Hey it’s Jason, hope you’re having a good week and wrapping up the last month of January. It’s the first time I’m writing an email on my thoughts, but I hope to keep writing these memos to help you guys navigate through eCommerce and pull back the curtains on my journey to build doe.
I have a small ask since it’s the first time we’re meeting each other, can you reply to this email with where you’re based out of right now? I’m based in LA but was born in Hong Kong :)
Now let’s get into the meat of this email
Over the past 8 years, I’ve built a number of brands that taught me all the things I needed to be an operator. Funny enough, a lot of these learnings came from brands that I’ve failed. A couple of years ago, I tried to start a phone case company where the cases looked like Gucci slippers. It was a fun concept to start, but I quickly realized how difficult it was to operate a phone case brand, where there’s dozens of SKUs for different phone types and models, and ultimately closed it down because I went on to start doe. Around the same time, I launched a single product store selling a bathroom shelf that went on to do $3.2 million in 3 months, but also closed that business down because of margin concerns and felt that I hit a ceiling.
Here are the 8 lessons I learned from building dozens of brands over the past few years:
1. Know your hero product and double down on it
Don’t try to expand your product collection just to look like a big legacy brand, you’ll exhaust your cash quickly and lose focus
In the early days of doe, I made the mistake of trying to emulate a big beauty brand and expand our SKUs rapidly. It made sense to me to try to be like the big guys because it’ll make us seem more trustworthy right? It was a disaster to our bottom line: we spread our cash across too many SKUs too thin, and we looked like we didn’t know exactly what we’re good at
2. It’s a two-way street in business, know what you can give and see if you can negotiate
For example, in exchange for a lower monthly retainer, I negotiated with an agency that I’ll bring them clients.
Having cash on hand is important, so wherever you can negotiate, always try to. But negotiating without giving back isn’t how you get what you want. Agencies and vendors want something in return for giving you better terms. For agencies, I looked at what other brands I can refer them within my network so they’ll still make money while giving us a discount, and for vendors, we negotiated better payment terms after we showed that we’re trustworthy and paid our invoices on time.
3. Knowing when to fire is just as important as hiring the right person
The wrong team member will disrupt your flow and tank the business
I’ve made the mistake of letting bad hires go on for too long because I let my emotions get into the decision-making process. Be objective and evaluate all your team members on a routine basis. Letting a bad hire stay too long will decrease team morale, slow you down, and take up a spot that a better candidate can operate in.
4. If you find yourself doing something repeatedly, find a way to automate it
Zapier, Alloy, Shopify scripts, whatever can connect two things together to reduce manual input, go for it. I try to look back at the things that I do on a daily basis and try to create a process of doing it if I find myself doing it often. You can then take these processes to see if you could automate it with something like Alloy or Zapier, and if not, see if you can outsource it
5. Do whatever it takes to stay top-of-mind
People see hundreds of brands every single day, you need to explore opportunities outside of the social feed to connect with your customers
For example, at doe we made a LED light that people can hang in their room for brand exposure.
Of course, this example won’t apply to everyone, but the principle still applies. You need to be top of mind when someone isn’t looking at your site or on your social media. The best brands come to mind when the consumer thinks of a problem that the brand can solve. Think about how you immediately think about brands like Away when you think about luggage – they’ve done a good job pushing the narrative that they make the most durable and fashionable luggages to stay top of your mind.
6. Goals are useless without a timeline
Set your north star vision, and work backwards on the granular metrics that you need to get there
Goals needs to be realistic too, ask yourself, what can you realistically do to push performance to meet those goals
7. Always think outside of your category
Draw inspirations from other industries and take what they do well into your own space. I look at food and beverages, in-store retail, automotive, and even NFTs to get inspo for my DTC brand
8. Pay attention to your bottomline
Most companies fail because they run out of money, and it usually happens right before they run out of energy. eCommerce is a very cash intensive business, and there are always unexpected costs coming out of the left field. There are costs that you put in and can usually expect immediate return, like advertising, but there are also costs like legal or photoshoots that takes a bit longer to see a return on the expenditure. Knowing how to balance this consistently will help you stay ahead of the curve. Having back-up plans in place for when you run into money problems is incredibly important, because bills these will creep up on you.
Moving forward, I’ll be sending out the newsletter on Friday to wrap up the week, so please excuse this awkwardly timed one. I’m excited to write my thoughts on building in public and I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys are working on!