This is a follow up story for The Kavalier. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m Jon Shanahan, founder of The Kavalier which is a website and YouTube channel dedicated to helping men look their best and shopping smart when it comes to their clothing. YouTube is still the primary place guys interact with me and find out about me but the blog has been growing as I focused on it. Instagram is active as well.
My primary monetization strategy is an affiliate based as I modeled The Wirecutter for making the strongest recommendations within a category after doing extensive product research for each video. As I’ve been diversifying my affiliates and growing sponsorships I have grown the company to $13k per month and still growing 5-10% each month.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Yes, last we spoke I knew I needed to add more affiliates to reduce my reliance on any particular brand, try to grow outside of YouTube, my primary channel, and work on my content bottleneck which was me. I also hit the magic 100k subscriber number on YouTube which is when you get a checkmark and a physical plaque from the company which is pretty cool.
Find something that inspires you and start figuring it out as soon as you can.
Growing affiliates have been easy as I just needed to listen to my audience for which brands they wanted to see more information on. It has meant juggling more brands but I also implemented Copper CRM to help manage which brands I was speaking to and who I was working with across the hundreds of brands.
Focusing on my blog was a big one too as no one should be too reliant on one platform. That goes hand in hand with the writers I brought on to help with my own weaknesses as I dislike writing content for the site but translating my videos into blog posts has been huge. I was also the bottleneck for videos but working with my assistant and having research done so I can focus on producing and shooting the videos has been huge. Bringing more people into the process certainly complicates things but has helped to increase my output in a big way.
Just about three years ago I started The Buttoned Up Podcast with my co-host, Brock, from The Modest Man and we hit 100k downloads a few months ago. That has been an amazing platform to connect and learn from other entrepreneurs and creators in this space that I love doing each week. I even got to sit down and speak to Joseph Abboud.
I’ve been experimenting with Tik Tok as well and it’s been going very well. I have had almost as many views in four months on Tik Tok as I have had in 5 years on YouTube (but the quality of view and follower is not nearly the same). I also hired a PR guy to help get the word out about what I am doing locally and it’s led to some great connections within Pittsburgh.
Now that I have a sizable YouTube audience, brands are taking notice and are open to sponsoring videos which are another revenue stream that has been growing faster than affiliates do but I am cautious not to have too many sponsorships which allow me to be extremely selective for which brands I chose to work with.
We had our third child in July so it made for an interesting summer!
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Certainly hiring people earlier would have helped with the struggles I was having. You don’t have to hire a full-time person off the bat but having people that can augment your weaknesses or take some workload off of you and pay them accordingly is huge. Also setting up more systems whether you’re solo or with a team is a no brainer and I have been working on building those as much as possible.
Processes for how core parts of the business and administrative tasks get complete have been helpful. Finding the system that works best for me was a years-long experiment but the bullet journal combined with James Clear’s atomic habits has been huge for me since December.
I also took on a role as co-founder and CMO of Stryx which I am able to leverage all of my learnings of developing content and applying it in a new way has led to a lot of personal growth and forced time management across the two roles.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I just announced the new role to my audience and how I am approaching my videos going forward. It’s all about the best performing video format that I’ve found on my channel which is the “round-up” style video. It was my goal in 2019 to focus on those but I did not stick to that and it hurt my channel overall (in my opinion). So focusing on the roundups should help improve the viewership across my channel, grow my number of affiliates, and subscribers across the board. We shall see.
In the next 5 years, I can see building out the team in a bigger way and reducing the reliance on me being the face of the brand. I started The Kavalier with the intention of bringing in more body types, skin types, and styles other than myself and I believe in helping that expand. The Kavalier means Gentleman in German and I’d like to include others in the process so if I can get to the point that other team members can participate in larger roles then it would be a big win in my eyes. Being my own boss for the last 18 months has been an amazing experience and I can see continuing my full-time entrepreneurial journey indefinitely.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Yes. I am always trying to learn from adjacent industries and Frenemies about the traditional advertising and PR market. Learned a lot about the disruption that tech has brought in and the way they’re trying to evolve.
I really enjoyed Bob Iger’s book about his time at Disney and the leadership principles he shared about managing a team, pursuing a career, and building a company. Rocket Fuel and Billion Dollar Brand Club are the next ones on my list.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Focus on finding what works and why. Understanding why something is successful or why it failed is so important while doing it quickly. I realized this year that certain formats of videos for me were not performing well but I ignored that for too long. You have to find your personal balance between planning and execution but always lean to execution & learning. It’s very easy to over-plan and overanalyzes then you can spin your wheels.
Most of the major content creators and entrepreneurs I speak to today had a nugget of an idea and just went for it and learned along the way. Find something that inspires you and start figuring it out as soon as you can.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Anyone passionate about menswear is welcome to contribute to my site, I am always open to having more voices sharing their passions.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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