How do you build a business? For this eight-figure entrepreneur, simply building an audience isn’t enough
By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.
In the new episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, Yong-Soo Chung talked about how he built his eight-figure business, Urban Everyday Carry (Urban EDC), from scratch using social media and the fear of missing out. He also discussed how he’s growing another business-to-business (B2B) business through word of mouth — and how other entrepreneurs can go from zero to hero.
Image from LinkedIn
When 10,000 Instagram Followers Aren’t Enough
Urban EDC began in Yong-Soo’s tiny one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco in 2015. Before launching the shop, he created an Instagram account and essentially posted other people's posts whilst giving them credit. He was able to build a page with roughly about 10,000 followers.
He thought then that he was ready to launch the shop with that kind of following. So he sat and wrote up his newsletter. It was a Friday evening. Whilst people were out doing whatever they were doing, he was in that apartment writing that newsletter. Then he sent it out, and it was all crickets.
That was a humbling experience for him. He thought with 10,000 followers on Instagram, it would be enough of a potential customer base to get at least one sale. But it was just nothing.
Then, he had a friend visiting him from out of town that weekend and they caught up on a Sunday. When that friend asked him what he’s been up to, he told him about the shop. Without telling Yong-Soo, his friend made the first purchase. That was his first sale, and he loved that it was from his friend.
Now, Urban EDC has over 169,000 Instagram followers and 80,000 newsletter subscribers.
A Caveat For Entrepreneurs
According to Yong-Soo, a common mistake many entrepreneurs make is building an audience and then thinking that they can convert that audience into paying customers. However, it's not necessarily the case.
Image from Unsplash
When you first launch a business, you don't necessarily want to ask your friends to support you. It's great that you can get your friends to support you, your parents, or whoever. But if they're not part of your core potential audience, their suggestions and feedback might put you back and hinder you from achieving your future goals. They could be telling you one thing, but your core group of potential audience might not be thinking that way.
For example, your wife might tell you that you’re doing a great job or maybe you should do this or that instead. Obviously, your wife will support you, but she may not know what your core customer wants.
Remember that the people you know are not the ones you want to get feedback on.
When he launched Urban EDC, Yong-Soo didn't ask his friends for feedback because he knew they would not be part of his core audience in the future. He kept quiet about it and built that page of 10,000 followers he thought were potential customers.
Now, what he does with the business is drop new inventory every week. Each week, he listens to customers and gathers valuable feedback through these feedback loops. Slowly, week by week, he was able to hone in on what the customer really wanted — and that’s how he and his team were able to turn things around.
Getting Feedback From a Passionate Community
EDC stands for Everyday Carry. They sell things that you carry on an everyday basis. Your wallet, your phone, your flashlight, your bottle openers. And there's a passionate community of everyday carry people who show off what they carry. It’s a niche community, but they're very passionate about the game.
Screengrab from Instagram
If you’re an entrepreneur, you want to have the feedback loops populate wherever your company lives. For them, that's Slack (a communication platform commonly used for businesses).
Then they used a simple survey tool called Typeform. And through Zapier, an API integration platform, they had the surveys sent directly to a separate Slack channel. So each time survey comes in, it goes right into that channel, and everybody sees it. He won’t be able to hide any bad feedback.
A Mini Framework for Gaining Customers
Urban EDC doesn’t sell on Amazon or Etsy. They have their own website and use Shopify for their back end.
To attract potential customers, you can start by looking for collaborators or people who have audiences on their own — people you could provide value for and people who’ll share it with their own audiences. It’s like piggybacking off other people's audiences to reach a certain stage.
The second step is to build a consistent brand and message. At Urban EDC, they have weekly gear drops. Word got out that they’re dropping gear weekly, and they sell out literally within minutes or sometimes even a few seconds.
As an entrepreneur, bear in mind that people start talking. They tell their friends about a certain product that is selling quickly. In turn, their friends will ask about what’s being sold. That way, you can prompt people to start talking about your brand. Once that starts happening, you’re getting your message out to others.
It also has to do with your own brand values. If you have a strong brand value in a certain industry, people will start talking about that.
The last step is when someone subscribes to your email list or starts following you on Instagram, note that they have a certain expectation of what they will get. At Urban EDC, they make it very clear that each Wednesday, they have new inventory that's dropping, and customers will hear about it through their newsletter.
This is how they ensure that customers’ expectations are met: It’s all about consistency. Week after week, customers are on the website, waiting for the new gear because they know it will drop. They’ve been “trained” to expect that from Urban EDC.
When you build that consistency over time, it will pound into something much bigger.
Image from Unsplash
Urban EDC, where Yong-Soo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), wants to empower designers and makers to get that creativity out into the wild.
The company is big on the community of everyday carry. They want designers to be able to get their designs out and distribute that to thousands and millions of people. They want to provide that platform for someone who's just starting and has a great design.
When it comes to brand building, it’s really about knowing which community you are serving and how you can provide value to that community where others talk about you in the context of that community.
A Tale of Two Communities
Urban EDC got two communities. They work with creators and designers, match them, and connect them with potential customers. And there are a lot of people in both communities. For instance, someone who starts as a consumer could love the gear so much that they end up buying some machinery and start making their own.
It has happened many times, and Yong-Soo has seen people in the community just being enthusiasts in the beginning. Then, a couple of years later, they're making their little bottle openers and whatnot and starting to sell on their own.
For him, it’s delightful to see that they've been empowering entrepreneurship in a way. Customers start in an area where they're interested and then become entrepreneurs.
Urban EDC’s makers are across the world. For Yong-soo, some of the best makers are in places you would never imagine. So, in his opinion, getting that creativity out of all sorts of different parts of the world is important because you just never know where that creativity will be.
Image from Unsplash
How Does Urban EDC Attract Designers and Makers
The shop has a separate process for acquiring makers.
When they were starting out, they would reach out to a lot of these makers and each maker has their own size of audience. Going back to the mini framework he discussed, he recounted how they were reaching out to makers trying to collaborate with them.
Most said no and were looking for what was in it for them.
In the beginning, it was tough. But as with other situations, you have to work your way up. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where they will come to you — similar to what Urban EDC has been experiencing (They have makers asking how to get their products listed in their shop).
Now that they’re in a good spot, they can handpick the makers they want to collaborate with. It’s important for them to be able to curate the best products from the most talented makers to serve their audience.
It’s a balancing act between being open for anyone to come in and taking into account what they know about their customer base (i.e., what their customers are looking for) through their feedback loops.
Yong-Soo has another business called GrowthJet, and it’s a Climate Neutral Certified logistics company in the B2B space — a niche lagging in that climate angle. He wanted to go there and be a pioneer. In fact, they’re the first third-party logistics company in the world to become Climate Neutral Certified.
The challenge for B2B is that many of these companies love that they care about the environment and all that. They say they have Climate Neutral Certified fulfilment services but don't share GrowthJet’s name because it’s their secret sauce.
Hence, the biggest way for GrowthJet to grow is through word of mouth. If they provide good service and constantly deliver on their value proposition, their clients will talk to others internally.
Image from Unsplash
When straddling different types of businesses, the most important thing is having these feedback loops. You want to implement feedback loops that keep your entire team accountable. You want them to hear from customers whether or not they enjoyed something or didn't.
What delights customers is when they give you feedback and see you actually implement it. Urban EDC itself has been able to build a loyal following by listening to customers.
The company has been listening to customers each week — and tweaking something slightly each week — allowing them to grow into something much bigger.
To learn more about Yong-Soo Chung, you can find him on Twitter. He also launched a new business podcast with 15- to 20-minute episodes. There, he delves into what it's like being an eight-figure entrepreneur — its concepts, frameworks, mental models, and the little tools he uses daily to operate the business. You can check it out at www.firstclassfounders.com.
This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.