Today we interview eCommerce startup co-founder Jeremy Parker, co-owner of Swag.com and Ezetech client. We ’ve been working together for 2 years. In two years Swag.com turned from MVP into an eCommerce machine that processes millions of orders.
Jeremy Parker has started his entrepreneurial path since he was 22. He was a filmmaker in college and then he started a social media startup Vowch. He always knew that the next business he would start after Vowch would be a money-maker. It happened! And here is how Swag.com story began.
Ezetech: How did the idea of Swag.com come into your mind?
Jeremy Parker: Well, I started the business about 2 years ago, a little over 2 years ago. And the idea for Swag is the industry for promotional products is insanely massive. It’s about 40-billion-dollar market. And then I realized that there are 50 companies in the space that make over 50 million in sales yearly. So, there are tons of players making tons of money and there’s no clear winner. So, we saw how the big industry was and how fragmented it was. We felt like there was a real shot to become like the go-to brand in the space.
E: When did you feel that it is worth it?
JP: We knew how valuable the brand was in the space, so we worked the deal with the owner of the domain Swag.com, cause we knew how valuable the domain would be.
But at a time we obviously didn’t have the money to just put in and buy their domain. So, we dealt with, we worked a deal with the owner of the domain where we would exclusively license the name for a period of, for a 2-year period with the option to buy. So, it allowed us to really launch the business, without actually having to buy the domain.
And about 8 months after we launched, we realized that we had a real business. We were making sales, we thought we could raise around and we ended up raising around and ultimately buying the domain. So, that our company now owns the domain fully.
So, it took about 8 months from the time we launched to the time we actually bought the domain to really know we have something here.
E: What was your biggest challenge in the project and how did you overcome it?
JP:I think the biggest challenge with any real startup, especially for B2B company where you want it to get the Facebook in the world and Google in the world to really trust in us is convincing them that we are big enough company, that we are quality enough company to handle their orders. So, when you are starting, you really never have past customers, you are starting from scratch.
So, our feeling was – as opposed to really trying to slope play it and try to get small startups and then build up to venture to gain Facebook, we started at Facebook. Our first customer was Facebook. We went to their office, we hung out their lobby, we made some networks. I mean, we just had some crazy experience and we felt like we care a Facebook as a customer. Even if it was a hundred-dollar-order, it didn’t really matter. We could go to other companies and say “we have Facebook as a customer”.
And that’s exactly what we did. We got Facebook, we went to WeWork the next day when they asked us how many customers we have, who are our customers. We said Facebook and they assumed we had thousands of other customers, but really we just had Facebook. And then we went to Facebook, WeWork and then we went to Bravo. We just kept doing it until we had about 6 blue-chip companies, like a row of logos for our homepage. And we felt like, once we had those row of logos, everybody comes to us and say when they see Swag.com and the logos they just couldn’t believe that we were the best.
E: And do you remember your first sale? How did it feel like?
JP: It was Facebook. It was for a little bit over a thousand dollars. Not a massive sale but just something that we can say the Facebook is a customer of ours. And it felt amazing cause we knew, once we have Facebook, the sales cycle would be a lot easier. And every single big blue-chip company we just kept getting easier and easier.
E: How do you think, what is the key thing that makes Swag.com special? Tell me 3 things about what you love in Swag
JP: Well, there’s really like 3 main things I think that makes us special, differentiate us from everyone else in this industry. As I said the industry is insanely massive, it’s huge. And there are so many players and we believe that a lot of people are doing it wrong. And so we realized over the course, while starting is that millennials control the Swag buying from major organizations. It’s no longer the older office manager, it’s a 22 to 25-year-old. And they come with very different needs and different wants.
The first thing is they don’t want to talk to anyone. So, the old school process of talking to people on the phone is a very manual process, is a thing of the past. And what we’ve realized is that we need to automate the entire process. We need to make it really streamlined, we need to make it so that they find on our site products that they could easily upload their designs, they could mock things up, and they can do it themselves without talking to anyone. So, that was the main importance of having our website. Our website is like the ultimate sales engine. We have no sales team, we have no making phone calls, we have no creative decks. Our website is just a salesperson going forever like it processes millions of orders at any moment. It‘s just an automatic thing. That’s number one.
Number two is our product selection. Most promotional product sites offer thousands of products. It makes it impossible to make a decision. You have to look through thousands of water bottles and notebooks, it’s overwhelming. What we’ve done is we’ve queried the best of what’s up there. So, let’s suppose you have to look through thousands of water bottles and now you are giving the top thirty, the top thirty water bottles, the top thirty T-shirts. It makes it much easier to know that we are getting this quality, men also making a decision.
Number three. We have a really amazing design and brand. So, it appeals to today’s buyers, today’s millennial.
And four, one more thing, is we are actually able to get products that no one else in the promotional product spaces is able to get. Imagine you’re engine company, you’re a high engine company. You don’t want to sell to JCPenney, you would rather sell to a Barneys or even Marquis or high-end. You want your brand to be associated with that. It’s the same thing with just regular products on our site. There are so many cool products that we have feature on our site from Incase to Knomo London to Stuart & Lau to Bellroy bags. Products that have never done promotional products before. They wouldn’t do that because they will want to be associated with this schlocky throwing nature of our industry.
E: And what is the experience of running the company with Josh? I know you complement each other
JP:Yes, yes. So, I always like to say I’m more the front of the house. The second with technologies, like the front facing and the back facing. I’m front facing, I’m in charge of the users’ experience design, how the product looks, our entire brand. And Josh does all the stuff after the order’s placed. So, once the order’s placed, Josh deals with the manufacturers, and the vendors and makes sure their product is delivered on time, customer service. So, I think we really balance each other. Um… We focus on very different things, very different personalities.
E: The key thing is to split responsibilities. Yeah?
JP: For sure, yeah. When I was thinking about the business of Swag, I knew I needed to partner with Josh and help me start this and launch this business together because I have certain own talents and Josh has many talents I don’t have. And I needed somebody like Josh who was easy-going but was also able to help me the whole back-in process. Because this is a big platform. It’s not only getting customers to feel confident to buy on our site but also the vendors and suppliers and all of the other stuff that customers don’t see. There are a lot of things in the back-in, they are moving parts from color matching and panel matching and production and timeline and shipping and all these other things that are not as sexy but they need to be done. And Josh is really good at that.
E: How long do you know each other?
JP: We’ve been friends since college, so, too long ago myself, but I’ll tell you it’s been a long time. I’m 33 years old. In 2007 I graduated, so we’ve known each other since 2005.
E: When did you realize that Swag is kind of a lottery ticket? I mean, seriously, have you imagined that in less than 2 years Swag would become such a big company?
JP: I still think we have a long way to go. When we launched 2 years ago, I knew we had a chance to become a really big company and I think we are on our way to getting there. But we are not going to be happier until we are doing 50 million in yearly sales. And we are not there yet.
We launched in 2016, we’ve done a little over 2.16 million in sales since we launched. This year we’ve done a little bit over, I think 1.3 million so far 2018. But we feel like we should be getting to 4 million this year and next year hopefully hit 10 million in sales.
So, we have a long way to go. We’re just in the early phases, we think. And we think we can really build a hundred million dollar plus business.
E: We have been working with you for a year and a half and I know that you have got really some new features. And how will they influence the project?
JP:It’s a good question. There are a lot of features we are putting together. We have about 15 core front-facing features that we really want to get done in the next 2 months and about 25 or so back-in features that are going to help facilitate the process of order-management. So, with the front-facing, it’s all about giving the customers confidence.
So, when customers come to us and say because we don’t have a huge customers’ service team that hand holding them because we don’t have sales reps that talk to them on the phone. It is a customized product, so often times our average orders size is about 4000 dollars and that range can go up to, we had ordered up to 60,000 dollars.
When someone is buying customized products, they need to feel so confident that it’s going to come out perfect. So, for example, we are building a feature right now called associate the products. It’s basically we’ve been doing in less a year and a half, taking notes from all of our customers. They tell us what they need, what they want, what we don’t have and we’ve been slowly chipping away at the features that are going to help us, you know, make the product side easier.
So, for example, customers always come to us and say ‘I want to buy a hundred men’s T-shirts and a hundred female’s T-shirts’. It’s a common request and typically we just say you either buy a hundred and a hundred make it first. But sometimes they ask for a price discount because there isn’t the same print. So, imagine you have a hundred men’s T-shirts and a hundred female’s T-shirts have the same print across the board. We really could save them on the sell up charges, so, there are some back-end things. So, we always say now put two hundred men’s T-shirts and then in the design notes write how many of those hundred men’s you want actually be female’s and the size breakdown. It’s not the best experience, so right now we are building is a feature that wants you to select on a product. You can pick associated products that go along with it. So, you can stuck a hundred men’s add to the order a hundred female’s and you will save you on the price up. You know, uploads save you on the printing cost, it will give the customer much better experience. So, everything we’re doing now is just trying to solve the problems that we already know are there. And we are about 80 % there with our say 20 % to go but I think over the next 2 months we’ll really get up to like 90 % of the site being complete.
E: Let’s talk about you a bit. If you could talk to yourself 5 years ago, what would you say?
JP: Oh! I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 22 years old, right after I graduated college. I was a filmmaker in college and I ended up being a game really in an entrepreneurship college cause I want to make some money, and I tried to figure out a career for myself. So, I’ve always been an entrepreneur.
5 years ago, I was actually running a social media startup. It was called Vowch, it was a social networking app. And we partnered up with major celebrities like Pitbull and Rev Run and 50 Сent, big celebrities for social media. And it never took off to where it needed to be. It got hundreds of thousands of users, but for social media apps, you really need to get millions of daily active users in order to generate advertising and monetize. So, at that point, I always knew when I close that business down that the next business that I’d do it has to be a money-maker.
So, I would be proud of myself, I would talk to myself 5 years ago I actually got to a place where we are building our real business, that’s scalable, that’s able to make money and it’s not a pipe dream, it’s like offers a real value to people in real time.
E: And what is the best thing in running your own startup?
JP: The best thing. The people say that you get, you work on your own schedule. But as an entrepreneur, you’re basically working around the clock. You don’t really have your own time. I would say I haven’t taken a vacation in 2 years, but I think for myself I love the creativity of it. I love waking up and feeling passionate about what I’m doing and working towards something that I think adds real value to our customers and just being creative and thinking outside the box.
And thinking of solutions to difficult problems and making difficult problems feel so much simple. And that’s what like compile what I say I always pay compliments that it’s such a simple site, it’s so clean, so easy to understand.
And if they only knew how hard it is to make it so simple.
E: If you had an extra 6 hours in your day, what would you do?
JP: I would sleep. )))
E: I’m sure that somebody who wants to launch his own startup is reading us right now. What are the pieces of advice that you can give them?
JP: It’s a big question. I would say be very passionate about what you are going to do before you do it. Because I’ve had the experience where you think it’s a way to make money, you are not necessarily passionate about it and when you realize that you are going to come to some issues. Things are not going to work out from day one and it’s not going to be a hundred percent perfect. And whenever you are coming to these challenges if you are not super passionate and like excited about what you are doing, you are going to give up.
So, before you start it, obviously businesses are meant to make money as a goal of it. But you also need to be excited about what you are doing, you need to be excited about the industry, maybe excite that you evolve within that industry. So just feel passionate about it.
E: What is your secret to keep focused?
JP: Well, I’m getting older, I’m 33 now and, doesn’t sound so old. But I think my secret is that I really love what I’m doing. I don’t think of it as a job. I wake up, I’m excited about accomplishing it, I see the big vision for Swag.com. I know that we’re in this infancy right now. It seems like from outside. In the starting point that we are growing, we are making money and all that is true, but I see us being far bigger. I really believe that we have a chance to be one of the biggest companies in the space, and space is made by multiple billion-dollar-companies. There’s no reason in my mind that we can’t get there. So, it’s just seeing that long vision and trying to get there.
E: What is the most inspiring book you’ve read as a businessman?
JP: I worked with this guy, with Jesse Itzler, 3 or 4 years ago on Vowch on my social networking app. And Jesse has the most amazing story. You guys should read the book Living with the seal by Jesse Itzler.
Jesse is an accomplished entrepreneur. He created Marquis Jet, private jet company, sold to Warren Buffet for over a billion dollars. He is one of the founders of Zico Coconut Water, coconut water, sold to Coca-Cola. He and his wife own a Atlanta Hawks basketball team, NBA. His wife is Sara Blakely, she found Spanx. She’s the youngest self-made woman billionaire. He basically hired a Navy seal to live in his house for a month to basically shape him up. You know that he was, even though he was ultra-marathon runner, ran a hundred miles a day for charity straight, he wanted to really shake it up. So, I would say “Living with the seal” – really shakes it up, don’t get comfortable with where you are even you think you are doing great, you could always do a lot better. So, that’s the book.
E: And the last question. If you compare your startup with a car, which car would it be? What model and why?
JP: I’m not the biggest car person. But I have to say the Swag.com is the premium source for promotional products. I don’t want to think of this as the most expensive, it’s not the Rolls Royce, it’s not the Ferrari, it’s the premium quality source. So, I would say Lexus, Audi, great quality cars. You know, expensive to some people but really quality, it’s all about the quality aspect. You can get a cheap Lexus, a more expensive Lexus, there are different, you know, different options.
We were very glad to talk with Jeremy about Swag.com success story. And we hope Swag.com will conquer the world soon.
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