EFP 163: How Minaal Leveraged Kickstarter To Become A Lifestyle Brand

Podcasts

Justin Cooke

October 27, 2016

Anyone looking to launch a successful product brand would LOVE to start it off with a successful Kickstarter project. Successful kickstarter sales are a true test of interests, a great way to fund a nice initial purchase order, and can be a platform to launch a successful, long-term business.

That’s exactly what our buddies over at Minaal found out when they BREEZED past their minimums in their Kickstarter launch.

In this episode I sit down with Doug from Minaal to talk about that successful kickstarter, but mainly to ask him what happens…after. Great, you’ve launched a product people seem to initially love…but how do you turn that into a real business?

I ask Doug to take me through the steps from a launching a successful kickstarter to building a long-term company and brand that your customers love and he definitely delivers!

Check Out This Week’s Episode:

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Topics Discussed This Week:

  • The Kickstarter Story
  • Turning Successful Kickstarter Into A Brand
  • The Long-Term Play (Building the Business)

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Spread the Love:

“I think naturally if you’ve listen to enough feedback people are pretty excited about what you’re producing” – Doug – Tweet This!

“Getting your soon-to-be customers as super fans before they’ve even purchased can be a winner.” – Justin – Tweet This!

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Justin:                   Welcome to the Empire Podcast, episode 163.

                                Launching your own product with no experience in product development or design might sound like a recipe for disaster. But this week’s guest pulled it off big time. They launched a super successful Kickstarter with a $30,000 goal and crushed it, bringing in more than $341,000 and getting a ton of press.

                                In this episode we sit down with Doug from Minaal.com to discuss what made his Kickstarter so popular, the next steps they took, and their path to creating a dominating lifestyle travel brand.

                                You can find the show notes and all links discussed in this episode at empireflippers.com/minaal.

                                Alright, let’s do this.

Announcer:        Sick of listening to entrepreneurial advice from guys with day jobs? Want to hear about the real successes and failures that come with building an online empire? You are not alone. From San Diego to Tokyo, New York to Bangkok, join thousands of entrepreneurs and investors who are prioritizing wealth and personal freedom over the oppression of an office cubicle. Check out the Empire Podcast.

                                And now your hosts, Justin and Joe.

Justin:                   Alright Joe, so Amazon FBA has become extremely popular, and a lot of people are creating Me-Too products. You know the types, the ones that are made in China, there’s 50 other people selling the same product, they list it on Amazon FBA, and it’s basically a, “Let’s throw it against the wall and see what sticks,” approach.

                                But they guys we’re talking to today, or the guy, Doug, we’re talking to today, went the old school route of actually putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into an individual product, he iterated and he really focused on building out a brand.

                                Now both of those methods can work, Joe, but there’s something about the brand and the real focus on quality of product that just resonates with me a bit more.

Joe:                        Yeah, no, I would agree and see where you’re coming from. It’s definitely a bit more risky, like we were talking about prior to the show, but I do think it has some appeal. And just for the very fact that you can get excited about your brand, excited about your business. Whereas if you’re just throwing a bunch of random stuff on Amazon, it’s tough to really get excited about that long term.

Justin:                   It’s also you know the thing of having Amazon customers, or giving Amazon some customers, it’s not exactly the same as having your own customers, where you have their email address, they have a relationship with your brand, they’re promoters, they’re expanders of your brand. That seems to be … I mean, long term sustainability, that seems to be better. And in terms of people looking to buy a company, something that has their own brand, just seems to be a more popular choice. That’s what more people are looking for, and that’s what I’d be looking for if I was looking to purchase as well.

Joe:                        Definitely. It definitely makes it more sellable when you have that kind of brand power behind it. It’s something that somebody wants to buy into, for sure.

Justin:                   You know this product, did you get one? Do you have a Minaal bag Joe?

Joe:                        I don’t, I have the competitor, North Face.

Justin:                   Oh man, he’ll be happy to hear that I’m sure. Now this is a product, if anyone’s not familiar with it, it’s a travel bag. It was very, very popular in the digital nomad space, expat entrepreneur space. It’s a hefty backpack for non-backpackers. So it has a kind of pro look to it, we’ll put a link in the shutouts, it’s Minaal. M I N A A L dot com, if someone wants to take a look. They’re really cool looking bags, but they’re backpacks for the non-backpacker community which is cool.

                                And one of the things that’s interesting about that is everyone in our community was talking about this a couple years ago when this first came out, right? They had super passionate fans that were ultimately customers via Kickstarter and then through their own channels, which I thought was really unique. I mean there are people asking questions, and they have customers step in and explain how valuable it is.

Joe:                        Yeah, and I would also say they did a lot of product research, not only because they are digital nomads themselves, but I guess they met with a lot of people and they saw their struggles with the kind of North Face day bag that people were traveling with, that I still kind of travel with, and it has some big limitations, like the clamshell design that they have in the Minaal bag that North Face doesn’t have. I mean, the top loader thing is just so annoying after a while.

Justin:                   Yeah, it’s got the more kind of luggagey feel, in terms of putting your stuff in there, and the cubes I think are really cool. Anyone has that, you can get the packing cubes, but I think that’s a really nice add on.

                                You know the really interesting thing is the $30,000 goal, and the $100,000 they raised in the first four days. They ultimately raised just over $341,000. And so, but they’ve done other interviews on that, so they’ve done a Tropical MBA podcast, they did an eCommerceFuel podcast, I’m actually gonna link to those in the shout outs.

                                We can’t do this interview without at least discussing what happened with the Kickstarter, and how they got that running. So we’re gonna mention that at the top of the show, but I was really curious with these guys what happened after. Like how do you deliver for those customers, how do you keep in contact with them, how do you expand your brand in other products, how do you capitalize on the initial traction you got from Kickstarter. So those are some of the questions I had for them. I want to look at not just the Kickstarter success, because to me that’s almost like getting funded. Right? People go, “Oh, we raised money.” Okay, now what are you going to do with it? So that’s really what I wanted to ask Doug about, what do you do with a successful Kickstarter launch? And that’s what this show is about.

                                Before we get into the interview buddy, let’s pay the bills, let’s talk about our featured listing of the week.

Joe:                        We’re talking about listing number 40680. This is a three site package in a legal niche, built back in 2015. It’s a subscription service, which is quite nice, people love that reoccurring subscription model. It’s basically all about running legal searches, background searches, that kind of thing. They have over 650 paying customers, and they have really sort of level numbers month to month, and a very good buy for someone looking for this. It’s making just over $23,000 a month right now, and we have it listed for $761,000.

Justin:                   Yeah, I see that it’s kind of started to like do really well back in September 2015, and since then it’s been pretty level, gone up a little bit, probably slightly, a little up, a little down, little up, little down. But overall slight growth curve, so, really interesting business, $23,000 a month in profit. It’s averaging $34,000 a month in gross revenue. So yeah, interesting listing man.

                                Alright, I think that’s enough about the listing of the week, let’s get into the heart of this week’s episode.

Announcer:        Now for the heart of this week’s episode.

Justin:                   Really excited to have Doug on the show today. Doug and his business partner Jimmy didn’t come from a product design background, or even an entrepreneurial background, still they worked their butts off for their first Kickstarter with a goal of only $30,000, crushed it with over $100,000 in only four days. By the end of the Kickstarter, Doug, you had pulled in $341,000, and were well on your way to creating a lifestyle travel brand called Minaal. Welcome to the show man.

Doug:                    Yeah, hey Justin, yeah very pleased to be here.

Justin:                   Alright man, really exciting story, I remember … The thing is, is that you documented all this inside of a community called the Dynamite Circle, which is run by some friends of ours, Dan and Ian, who have this community, this kind of like expat entrepreneurial community. You did this whole case study on how you were gonna launch your Kickstarter, and you guys were excited about kind of building out this travel bag that you were working on, and you put a lot of detail into it, and by the end of it, everyone was so fired up and excited for you, it was a really fun thing to watch.

                                I remember my business partner Joe at one point, toward the end, after you launched and had some success, he was like, “You know this,” … He kind of skimmed the thread, and was like “You know they did this Kickstarter thing, can we just do a Kickstarter thing, and raise a couple hundred thousand dollars for some projects?” And I rolled my eyes, and was like, “Joe, dude, it’s not like you just throw something up on Kickstarter.” So if you could settle this for me once and for all, it’s not just throwing up a Kickstarter and hoping for the best, right?

Doug:                    It’s definitely not. I haven’t heard of many cases of it happening quite like that. It’s maybe possible, but it’s not how it worked out for us, there’s a lot of prep.

Justin:                   Yeah, so let’s talk about some of that prep. So you were hustling hard with the bag, you had a prototype built, and you were shopping it around Saigon at the time I think, and looking for actual real feedback from customers. Did you get that feedback, or was everyone kind of nice and sweet to you about it in the beginning?

Doug:                    Ah, no. I mean, yeah, kind of a lot of people from the same community you just mentioned, and yeah these guys in general are pretty upfront in general about the feedback. So it’s something that we kind of just learned to deal with. Other than that, it’s just letting the feedback come, and not trying to explain it away. Because I think it’s very easy to take some of that feedback personally, but if you really want a good product in the end, you’re better off letting it come and ask only the clarifying questions, and just write everything down. Cause it’s easy to get on the defensive and just say, “Well, this is why we did that,” but it doesn’t really make for a good feedback position, so.

Justin:                   Give me a piece of feedback that you received that ultimately was helpful, but kind of threw you off, or at least was a little frustrating to hear.

Doug:                    Well, there’s probably many over the years. There was one case where we … I remember we’d come back with some kind of blue and red highlights to the bag, and Jimmy and I, we’re not always on the same page with this, but we were pretty excited about this, and thought it looked pretty cool. But we were savagely torn down by the assembled people. So yeah, it was very clear that people did not share our love for this, and it’s easy with some perspective later on to realize that yeah, the people were right, we were wrong on that. But yeah, you can get trapped in your own excitement for a period of time until you pull out for feedback.

Justin:                   Everyone tells entrepreneurs, go out, get feedback, get feedback about your product or service, and then sometimes you get that feedback, and you’re like, “No, yeah, not gonna really listen … Not really interested in listening to this feedback.” Or it hurts, it’s painful, right?

Doug:                    Yeah.

Justin:                   Alright man, of all the work you did, and you did a ton of work getting this Kickstarter running … And by the way, I’m going to put some links to some other interviews you did where you really went into depth about the Kickstarter, and that was Tropical MBA, you did an eCommerceFuel podcast episode about it. But of the things that you did, what do you think was the most successful, what lead to the success of the Kickstarter?

Doug:                    I mean, I think the core was having a product that really resonated with people. Because we’d taken the time over many, many iterations, to really hang out in the places where our target market were and kind of involve them in the process. And then following from that I guess putting out a video that people seemed to enjoy, and was kind of shareable, and yeah making sure that enough of the questions that people would be wanting to ask were kind of wrapped up in the copy somewhere, on the page. So yeah, there were a lot of iterations on that. Because, you know, the classic case where you’re sort of deeply in something yourself, it’s not until you get someone who’s come in completely from outside, who doesn’t have the build up that you have to forget where the holes are, or the things that don’t necessarily make sense to other people.

Justin:                   It’s interesting because it seems like these two things work hand in hand, right? You mention having a really quality product, and the best way to have that is to really get that aggressive feedback, iterate, right? And then really hone down what makes the product special, what makes it better than your competitors. But the second thing is kind of the hype, right? Getting people passionate about your product and fired up about it, and just having a good product isn’t enough. It’s also getting the message out there. So it does seem a bit like you going out there and getting that feedback from people does build the hype, right?

Doug:                    That’s right. Yeah, I mean you’re involving people in the process, and I think naturally, if you’ve listened to enough of that feedback, people are pretty excited about what you produce, and kind of want to tell their friends about it, and are generally rooting for your success, so yeah that was a huge factor as well.

Justin:                   Yeah, getting your soon-to-be customers as super fans before you even launched the product seems to be a winning idea. What would you do differently today? I mean, if you were launching the same product or a very similar product without the kind of connections that you’ve built up, would you still go the Kickstarter route? Would you still put in all the time? Or would you go a different route, do you think?

Doug:                    I think there isn’t a lot we’d do differently. I think you could find things that maybe weren’t as great a return than others, but it’s probably hard to figure out what those were. So I think, yeah, Kickstarter was fantastic for us. It’s basically what … We basically didn’t need to really market for the couple of years, post that Kickstarter. Delivering a product that people were generally really happy with, delivering it on time, or early in some cases, and just –

Justin:                   At all. Delivering it at all.

Doug:                    Yeah, so I think the preparation in the end really paid off for us I think.

Justin:                   Yeah, I think in the last couple of years, whatever, so many people have not delivered on their projects or products on Kickstarter. It’s been kind of depressing, it’s like, you know, we have as entrepreneurs we have this amazing thing and a few bad apples are kind of spoiling it for us.

                                Let’s turn a little bit from the Kickstarter launch to actual delivery, post-Kickstarter. So you raised all the money, you get some of the money, you’re gonna start putting in the order with your manufacturer. Were there any hiccups there? Did they screw up the first order, anything like that?

Doug:                    No, no, I mean we’re lucky to have a really great manufacturer, so there wasn’t anything that went too badly that went wrong with that. There were a lot of sort of issues sort of sending out that volume of packages at once, and we had to make some last minute moves to select or change our point of fulfillment to Hong Kong for the international customers, so that was a lot of kind of sleep deprived days getting that sorted out last minute.

                                And then really the only … In terms of the production of the bag, it was really only something that was external to the bag, the pullers, we had some quality issues with those on the first round. So for subsequent bags we’ve … We’re replacing any pullers that break from people, we’ll just send out new ones for free. And we’ve gone back and changed that particular component supplier, and re-engineered it, so we haven’t had any issues on subsequent ones.

Justin:                   Got you, so it sounds like the first order, a couple of hiccups, but nothing … No deal breakers. I’m gonna back up just a second, too, had you been to China before you’d launched Kickstarter? I know you went after, right? But had you been before?

Doug:                    Yes, so we kind of spent a couple of years prior to that Kickstarter looking for bag manufacturers all over the world, it was kind of a long process. And as part of that we experienced [inaudible 00:14:58], so we spent time in China, Philippines, US, New Zealand, and Vietnam, which is where we eventually selected our factory. Yeah, we spent some significant time on the ground in most of those places.

Justin:                   Do you think … You’re talking about a couple of years in shopping for just the right bag, getting just the right products and materials together, but a lot of entrepreneurs are told, “Don’t take two years to build your [sass 00:15:25], don’t take two years to develop your product.” Do you think those two years were critical? Do you think you could have sped it up? Could you have come out with something that was, I don’t know, more of an MVP? Or do you think that time was required to really get the quality down?

Doug:                    Well I think … I mean, it wasn’t our dedicated role for those two years, we were working on other apparel projects, and just generally kind of educating ourselves in the textiles industries in general. So at that point it was the bag side things was kind of a sketch on a rough piece of paper.

Justin:                   Yeah, I remember you doing the shirts, I think you guys started with that, right?

Doug:                    Yeah, yeah, so part of those couple of years were looking at other areas as well, but it was helpful to do that, to build over a long period of time, to kind of build that knowledge.

Justin:                   What made you pivot from the shirts to the bags? What was it about bags, or what was it not about shirts that made you switch?

Doug:                    Well I think we kind of … I mean, the shirts was in some ways was working for us pretty well, and the feedback was good from beta customers on that, but it was kind of the really, really high standards that we’d set that made life difficult for manufacturers, so we’d kind of … The general theme was that we’d spend six months working with one, and then it would just all get too much for them, and we’d have to start all over again with another one. So after about three of those, by that point, we’d kind of become quite excited about our backpack idea, and we were getting some pretty strong early traction in talking to people about it, so we made the call to just pause all apparel projects, and go all in on backpacks. And that’s when things kind of started moving pretty quickly for us.

Justin:                   Well you did well, I have friends who carry their Minaal and they’re almost freakishly passionate about it, it’s kind of like the MacBook people, you know, “Oh, PCs suck,” and MacBook, they are all about it. So I think what you did there in terms of building up a brand is really interesting, and building out a brand that people love, right? And defend. It’s just pretty cool.

                                After you’ve a Kickstarter going, you got a bunch of press, and some of the press I know that you’d reached out to before to make sure it launched at the right time, and some of it was more organic, but either way, you ended up with a ton of opportunities post-Kickstarter, and different routes you can take, how did you parse those in terms of trying to spread the word, get your brand out there, do other interviews, how did you decide what other opportunities to take advantage of?

Doug:                    Well I think generally we were from the point of launch we were kind of, I’d say, overwhelmed, with outreach from people. And I think in general our policy was to say no to almost everything, and yes for those first couple of years we still got some great coverage, but we kept away from any other distributors or retailers or anything like that and just focused on selling on our own website, and went through many periods of being sold out. So even though we’d estimate a further increase in orders, we kept habitually underestimating that, so yeah there were lots of semi-frustrating periods of being sold out, but obviously that’s, of all the problems in the world, that’s a good one.

Justin:                   Yeah, that’s not so horrible. Was it a cash flow thing? I mean, did you just not have the cash to front the amount of bags you needed? If you had a financier and an investor, willing to front inventory to you, would that have been helpful do you think?

Doug:                    No, I don’t think so. I think there was some element of just making sure we didn’t make too many at once, and give us the opportunity to make iterations, but in the end we didn’t end up needing to change very much. So yeah, I mean I don’t think we really could have predicted that continual uptick, so I’m not sure investment would have helped, for us really.

Justin:                   The reason I ask that, I’m wondering if Kickstarter’s potential deal flow for investors, so if I have cash I’m looking to invest in inventory for eCommerce companies, I’m looking for eCommerce companies that are launching, and launching well with a really good place in the market, do you think there’s opportunity as an investor to go through and try to reach out to them, say, “Look, I’d love to help you with inventory,” and especially a month, two months, three months after the Kickstarter’s ended?

Doug:                    Yeah man, I think definitely … For us, yeah we certainly got a few of those approaches, and decided that we didn’t really need it, but I think there would be a lot … Particularly seeing a lot of the companies now, it’s pretty clear that they are spending a lot on advertising, which I guess is gonna take away from how much they can make in that initial order, so there probably is more scope for that now.

Justin:                   What does your team look like, post-Kickstarter? I mean you guys were already doing the design yourself, did you have any virtual assistance kind of helping with communication, any marketing people doing reach out? What did it look like?

Doug:                    So initially it really was just Jimmy and I doing basically everything. I think we were just … There were a few other people we had brought on to help, yeah, we had sort of friends at the last minute to help us as the volume of customer support stuff spiked pretty massively during Kickstarter. And then we actually brought on Jimmy’s brother to help us with that once we were off of Kickstarter, and just selling regularly in on the side.

Justin:                   So you had friends and brothers coming in, like “help us,” we’ve got a ton of [inaudible 00:20:41].

Doug:                    Yeah, that’s right, basically the vast majority of people that we work with, that’s through our personal networks. It’s a couple of roles only that we’ve gone kind of to market. Once Jimmy’s brother was ready to move on, we sought out a customer support and operations person, and now we’re actually still in the process of hiring an operations and projects manager.

Justin:                   Gotcha. So you’re still looking to hire?

Doug:                    Yeah.

Justin:                   Alright, so I think you said you decided post-Kickstarter not to go retail, and then you made some other decisions. You said no to a lot of things because you were, either protecting the brand, not wanting to get in over your head, but looking back were there any opportunities you said no to that you think you missed out on? And overall, net net, do you think, even if you missed those opportunities, it was still a good move?

Doug:                    Yeah, there aren’t really any that spring to mind as being, “Damn, we really should have jumped on that,” and I think for us it’s all about what you’re trying to do with the brand, and what your priorities were, and we made the decisions based on that. We really liked having that close contact with all our customers, that’s something that’s important to us, and so that’s something we’ve retained to this day.

Justin:                   So, I think when you launched, you had the bag. You now have more of a day pack, right? You’ve got a bunch of other products. At what point did you decide to add on additional projects versus just doubling down on the product or products you had? How did you decide whether or not to add on a product versus just continue with what we’ve got in a limited SKU scenario?

Doug:                    So something that is important to us is keeping that number of SKUs down, and making sure that any of our products are really, really well thought out, to the degree that our first one was. But I think for going into the daily, which was the second bag we released, it was really just a lot of customer feedback, saying, “We want.” If they’re taking two bags with them, they’ve got the carryon, but then they’ll say, “Well we have to use this other little bag that isn’t really idea, we want a Minaal version.” Yeah, that was quite a lot of strong feedback that brought that one in, and that took us … So we were getting that basically from the beginning, and it took us –

Justin:                   So customers are telling you, “Great, I’ve got the Minaal, but I’ve still got my whatever bag that I’m using for a weekend trip,” or whatever?

Doug:                    Yeah, like for a personal item, yeah.

Justin:                   And so like, “that sucks, can you guys fix that for me?”

Doug:                    Basically, yeah.

Justin:                   How many people had to ask you that before you finally … And the reason I ask this is Joe and I are daft at this kind of thing, right? We get asked 20, 40, 50 times, where finally we’re like, “Oh, maybe there’s an opportunity here, we should probably go do this.” Was it that way for you?

Doug:                    Yeah, I mean we’re probably in the 50 to 100s of specs, but yeah it was quite clear from relatively early on that people were interested in it, it just took us a really long time to feel like we’d got it right. We went down a few different random … Well, not random, but a few kind of dead ends, and started from scratch again in terms of the building of that daily product.

Justin:                   I want to call you guys kind of non-product designer development guys, but that’s probably not fair today. Maybe it was fair a couple of years ago.

Doug:                    Yeah. Yeah.

Justin:                   You are now. But how did you determine whether we’re going to go with packing cubes, or something else? In terms of the add on products, even the main product, how did you even know to do that? Which products to add?

Doug:                    I think a good part of it is, it’s a good combination of, what do we want personally? And would use as a team? And then, what are our people telling us? But then of course there’s an element of what do we think would be really awesome, but no one’s really done it yet?

Justin:                   Yeah.

Doug:                    Yeah, so it’s just some sort of dark art, combination of those three things.

Justin:                   Did you get asked for any add on products, or any changes to the bag, that you were like, “Nope, that’s not in line with our brand. I see what they’re saying, but we’re just not doing it”?

Doug:                    Yeah, there’s a lot, a lot of that actually.

Justin:                   Give me an example or two.

Doug:                    Yeah so basically, one of the things that’s really important to us is having a very clean design. And we talk about the war on dangle. You can probably think of many bags where there’s just what looks like hundreds of pieces of webbing hanging off them in different places.

Justin:                   Yeah, got that.

Doug:                    So we often get requests, “Can you just add all these loops to the bag so I can attach my whatever,” and it’s usually a different thing that people are requesting each time, but yeah, that’s where we’ve got to say no, and actually you see from the Kickstarter comments as well that often even before we get a chance to weigh in, because our customers have kind of been through the journey, and kind of really understand the way we’re going. They’ll jump in and say, “no, no, no, no, no, that’s not what these guys are all about, keep it clean,” sort of thing.

Justin:                   That’s awesome brand loyalty, where your customers are defending you, and they’re like, “No, that’s not in line with our vision.” Right? It’s not your vision, Doug, it’s our vision. That’s amazing.

                                Let’s talk a little bit kind of the long term play for Minaal, and your building out the business. Did you have to change … I mean some of the marketing things you did pre-Kickstarter, and even post-Kickstarter, did you notice that some of those weren’t moving the needle as much, or they just weren’t as effective? Or did you have to change strategies at all?

Doug:                    Well I think it’s a little bit of a different game you’re playing at the very beginning when you don’t have an audience. The difference between what we needed to do for the first Kickstarter, in terms of really building it from nothing, and then for the second one kind of having this established community of people who were kind of ready and waiting to get in there, and knew our track record.

Justin:                   Yeah, it might have made sense on the first launch to get into a community, and answer questions, or talk about the bag a little bit, or sell one-to-one, right? But it probably doesn’t make so much sense now. So specifically what are you guys doing differently in terms of marketing, in terms of expanding your brand, that maybe you did later, that you’re not doing today, or something that you changed to?

Doug:                    Well I think we don’t … Yeah, there was some media outreach in the early days that we don’t necessarily do again. And maybe we change that again, as we grow the team. Part of bringing the operations manager on for us is that we’ll free us up as founders to look for some more of these growth opportunities. But, yeah I don’t think … Things haven’t changed a huge amount.

Justin:                   Alright, so tell me Doug, how do you reengage your current customers? I mean one of the easiest ways to sell is to customers who have bought from you previously. Is that a market that you’re particularly targeting right now? Or are you looking for new customers to the brand?

Doug:                    Yeah I think there’s been a general … I mean if you sort of look at the products that we’ve produced since our first one, it’s really we’re first and foremost looking to kind of serve our loyal customers with new things. But I guess at the same time, there’s a lot of people who haven’t discovered us yet who would really benefit, and so yeah, it’s some extra between the two, so I think yeah these last couple of years it’s really been focused on existing users, and [inaudible 00:28:07].

Justin:                   Talk to me a little about how your partnerships worked, what do you do, versus what does Jimmy do, how do you balance that kind of ebb and flow of work? Have you run into any difficulties there? That kind of thing.

Doug:                    Yeah, I mean I think it’s definitely challenging, because not only are we a remote distributed company, and it would be rare that even two of us would be in the same place, but we’re also making physical products at the same time. So that can be challenging. And we certainly … Everyone just has to retain a decent amount of flexibility with their times, and you end up on the calls at different points, but between Jimmy and I it’s kind of a … I guess, Jimmy’s real strengths are kind of a marketing and communication, and I sort of come from a legal and financial background, but we’re both very passionate on the product side. So I think there’s a small amount of things that are clearly one person or the other, but there’s everything else which we both kind of get involved in, and that’s probably been okay mostly up until now. But it’s something we’re working on improving, getting more of a separation, cause it doesn’t make sense for both of us to be touching things at the same time.

Justin:                   Yeah, partnerships can be tough when you’re doing that overlap and you’re both spending time on the same thing, or especially when you’re remote. Joe and I have that situation where we find out we’ve both been working on the same, we’re like, “Wow, that was a waste of resources.” Do you guys have a partnership in that it’s  the 50 / 50 marriage, everything we do we’re partners on?

Doug:                    Yeah.

Justin:                   Or is it like, could you go do a side gig?

Doug:                    No, it’s the first one, it’s very much the marriage model.

Justin:                   Cool. We’re in that deal, too, we’re in the same situation, Joe and I, but then I talk to people that have one business partner over here where they have limited equity, another one over here, and they have … And on the one hand it seems kind of exciting, you can get involved in all these other partnerships, and work with all these other people. At the same time, it’s also distracting, and how do you balance where you’re spending your time? At least with you and Jimmy you guys are like all in on this, right?

Doug:                    Yeah, I think … I mean, I could see it … I mean, I imagine that would be a potentially a quick way to unravel something like that, to have someone doing a side gig and then their focus moves away.

Justin:                   Yeah.

Doug:                    If one of us was passionate about something, and we were both okay with that person working on it, it would kind of work. But we both would get to share the spoils of that. So I think that would take away any of the animosity there, but yeah we still generally have to agree on things. But I’d say both of us are pretty motivated by both ourselves and the other one being happy, so I mean, we give each other pretty free rein.

Justin:                   Amazon FBA has become really popular in the last couple of years. What are your thoughts in terms of being a product development guide, someone who really went with a solid brand, with the people doing FBA that are either, maybe trying to build a brand, or they’re not even bothering and just delivering products?

Doug:                    Yeah. I guess, yeah I mean … Yeah it’s great that people are having success in there, but I think for me I probably wouldn’t sleep too soundly at night if I was kind of reliant on that one platform that I didn’t control.

Justin:                   Yeah, yeah I mean all of your customers, you have their email addresses, you can resell to them, no one’s shutting down your website. Which is gorgeous by the way. Minaal.com. What’d you guys use for that?

Doug:                    So we’ve a designer that’s a friend that’s kind of been with us on projects sort of right from the start, he’s responsible for the design. And then we’ve got Tristan over at … They were Shopify Ninjas, they’ve just changed their name, Blackbelt are they now? Yeah, so and he’s kind of taken that design and put it into Shopify speak. So yeah those are the partners that have worked with us.

Justin:                   Awesome, great looking Shopify store. Tell me, what are your goals? Yours and Jimmy’s goals for the next three to five years? Where do you plan on taking this? How many different products do you plan on launching? Where do you see this being sold? What’s the goal here, what’s the end game too?

Doug:                    Yeah, I think … I mean, we’re pretty interested in growth, but kind of growth on our terms, and ways that we think still are kind of true to the brand. But I think we’ve got a bunch of different ideas for cool things in the travel space, and outside, that would benefit from us being freed up to explore them a bit more, so we’re looking for our new person coming on board to help us figure out which of those we should get started on first. But I don’t think you’re ever gonna see just hundreds and hundreds of products in the Minaal range. We’re trying to keep it pretty low number, and very carefully consider each one.

Justin:                   That makes sense man. So if anyone wanted to buy the Minaal bag, obviously I’m gonna send them a link to your site, they can take a look, along with the other products you have of which the packing cubes … Everyone’s telling me, “Oh my God, you have to do the packing cube thing, you’re crazy for not doing it,” so I’m gonna take a look myself. If someone was interested in potentially working with you as an operations manager, customer service, do you have a link I could send them, or where are you hiring for that?

Doug:                    We actually only kept that job open for applications for a week, so that was a month or two ago, so that particular one is closed, but I mean anyone can get in touch with us at any time at feedback@minaal if they’ve got a proposal for us, or they’ve got some skills that they think we’d benefit from, we’re always interested to hear.

Justin:                   Awesome, Doug. Any last words you want to say, anything I should have asked you about that I didn’t?

Doug:                    No, that all sounds pretty good to me.

Justin:                   Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on, I mean we’re not necessarily … We don’t have the travel community, so you’re not gonna drop a bunch of bags by being on our podcast, but I love sharing your entrepreneurial story, I think it’s really interesting. You guys have had a bunch of success, and you’ve had some setbacks along the way too, which our audience appreciates hearing about, but if anyone’s looking to build a product, they couldn’t learn from someone better than you and Jimmy, man, I appreciate it.

Doug:                    Thanks very much, Justin, always a pleasure.

Announcer:        You’ve been listening to the Empire Podcast. Now some news and updates.

Doug:                    Alright Joe, time for some news and updates. Let’s get into it. First off, not this weekend but the weekend after, we’ve got our next Empire retreat in Phuket, buddy.

Joe:                        Going back to Phuket. Yeah, feels like we were just there, cause we were. But we’re doing it again, and I’m looking forward to this.

Doug:                    Yeah we had so much fun with the last retreat, in August, had a great group of people come out, the Mastermind was fantastic, the networking was great. And we just had a really good time. So we’re like, “You know what? Let’s do this again.” I honestly think it was a little too soon, probably, but I just don’t care man, it was so fun. And Phuket’s a great place. We’ve got a line on some amazing villas down there, just really wanted to have a really good time with some of the people who want to come out and talk to some other entrepreneurs.

                                The second thing I wanted to mention, we didn’t end up talking about it on the podcast, so I thought I’d give us a pat on the back buddy. We’re recently recognized as number 161 on the Inc5000 list. So we were one of the top 500 fastest growing companies in the US over the last 3 years. And they verified the information with us, and it was kind of like a process we went through, but we made the list buddy.

Joe:                        Yeah, I’m pretty proud of this, I mean, it’s an awesome honor, and I thank the inc people for recognizing us and it’s a big accomplishment in my book, and it just goes to show the work over the last few years has been worth it.

Doug:                    Yeah buddy. I wanted to follow along with a podcast we did not too long ago called the steak dinner. The steak dinner podcast basically. And we’re talking about the value of a steak dinner, and how it’s worth it, and whether it’s worth it, and so I wanted to mention we did a ton of that this last weekend. We were at the Dynamite Circle event in Bangkok, which is kind of the annual meetup of digital expat, expat entrepreneurs. They’re building businesses oversees, or even at home. We all get together in Thailand in October for an event, right, a fun kind of event. And it’s like a week leading up to it and we did this kind of VIP dinner, we took a bunch of people out, and took them out on the town for drinks and dinner. We took a bunch of people out to lunch and dinner with the idea of just connecting with them. Connecting with them on a one-on-one basis, or a closer basis. And I don’t know, it was pretty expensive man, it was a lot of steak going around that weekend, but I think it was super valuable for our business, and helping our brand, and helping us connect with all the people we want to connect with while we were there.

Joe:                        Yeah, I loved it, thank you so much Dan Andrews and Ian for putting on the show as usual. We go every year, and every year I’m impressed with the type of people I get to meet finally, and talk to on a regular basis. Meet in person kind of thing after maybe having a phone conversation or two.

Doug:                    Yeah, great guys man, you’ve got Jungle Scout over there, with Greg Mercer, you know just a bunch of people, Jacob Puhl was there, big fan of his, so from Firegang marketing, just really, really fun, really great to connect with a bunch of people.

                                Last thing I want to mention though, we’ve got our new sales apprentices on their way. They are heading out to Chiang Mai to meet with us. Our team is growing even bigger. One of them was already here. So we actually hired three people on our recent ad, one of them is already here, his name’s James, he’s already in Chiang Mai, so he’ll be starting with us. We met him for the first time today, actually, and then Mike and Alex I think, at least one of them, I think Alex is wheels up. I think he’s on a plane on his way to Asia right now. I think Mike will probably be getting on a plane right about now to meet us out here late in the week. So we’ve got three new people to kind of get up to speed, to get trained, and to work with us, man, how do you feel about that?

Joe:                        I’m loving it. You know, got to work with James today, got him set up, and I’m looking forward to getting two more guys helping with all these hot leads coming in, so it’s going to be a lot of fun, everyone out there can expect to hear some new voices on the phone soon.

Doug:                    You’re so funny dude, because I know you were kind of bummed … Not bummed, but you were dreading a little bit the amount of work that it takes to get people to speed, and three people that we’re hiring for the sales apprentices position, it’s not three times the work, but it’s definitely more than one person. And there was a lot of sighing going on, there’s a lot of frustration on your end just thinking about what you got in store. Even though you’ve done this before, I mean, you’ve done this plenty of times before. This is nothing new to you. But still, you’re like, “Oh, God.” I know though that once you get past the hump of getting these people up to speed, you’re gonna be in a much better position, I think our company will be in a better position. This is a bottleneck for us right now, that I think us fixing this’ll be really helpful.

Joe:                        Yeah, I mean next month when we go to Manila we’ll really see how much work it is. But it’s gonna be a lot. I imagine from mid-November to mid-December I will be extremely busy with these guys. Like getting them to speed, getting them to do sales, the Empire Flippers way. But yeah, you’re right, long term it’s a huge investment in our company, and definitely well worth the investment.

Doug:                    Alright buddy we got some listener shouts, also known as the indulgent ego boosting social proof segment. First up, Nathan [Nathan 00:39:12] said, “Empire Flippers, hello Justin, I’m a wantrepreneur and want to bury that title.” He also says, “I read and listen to your website daily, and want to be one day with you guys all in Phuket. Please help.”

                                Alright Nathan, so unfortunately in terms of getting started, like building online businesses, we don’t do that. We don’t have any courses or guides or anything to kind of get you started. There are a bunch of people that do, though. Our buddy Tung Tran over at Cloud Living has course, you know, the Dropship Lifestyle guys, Anton and crew, have a course. And we’ve done interviews with Dropship Lifestyle guys, we’ve got a writeup on Tung’s course, so depending on what kind of online business you want to build, whether it’s Amazon affiliate sites, or Dropship sites, or eCommerce businesses, we’ve got people we can send you to that can help you get started. But in terms of getting your first site started, that’s not something we really deal with. I mean we deal with mostly the people that have already built it up. So we can direct you to those resources, but we can’t really, we don’t have anything that we do on our own.

Joe:                        Yeah, it’s too bad, but I think we just don’t have enough resources to go around to come up with something like that. And honestly other people do it better, like you mentioned Tung, and Dropship Lifestyle, I think those are good places to start if you just are looking to build a business from scratch.

Doug:                    And they’re in the shit, right? So they’re the ones that are doing this day in and day out, they’re answering questions, they are having to maintain their expert status only because they’re about doing it, and they’re teaching other people how to do it. So you know, for us, I’m not dealing with it on a daily basis, those are really the guys to talk to.

                                Now in terms of buying and selling online businesses, we can help there. And I definitely would continue to listen to our podcast, but I also recommend the Web Equity show, which should be coming out with season three here in not too long, which we’ll be talking about how to sell a site from start to finish. But yeah, I’d say we definitely have some of the best content around for that. But it does require some capital, and it does require some skill, so it’s not something you can just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I’m gonna be an online mogul, and buy and sell online businesses”? No, you’ve gotta build up the skills, I think, to do it right.

                                We’ve got another question from Rosalinda on Twitter. She said, “Hey there, I made a deposit for one of the sites, but decided not to go ahead and purchase it. How do I get the deposit back?” That’s a great question, I’ve already replied to her. So she got her answer, but I want to make sure people knew it for the podcast. Once you pay a deposit, and get the information for the site, it opens up an Zendesk ticket. Looks like an email to you. All you have to do is reply to that email and say, “Hey, no longer need information on this listing, go ahead and give me the deposit back.” Then our team will get back to you and send you a refund. And there’s also a hot link you can use, right hot money?

Joe:                        Yeah, there’s a hot money, hot link … No, there’s an automated link in the ticket that you get, that you can click on that and give a small reason, and then it will automatically refund you. You should expect a phone call from me or my team, following up on that reason, and seeing if there’s something else we can fit you in. But it will give you the money back automatically.

Doug:                    Cool man. Also want to give a shout to the Sales Backer Podcast. I did a podcast interview on how to sell an Amazon FBA business. If you’re all interested, you’ll want to know about how you transfer the accounts, and what does the sale actually look like, what does it feel like? I’m gonna put a link to that in the show notes so you can go take a look at that as well.

                                That’s it for episode 163 of the Empire Podcast, thanks for sticking with us, we’ll be back next week with another show. You can find the show notes for this episode and more at Empireflippers.com/Minaal. That’s M I N A A L. And make sure to follow us on Twitter @Empireflippers. See you next week.

Joe:                        Bye bye, everybody.

Announcer:        Hop you enjoyed this episode of the Empire Podcast, with Justin and Joe. Hit up Empireflippers.com for more. That’s Empireflippers.com. Thanks for listening.

 


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