Lessons for Thriving During Economic Uncertainty

A Q & A with Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk. Learn how Jeff is pivoting his business to meet the needs of his customers during the pandemic.

In the second installment of our “Ask-Me-Anything” webinars, we’re joined by Jeff Sheldon – founder of Ugmonk – to discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on his business.

In the webinar, Jon MacDonald (Founder of The Good) and Jeff Sheldon field ecommerce-related questions and challenges that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, and Jeff details his plan for weathering the next several months of economic slowdown.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Ugmonk brand leading up to this year.
  • The recent ups and downs of the past few weeks.
  • The lessons that Jeff’s taken away so far.
  • Ugmonk’s strategy moving forward.
  • The essential tools and resources Jeff utilizes at Ugmonk.

Transcript:

  • Jon: Today we have a really great webinar I’m super excited about. We’re gonna talk about lessons for thriving during economic uncertainty. And we have Jeff Sheldon, the founder of Ugmonk with us today, which I’m super excited about. So Jeff started making t-shirts for other sites in 2009. And he had some really big winners and popular designs, so he decided to start making them on his own site. Since then, Jeff has added more objects to his library of creations and it really started with a really big win around the Gather Desktop Organizer, which was Kickstarted and funded in an amazingly short amount of time, and it raised over half, or just about a half a million dollars. Jeff aims for really high value rather than discounting, and this was really the other big reason I wanted to connect with him today. So before we really dive in here, I just wanted to thank Jeff for joining us and really just wanting to know from Jeff to kick things off. So Ugmonk started in the middle of the last recession, and can you Jeff, give me a little bit more background on the business leading up to where we’re at right now in this year?
  • Jeff: Yeah, I think for me, because I wasn’t necessarily raising funding, I didn’t really think of Ugmonk as a business for a while. People were asking me am I gonna quit my job and go full time? And I was like I don’t even know what the heck I’m doing, I gotta sell these shirts first, I gotta figure out what I’m doing. And the way that I built the business was I didn’t touch any of the money from the business for the first two years, and just worked my day job and put all the money back into Ugmonk that I earned. So if we sold any inventory, put it back into inventory, and we operated so so lean, that it was like, almost no overhead other than basic basic computer expenses and those types of things. I did borrow $2000 from my dad to print those first 200 shirts, so he was my venture capitalist. But what that did it was it taught me, I couldn’t afford to buy a nicer printer, or a nicer camera or even lights to shoot the photos with, I operated on shoe string budget. And what’s interesting is that kind of formed to the entire arc from then till now, our budgets have grown a little bit, but we’ve still chosen to operate with very DIY, like, this is my home office, that I built into the Ugmonk headquarters, it’s just a bedroom in my house. And I’ve got my photo studio over here, but it’s all completely like, if you saw how bare bones everything was, you would be like, oh wow, I thought that from the website, from the end result, from the product, it’s really polished.
  • Jon: I think that’s a really good point Jeff, that you can run lean and look really big online. And if you just put some, like you said earlier, a good attention to detail to how you’re presenting yourself, the consumer experience on your site goes a long way to swing in above your weight class if you will in terms of how big you really are.
  • Jeff: Yeah, totally, and I think people assume that you need to have a fancy office, you need to have a big staff, you need to do all of these things to make good products, but the reality is like, we’re not manufacturing products here. I work with craftsman and manufacturers all over the US, really like small businesses that we support, and they’re the ones that are experts in that, so I don’t have tons of overhead. Would I love to have a nice office and warehouse outside of here, when I have screaming kids in the background? Like, for sure, but it’s not needed. So we’ve really kept like this, keep our overhead as low as possible, which means our business is gonna be way more profitable at such low amounts and we’re not huge, but we’ve been able to do it by keeping that same mentality. I think right now, everyone’s like, how do we cut expenses? How do we tighten the belt? What do we actually need? And I think one of the things that has helped us is we’ve just always operated that way since I started.
  • Jon: So how has that impacted you now, can you talk a little bit about maybe the rollercoaster that has been the last couple of months that everybody is going through together.
  • Jeff: Yeah, it’s crazy, we just didn’t see it coming, and we heard about it, it just didn’t seem like it was all actually going to play out the way that this pandemic has affected everyone. And even though we have low overhead, even though it’s like, it’s me and then my mom does all of our shipping. My sister-in-law runs all of our operations, and then my brother is my business partner, and so it’s like a true family business, that’s our entire staff. So we don’t have massive a payroll that we’re like, oh, how we’re gonna meet this? But it’s still, as the virus and the news about things pick up, sales start going down, the more we hear about it, the more sales were screeching to a halt, and it was like, even we need to have consistent revenue to make it through this. Just because we’ve been doing this for a long time, doesn’t mean that we are immune to any of the pandemic affect of what’s happening. So what’s interesting is, what we do have, and I think really has helped get through, and I give all the credit to, is a community of people that came to support us when I sent an email out. I didn’t know how to approach it, I’m not trying to capitalize on it, I’m trying not to say, “Hey buy Ugmonk products “instead of go buy toilet paper,” but it was like, look, we’re a small business and we need to keep the lights on, we need to keep our family fed, literally, so I wrote an honest email about here’s what we’re doing, we’re gonna do a work from home sale, we can get into more of this too, just the strategy of what we pivoted into. But the response, that was insane, just unbelievable from our community and people the have been following us for five, six, seven, a decade.
  • Jon: That’s so wonderful to hear. And it’s just speaking, people have been asking us, here at The Good, how do I market, how do I sell in a time of when people have basics needs they’re trying to meet as well and maybe our business isn’t top of their mind. And I think it’s having empathy, and starting with that empathy, knowing their situation, like you said, look, we’re just a small business, I’m not asking you to not buy toilet paper or essentials for yourself, but if you can help out a business, and you’re either going to choose a big business or us, I would really prefer you choose us, and really help us as a small business. And I think being personal goes so far right now, it’s really great to see. And so you said that the response to that was amazing, what did you find to be the biggest high point coming out of that?
  • Jeff: Yeah, so it wasn’t like an instant response, I sent out the email and was starting to see some sails come in and starting to see just people saying, “Hey, we wanna support you,” or, “We don’t have the money now either, “but we’re here for you when we get through all of this,” people that we weren’t trying to trick them into buying anything that they didn’t need, but then the orders started rolling, and started rolling in faster. And March actually ended up being our best month compared to January and February, even though it was when the pandemic he’s really impacted the most people. And I don’t say that to brag, I really just say that to say that the relationship that I have with our audience, the power of that doesn’t go away, even through a global pandemic, and I can’t emphasize enough, having that connection to an audience and how much that means, that’s by far my greatest asset, is that I have people that actually care, real people that care about the real products that we make. And at the end of the day, no sales tactic, or pop up, or anything would’ve done that, it was just an authentic email that I rewrote six times, ’cause I wanted to make sure that it felt really honest and transparent.
  • Jon: That’s great, that’s wonderful to hear. For folks who are wondering how did you grow a community like this, I know we talked about Kickstarter earlier, and I mentioned that, and you know, you just have some raving fans that have come to this community, but how did you build this community over time? Where did that come from? How did you do that?
  • Jeff: Very slow and very steady. Because I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve been doing Ugmonk, the same thing, for so long, just showing up day after day after day, and year after year, the community has been built one person at a time, word of mouth, somebody buys a product, somebody gifts a product, somebody finds out about us. And has been such an organic build that if you saw how big our newsletter list is, it’s substantial, but it’s nothing compared to probably the numbers of brands that are put in the same category as us. But we haven’t bought or tricked or done anything to build that email list, it’s people that actually wanna be there. I actually prune our email list and take people off all the time because I don’t care about the numbers, I’d rather have 1000 people that are tuned in than 100 000 people that are marking it as spam every time. So I think just the nature of what you said about being human and relationship and all that stuff, that’s always been there, it’s more important now than ever, because people wanna connect with people. We’re isolated, we’re quarantined, and that authenticity, people know when a brand’s being authentic, or when they’re just kind of, they’re spit balling, they’re putting something out there just to get your email address so they can spam you.
  • Jon: So you’ve talked a lot about the highs and how great that rush was to have that community respond to your really heartfelt email. What were some of the lows like? Going through this you mentioned, at least I heard you say initially, that you sent the email and it wasn’t just a rush of replies right away. What were some of the lows like going through the last couple of months?
  • Jeff: Yeah, I think just doubting, is any of this even worth it? The things that I make, the products that I make are not truly essential. You can buy t-shirts at other places, you can buy desk organizers at other places, and started to question how much of this even matters? If worse came to worse, and food and shelter are things that people are going for, I started to question is all of this that I’m doing worth it? And I believe that it is and what we’ve seen now as everyone’s shifted to working from home, I think a big part of that increase in orders is because people are setting up their work from home spae. And a lot of our products are leather mouse pads, the Gather Desk Organizer, the mugs, the coffee equipment, all of these things that people are now settling into this routine, ’cause we don’t know how long this is gonna last. We made a work from home collection and we did do a sale on that collection specifically just to highlight that and to be sensitive to what’s going on, but we’re not even actively, we’re not doing any paid ads on it, we’re not doing anything to bring in those orders, but yet we still see orders coming in every day. And I think it’s really just like, the lows were, does anyone need any of this? Is this even gonna be what I’m gonna do in six months from now or three months from now? And then the highs are like, wait, these products do actually help. Yes they’re luxuries, but we’re not making up these products to capitalize on the pandemic. These are things that I’ve already designed, that I truly believe help you be more productive, and if you’re gonna work from home, it’s really important to have a good set up than trying to be working on the kitchen table where kids are spilling drinks on stuff, which it’s fine too, but I think people are seeing the value in setting up a good space.
  • Jon: Yeah, I think that that’s important to separate work and a home life for sure. I know I have a three year old, I’m struggling with that every day, I had to risk my life to come into the office today. It’s not that dramatic, but I came in to have a quiet space to do this. Yeah, so Jeff, what are the some of the lessons and take aways you have had out of going through this the last few weeks and months?
  • Jeff: I think like everyone else that runs a business here, you’re reevaluating your priorities, you’re reevaluating, what am I spending money on? Where’s the value? How do I keep my employees? How do we get through this logistically? I think that’s a good exercise anyways, it happened in the last recession, it happens whenever money gets tight, we start to evaluate the things that we’re investing in, that’s not to say, just cut every expense and downgrade everything, but it starts just so you’re like, there’s certain things like my email list provider, I, 100% am going to keep paying for that because that’s my life line, that’s how I reach my audience, so it really starts to help you prioritize and put value on the things that are like, yes I should be paying for this. Should I buy a new iMac right now? Probably not, the one I have is fine. It puts you back on your feet, to really think through from a business perspective, what you need, how can you do things, how can you make it work, and how can you make sure you’re taking care of your employees and your people?
  • Jon: So you mentioned your email provider, what are the other essential tools that you’ve decided you would never cut at this point?
  • Jeff: Shopify is the no-brainer, our site’s been on Shopify for nine plus years, I think we’re almost there full time. And without Shopify and all the work that they’ve done up and to this point is to make us successful as a merchant, as a seller, we would have no way to reach our fans, no way to reach our customers all around the world and that’s one of those things. That’s obviously a no brainer, our email list, we use Klaviyo, again, a no brainer. These are our storefronts, so we don’t have a physical brick and mortar storefront, brick and mortar building that we have to pay rent on, but these are things these are the non-negotiables. And there’s a handful of Shopify apps that we use to make our site work and bundled products and a lot of those smaller things that are not major expenses. Obviously the technology and internet connection and a computer, the things to make it work. Cameras and things where we’re doing product photography, that are essential to what we do, to get new products out there. But yeah, I don’t think we’ve had to make major shifts, but it’s also just kept us really aware of where we’re allocating time and money and just thinking through, as a business, do we want to eventually have a storefront? Do we wanna have a warehouse space? What would it have looked like if we had a $20 000 a month building that we had to all of a sudden shut down? And I feel for all these businesses, these brick and mortar businesses, coffee shops, restaurants that I love, it’s paining me to see what’s happened, because they’re almost completely shut down. Another thing, a thought exercise to think about, if this happens again, or when this happens again, what would that look like if we had a building?
  • Jon: Yeah it’s very interesting and I think that we’re finding a lot of folks who are just trying to get online for the first time and I’ve seen so many people on LinkedIn, there’s groups that have been forming to help, if you’re a retail business and you’re not online, you can go to this group and they’ll help you to set up your site for free and get everything going and just give you the expertise and knowledge that you’re looking for. And I think the community aspect has been wonderful. We had a question come in, I’m gonna ask you this question, Jeff, and we can maybe just in and answer this really quick, what aspects of your business do you think will return to normal after this season, and what do you think will remain permanent due to the pandemic?
  • Jeff: It’s hard to know, it’s hard to know how long this is gonna last, I wouldn’t wanna make any predictions too strong because I just feel like things could change, could take a u-turn. I wanna say that we’re gonna come out of this stronger and better moving forward, but the reality is we honestly don’t know exactly what this is gonna look like, so I think for us, being that we are non-essential, mostly non-essential goods, I mean, clothing is essential. But the spending, as people are more comfortable spending their money, as they normally would on things other than food and toilet paper then I think we will hopefully see sales pick up and be more steady from that perspective. I think for us specifically, because we sell so many work from home workspace related products, we’re just seeing the increase in that, so I think that’s actually going to be higher and more of our focus internally and more of our customer’s focus, just because the world is shifting to this work from home set up. I don’t know how many people are gonna go back to an office, or how many big companies are gonna say, “You know what, we’re gonna cut that “half a million dollar lease, “and you guys can all work from home, “and here’s $1500 to go set up your home office.” We wanna insert ourselves in that conversation since we can actually provide value with tools to work from home.
  • Jon: Yeah, that’s great to hear. I heard that Facebook gave everybody on their team 1000 bucks to get a set up going at home and I know I’m evaluating, as a business owner, we’ve always had a really flexible work from home policy anyways. I always say it’s not a buts and seats type of place, nobody’s checking to make sure who’s in the office and what hours, it’s more of just get your stuff done. And I think our team has really taken that mentality and culture and done really well with everybody being remote. And it makes me wonder, do we really need an office? So I think a lot of people are starting to question that. That’s great. So the next question that somebody asked really goes in, and I have a very similar question I was gonna ask next anyways, but how has this affected your goals for the future and in what ways? What do you plan to do moving forward?
  • Jeff: I wish I had a great plan and outline of how to navigate all this. I think for us it’s doubling down on more of the same. What my goal has always been is to make the best products I possibly can and put them out when they’re at the best point. And sometimes that takes weeks, sometimes that takes months or years. You mentioned Gather, which is the modular desk organizer. I worked on that on and off for like three or four years, just toying with it, trying to prototype it, and going back and forth until it finally got ready. So what we don’t wanna do is rush into just launching products because we’re like I don’t know what else to do, let’s just launch products quickly, or import products and slap our logo on them and get them out the door. I still really wanna take this methodical approach to how we launch products and how care and time we put into each thing. But, right now, I think that focus and where my focus was kind of already going, but this really pushes us this direction is to focus on workspace, other workspace products that might’ve been halfway developed or in the prototyping stage. I’ve got a product that I’m gonna be launching on Kickstarter here shortly, that this whole pandemic screwed up our schedule a little bit with, and we’re figuring out how to launch it, but it’s related to helping people get stuff done. And it’s like the way that the climate has changed, is just helping us say, this is the path where everyone is going, people aren’t gonna stop working, technology has made it so we can do a Zoom call like this, what are the challenges that people are facing with working from home and working in a work environment or co-working space or anything like that? And thinking more along those lines, so I think it’s steering our ship a little bit more that way versus some of the clothing and apparel stuff that we’ve done.
  • Jon: That’s great. So another question that just came in, besides your community, what are some other business decisions that you made before the crisis that you feel were central to your survival today?
  • Jeff: Yeah, I think I touched on that a little bit just about keeping overhead really low and lean. We don’t have massive ad budgets, we have zero debt on the business, which also means we can’t do necessarily big crazy things and experiments, we can’t afford to lose $100 000 on a marketing experiment that doesn’t work, because we will not exist anymore. So really the way that we’ve structured our business, I don’t know that I intentionally did it because I thought a global pandemic or something like this would happen, but it’s really taking down all the risks we possibly can, that we can control and made us weather proof in a way, to get through things like this. That said, there’s still the nervousness inside of me like, are we gonna make it? Is this gonna work? I don’t know what it’s gonna be like in six months or a year from now, but I think that thought process and hopefully I’m not hammering the same thing home too many times, but I think that’s important to think about. This isn’t gonna be the last time that we go through something like this, how are we gonna do it the next time? Should we keep our staff minimal, or should we be thinking about getting that physical space which we were actually in the process of looking at warehouse and looking at things, it’s like, all right, that whole conversation got paused majorly, because if we were locked into a five year, seven year lease, it would be a different story, that could sink us alone. So I try to operate just purely on cash, not taking on a lot of debt, so that we’re not in a hole when something else comes and we have to dig ourselves out of.
  • Jon: Yeah, that’s great. I’ve heard quite a bit from brands I’m talking to, there’s two camps happening right now, and there’s one who the company was well run, or you know, at the very least they didn’t have debt, they kept expenses low. And I would say those are pretty good business tenets to have anyways, but they were generally well run companies, and they’re gonna easily get through this because they are able to scale back when needed, and they’re fiscally responsible, and they were just a well run company. And there’s others that aren’t gonna survive the shock to the system, because they already had systemic problems. So you think about just like a patient who goes into ICU, if you’re gonna go into the ER or ICU, you wanna be in good health before you had that issue. It’s harder to recover. It’s no different for a business right now, you wanna make sure that before you end up in these types of situations that you’re run pretty well. So there are things you can do now, but I think we’re clearly seeing with the brands I’m talking to on a daily basis, that there’s some who are looking at this as an opportunity or at the very least, that they’re like, I’m gonna survive, I’m gonna do all right, and I’m gonna come out of this stronger than ever because I’m investing in marketing right now or all the other things that I could be doing. And then there’s the handful that are saying, “Hey, I just need to increase conversions today, “because otherwise I won’t be here next month.” And I think that that’s hard to persist with.
  • Jeff: Yeah and I would say there are things in our control, like our website, so conversion rate or thinking about landing pages or things that we can build out that are very low cost and that I can design that we have it developed or build out on Shopify. A lot of the stuff, we actually have it set up so I can go in and build a landing page without touching any code. These are things that we can optimize and we can invest time in that don’t cost us money. So that’s another big thing. We all have this time still where are we gonna allocate that, even if I don’t have $10 000 to throw at something, well how can I best use the time that I have and the attention that we have right now, to make our website better, make our packaging better, design a whole new line of products? I’m in a really fortunate place where I can do this. On a digital presence, if you run a SaaS company, if you run a physical product company, there’s things that we can do right now that will actually help in the future. We’re not completely handcuffed like a lot of these restaurants and stuff.
  • Jon: Yeah, that’s true. I just had a conversation this morning with a brand that I thought was really interesting and they said, “I don’t have money to really work with you guys, “but I just wanna know what’s the number one thing “I could do?” And I said, “You know what, there’s a lot of things “that you could do,” but I think it’s just going back to that list, that some day maybe list, the things you were maybe gonna do some day, down the road, that you just, now you have time to do. You have more time than you have money right now, so use that time productively. I was like, let’s pull up your site and look at it, and the product photos were just horrible, and I said, “You know what, do you have a decent camera?” And they said, “Yeah, I have a DSLR, I like it, “I know how to use it to some degree.” I said, “Great, go take all new product photos,” and I was like, “Take a 1000 of those photos, you’ll get better and better “at them, and then go back just take a new photo “for all of your products,” and I said, “That is gonna be so much more helpful “than almost anything else you can do “and I can tell you haven’t been doing it “because you just haven’t had the time “and it hasn’t been high enough on the priority list. “But now you have the time, so why not try?” And I think there’s a lot of things like that that brands could be doing to take a step back and say, “Okay, what are the things I know I need to doing “that I haven’t had time to do?” And now they’re not commuting so maybe they’ve got an extra hour on each side of their day, things of that sort.
  • Jeff: It’s definitely caused me to look at my some day maybe list and say what are the things that I thought I wanted to do or I keep saying I’m gonna do? And yeah, a couple of those are now moving onto my today list, it’s like, I’m gonna do this stuff. Now I can’t do anything else, we can’t get product from a lot of our manufacturers right now because they’re shut down, even in the US. There are certain things that we can’t do and how do we take these constraints and how can we use these to do something else that we wouldn’t otherwise had time for? And I made the joke on Twitter, which some people took a little bit too literally, but right now, people that don’t have kids, I hear, “I’m so bored I don’t know what else to do, “I’ve already binged watched Netflix “and I’ve already learned “how to make sourdough from scratch, “I’ve already done this stuff, what else should I do?” And then people with kids, parents with kids are like, “I have negative time, I don’t have any extra time “in the day, I doesn’t feel like I have extra time.” But from a business perspective, we do have time allocated now that we wouldn’t have had before and I’m trying to think through some of these things, get them off my some day list that I’m finally gonna do. And one of those, last week I did a live Q&A, kinda like this, just put it out to my audience and like, I should do this more. And a bunch of people showed up, asked questions, when are you gonna do it again? And just being there and connecting with people, the relationships, the attention we have now, is something that we can all take advantage of because we have more time.
  • Jon: Yeah, that’s a great point and I’m definitely in that camp with, I heard you say you had kids, I think right, I’m in that camp, same thing, where it’s like I don’t feel like I have any more free time at the moment. Someone asked here, are there any resources that you would recommend to other eCommerce brands like yourself? It’s pretty generic, but are there any resources off the top of your head that you’re like, wow, I can’t live without this? I know you’ve mentioned a few that you would never cut, but what are some that you just feel like you couldn’t live without?
  • Jeff: Yeah, the eCommerce space has grown so much and I’ve been able to ride that wave and even though we’re still a little guy, I keep my ears open to all the stuff happening in the DTC space and all of the stuff that has been built. You look at Shopify 10 years ago, you look at Shopify now, it’s a completely different platform. But as far as resources go, I think there’s a lot of great podcasts, there’s the Ecommerce Influence podcast, I’m blanking on some of the other ones now. If you look up on iTunes, eCommerce podcasts, there’s so many of them that you can listen to and maybe they’re more about drop shipping, maybe they’re more about Amazon. I feel like I gained so much from these podcasts, anything from very specific, niche eCommerce podcasts, to stuff like How I Built This, which is one of the best podcasts out there, just hearing how these big businesses have come to be. I’m trying to think of other resources.
  • Jon: You realize with all of those big businesses that it’s been a 20 year story or a 10 year story like yours, where it’s not an overnight success.
  • Jeff: So give me 10 more years and maybe you’ll see on there. I’m trying to think of other resources for eCommerce. I mean Twitter, honestly, if you’re following people on Twitter in the eCommerce space, I feel like there’s just a lot of valuable links and resources passed back and forth. And so much of its free, people are just giving, here’s how I ran ads, or here’s how I designed the landing page, here’s how making Shopify do this with subscriptions. There’s endless opportunity if you go digging for it. So I find tons of stuff through podcasts and through Twitter.
  • Jon: So one of things, in preparation for this I Googled you, I just wanted to see what are the different stories that came up and I was shocked, you guys have been in some really great press. What do you think has been the one thing you’ve got in that just totally changed the game for you? Was there one time you were wrote up in some blog or something like that, that just all of sudden it clicked and that was the moment you knew you had a sustainable business?
  • Jeff: Yeah, it wasn’t one specific site. So early early on, it was the very first year that I launched, maybe it was year two, we got featured on a few design blogs, back when blogs were so much bigger, it was pre Twitter, pre social media, but Swissmiss, she runs a design blog and she’s still running it to this day, made a little link to the And Then I Woke Shirt, that we had, it was a big ampersand, it was our best selling shirt. And then, we’ve been featured on a lot of the bigger sites like Uncrate, Gear Patrol, and Cool Hunting, and Cool Material and all these sites. I don’t think it was one specific Oprah moment where we got featured and all of sudden we couldn’t keep up, but it’s this layering on of things and then we’ve been written up on Shopify’s blog and I’ve been a bunch of different podcasts about how I built Ugmonk. And over the years, all of the things and magazines, I’ve spoken at conferences, I think really for me it’s been like this one on top of the other building, and has built a presence and a validity of what we’re doing. People want to know more about my story and how we run things since we do things pretty differently than a lot of other eCommerce brands.
  • Jon: Yeah, and one of the things I didn’t read in any of these articles, where the name Ugmonk came from.
  • Jeff: I figured that question might come up, ’cause people always wanna know. So I haven’t ever revealed the origin of the word, but the way we came up with the name was we spent $300 000 on a naming company, no, I’m just kidding. We were launching this in 2008 actually, when I first put out the very first website, it was awesome, it had a wood grain background and neon blue letters, it was terrible. But for the time, it seemed cool, drop shadows and stuff. It was almost like an after thought, oh, we gotta call this something, was it gonna be like Jeff’s T-Shirts? Or you know like, Designtshirt.com and kinda going through different things. And we ended up just Googling all these random words and things that were inside jokes and whatever. And we Googled Ugmonk.com, there was nothing, or I think the word Ugmonk came up twice or something, in another language. And the URL was open, again, this was before I thought this was gonna be a business, this wasn’t some master plan, this wasn’t a branding exercise, we were just like, oh, let’s just do it, let’s just call it Ugmonk, there’s nothing else out there. So we ran with that and now if you Google the word, Ugmonk, there’s, I think someone said it recently, I think it’s like 400,000 results or something, and every single one of them traces back to us somehow, through some link, because we’re the only Ugmonk out there.
  • Jon: You saved yourself $300,000 in the process, right?
  • Jeff: Yeah, exactly. Having a short URL like that in a dotcom was not necessarily all planned out that way, but it’s been interesting because we’ve gotten to define what Ugmonk is, the same way that Google defined Google, like now you say, “I’m gonna Google something,” but before that, nobody knew what the word, Google meant. So again, you have people asking me all the time, should I name my company something I make up? Should it be a literal thing? I think it’s really dependent on the company and where you’re going, but I wouldn’t necessarily say to take the path we did, but it’s worked out really well, and it’s weird enough for people to remember and short enough that they can type it in the URL bar.
  • Jon: That’s great, yeah. So before we start wrapping up here, is there any advice that you would give to eCommerce brands right now that we haven’t covered? I know we’ve looked at this from a couple of different angles, and it’s been amazing, I already have a whole bunch of takeaways that I can’t wait to share, but is there anything we missed or what other advice would you give for eCom brands right now?
  • Jeff: I think just in this time and what I’m noticing across the board is that, we touched on this earlier, but just the relationship aspect of being a company, running a brand. If you’re the president of the company, the founder, you don’t necessarily have to be the face of the brand and be the one communicating to everyone, but there should be a personal touch, they should feel like, “Hey, when I talk to this brand, “I know who I’m talking to, and I know who’s behind it all.” Obviously, the CEO of Nike is not gonna write every promotional email from Nike, same with Apple and all those things, but there is a connection, I would say, that even with Apple, we see the people behind it, they’re trying to show us the process that people appreciate. And in a time like this and where things are headed, I think it’s more important to be more human, less worried about getting in front of camera, just doing it, just saying like, hey, if I’m gonna sit down, if I was to have a brick and mortar retail store, I would be the one greeting you at the door, ’cause I’m the one running it. And we should be treating our eCommerce brands the same way. And people respond really well to that versus you know, your ticket number is 6201, a representative will be with you in 15 minutes, nobody wants that, that’s just not human. So any way you can make your brand more human I think, is really important.
  • Jon: That is awesome to hear you say that. I frequently tell big brands, just because you can’t see the human on the other side of the screen, it does mean they’re not a human. It’s the same thing, treat your eCommerce site as if it was a retail store. People walk in, how are you gonna treat them? What is that experience like? And you really need to have that empathy for the people on the other side of the screen and that will take you so much further. So that’s really great Jeff. Anything else you wanted to say today that we didn’t cover, do you have any new products coming out or anything of that sort?
  • Jeff: Yes, I do have a new product we’re gonna launch on Kickstarter, I can’t reveal it quiet yet. I think I might do a sneak peak live Q&A here in a few weeks. The best way for people to stay in touch is just through our newsletter, it’s just ugmonk.com/newsletter. And that’s where I’m sending out, every month I send out an email called “Five Things I’m Digging,” and it’s just music or food or links or design links. It started kind off again, as an accident, and I’ve been doing it for two years now I think, and people love it, they open it, it’s like our highest opening email, most clicked email. So if you want to see what other things are inspiring me, get on our newsletter.
  • Jon: That’s great, and I’ll definitely go sign up for that too, that sounds awesome, I definitely wanna know what your five things are. Well thank you so much Jeff, I really do appreciate it, you’ve been wonderful and gracious and very open and sharing today. So thank you, I hope the everybody here got a lot of value out of it. I just wanna remind everybody about two quick things, one is the recording for this will get posted up on our site, here shortly, in the next day or so. And also, next week we are doing another one of these with Dan Weinsoft from Goodr Sunglasses. And so we’ll be asking him a lot of questions as well. So Jeff thank you so much again, I really do appreciate it and have a wonderful day, stay safe and stay healthy everybody.

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