Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Ryan and I’m the co-founder and head of brand and marketing for Faire Leather Co. - an online leather goods label that is focused on Functional Luxury. It taps traditional know-how from decades of experience to create stylish products designed for maximum function.
Our flagship products are our Bond Travel Briefcase and Bond Everyday Padfolio. Our customers are for anyone looking to pack their gadgets and essentials in an organized fashion without sacrificing aesthetics. Our products are designed to take you through from Mondays to Sundays.
After our Kickstarter campaign ended on Jan 2018 with us finishing as the most funded campaign out of over 700 projects, we went on to hit our two-year target of $1 million in sales in under 10 months and our total revenue to date is at about $2.3m and we’re looking to raise funds in a few months time to scale the business. As of June 1, 2020, my partner Joseph Lor, and I, fully own Faire Leather Co. after buying out our previous investors.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I quit my job in 2017 to start Faire Leather Co. with my partner, Joseph Lor. We became the most funded fashion Kickstarter campaign in Singapore when we ended our campaign in January 2018. Faire started out from a casual conversation we had over a couple of drinks. Joe was talking about his family business and it then came to the ideas we could build; how my experience meant I could market a concept for a product he would create.
I was your standard working professional that worked on the move. I carry my kindle, my laptop, a notebook, and other daily essentials in my work bag. But I didn’t feel like there was anything out there that was solving a truly simple and fundamental problem - while the outside of my bag looked polished, inside it’s a mess and I can never find my stuff.
So I first asked Joe, “How difficult is it to make a bag that could neatly fit all my essentials?”
He explained that it wasn’t as easy as just building compartments. We would need to reimagine the structure of the conventional briefcase and make something that no one else had made before. Countless months and rounds of sample making later, we made it — we'd created Faire Leather Co. as a brand and company, along with products that were seemingly impossible to make. I was the head of marketing at a restaurant reservations platform called Quandoo at the time - it was a great job that paid well and I had really flexible working hours, great colleagues and was on course for an APAC promotion then so it was hard to walk away from that. But once I saw what we had built, I decided to take the leap of faith. We wanted to further validate the product with the rest of the world, and that’s how we decided to launch Faire on Kickstarter and the rest, as they say, is history.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Joe and I had a rough idea of what we wanted but there were very few references we could make as there weren’t many brands that did this so we had to think specifically about the everyday needs of modern professionals and design the product with a focus on functionality not just with the compartments, but also the details that would make the product.
We took an ‘inside-out’ design approach because that’s where the idea came from – making a bag that could neatly fit all our daily essentials. The interiors were designed by first creating a list of features we believed most people would like to have in their product.
We then held focus groups to give us a better idea of what our target market thought of these features and slowly tweaked the details with each iteration. The exteriors and general structure of our products are based on classic silhouettes. We wanted to keep them sleek and minimalist on the outside, so instead of the traditional ‘front-and-center stamped’ representation of a logo, you can only see Faire Leather Co.’s logo etched onto the surfaces of some of our custom hardware.
Again, we achieved this by bringing each prototype to focus groups before incorporating feedback with each iteration – over and over again until we got it right. This isn’t something many makers have the luxury of doing, but we could because Joe’s family owns a leather factory.
Ultimately, an attribute that goes beyond pricing is quality. Joe’s family has been making leather products for over 30 years. They have worked with countless types of materials and hardware, as well as the processes that go into making different kinds of bags. With Faire, we would have the same quality and know-how, just updated for a new generation.
Faire Leather Co. is fully, vertically integrated. We are direct-to-consumer (DTC) and we run and own the factory, the same factory that’s produced for several luxury brands. This means we never have to pay a manufacturer’s fee or a sample production cost.
We also save on materials because of the relationships the business has built with suppliers over the years, and the expertise of their craftsmen in cutting leather efficiently. These cost savings are made throughout the entire production process, which we then pass on to you.
We created hype around our campaign launch via drip campaigns, social media activity, and a referral campaign - For every five successful referrals they made, they would receive a complimentary product.
This video did really well for us via Kickstarter:
Describe the process of launching the business.
In the early days, we signed a joint venture agreement with Y Ventures Group, a data analysis driven e-commerce retailer and distributor listed on the Singapore Exchange. The partnership aimed to leverage Y Ventures Group's proprietary data analytics to provide insights into demand trends, pricing intelligence, consumer sentiment, and market competition.
While we were conceptualizing the product, we also had to very quickly come up with the name and what we wanted it to stand for（Faire in french stands for “to make”) along with the packaging and all of the finer details. Branding hence took a huge portion of our time. Joe still had his family business to run, and I had my day job so we would work over dinner after work till 4 or 5 in the morning before carrying on with our day jobs. It was like this for months.
In the lead-up to our Kickstarter campaign, we built up hype to collect over 900 emails for our mailing list via a simple referral campaign. We believe that this was fundamental to their success as it ensured a certain amount of traction when we launched. Alongside Kickstarter, we also held a physical brand launch for the public to feel and look through our products. This enabled us to gain real-life information and feedback from the public and to generate a buzz of being a homegrown functional luxury brand.
The campaign ran for 50 days and saw over 1,000 backers pledging over $406,000 to fund the making of our first two designs, the Bond Travel Briefcase and Everyday Padfolio — eight times more than our initial target of $50k.
Biggest lessons learned from the process of starting, as well as lessons learned from the launch:
1. PLAN AND BUDGET
Plan the pricing tiers properly and consider costs like advertising spend, shipping, and other miscellaneous items. Encourage impetus by planning your stretch goals, rewards, and updates, where possible.”
2. KNOW YOUR PRODUCT
Be very clear about your product’s unique selling point, like what problem it solves and how it adds value to the consumer.
3. BE DATA-DRIVEN
Our joint venture with Y Ventures Group helped the brand identify what our target consumers want - the data helped by providing core actionable insights… For example, their results revealed that consumers placed a strong emphasis on zippers, pockets, and compartments. These findings contributed greatly to the creation of our prototype.
4. CONDUCT FOCUS GROUPS
We created many feedback channels to constantly engage with the online community, whether it’s via social media, EDMs, or email drip campaigns. Every conversation we’ve ever had — whether through discussions, focus groups, research, or data analysis — contributed to the final product.
The crowdfunding campaign gave us data on our top 4 international markets and we used the cash earned to divert social media ads to these markets.
5. RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION
Do your homework by analyzing your competition and previous campaigns. It’s important to learn what has and hasn’t worked with other similar campaigns.
6. KEEP YOUR CROWDFUNDING PITCH SHORT AND SWEET
Communicate the value proposition of your product in the shortest amount of time possible, bearing in mind that yours is one of several thousand live projects [on Kickstarter].
7. HAVE A SOCIAL MEDIA PLAN TO BUILD BUZZ AROUND YOUR LAUNCH
We created hype around our campaign launch via drip campaigns, social media activity, and a referral campaign - For every five successful referrals they made, they would receive a complimentary product.
8. HOLD A PHYSICAL BRAND LAUNCH
This allowed people a glimpse of our products’ craftsmanship and level of quality, and to see the Kickstarter product samples live. It helped our brand image and our legitimacy in wanting to deliver the product we created.
9. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR PROJECT
You might need to sacrifice sleep in order to entertain queries from interested parties worldwide. Anticipate all possible questions. Don’t leave your backers waiting when they ask questions or be unsure of your responses.
10. BE GENUINE
When launching a campaign, you’re not just selling a product, but also yourself and your story. Be honest and transparent with your backers. Don’t lie or make statements that you’re uncertain of, or worse, make promises that you’re unable to make good on.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I would definitely recommend going the Kickstarter route to organically identify key target markets, especially geographically. When we initially came up with the branding and products for Faire we obviously already had an idea of the target demographic but we weren’t sure which countries/regions to target other than our home/domestic market.
So the crowdfunding campaign not only provided us with more liquidity to fund SMM pursuits when we launched our website, but it also gave us data on our top 4 international markets and we used the cash earned to divert social media ads to these markets.
I am also sure that you heard about how important content is to the success of any e-commerce business. So I would recommend spending a lot of time planning the type of content you put out there. For example, we found that conversions with stop motion videos were pretty good and we tried to (and still try to) spend more time on improving various aspects with each stop motion video that we produced - increase frames per movement for a smoother transition, more effort into better flat lays, etc.
We try to constantly engage our existing customers in various ways, in the more “traditional” sense we do offer perks such as discounts to encourage repeat purchases via EDMs. We also have a closed Facebook group exclusively for existing customers where we offer first dibs on new launches and engage them by discussing product designs, and even just have casual conversations at times.
We have found that online multilabel stores helped a bit at the beginning when our website sales were lower. But as Faire’s website sales grew it was just a lot more efficient to dedicate all stock to it instead of other platforms simply because they did not move sufficient product. In addition, most of these platforms allow change of mind returns and this resulted in more work and (especially) in the case of overseas platforms, high costs for shipping.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are currently profitable.
- CAC: $40
- Ad costs: Our average spend is approximately $7.5k but can go up to $20k or more if we have larger campaigns
- ROAS: Averages between 4-5x
- Traffic: Avg 42000 visitors
- Avg time on site: 2min
- Email subscribers: 9,000
- Social Media Following: IG 22.4k; FB 4.9k
- Return customer rate: 22/8%
Distribution: 85% revenue from our own website, 10% revenue from distributors, 5% in local offline sales
We have just spent a large amount of company cash buying out our previous partner so our short term goals are to get back to equilibrium - to spend more money developing and manufacturing new products such as lifestyle items (desk pads, note pads, pencil cases, etc) and updating our current bestsellers with new features and making them in different types of leathers and colors.
We are improving our existing channels - ie. upgrading our website design and the UI/UX flow to enhance the customer experience. We will also include new functions such as 360 rotate product views, options to book online video call appointments, product approval (crowdfunding style) functions, and more.
We are also looking to expand both our offline and online presence in other countries - we have just set up an office in Thailand and are also ramping up ad spend to key countries such as the US, UK, Germany, Australia, and the GCC region. We will also be looking to engage influencers in all the above-mentioned countries/regions using influencer discovery platforms.
We will enter into a few collaborations with other brands such as wireless charging devices, headphones, etc, and organizations such as a local school for differently-abled artists where we will feature their artwork on our products and pay them a royalty fee.
The long term plan is to spend significant time and cash to penetrate larger markets such as the US. Joe will probably move over to either NYC, LA, or San Francisco to hire a team and ensure all processes are executed well to increase the probability of success. We will probably be looking to raise capital in about a year’s time to do this.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
1. Find a good team.
You can't do everything yourself. There are some things that you will be very good at doing, and other things that you will suck at. Don’t waste your time trying to learn them when you can focus on your role.
2. Plan and have processes in place.
In the beginning when the team is small or if you’re on your own, you would have to do most things yourself but remember that this won’t always be the case. Have processes so that when you move on to the bigger things, it’s easier for the new hire to take over as your team expands. That’s why we have brief templates, social media calendars, and workflow processes. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
3. Collaborate as much as you can.
I’m a strong believer of partnerships and collaborations - whether that be an actual product collaboration or just associating your product with another that complements your offering in the form of photos or videos, cross-sells or even bundle selling - chances are that you might be selling to the same customer, so why not work together to offer a bundled solution?
4. When you’re sitting pretty, always think of danger.
I think the current climate of things is a great example – we knew the potential of e-commerce and moved away from committing to a brick and mortar concept, especially for a product like ours. We did occasional pop-ups when there were strategic, collaborative efforts with complementary brands, so I don’t think we rest on our laurels a lot. We’re constantly thinking of ways to expand our reach and we don’t stick to the one solution, as we know the world changes too quickly – we have to always be prepared for the worst.
5. Make sure you work with the right people.
I think whether it’s choosing a business partner, an agency, a collaborative brand partner or even colleagues who you are looking to hire, it’s important that everyone is on the same page so try to have open conversations about what the end goal is and how you intend to get there - the right people will be in sync with you and always moving in the same direction.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We currently use Shopifyfor our website (we’re actually in the middle of a web revamp) and I guess this is probably quite the popular choice amongst most brands as is - it’s simple to use and is one that you can manage yourself internally if you wish to edit content or add certain features by using their wide library of apps.
As for our mailers which convert really well for us, we use Klaviyo as our email marketing tool. We most recently were using Mailchimp but wanted to test variations in design offerings and the difference in segmentation and automation, so we are still at that stage now of feeling our way around Klaviyo. We work with Commission Factory and Advertise Purple for our affiliates and everything else is done in house at the moment. For payment options, we see buy now pay later to be quite an attractive way to shop and so we’re currently working with Hoolah locally and will launch our partnership with Klarna for the US very soon.
We use Facebook for a more direct setting with our customers - a closed group where we share product ideas and give them the latest updates and first dibs on everything related to the brand. We are currently using HubSpotas our chatbot platform. It’s free currently and does the job for us for now but we will continually explore other options. At this point, I think it’s important to share that it is wise to take the time to explore alternatives that will work across your different needs.
Faire will turn 3 in November and we are only just beginning to navigate our way around such apps as the last 2 years or so was spent focusing on our product line, engaging with our customers and another day to day tasks - my point is, I understand how busy it can get when you are a small team and it is constantly all hands on deck but as soon as you can, wherever possible, take some time out to think about how you can improve on certain processes to make better use of your time, gain access to interesting analytics or to better engage with your customer.
We also run surveys every now and then to ask questions to our subscribers on what they’d like to see next and for that we use Typeform as it is easy to manage and can be customized to a certain extent for brand consistency. We will also explore the use of Stashally to foster our community so as to navigate our superfans and encourage social sharing. Lastly, with the work from home situation, we use Trello as a means of sharing what everyone is doing to track work progress.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For me personally, it was one of those books you see at the store and the headline seems to somehow catch your attention - Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite, by Paul Arden. It’s not exactly a business book and you can probably finish the book in a day.
But what I like most about it is that it teaches a single basic concept: that there are benefits to making the wrong decisions, about how gambles or taking risks sometimes are necessary and I think this is absolutely the case during this period where the pandemic has hit us- everyone else out there will be making safe decisions and just play it safe.
That isn’t wrong and I’m not saying we should always take risks and gamble, but be open to that possibility because if you’re making the same calculated moves as everybody else, you’re moving at the same pace as everyone else. In essence, we are the ones that get to define the world — Think Big and Act On It.
A podcast that I really liked was one from Linjer.
It tells about their Kickstarter journey and all the troubles they faced and how they started - a perfect guide for anyone who’s thinking about launching on Kickstarter.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
1. Make sure your mind and body are both in tip-top condition.
I’ve heard the cliché: you should work as much as you can and sleep as little as possible - but that’s useless if you’re not performing at your optimum. The real magic is in time management. Cultivate good habits like working out or getting up early and find the time to feed your mind so you’re not burnt out or unhappy. Negative energy spreads like fire in an office so your mind and body are of utmost importance as a leader. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Work hard and don’t procrastinate.
A great idea is not good enough. You may lose that great idea to someone who simply acted first so it’s important that you work hard when it’s time to.
3. Know your product, build a brand, and have a vision.
Attach an emotion to what your product does and be very clear about your product’s unique selling point - what problem does it solve? Your brand goes beyond the product itself. It also isn’t just a cool logo or a fancy name card. It’s the ideals and the concepts that your brand represents, which will continually be seen in your products. Your business should be represented by an idea not by product.
4. Be brave and don’t give up.
There are going to be people that will laugh at you or doubt you but let that be fuel for your aspirations because only you know where the brand is headed. Believe in your vision and push forward.
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