From the moment you choose to start a business, there are countless decisions to be made. Making the right ones often comes down to using your most valuable filter as an entrepreneur: your understanding of your customers.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who used customer profiles to make every decision that helped her find and tap into a new market within an established industry.
Gloria Hwang is the founder of Thousand. Thousand is on a mission to rebrand the bike helmet, to help save lives, and reconnect people to their cities, by making a bike helmet you actually want to wear.
Humans are a lot different than what you write down.
Tune in to learn
- How to create and use customer profiles
- How to stay disciplined when running a business
- How to improve your website navigation and improve conversion rates
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
- Store: Thousand
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Hotjar, Google Analytics , Mailchimp, Shopify Reports, Masters of Scale (podcast), How I Built This (podcast), Startup (podcast)
Felix: Today I’m joined by Gloria Hwang from Thousand. Thousand’s on a mission to rebrand the bike helmet to help save lives and reconnect people to their cities. They make a bike helmet that you actually want to wear. They were started in 2015, and based out of Los Angeles, California. Welcome, Gloria.
Gloria: Hey Felix. Thanks for having me.
Felix: Yeah, so tell us the story behind the brand name. What is the brand name “Thousand” mean?
Gloria: Originally how it started was we started our product on a Kickstarter. When we started, we basically needed a thousand backers to be able to fund the project. We ended up getting a lot more than that, but that’s where the name came from.
Felix: Got it. Makes sense. Before you even started on this path, what made you decide to take on the challenge of designing and producing bike helmets?
Gloria: Sure, yeah. Thousand started for me, because I was a long time biker in Los Angeles. I never really wore a bike helmet. If I’m honest, I really just thought they were kind of goofy looking. But a long time friend inventor of mine actually passed away from a bad bike accident in New York City. It was a head first injury and he wasn’t wearing a bike helmet. For me at the time, I kind of thought, “Man, to be responsible myself and be responsible for the people around me, I really need to start wearing a bike helmet.” So, I went on the market to try and find something I liked, and I think I found a couple of things that I thought were okay. I want to say that I probably bought something, but I found myself never wearing it. And more than anything, I actually found myself biking less and less.
My background is actually from Toms, so I worked on the philanthropy side of Toms for like five years. The thought was, “If you can actually rebrand the bike helmet, you can one help save a lot of lives, but then two, you can actually help encourage cycling in cities.” Because one thing we found in our research is one of the biggest barriers for getting people out and riding is they just don’t feel safe. So we started on a mission to, again, make a bike helmet that you actually want to wear. And hopefully that’s what we make today.
Felix: In New York City, that’s where I’m based out of right now, and you’re right. Especially when the whole city bikes and the move for a lot of cities into bike sharing, it’s surprising to see how many people don’t have helmets, especially riding around a city where there’s so many pedestrians you’ve got to avoid, other cyclists, other cars is very dangerous. I think that the market certainly exists for someone to come in and help solve that problem.
You mentioned a little bit about your background, you worked in the philanthropy side of Toms. Do you have a background in producing products too? How did you begin down a path of creating a product like this?
Gloria: You know what, yes and no. So, my background at Toms was … Actually, I was in philanthropy, but at one point, I think everyone realized that I was really entrepreneurial, so every time there was a big problem in our department, I would always try to fix it. While I was in the philanthropy department, I kind of worked across many different sectors, so I worked in e-commerce, I worked in product development, I worked in email marketing; so I kind of had the chance to kind of learn every single part of the business.
And on the product development side while I was at Toms, I helped to launch our first kind of, we called it “giving shoe menu.” So it’s basically a product line of all the philanthropic shoes we were giving away to countries in need. That was kind of my first dip of toe into product development. And just understanding kind of the product development life cycle: what are the major key stones, miles stones, and again, kind of how do you get through working with the factory and launching a product. I kind of applied the same knowledge to a bike helmet. It was a lot different it turns out, but that’s how I started.
Felix: Yeah. And speaking of it being different, there are things that are also the same that you were able to recognize in your time at Toms and all when you launched your own business. Were there certain things that stood out right away, the trends or patterns, that you saw in a very established company versus now the startup that you have?
Gloria: Yeah, I mean, yes and no. You realize some of the fundamentals always apply. Like again, managing a well run project, hitting timelines, making sure things are on time of quality. That’s all achieved by, again, having a plan, doing good preparation, and then making sure executing it. The difference in the startup world is like you just don’t know anything. [inaudible 00:05:06] that there’s no data to kind of go off of. Sometimes the best point of view is not to even go off of best practices.
Sometimes the best point of view is to say, “Okay. What’s best for cash?” Or “What’s best for growth?” Or, “What’s best for conversion?” Sometimes the goal is to say, “Hey, instead of trying to build something to last and to pick up incremental revenue this year,” and so you have a strategy where you get a very wide in a startup, because you’re really cash conservative, and you’re really constrained to a degree, your solutions and your questions are much different. So, your question in a startup would be, how do I most efficiently use my digital marketing budget to maximize conversion while also building a really healthy brand? But a well established company might say, “How do I reach the most amount of new customers at the top of my funnel?” So I think more than anything, because your stage is different, your questions are different.
Felix: Right, that makes sense. You kind of have a little bit less room for error when you are more cash strapped. So the focus is sometimes, you have a shorter runway, so you have to get things done, and basically cash company businesses [inaudible 00:06:18] you don’t have the luxury of a much more, like you’re saying, upper funnel strategies that a larger company would have.
Felix: Right. So when you decided, “Okay. This is something I’m passionate about. This is something I want to pursue,” what are the first steps you took towards turning your idea into reality?
Gloria: Yeah. You know the first time … It all happened kind of quick. Once I kind of decided, you know, “I want to make this bike helmet,” the very next week I wrote down a business plan. And six or nine months later I had a prototype. And for me, it’s just kind of I just wrote down the steps I knew it would take to get there. I said, “Okay to make this bike helmet, I’m going to have to find someone who knows how to make a bike helmet. I’m going have to understand a concept. I’m going to have to understand what type of manufacturing I’m working with here. I need to understand safety compliance.” So once I kind of understood these are kind of my major milestones, I put together a work plan to say, “Okay, so these are things I’m going to have to hit in order to get to my goal.”
So again, for me, I’m going to say it was pretty planned and methodical as much as you can plan and be methodical, that’s something you’re trying to start from nothing.
Felix: Right, and because you’ve had the experience of creating this business plan, and going through it, if you’re to do it again, what are some of the main questions that you think that you need to be sure on a business plan? Whether these are the questions that you did actually put into the business plan or now looking back, these are questions you should have answered?
Gloria: For me, I think the one key thing I think we did really well was we were always super, super focused on our customer, who was our customer, and what do they want? At the beginning, when we were doing this, everyone wanted … When we first launched Thousand, like the tech boom was kind of going crazy. Everyone was doing apps. Everyone was doing integrated technologies into consumer goods. So when I told people, “I want to make this bike helmet that I think you’d actually want to wear, really style driven, really functional and convenient,” everyone kept on saying, “Okay, so where’s the Bluetooth? And where’s the integrated technology? Don’t you think you’re kind of behind trend on doing something so analog?”
And from my point of view, I really didn’t think I was off trend. I thought I was right on trend, just because from my point of view, my customer didn’t want Bluetooth connectivity into their helmet. My customer didn’t want blinking lights, or a smart technology. They really just wanted something that was functional, that was convenient to get them from point A to B that was style driven, that was high quality. So for me, I think so much of the reason we had early success was because [inaudible 00:08:56] the product, they said, “I’ve got it. I know exactly who that’s for,” and a lot of the time he said, “That’s for me.”
Felix: How did you learn all this? How did you know who your customer was, and what they wanted?
Gloria: A lot of it was asking people. In the beginning, I did a bunch of surveys with my friends. I think I had Survey Monkeys, where I sent it out to 50 of my friends. I wrote up consumer profile to write down like this is who my consumer probably would be. So when we were designing a product, I always filtered it through the survey that I had done, and I had always filtered it through the customer profiles that I had written. And I asked myself the question, “Okay. Would Eric in Seattle, age 28, buy this thing I’m trying to build right now?” If the answer was no, then I would retool. Even if the person giving me the advice was kind of awful advice.
Felix: And what kind of questions were you asking in this survey? I think that is an important step. It certainly speaks to your foresight into creating this, and starting with the survey, but I think a lot of businesses that have already started can still benefit from going back and reunderstanding their customers, and going through or surveying approach like this. What are some questions that you think are important to ask when you are trying to learn more about your customer?
Gloria: Yeah, for me, I think the biggest thing is like, what do you care about? What’s important to you from a product perspective, but also on an emotional perspective? So again, I think my market traditionally in bike helmets had always really been interested on the weight of the helmet, and then the price of the helmet, and then maybe the style of the helmet. But when I kind of talked to all my customers in this survey, I realized that that whole hierarchy was backwards. For my customers, I realized style was number one for them, then price, and then weight.
So again, everything we built was around what the customer always valued the most from, from a product perspective, but also from an emotional perspective. I asked questions in our survey around, why don’t you wear a bike helmet? What feeling do you have when you put on a bike helmet? And a lot of people kind of said, “More than anything, I just feel kind of dorky,” or, “More than anything, I just kind of feel like it’s a real pain just to carry them around.” And when I started hearing those answers, I realized building a product isn’t just a technical act, it’s also an emotional act.
So, figuring out like how a customer would feel if they’re holding your product, or touching it for the first time, or putting it on, what are the little friction points you’re reducing for them that they probably would’ve never noticed is really important for a customer latching on and being a loyal customer at the end of the day. And those are things I really always tried to think through when designing kind of our first version of the helmet.
Felix: Right. And you touched on one point that I think was really important to repeat is just the emotional aspect, how does your product make them feel? And like you’re saying, step away from the technical specifications; some people just don’t care much about that, they care more about the emotional attachment to holding your product, wearing your product, using your product for the first time. So this makes sense for the things like the price and the weight makes sense for product development, but when we talk about style or emotions, how does that data that you got from your surveys, how does that affect your marketing? Like how can you use that to improve your messaging or your marketing of your products?
Gloria: Yeah. So I’ll say one thing I did in the beginning for the product that was really useful is I had found a bunch of helmets that other people had made before, and I had a bunch of friends come over to my house one night, and I had them just hold different helmets. And each of them told me why they liked certain ones, and each of them told me why they didn’t like certain ones, but I never asked them to describe, “Would you buy this?” It was more just, “How do you feel?” And you know, when some people touched some helmets, they were like, “Well this helmet feels cheap,” or, “This helmet feels expensive,” or, “This helmet feels like it’d be really safe. And this one feels like it’d be really unsafe.”
So, for me, trying to understand what drove people’s psychological, emotional reactions to product, was really important, and that really informed our marketing later on too. So the key features that people really liked in our helmet, I always … One thing I never tried to do was, I always tried to put the product in front of people. I kind of gave our elevator speech, and I always listened to the first one or two things people were saying to me back. And those one or two really important things people were saying to me back always became our main marketing points. So I always kind of let the consumer tell me what they wanted and what was important to them, versus me telling what they wanted.
Felix: That makes a lot of sense. So you also touched on how you created these customer profiles based on this feedback. How in depth were you getting with these customer profiles? How important is it to … I guess, how deeply did you describe that customer?
Gloria: Yeah. For me, the customer profiles in the beginning were really important, so I … When I wrote out these profiles, they were fully formed humans. Like, if I read out the profiles, you could say, “Oh, that’s my friend Eric.”
So, I remember writing one profile, I think, the customer profile is Eric. Eric’s 26. He’s from Los Angeles. He works for the tech company. He just got a big promotion, but he still likes biking to work every day, because he’s environmentally friendly. On the weekend, Eric like to drink beers with his friends and go biking around the city.
So again, for me, the customer profiles weren’t like an exercise I did, they were long and thoughtful, like it was a process I went through to understand who’s the end user going to be for this?
Felix: Got it. And was the profile a result of the research you did? Or did you throw this profile against … How did you validate, or maybe even iterate, over this profile to make sure that you actually had the right customer?
Gloria: Yeah. For me, if I’m honest, it’s funny, I learned that some of our customer at the beginning was a lot of these customer profiles we had written, and some of it wasn’t, I would say the big bulk was. So I think we make bike helmets for riders that are recreationalists, and also people who are commuters. And for me, I had really thought the majority of our customers were going to be recreationalists, probably even split male/female, but at the end of the day, because the bike industry, I would say for at least early adopters, is heavily male, a lot of our demographic ended up being a lot different than I thought it would be at the end of the day.
So it also kind of refocused me into changing our marketing strategy later on, and beyond our marketing strategy, potentially our product offering. Again, always to service the customer versus trying to go after a certain customer is always how I thought of it.
Felix: The idea is to have this customer profile as a starting point, but you have to adapt and be flexible to change and to have it evolve depending on where and what kind of market evolves or comes out from your marketing.
Gloria: Yeah, totally.
Felix: Now can you describe how you’re using the profile these days, like on daily or weekly, like on a practical day-to-day basis? How do you actually use your customer profile?
Gloria: Yeah, so now I would say it’s just kind of how we decided to run the company in a lot of ways. Part of our mission is to design human centered tools for urban travelers. And the reason we say the word human centered is, I think you can design product from a product line perspective to say, “How do I fill gaps in the market?” But you’re never really asking the question, “Is my brand equipped to do it? Is there a real customer need from it?” So, I think more than anything, every time we design a product, we ask ourselves key questions about who we are as riders, if we would use the product. We ask our friends if they would use the product, and then we always kind of keep those profiles in mind from when we were designing to say, “This is the customer, and would they use it and like it?” And if they don’t, even if it’s really cool, or really PR worthy, or marketable, then we toss it out, because it’s not valuable to that customer.
Felix: Yeah. So there’s like a balance it sounds like, where you are using these profiles, these customer profiles, as a filter, but at the same time, it needs to be flexible so that it does change based on the feedback that you’re getting from the market. How do you think about this balance based on a given piece of feedback to decide if that should mean that, “Oh, it hasn’t made it past a customer profile filter,” versus, “Let’s change the customer profile because we’re getting this feedback.”?
Gloria: Yeah. So I would say doing this kind of stuff is kind of like event planning, in the sense that like you have to make sure your event is set up for success in every single way possible by making sure you booked the caterer, by making sure there’s chairs and there’s decorations, and you’ve sent out the invitation list. But the day of the event you have no idea what’s going to happen. 50 people could drop out of the event, and you’re going to have to adapt immediately. It could start raining. The caterer’s food could just not show up because the van broke down. So, it’s having to be … It’s a, I think, a misconception in startups is to say, “If I plan nothing, and I just kind of start going out into the market and figuring something out, something good will happen to me,” because, for me, you may never find it, because you haven’t done the research, planning, and preparation.
But on the flip side, if you’re too stringent with your planning preparation, and you’re not willing to move once you see your target is moving, then you go off with die in the vine, because again, you’re not going to get it 100% right when you put together your perfect plan. Humans are a lot different than what you write down on what’s going to happen on a forecast.
Felix: Right. So moving along this topic of iteration, I’m looking at the products on your site now. I’m assuming that this wasn’t the original design, and has gone through iteration, and gone through redesigns, as any other product has gone through. What was that process like of starting from the early prototypes, to going through iterations and arriving at a design that was ready for market?
Gloria: Yeah. I would say a couple of things. So the helmet design is really funky in the sense that you kind of have to build fully formed product, because certain things you have to do in helmet design are different because you have to pass safety certification at the end of the day. So it’s not like a product in like software, where it’s highly iterative, or even in fashion, where you can just change your tech packs real quick, and you can change your productions 60 days later.
For helmets, I would say you have to have like 95% done before you get to production, and after production, you have an opportunity to iterate on that 5–10% that doesn’t affect certification and impact safety testing.
So, at least in my industry there’s a lot of upfront work, where you’re very planned and methodical about how you launch your product. And after you launch it, then you just kind of iterate from there on colors, materials, and finishes.
Felix: Got it. And so talk to us about this safety certifications. Certainly not, like you’re mentioning, it’s not a obstacle that lots of other industries have to go through, but certainly when it comes to things like bike safety, what kind of certifications do you have to go through, and what was it like?
Gloria: For sure. I mean, the big testing you have to pass for helmets is CPSC and CE testing, and it’s basically a long list of certifications that the US government and the European Union put together to say your helmets are compliant for safety regulations here. So that means your helmets have to be able to pass kind of like extreme conditions in freezing temperature or really hot temperature, in raining conditions, and they have to be able to survive a certain amount of impact when you drop it from a two-story building, like it’s going to absorb a certain amount of force. So there’s all these things you have to design for it in the beginning.
So right when you’re doing the initial designs, you build it in clay. So one little known thing, I think, again, in our high tech age, is a lot of product design is still done in clay. Cars are still done in clay a lot of the times. Helmets are designed in clay, more than anything because it’s easier to iterate on. If you do stuff in 3D printing or 3D CAD, while it may look technically great in the computer, there’s something different about molding a product in your hand to see how it’s going to fit on your head, how every line’s going to hit in the light. So that’s where designing the beginning in clay is really important.
Felix: Now when you were going through the certifications, safe certification process, did you have to hire expertise? Or how are you to navigate the waters?
Gloria: Yeah, totally. In part, hiring expertise for us was a big one. We added a industrial designer named John, who had been designing helmets for 20, 30 years. He’s designed for the biggest brands, and he’s designed for smaller brands like us. Working with someone like him is really having to understand every single millimeter of the helmet, because in helmet design, every single millimeter does count. So once you kind of design those specs to the millimeter, from there you put that into 3D CAD, you do 3D prints, you validate those, and then you make molds. So as long as you have that first part down, you’ve really overcome your biggest barrier in the whole testing process.
Felix: What was your process for finding your expert?
Gloria: For me I really didn’t know where to start in helmets. I definitely never thought I’d be doing this in life. So when I first started, I just started going to trade shows. I typed in “bike trade show.” I found out there was one or two in the US I could be going to. I think I just LinkedIn messaged or I emailed every freelance investor designer in the helmet space that I could find, and really it wasn’t too hard of a search. There’s only like five or six in the US. The strategy became how do you get the best of the best to work with you? But how do you get the best of the best to work with you with very little money? This was my question that I had to figure out.
But yeah for me, I just started going to trade shows, started making contacts, just always asking for introductions. And anyone who is in my industry, I would always grab a coffee with. I would say, “Hey, is there anyone else you think I should meet?” That’s how I kind of built industry knowledge in the beginning.
Felix: What was the answer to that question then about how to get the leading experts in the industry to work with you when you have limited budgets and you’re just starting off?
Gloria: I think for us it’s because Thousand started on a mission. For us, we always had the goal of changing the way people see a bike helmet so you could save lives, so you can encourage cycling within cities. And because of that, when I told people that was my reason, the people who came along with us in the beginning also wanted to help solve that problem.
Felix: Got it, so you had a mission. It was beyond just a business exchange. You had some mission, you had a story, you had something larger than yourself. And because of that, people were more willing to work with you, because they also believed in the vision.
Felix: I guess, what’s your input or your participation when you have an expert, a leading expert with so much experience? Because I think a lot of entrepreneurs can get wrapped up in this, whatever you think is best, right? They kind of have to get wrapped up and just lean on the expert too much, but obviously, it’s your company, it’s your design, you have to have your own input. What’s your experience in dealing with that kind of situation?
Gloria: Yeah. That’s such a good question, Felix. I think that’s one of the biggest things you get thrown off on as an early entrepreneur, because you kind of feel like as an early entrepreneur, “I don’t know a lot and this expert certainly knows a lot more than me.” So I’ll say this, it is really important to listen to experts when they have technical knowledge, and it’s really important to listen to experts when you can see both of your points of views are lined up and directionally you want to go in the same place.
But with that said, just because they’re an expert, it really doesn’t mean you should listen to them. Because I’ll say we had a lot of experts in the beginning say, “You should make product this way.” Again, people who told me, who were experts, actually did tell me to put Bluetooth in the helmet. And these guys have been working in the industry for like 20, 30 years at this point. A lot of experts in the beginning told me there was no market for what we were doing. And again, there are certain things you have to kind of say, “This is my vision.”
As an entrepreneur, I think you have to have some self belief to say, “Hey, this is my vision. This is my mission. And at the end of the day, I think I see something that not everyone sees.” And I think you have to be really confident in that point of view. But in terms of being collaborative with people, in terms of understanding some people will always know more than you, so take in those inputs, but to also run back through a filter to say, “Does this line up with, one, my customer? Does this line up with my mission and vision?” And if it doesn’t, no matter how smart they are or how much more experienced they are, to ultimately be able to as an entrepreneur say, “Okay, then I’m going to scrap it.”
Felix: Got it. I think you touched on it perfectly where you have to own the brand, own the vision that you’ve created, and you’re not the one to just throw it out there then let someone else carry it across whatever finish line they want to carry it across. It’s your race, and you have to have experts help you in the race, but again, it’s yours to run.
So you’ve been through it, and you’ve seen it in a more mature at Toms going through the part development process. You mentioned earlier about the milestones that you had to hit with Thousand, and the milestones that you’ve seen at Toms. What are some of the major ones along the way that were common themes that you recognized between a small company, a startup, and then a much larger company like Toms?
Gloria: Yeah. For me, honestly, so much of it has to do with project management. It’s such a unsexy thing to talk about, but I think in a startup … A lot of people are attracted to startups because it’s such like the wild west, and you kind of get to do and kind of control your outcomes. But because of that, some people aren’t structured, because they’re so caught up in their dreams and their passions. But to make anything successful, you have to have great planning, preparation, great execution, implementation. And that only happens if you’ve really plotted it out, and you’ve really asked yourself, “Am I executing on this well in terms of quality, in terms of budget, in terms of timing?”
So, I think that never changes. In any industry you’ll ever be in, if it’s a big company or a small company, that’s how you achieve great outcomes. People can be passionate and people can really believe in something, but unless you’ve got, not even that you’ve got the fundamentals … I always think, if you’re not willing to do the hard work in applying the fundamentals and doing unsexy things to make your business successful, your business might be successful but it also probably might be in spite of you.
A lot of the reason you realize people have great businesses from kind of being in this a couple years, is people just work like dogs, but they’re also diligent, and they’re also incredibly disciplined. Some of the best entrepreneurs I know, even to this day when they’re doing eight figures and nine figures, they’re incredibly disciplined with how they spend their time and they spend their resources, because they know just because they’ve got that top line, business is competitive and it’s a risk; so unless you’re always kind of making sure you’ve got a handle on things, things can fall away easily.
Felix: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by discipline with how you spend your time? What does that mean to you?
Gloria: Yeah. I mean, for us as a early stage business, discipline just means being laser-focused on what are my initiatives and objectives every single year, what do I need to do to make sure I’m growing a healthy brand, what do I need to do to make sure I’m doing driving top line revenue. And if really the questions don’t answer one of those two, what am I doing to drive a healthy brand, and what am I doing to drive top line revenue, like honestly, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And if you’re a business, that’s boot strapped, because at the end of the day, I think you know, Felix, by talking to a lot of entrepreneurs, the number one reason people go out of business, is because they run out of cash. So, if you’re not willing to just kind of sacrifice the things you think that would be so fun and so cool to do, or they would be a big ego boost to you, or they would be a vanity project to you, for things that you know are going to inherently add value to the business all the time, my point of view is it’s probably not going to go well.
Felix: Right. I like what you’re saying here about that the questions that you have to answer, because I think when you are starting off, when there’s so many different things you can do, you might fall into this trap of thinking that as long as you’re answering some question, you’re doing right by your business, but you have to be selective in the questions that you’re answering. And I think that’s a perfect example of how you need to be disciplined, because you could spend your time and make progress in many different avenues, but the main question is like which ones are the most important when building a business to reaching the goals that you have for your business. You mentioned project management as the hard work, the work behind all the glamour, behind the scenes of what actually creates success. Where do you find yourself spending most of your time, let’s say the beginning versus now in terms of project management?
Gloria: Yeah, you know what, for the beginning it was really just getting everything set up. The beginning there was a lot less project management is kind of saying, “All right. These are the milestones that I need to hit. These are the goals I need to hit.” The timelines were shorter, because again, the stuff we were launching wasn’t fully formed. In my opinion, it probably shouldn’t been fully formed, because you’re a startup and you don’t do everything perfect. The way that’s changed now is the thinking is much longer term. In the beginning when we were thinking about how to run certain things and how to build out certain programs, we were always thinking about, “Okay. How do we launch? How do we build it for these next like two, three months. How do we just get it off the ground and moving?”
And now when we start thinking about questions of how to launch certain initiatives, and again, the best kind of direction for the company, we’re always thinking in terms of [inaudible 00:31:36]. So we’re always like, “Okay, so what are we doing this year versus three years versus five years?” So more than anything, it’s become a lot more strategic, and a lot less day-to-day.
Felix: Yeah. So you’re now, at least in your role of the business, you are thinking much more strategically, much more long term. But I’m assuming someone still needs to make the decisions that are two months, three months, four months, five months, six months out and down the road, in which you’re not maybe as much focused on, because you need to think about the bigger vision. How are those decisions, I guess, delegated as you grow?
Gloria: Yeah. I mean, that’s a good question. Part of it is like I think as an entrepreneur you always have touchpoints into short-term and long-term of your business. You know, I have to have a grasp on things that are happening a couple weeks out, but I also have to have a grasp on things that [inaudible 00:32:27] be happening three years out. So it’s being able to balance both, and in terms of delegating and kind of understanding how you build a team, I think my point of view has always just been to define people better at you in things is really important. So understanding like one, where your strengths are, but more importantly, understanding where your weaknesses are. If I feel like I’m really good at product and brand, then I need to find someone that is great at operation and finance. From there, once I start finding people who are better at brand than me, I need to give them that responsibility. Better at digital than me, then I need to give that person the responsibility.
Felix: Yeah. That certainly a common theme I hear from successful entrepreneurs is that they are seeking people, to hire people that are always better than them at least at something, and hopefully, at the role they hire them for. The feeding mindset that I hear sometimes is, “Why would someone want to work for me if I don’t know what I’m doing? Why would someone, an expert in [inaudible 00:33:28], or someone even in working the books or the finances want to work for me if I have no idea how any of this stuff works?” What’s your kind of response to that?
Gloria: Yeah. I think I would just say more than anything that at the end of the day I think leadership is often misdefined as being in charge, and I think what leadership really is is understanding what everyone’s strengths are, then making sure they’re in the best position to use those strengths.
In the sheer question of why would someone want to work for me if I just knew less than them, I mean, honestly, that hopefully in the future should always be the case. I should always know less than the subject matter expert, the person I’m hiring in. The important thing is, am I being a leader in terms of making sure they have the resources to succeed? Am I being a leader because I’m being a clear communicator and communicating to them what they need to be hitting in terms of targets and goals that have a bigger impact in terms of the enterprise value of the company? I think those are the kind of the key inputs of leadership, not necessarily who knows the most and who can do the most. Because at the end of the day, that responsibility needs to be spread if the organization’s going to grow in a really healthy way.
Felix: Got it. So we’ll talk a little bit about the marketing and building the brand behind your business. What kind of activities do you guys go through that have been effective at driving intention towards the store or the brand itself?
Gloria: Yeah. I mean, I feel like we’ve got a lot of channels that kind of drive value and press. PR kind of does well all day. Organic search for us is really useful because we kind of sit still, essentially the bike helmet category still sits in a commodity market, so organic is still really important, and SEO is still really important. Direct, so just building great brand presence. From social media events to get great awareness. And then again, kind of email is something we’re trying to actually do a better job on, to kind of build up our email list in this next couple of years.
Felix: What’s the PR strategy? How do you determine where you should focus your efforts on in terms of getting publicity?
Gloria: Yeah. Typically in the past, we’ve always done it based on product. I wouldn’t say it’s actually was a strategy for us. We kind of let our PR firm go for it to say, “Hey, this is the product. This is our story and our mission. What are you … Kind of see what you come back with.” If I’m honest, that’s kind of how we did it. In this year, we’re trying to be a lot more intentional. I think we’ve gotten probably good visibility around what our product is, what we do well, and how we’re different in the market.
But I think one thing we haven’t really ever talked about is the mission and vision behind Thousand. Again, I think for me it’d be sad if people came to our site and said, “Oh, that’s cool looking helmet” and walked away. Or “That’s a cool product,” and walked away. For me, if people understood, “Hey, this was created for a reason,” and this was created so hopefully one, to keep you safer, and then two, to get you cycling, to encourage you to kind of get on your bike and moving around the city, for me is a better use of our time. For me, if there’s no purpose behind why we’re trying to kind of build this industry, to build this product, then at the end of the day, maybe we’re just trying to drive revenue. Again, like there wasn’t a bigger, you know, at that point, you’re not a brand, you’re probably just a business. That’s okay too, but from my point of view, Thousand’s original goal and mission was always to change the perception of people. So you do that by becoming a brand.
Felix: For PR, did you hire a PR company or a representative that has experience in the industry? Or how do you determine what kind of experts are hired in that regard?
Gloria: Originally, PR, that’s a lesson I took from Toms. PR was one of Toms’s big strategies, in terms of they were very story oriented; they really wanted for people to understand what their mission was. So for me, the best approach for me to be able to do that was to hire a PR firm. We had actually always retained a PR firm since the beginning to do that. Really for a strategy, I bounced around for PR firms. Our current one we’re doing it more than anything just because they have a lot more industry knowledge than us. I would say we all collectively, some of us have come from bike, some of us haven’t come from bike, but the firm we have kind of gone with now, they kind of know our landscape. So more than anything, they’re teaching us what there is right now.
Felix: Nowadays, I know that you said that you wanted to have a different strategy towards maybe being more direct with the messaging, direct with the story behind the brand, what’s your involvement? What do you foresee as your involvement when you work with a PR firm these days?
Gloria: I always actually say I’m pretty hands-on with our PR firm. I know that kind of, I would say that’s probably different for a lot of founders. I think some are hands-on, some are hands-off. But I would say my point of view is I’m probably the person with the most vested interest in being able to tell our story and our mission well. For me, that means working with our PR firm a lot of the times to make sure they understand what our mission and vision is, and directionally where we always want to be headed as a company. Again, beyond the cool new things we’re doing on a product level or a marketing campaign level, why is this important to us, is why I always choose to work with our PR firm.
Felix: Got it. Now when it comes to the design of the website, was this all done in house? How was the store, for anyone who wants to check it out, explorethousand.com, how was it built?
Gloria: Yeah, so everything we did was all in house. In the beginning, I had a web developer friend of mine and a designer friend of mine kind of do the whole thing. We have both of those roles in house now, and we’re actually working on a big relaunch right now. That big relaunch should happen March 19th.
Felix: Got it. And what was some of the conscious decisions that you are making when it comes to the redesign?
Gloria: For me, e-comm is all about eliminating friction for a consumer. So how do you get people, one, to understand very quickly what you do? Two, getting them to understand why the product is valuable to them? Then from there on out, it’s just making the conversion and checkout process as easy as possible. So for us, some of the big things we’re doing at our relaunch right now is, again, making sure we’re adding functions and functionality in there to do that. So we’re simplifying our navigation. We’re adding a zoom function. We have suggested add-ons. We’re hopefully going to have a back order function. Again more than anything, and we’re probably going to have an expanded fit guide, so how do you kind of fit this on your head, and how does this helmet look at all angles? So we’re doing everything I think we can say, “Hey, these would be valuable features and functions for a consumer to help them make a purchasing decision.” And from there, we’re hoping we’ll just have higher conversions as a result.
Felix: When you mentioned frictions, is that just like questions that customers may have? Or what are some other frictions that you found that you wanted to remove for the customer?
Gloria: Yeah. For me, I mean, friction I think can be anything. Friction can be, what are all the barriers that people would experience to buying a helmet; that’s a friction. But a whole nother set is, what are all the barriers people would have to buying a helmet online? So again, that’s a whole nother set of questions you have to answer for. And then also, another question of like why would people want to not buy online in general? So you ask all yourselves these sets of questions and you kind of figure out these are the functions that would solve everything. That has been kind of the process we’ve looked at this with.
Felix: Yeah. How did you determine what the frictions were, or the objections, or obstacles your customers may face?
Gloria: Yeah. I mean, we’ve used a lot of tools. So we’ve used something called Hotjar, which has been really useful for us, because it kind of heat maps what people hover over, when people kind of drop off in terms of when they stop scrolling. We’ve also kind of done some A/B testing to kind of see what people respond well to, what people don’t respond well to. And we also naturally just kind of always walk through things with a human centered approach. So, when we’re trying to make a decision of like, what’s going to work better, we kind of go onto a website that uses something similar, and we all ask ourselves, “Well, which did we like better?” around the table, and we always kind of go with the one that inherently people just like using more; what’s easiest for people, what has the most functionality, because we think a better experience will always convert to better sales.
Felix: Right. And you mentioned simplifying navigation is also important. When I go to your site, there is a shop button; I clicked on that and I see all the products that I could purchase. What else could you do to simplify the navigation for an e-commerce site?
Gloria: Yeah. I mean, I would say at just our top level, navigation would be the same, but in terms of helping people find potentially on the collection pages, what are our newest colors, or what are our most popular colors; or when you’re on that collections page, we have a really important feature called our Poplock, and that’s just our logo and it pops out, and you can throw any bike lock, you lock through it and lock it up to your bike. A lot of people don’t know that on our collections page; so how can we potentially put in where the picture’s responsive, so everything you hover over it, it changes so you can see a Poplock through it. Or how do we put that Poplock on the homepage more, or on the collections page more, or a potential call out while you’re searching the product page. So for me, navigation means more than just how you get to the shop page, but how you explore the site and how you lean information.
Felix: Got it. And you mentioned that some of these decisions in the redesign were the result of some A/B testing. Do you remember some useful tests that you guys were able to run to pull out some data?
Gloria: Yeah. I would say a lot of it for us was understanding something for our fit guide. So for us, one thing we want to do better is, again, showing people, one, how it’s going to look on your head, and how the product fits. One thing we learned from doing a quick test was that when we had an old fit guide in place, our add to cart was like a 2:1 ratio. But when we implemented a new fit guide that was easier to understand, our add to cart ratio was 1:1. So again, for us trying to always think from the perspective of like, how is this going to help the consumer understand if they should purchase or not better, and then two, just doing a quick test and looking at the data has been the approach we’ve always run our e-comm.
Felix: Yeah. And you know, speaking of fit guides, what kind of changes did you make to improve a fit guide?
Gloria: Totally, yeah. In the past we kind of just put a picture up and kind of wrote out instructions. And for us, something really small but for us might have just been an emotional point for people, was putting numbers in the instructions. In the past it was kind of like a little paragraph copy of like, “This is how you measure your head,” and all of those different things. But when we did a new fit guide, the big things we did was, instead of just having a photograph, our designer took the time to kind of draw out, “These are the three different head sizes,” putting number 1, 2, 3, so it felt more step by step, and then simplifying the language. For all things we’re very intentional in things we thought through, of again, of thinking to ourselves, “Hey, if I was a customer, and I had never done this before, what is the most helpful thing to me?” Or, “What would I need to see as a consumer to help me understand this is going to be easy, and quick, and simple to do?”
Felix: Right. So you mentioned the Hotjar was something you used to get data about site visitors. Are there any other tools, whether it be for data or for marketing that you rely on to help run the business?
Gloria: I would say in terms of data, a lot of what we use for data is just Google Analytics. We do Hotjar. We also run Shopify reports as supplements. We also pull reports from MailChimp, but I would say from a data perspective, those are kind of our biggest tools we use.
Felix: Got it. And what’s the team up now? How many people … Or do you have like a large team working on … Or I guess, how is your team split up?
Gloria: Yeah, the team’s split up doing a lot of different things. We’ve got a guy doing full-time dev for us, we’ve got a creative director, someone doing ops, someone doing sales, customer service. We’re still a small team, really based in LA. Really, we’ve built this company bootstrap, beyond our kind of Kickstarter backing. We really wanted to take the time to build the brand and to really understand the product; so for our star approach was never to say, “Hey, let’s grab a bunch of investor money and dump capital into it and see if this thing works or not.” For us, the goal was always to build a longterm brand that in 10–20 years, you would understand Thousand’s built on quality, Thousand’s built on a mission, Thousand’s built on solving my barriers so I could get on my bike and start riding more. And for us, that didn’t necessarily align with, “How big can we make this year one or two?” It was to say, “How can we make this the best company year after year, so in five years, in ten years, Thousand’s going to be a lasting brand?”
Felix: And you mentioned a little bit earlier in the episode about how you do listen to or at least follow with other entrepreneurs in seeing what’s led to their success. Are there any blogs or books, or other resources, that you are a big fan of for self-education?
Gloria: Yeah. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Masters of Scale is a good one for startups. I listen to How I Built This on NPR. Startup off of Gimlet is pretty good. More than anything, I think just understanding like consumer perspective. Again, hearing other entrepreneurs and where they have gone right and gone wrong has been really helpful for me just to understand what are the mistakes I can hop if I just knew a little bit more. And then two, always learning, again, is super, super key I think when you’re an entrepreneur, because sometimes as you scale, it’s not a matter of your intelligence; it’s really a matter of your subject matter expertise and knowledge at some points. So, I would say at least per week I put in at least like ten hours per week making sure I’m always learning to how I can make the business better.
Felix: Awesome. So explorethousand.com is a website. Thank you so much for your time, Gloria. So other than the redesign that we talked about, what are the big plans that you have for the business?
Gloria: Yeah. I mean, the business, I’m really excited about different kind of activations we’re doing this year. This year we’re launching a little community space, again, for our riders, more than anything, to learn about bike safety, how to cycle more, to do group rides on. We’re doing a lot of great campaigns and little spotlights for videos; so we’re going to do a Be Local campaign, where we’re going to spotlight local riders and entrepreneurs around the community. And beyond that, I think we’re, more than anything, refocusing on how do we get people to ride more. And again, how do we get people who are interested in biking but always felt cautious or unsafe, to say, “Hey, maybe this is an option to kind of get under the tent with us.” So, that’s really our main focus this year at Thousand.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you again so much for your time, Gloria.
Gloria: Thanks, Felix. Totally appreciate the time.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 1: I don’t necessarily think narrowing down your customer base is a bad thing; you really want customers who understand what you’re doing, and that appreciate what you’re doing.
Felix: Thank you for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/blog.