports team?
A: It has to be the Celtics, basketball. I grew up playing baseball so I’m a big Red Sox fan as well.
Q: What two things can’t you live without?
A: I would have to say my wife and my two French Bulldogs.
Q: What book are you currently reading or listening to?
A: I am reading a book by Robin Sharma. It’s these little short stories and it’s called The Everyday Hero Manifesto.
Q: What’s been your best mistake to date, a setback that’s given you the biggest feedback?
A: It’s been constant iterations and listening to customers. A big mistake that I made earlier in my career is I bought a bunch of inventory and nobody bought them. It was a big mistake that I made and I had to get creative about how to get through that inventory. I would say to anyone test first, validate it, and then build. That would be my advice.
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In this episode, we’re going to speak to the Leader and CEO of a community-driven eCommerce brand platform called Urban EDC. We’ll be finding out how to use the psychology of novelty, exclusivity, and urgency to build engaging communities around your brand and products.
Welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast. I am joined by Yong-Soo Chung, who is the Founder and CEO of Urban EDC and GrowthJet. Urban EDC or Urban Every Day Carry is a community-driven eCommerce platform that curates and sells artisan-crafted everyday carry gear like notebooks, pens, knives, wallets, and bottle openers.
They operate on the premise of exclusivity and urgency through their limited edition weekly product drops from top makers that get their community members constantly excited. Yong’s second company, GrowthJet, is a climate-neutral certified third-party logistics or 3PL company based out of South of San Francisco.
Why should you read this episode? Yong-Soo breaks down the building blocks he’s used and is still using to build a strong and remarkable brand, a strong brand that will help you stand out in a crowded market, build trust with your customers, and increase customer loyalty. Yong-Soo also speaks a lot about how to leverage customer data to get valuable insights into your customer’s behavior, preferences, and needs. In his words, by analyzing customer data, you can identify areas where your business can improve and make data-driven decisions to optimize your operations.
Yong-Soo also covers how he has experimented with different markets and channels for Urban EDC and his other portfolio brands. They have heavily utilized and leveraged social media, email marketing, influencer marketing, and paid advertising. Fourth, we talk about automation, tech, and the importance of staying curious and continuously learning as an eCommerce entrepreneur. If you want to delve into the detail of how Yong-Soo has grown and is profitably managing his $10 million plus eCommerce empire, you’ve got to pay attention. Let’s get started.
Yong-Soo, welcome to the 2X eCommerce Podcast.
Thanks so much for having me, Kunle. I appreciate it.
It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. Let’s start with who you are. Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like, and how has it been instrumental to where you are now? I’d like to make that connection.
I was born in South Korea. I came here when I was about 8 years old. I learned English as a second language. It’s funny, it’s flipped where my English is a lot better than my Korean now. I’m a 1.5-generation Korean-American immigrant. Growing up, I went to a preppy white private high school. The percentage of Asians in that community was small. The people that I was surrounded with, some of these classmates, their parents were C-level execs at some of the biggest companies that you would recognize. I didn’t know that at the time because I was a kid.
Growing up in that environment, I felt like there was this inner drive for me to make my own path and make it in this world. It drove me to be like, “I want to make a name for myself.” I always knew I wanted to start a company one day, I just didn’t know what company I would start, but I had this big dream of doing something impactful in this world and in my life. I’m not sure where that comes from but part of it has to be this whole immigrant thing growing up in a society where I’m a foreigner. I did have that inner drive from the start.
I graduated from high school and went to a liberal arts college up in Maine and then graduated in 2009, which is right in the middle of the Great Recession if you recall. I was in finance at the time. I graduated, went into finance, and was fortunate enough to find a job on Wall Street in 2009. I was doing finance for a couple of years. During that time, I had this urge to start a side hustle. I tried a few different things. I was writing for a personal finance blog and I got paid $25 for every blog post that I wrote. It took me a couple of hours to write each blog post. I’m pretty sure that was below minimum wage at the time.
I got a taste of what that was and that was more important to me. I was like, “I can make money doing something on my own rather than waiting for that paycheck every two weeks.” That realization made me motivated to continue. I wanted to start an iPhone app development company around that time. This is back in 2009 so the iPhone app economy was starting to take off. I worked with a company in Ukraine, a development company.
The idea for the app was a geofencing app where if you go to a location like a church or a library, it’ll detect that you’re in a location where you’re supposed to silence your phone and it’ll silence it for you. That was the idea for it but then I quickly realized that silencing your phone is difficult because the iPhone has this physical button that you’re supposed to click up or down to silence your phone so that didn’t work out. We pivoted into a group chat app.
Back then, there were no group chats and Facebook groups didn’t even exist at the time. I wanted to make something where you could talk to your family, you could talk to your camping friends, and all these different subsets of your life. You have different personas. That was an idea that I had. Now, there are tons of group messaging apps. Right around that time, I got laid off from the first company that I was working at. I decided to shut down all these projects, I’m like, “This is a bad time. We’re in the middle of the Great Recession.” Those side hustles stopped there.
I realized that if I wanted to be involved in tech, I needed to surround myself with the environment of startups. I bought a one-way ticket to Berkeley, which is in the Bay Area in San Francisco, and I moved there with one suitcase. I only knew two friends, one high school friend, and one college friend. From then on, I was crashing with a high school friend of mine for three months on the floor on an Aero mattress. I don’t know if you’ve ever slept on Aero mattresses for a long period of time but your back starts to hurt after a while. I was there and I was looking for an apartment and a job at the same time.
Finally, I landed a job at a startup and I was doing business development for them. I was on cloud nine because I was flying to Austin, Texas to attend South by Southwest. I met Coolio, the rapper, and he stayed with us at the house that we were at. I met Mark Cuban. It was crazy. I was like, “This is my new life now.” It’s insane. I was doing that for a couple of years. The company was largely funded by venture capitalists and the funding went dry so they had to make some cuts and I was part of that cut. Here I was again, I was laid off, and I didn’t know what to do.
I remember why I moved to San Francisco in the first place, which is to start my own company one day. I didn’t know engineering and I felt like that was a core skill that I needed to know. I did a twelve-week intensive software engineering boot camp where Monday through Saturday, 8:00 AM until 9:00 PM, I was coding all day, and it was an intense 12 or 13 weeks.
You were a finance major.
Econ major but finance-specific.
I did the software engineering program and then the first interview I went to after this program was bad that they told me to leave in the middle of the interview. I had four interviews lined up. After the first two interviews, they said, “It’s not worth our time. Please leave our office.” I was devastated. I was like, “This is going to be terrible.”
Two days later, I interviewed at a company that is in the blockchain space. That company was almost like a match meet in heaven because they were looking for someone to build out a trading platform and I already had that background from my days in New York. They accepted me and I became an early employee at this company. March 2014 is when I joined this company.
What’s the name of the company?
It’s called Ripple. I was there for about a year and a half and I realized though that there are a lot of financial regulation stuff that was happening. Our team, at one point, was told to stop building our product because they needed regulatory clarity before we moved on. I remember one Friday, we all went to go see a Pixar movie together because we had nothing to do. It was a crazy moment because we had so much momentum going for us but we were being told to stop. It was weird to me.
I’m one of those guys who need to keep moving, need to continue to see progress, and I couldn’t stand going to work and not doing anything. I decided to leave. This is towards the end of 2015. I left then and started my company called Urban EDC. EDC stands for Everyday Carry and it’s things that you carry on a daily basis like your wallet, a pen, a flashlight, a bottle, and a bottle opener maybe. That was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.
First of all, there’s so much to unpick from there. My takeaway is you take risks. Taking that one-way ticket to the University of Berkeley and then being a finance major and saying, “Screw it. I’m going to go for a twelve-week intensive course in software development to change my career.” To me, that is resilient from then on. My question is your why with Urban EDC. Is it Everyday Carry for a man? Was it a money brand? Was it from your personal experience? Did you launch it as a necessity of, “I want to make money,” or was there a bigger purpose and reason for setting up Urban EDC?
I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the start. A lot of my colleagues thought I was crazy because I’m in Silicon Valley working at a hot blockchain startup and I leave to start selling knives online. That didn’t make sense to a lot of people. For me, it was more about having the autonomy and freedom to be able to work on whatever I wanted to work on. I was looking at things from the perspective of, “We’ve got two forces, we’ve got time, and we’ve got money.”
From a time perspective, I was looking at like, “How was I spending my time on a regular basis?” On the money aspect, I was looking at my credit card statements and seeing what I was spending my money on. It turns out that I was buying a lot of these things like titanium pens or these desktop spinning tops, and things that were well-machined. Everything fits into this category of Everyday Carry.
At that point, I had a sense that this is the area that I wanted to get into but I still didn’t have a why that was beyond myself. As I was building this out and as I grew my team, I realized that my why and my purpose is beyond myself now and it’s to empower the employees at my company to become leaders themselves. That shifted a lot for me because I was no longer doing this for myself but I was doing it for others. To be honest, that shift in my mentality unlocked a lot of doors for me.
Going back to the everyday carry category, how big is it? It seems like homeware or garden. Who are the major players in this everyday carry? It seems to be a thing. Do you want to break that down for me as a novice?
The knife industry as a whole has existed for a long time. In the UK, it’s quite prohibitive to have knives and carry knives but here in the US, it’s a common thing, especially down in the south. It sounds silly but they don’t carry the knife to use it that often. They carry it more as an accessory. It’s almost like a purse.
Yeah. Why are you carrying that specific lighter? There’s some personality attached to it. It’s like, “I’m carrying this because it was passed down from my grandfather,” or whatever. There’s some personal meaning behind it. A lot of people carry a knife because it has that special meaning behind it and they carry that specific knife for that specific occasion because of these deeper meanings. A lot of these guys are collectors and they appreciate the design aspects of how the knife was made. It’s not much about getting any old knife and opening boxes with it. It’s deeper than that. It’s more about like, “Why did the designer choose to design the knife in this way?”
You can geek out about knives. To be honest, Kunle, I wasn’t a knife collector when I started Urban EDC but I’ve soon gone down that rabbit hole and it’s an interesting and intriguing world out there with knives. If you’re not into knives, it’s weird. There’s a whole community that’s super passionate about it and it’s about bringing that community together and showing off, “Check out this knife that I’ve had for 30 years.” Showing it to people and there’s a story behind that. That is where the power is, the meaning and the story behind each of these items.
Everyday carry transcends knives. A knife is a leading product in this category but there are many other things, there are bottle openers, flashlights, fidget toys, and chain keys. It’s the craftsmanship involved, it’s like wearing a good wristwatch or being particular about what you carry or dawn on yourself.
You guys have a unique business model at Urban EDC. You utilize weekly product drops. In my head, what I’m thinking is this draws parallels with a publishing business. Whether it’s a daily publishing business or a weekly publishing business, there’s an audience, and there’s anticipation in the audience.
You launch the product to market or you launch whatever it is to market and then there’s a reaction. You get feedback and then you iterate but you have to turn up every week with something new. How do you manage that? What does the team look like on the back end? How far do you plan? It’s like a podcast. I do this podcast every Tuesday. In a good month, I got to know my next 4 or 5 episodes. How do you plan this out? Do you want to break down the model on the back end so eCommerce operators reading this can get a grasp of where you are coming from?
I should give you some background on the types of products that we bring into the shop. We work with all sorts of different makers and designers all around the world and we have the ability to work with them in small quantities. The culture of the Everyday Carry community is one where some guy in his garage is making ten pens, for example, and he sells them on Instagram and they sell out in seconds. That’s the culture of this Everyday Carry community.
We wanted to bring that experience to our customers on a weekly basis. We haven’t deviated away from the Wednesday 12:00 PM Pacific Time gear drop for years and there’s a purpose behind that and that’s because we’re training our customers to know, “If you come here at this time, each week, we have cool stuff that you’re probably going to want to check out.” It’s so funny because we have customers setting alarm clocks for 12:00 on Wednesdays so they don’t miss out on our drops.
It’s like a conditioning where we’ve had people telling us, “I run a law firm and I told all five of my employees to jump on the website at 12:00 PM Pacific time on Wednesday to try to score this flashlight that’s hard to buy.” The funny thing is none of them were able to buy it at that time. The guy got upset at me being like, “How is this possible? I got all my team trying to get this product and none of them were able to buy it.” We’ve created this hype and anticipation of these drops.
You’re right, it does take a lot of coordination and a lot of scheduling. I genuinely believe that getting that hype level up each week has been one of the best marketing decisions that we’ve made. People get jazzed up and they know it’s going to be there at 12:00 on Wednesdays. It’s an interesting thing that we’ve created there with these weekly drops. We have a calendar. We work with a lot of makers. The moment we make a purchase, we use Notion, put it into the database, and schedule the drops.
For example, if we purchase inventory today, then we’ll put it out maybe six weeks out so it’s scheduled. Of course, sometimes we have to adjust the schedule because there’ll be delays and stuff but at least it’s there. We know that we’ve purchased it and it’s there in the database. We’ll start planning a little bit of sneak peeks and hyping it up about a week before. We’ll let people, “This is coming this week. You don’t want to miss out.”
We have content scheduled before the drops and then we have content scheduled the moment it goes up. Throughout the rest of the week, we will publish content around the products that are still available. A lot of it will sell out instantly. Those things, we don’t want to push, because then people will get upset at us. We will keep pushing content out that is surrounding the drop event that occurs each week.
A lot of work but worth it because there’s the novelty, there’s that anticipation, and they want that novelty on a regular basis. Given the fact that they are of a certain psychographic, they think a certain way, and they appreciate certain types of artisan works and designs. They want to turn up to buy something unique and they know it’s not going to be there next week. They keep turning up and up again.
Looping back to our conversation, it looks like there are two key pillars in your business, and one is the collaborative side, which is the backend where you’re collaborating with artisans and producers. The other is the community, which is what you have. That’s your core asset and you’re emerging them on a regular basis together.
Starting up with the collaborators, in terms of the artisans, are you getting inbound now that you are so big? Do you still hunt for manufacturers? With a podcast, we still do hunting with the podcast because we don’t want to be like every other show. If we wait for podcast agencies to present guests to us, we’ll sound like every other podcast. I actively go to LinkedIn and whenever I see someone interesting in this space, I’ll reach out to them and say, “Would you like to come on the podcast?” What is the process with yourselves?
This is a great point. When we first started back in 2015 and 2016, we were pitching brands all the time and we were hearing no after no. It was a frustrating experience and I almost gave up. It was a rough time. Looking back on it now, when you first start, that is the toughest point because no one knows who you are, no one cares about you, and why should they work with you? You don’t have anything that you can offer them. You don’t have an audience, you don’t have a big social media following, or whatever.
In the beginning, We heard more noes than yeses, for sure. The yeses that you have are the leverage points you got to start building and compounding. Each week, we tried and tried and built it up slowly. At a certain point, people started coming to us. The people coming to us are not necessarily the ones that you want to work with.
You want to be the one that proactively reaches out and expands your audience reach. People are reaching out to us all the time and some of them are great so of course, we work with them. A lot of times, our work is still not done. We’re still reaching for the brands and the collaborators that are outside of our reach because that’s how we know we’re going to continue to grow.
We started working with a lot of big content creators now. We have one deal. I can’t share it because we haven’t publicly announced it yet but that YouTube channel has tens of millions of subscribers. We had to work with them for months before we convinced them to do this project with us. They got on board and they’re excited about it. We’re close to launching this project now.
In a way, you get people coming in and you’re thankful. In the early days, everybody said no. Even though we’ve built our reputation and people are coming to us, you still don’t want to take all those people coming to you because you still want to be expanding your own network, own circles, and reach. The approach hasn’t changed that much. It’s more about the magnitude of the people that you are reaching out to.
As you grow, you know what you want, and your tastes change. That gives you more recognition and more of a backend because you have success behind you. When you approach desirable partners, they see credibility. As you grow, you’re building your credibility and that credibility gives you more opportunities for you to reach out to those brands and creators that you want to collaborate with.
On the community-building side, you’re not allowed to advertise knives. Artisan knives are your leading products in Urban EDC. How big is the community? How have you built the community? What is the primary way customers love to be communicated with? What’s the primary medium you communicate best with customers?
We have about 169,000 followers on Instagram and our email list is close to 100,000 subscribers. Email is our primary method and it’s important because the way I see it, Instagram and all these other platforms are discovery platforms. In those platforms, you’re essentially borrowing audience from Instagram or YouTube. You don’t own them. They might follow you but then one small tweak of the algorithm, no one will see your posts.
It’s a delicate balance of getting followers on these discovery platforms and then having an enticing offer or a motive to get on the website where you can get their email addresses. From then on, you own that relationship with that potential customer. A newsletter is critical for building a sustainable brand and that’s been our driver. Each Wednesday, the newsletter goes out and we see a huge spike. Each week, I can see our opens are increasing because our email list is increasing and that’s correlated nicely with our revenue. Email is a core part of what we do.
We also do SMS. We do have a text campaign that goes out. We call it the underground and these are deals that we don’t advertise anywhere. These could be attractive offers. A lot of the brands don’t want their products to be discounted on the website. What we can do is we can go through SMS and that way, customers feel like they’re getting a cool deal, no one knows about, and we can move inventory that’s not moving as quickly. It’s email and SMS.
The discovery platform we’re on right now is Instagram. We are quickly growing on TikTok as well. We’re doing YouTube Shorts. We’re also on Twitter. We were on Pinterest earlier but we’ve gone away from that a bit. Those are the primary channels where we acquire our customers. Going back to the community aspect, this is important, we want to make sure that each person that comes into our network becomes an advocate of the brand.
How do you make someone love your brand? They have to have a fantastic customer experience and that customer experience has to be a network effect. We have a free Facebook group that people are invited to when they purchase. We send follow-up emails saying, “How do you like your product? By the way, we have this community on Facebook if you want to join.” We’re able to leverage our community so they feel like they’re part of something.
We launched a paid membership called Yamato Club. This is an interesting experiment that we’re doing that is working out well for us. People are paying $9 a month to join this community, it’s a Discord server. These are the top customers that we have. We have a lively conversation there. We’re curating these mini drops for them. It’s almost like a paywall shop that only they can access. Doubling down on a community and this exclusive access to the community got to be a bigger trend for eCommerce. There are a lot of brands now and brand affinity and building a strong brand is going to differentiate one brand from another. Double down on the community and build an experience for them that they can’t refuse.
What about moderation? You talk about customer experience. With an eCommerce business, there are many layers to customer experience whether it’s the returns process, onsite UX, and the post-purchase experience, there are so many. How do you manage also extending that level of care with managing a community? Things can get wild in the community, particularly at Discord.
Once you have a strong community, you’ll get to see people step up and almost take on volunteer roles. These are your key ambassadors for the brand and you can leverage these people. Of course, you take good care of them so you can give them discount codes or free gear from time to time. They’re not necessarily a part of your team, they’re a part of the community.
What’s more powerful is that these self-governing communities with moderators that are from your community are not even part of your team. Let’s say there’s a problem with shipping and they’re writing on Discord and being like, “I can’t believe they did this.” The moderator who’s not part of our team is stepping in and saying, “By the way, they’re good with customer support. Reach out to them.”
We’ve had times when somebody would post something negative about us and then our other customers come in and it’s like a swarm of people that are like, “You’re not getting the point here. You need to reach out to them. They’re good.” They stand up for us. The most powerful thing is when you have customers who advocate for that experience. You can scale that way.
Raving fans. There’s a use case. There was a brand I was working with and they were into the automotive space. I know you’re not allowed to run Facebook ads with the knives. When you run Facebook ads for them, you wouldn’t put exclusions on the Facebook ads for a reason. The reason why I wouldn’t do that is that their customers will jump into the comments and share their projects there. That was social proof right there. You’d have one ad with 20 or 30 comments on there with their finished projects. For somebody who’s like Dalton Jones, he’s looking at it and he’s like, “These guys are for real. They’re legit. These are not bots. These are real projects because they’re diverse.”
That used to turbocharge the performance of the ads because it was a self-repatriating situation there. It was amazing. You get that privilege in these groups where everybody is in the same mind, “We care about the brand, Urban EDC, and that’s it.” That makes a lot of sense. Let’s flesh out the way your business works. We have the collaborators, which is your supply chain, it’s your backend. Do you have a supply chain manager on there? Are you still paying that special attention to detail? Do you still handpick or do you have someone to do it for you?
We have someone that’s been with us for a long time. He started in customer support and worked himself up and now he’s the brand manager of Urban EDC. He’s the one that works with the suppliers. Of course, he checks with me, like, “These are large purchases.” He makes sure, like, “Are we good on the finances?” All that stuff.
I try hard to delegate decision-making and I found that when I do that, not only am I able to delegate and get more off my plate to work on other things but it also empowers the employee. They’re like, “I’m making this crazy big decision. I feel good about it.” It’s a win-win when you delegate decision-making. A lot of people are afraid of that but, to be honest, you got to go out at some point and teach them how to fish, for example. You can’t always fish for them.
Sometimes I would let them make the mistake as long as it’s not extremely costly because I know that learning is going to be valuable and that it’s almost worth me paying a little bit for that mistake versus me being like, “You have to do it this way because of this.” They’re then like, “I’ll do it that way,” but then there’s no reasoning behind it.
The other thing I found is transparency on your north star metrics and their metrics. I was speaking to a PPC team and they’re like, “We don’t want to run a campaign that would go on a competitor’s brand name search because it’s going to ruin our numbers.” I was like, “Screw it.” If that increases month-to-month revenue, it’s a win. We’re not judging you by those metrics alone. You need to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes they’re screwed on their metrics or their dashboard without seeing the hall.
You spoke about empowerment and that is empowerment, that access to higher level data so everybody walks towards it. What does your team look like on the community-building side? There are lots of moving parts. You have to acquire emails and you have to acquire customers off the back of it. You have to collaborate with other brands and creators. That handicap is a superpower for yourselves. What does a team look like and how do you manage and orchestrate that front bit, which is super important for Urban EDC?
Our team is about five people. We have a general manager who handles a lot of the operational day-to-day stuff. I check in with the general manager for about an hour a day, roughly, and I let him handle most of the day-to-day stuff. We have a partnerships manager who is our hunter in a way, he goes out and reaches out to these big creators and these big brands. We’ve started reaching out to some Hollywood Studios now too. He’s good at what he does. He’s the partnerships manager.
We have a customer experience guy so he handles all of our tickets, customer inquiries, and all that, but then he also handles our community side. He’s not the one actively in there moderating, he’s just making sure that there are no fires or anything weird going on in these communities. We have our ambassadors or people that love us and they’re the one’s doing a little more inside each individual community like making sure that people are behaving and they’re not talking about inappropriate stuff and things like that.
We also work with our virtual assistant in the Philippines. This has been good for us because all of our back office operations, we do offshore, and that’s saved us a lot of money. What’s great is, in the Philippines, they’ll do all of that when you’re asleep. When you wake up, all that stuff is already done for you. We have a product photographer as well so he creates product photos and also videos for us as well. That rounds out the team.
Since you have weekly drops, copy is important. You mentioned the photographer, you definitely have to have photos of what you’re dropping. Who crafts the copy to make you compelling both onsite and across all your comms channels whether it’s SMS, email, or social?
We do have a copywriter that we work with and he’s from Singapore. He does all the copywriting for our product pages. The emails themselves are written by our team internally. We don’t outsource that because it’s such a core part of what we do. The newsletter is important to us and we do that internally. With social media posts, the same thing, we do that internally as well. All the product stuff is outsourced in terms of copywriting. All the other communications are internal because it’s our voice and our brand so I want to make sure that it’s represented accurately.
You have 3 other businesses. You have GrowthJet, which is the first climate-neutral certified third-party logistics provider in the world. We need to talk about that. You also have a pet brand called Spotted by Humphrey, which has got to do with your dog, and it’s a pet brand. You are building a personal brand now, First Class Founders, and you started that in November. These businesses combined are over $10 million a year business, which is a nine-figure business. How do you manage all these cogs? Let’s speak first about GrowthJet. You started GrowthJet in May 2019. How’s that going? Why did you jump into the third 3PL space? Are you leveraging your existing facilities for Urban EDC? Do you want to speak about that?
We realized that when we were doing our fulfillment for Urban EDC, I did a lot of research and discovered the third-party logistics company that had the best reviews, and I was like, “I’m going to go with these guys, they’re the best.” We went with them and we had a lot of issues with their fulfillment. We had $5,000 worth of goods lost. We’ve had products taken out of the box before it was shipped to our customer.
The way we found out about that is our customer would email us and say, “Is this a joke? I received a box and it has nothing in it.” That experience shook us and was like, “That is a terrible customer experience. We could do a much better job at it.” we decided to bring fulfillment in-house and when we did that, we had a lot of people asking us, “Who’s doing your fulfillment because my fulfillment is the pain point of our business?”
We decided to take on privately a few clients to help them with their fulfillment. We didn’t even have a name or a website when we began GrowthJet, we were just helping out other brands. Finally, we’re like, “Let’s make this into a real thing.” We got a website, got a name, and we realized that the fulfillment business is bad for the environment. There’s so much waste and trash so we wanted to do something about that.
One of our core values for GrowthJet is we made it a climate-friendly 3PL and that resonated with a lot of brands, especially now with climate change going crazy. The brands that we work with are careful about working with partners that have these brand values that aligned with their brand values. That’s how GrowthJet was born. We moved into a 39,000-square-foot warehouse so that’s been an exciting journey for us. We are working with a lot of exciting growing brands and it’s one of the areas of the business that’s growing quickly for us.
How do you get climate-neutral certified?
There is an organization and it’s ClimateNeutral.org. They work with other brands. They’re a relatively new initiative but they’ve already gotten a lot of large brands like REI. They’ve gotten a lot of these big brands to commit to being climate-neutral certified. The way we do that is we look at all the expenses and the costs of the business and then they categorize that into certain different categories. You have to buy back the carbon credits for that waste. Each year, we look at our expenses, categorize them, and then buy the credits to offset the carbon footprint of the business.
You have clients in GrowthJet, have you seen any growth stories? Maybe you’re fulfilling 50 orders a day for an eCommerce operator and then that 50 has grown to 500 and has been sustained. Have you seen any growth stories internally with your clients at GrowthJet?
For sure. We’ve seen new brands that launched. These situations are a little bit unusual because they launch with a celebrity as a co-founder. They’re able to have a lot of brand awareness right from the get-go. These brands will launch and then grow slowly and then, all of a sudden, they’ll explode in order volume. We’ve seen that working with a lot of these brands.
Are they only celebrity-led or do they tap into other opportunities or efficiencies to grow quite rapidly?
To be honest, for the brands that we see from the get-go that launch with a bang like that, you have to have a lot of connections and a network that you can launch right away. It’s like, “Here we are, this is a new brand.” That’s the distribution of brand awareness. If you don’t work with a celebrity, you’d probably have to work with an agency like a PR agency to get your word out and do an announcement. You can also work with influencers.
If you have a product that you’re launching and you’ve built these relationships with these influencers, you can give them the products and tell them, “On this day, this is what we’re announcing. If you’re up for this, we’ll send you whatever products that you need and maybe monetary value as well. This is what we’re doing at this time, please announce it.” That has this press release effect where everyone finds out about it at the same time. That’s the only way that I’ve seen a brand launch with that bang.
Where is GrowthJet located?
GrowthJet is in Brisbane, California, which is about twenty minutes south of San Francisco.
It’s not quite Monterey, it’s somewhere between San Fran and Monterey.
It’s pretty close. To be honest, it’s an expensive area. If we were optimizing for real estate, we would probably not be in that area but it worked out for us. We found a great space and we’re excited. We’re going to be there for four and a half more years.
You’ve also got good people there.
The cute story here is your dog, Humphrey, Spotted by Humphrey. Do you want to speak a bit about that, please?
My wife and I do business together. We brought home a French Bulldog in 2017. We did not expect this to happen but he gained a large following quickly on Instagram. It’s funny, one of the first videos that went viral is me holding him but I’m cut off from my neck down so it’s just my torso and my torso is being viewed millions of times by strangers on the internet. That video took a life on its own and that catapulted his following.
A year later, my wife quit her job to pursue Spotted by Humphrey full-time. Spotted by Humphrey is an online dog boutique curating all sorts of dog products. She has pretty good taste so she’s not just bringing random stuff. She’s picky about all the leashes or harnesses and the treats and making sure that they’re healthy and all-natural and all that stuff. She launched this brand leveraging his audience. She’s also a content creator through Humphrey. Part of that revenue is brand deals but also the revenue from the eCommerce shop as well, Spotted by Humphrey.
I respect what you guys have built to date, your journey, finance in the Recession, taking that lip to San Fran, Berkeley, Ripple, and the early days of eCommerce. It’s incredible, the fact that there’s this resilience, and you are a creator. Let’s speak about your final project, which is First Class Founders, a weekly podcast dissecting the most impactful concepts and frameworks from the business world. I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m going to check it out right off the bat. Do you want to speak about why you started First Class Founders and what you guys are up to?
First Class Founders is a place where I could share lessons that I’ve learned building my business. I’ve made a lot of mistakes myself. If I could help one entrepreneur out there avoid the same mistakes that I made, that would make me so happy. It’s a weekly podcast and I try to keep the podcast episodes short because everyone is busy, especially operators. They’re about 20 or 25 minutes long and I break down a framework that I used or have discovered that it’s useful for my business. A lot of the things that I’m talking about in that podcast, like a framework, I apply to my own business.
I talk about how and why I use that framework in that situation. It’s a unique way to get a sneak peek behind the scenes into how I’m running my business, which growth levers I’m pulling, experimenting, seeing what works, what doesn’t work, why it failed, and why it succeeded. That’s the area that is my playground for experimenting and sharing everything that I’m learning as I’m doing this. FirstClassFounders.com is where you can find the podcast.
Before I let you go, in every episode, we have what’s called a lightning round where I ask you about 5 or 6 questions. If you could use a single sentence to answer each of them, we’ll be okay.
Let’s do it.
Are you a morning person?
Yes, I am.
What does your morning routine look like?
I get up, walk my dog, make myself some green tea, do a bit of meditation, and then get some work done that doesn’t involve email so it’s deep work.
Are you into sports?
Yes, I’m a big sports fan. I follow Boston Sports. I’m originally from the Boston area.
What is your favorite sports team?
It has to be the Celtics, basketball. I grew up playing baseball so I’m a big Red Sox fan as well.
What two things can’t you live without?
I would have to say my wife and my two French Bulldogs.
What book are you currently reading or listening to?
I am reading a book by Robin Sharma. It’s these little short stories and it’s called The Everyday Hero Manifesto.
What’s been your best mistake to date, a setback that’s given you the biggest feedback?
It’s been constant iterations and listening to customers. A big mistake that I made earlier in my career is I bought a bunch of inventory and nobody bought them. It was a big mistake that I made and I had to get creative about how to get through that inventory. I would say to anyone test first, validate it, and then build. That would be my advice.
Yong-Soo, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the 2X eCommerce Podcast. I enjoyed your backstory and where you are now. I wish you tons of success. Cheers. Thank you.
Kunle, thank you. I appreciate it.