Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Zaid - a 22-year-old from Toronto, Ontario Canada (eh). I started Nooks - a sustainably made, crazy comfy men’s underwear line for regular, everyday guys. Our first product is a classic boxer brief made from beech trees that’s more breathable, comfortable and softer than cotton. I started the brand with about $500 for manufacturing a few hundred hundred boxer briefs (2 colors, 3 sizes each) and some marketing dollars to build up an email list before launching.
Things started off slow, but a PornHub ad that went viral on Imgur really boosted our sales in the first month. Since then, we’ve been focusing mainly on Reddit, Imgur and SEO to try to build up brand awareness. We also have a small but very engaged community on Instagram that really connects with the brand. Over the course of the past month, we’ve sold about $700 of underwear and have already had a few returning customers. It’s not much, but we’re definitely growing and I’m having an awesome time running the company.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was always going to go to med school as far back as I remember. I busted my a-- in high school and university - balanced fitness with a good GPA, extra-curricular, research, etc. Unfortunately, I applied and didn’t get in, so I decided to start working on a Masters Degree in Genetics and Bipolar Disorder research. Although it’s still currently my “day job”, I have to say that I really didn’t like having to go somewhere 9-5 and waste 3 hours a day on a commute.
I’ve always wanted to start selling online. I looked at brands like Chubbies and Dr. Squatch and absolutely loved their humor-packed marketing to regular guys. Fast forward to needing to buy underwear, and I remember not really connecting to brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger - they show ripped dudes with 10-pack abs and play off of “sexy” marketing. Although they do cater to a certain segment of the market, and clearly their marketing works, I thought that “regular guys” (including me) were being underserved. Plus, their materials are either cotton (which isn’t very… ”friendly”) or synthetic materials. Both of them are uncomfortable, get sweaty and are generally unpleasant to wear.
Here’s a simple test to see if you really connect with a brand. Ask yourself “what underwear am I wearing?”. I’m willing to bet that for most guys, they don’t really know. When it comes to underwear, most guys don’t consider what they’re wearing. All they know is that it’s something you wear under your clothes. I thought - hey, let me try to get guys excited about underwear.
I jumped on google and looked for a brand that matched what I was imagining and found nothing. With that in mind, I decided to see what I could whip up. I had some previous experience in eCommerce helping my brother out and some experience getting products manufactured from a previous venture, so it’s good that I wasn’t jumping into this blindly.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I had some boxes manufactured in China and shipped to the United States for a previous business, so I knew how to get in touch with manufacturers, negotiate deals and work together to perfect the design of the product. I spent a couple of hours searching through Alibaba for underwear manufacturers and messaged about a handful that met our requirements - low minimum order quantity (<500), great materials and awesome reviews.
After going back and forth for a few days, we settled on 1 and had them send us a sample with our logo (which I just threw together on Canva). For product design, I knew from the beginning that I didn't want loud design - nothing plastered across the waistband, no logos on the actual underwear, etc.
After about a week, I received a sample in the mail and decided to take some photos for a landing page (Shopify) and set up a couple of Facebook ads to collect leads. I didn’t want to launch to crickets. The ads ended up collecting about 1100 emails over the course of about 2 weeks, and now I had some customers to talk to over email, chat, social media, etc. about what they want.
Once we had a little bit of an audience, I placed the order for 300 units - 2 colors, 3 sizes each. Now it was time to get serious. Over the next few weeks, I worked hard on the website design (which I think is great, but I may be biased :)). I also got in touch with an amazing fulfillment center in the United States that didn’t have minimum monthly orders - most of the ones we spoke to had minimum orders of around $500 per month, but I had no way to guarantee that I could move that much inventory so quickly. After deep google searches, I ended up finding a fulfillment service without monthly costs - I just pay for shipments. Perfect! Now it was just waiting for the order to arrive in the US and to start selling!
I’m really happy that I’ve considered unconventional marketing routes. Facebook and Google ad costs rise every year. Just like what happened with me - they can decide to kick you off at any moment and not be bothered.
Describe the process of launching the business.
A few days before the products arrived in the US, I opened up the site for pre-orders and sent out an email blast and posted on our social media. The response was alright, which was expected. I didn’t expect to sell out on the first day, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect a slightly better response. All in all, pre-orders sold around $100 USD.
I paid for everything myself and still do. All in all, this was what I spent to get up and running:
- $500 on product manufacturing (300 units, 2 colors, 3 sizes)
- $100 on custom poly mailers
- $400 on Facebook ads (collected 1100 emails)
- $180 on a nice Shopify theme that I heavily customized
- $30/month for Shopify
- $30/month for Klaviyo
I got some friends together to model and take photos (luckily, one of them is a photography student and has access to awesome equipment).
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I started running Facebook ads and got some sales through there after a few days, but then they dropped the hammer and kicked me off of the Facebook ads platform because of a policy violation. From then on, it was basically me trying to get in touch with them to try and get my ads to account back, but their robot customer service wasn’t having it. I did some research and found out that this happens to a lot of sellers and that I should just keep trying to get in touch with them, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Some of my Instagram followers ended up buying, and once the products were shipped the great reviews started coming in! They thought the material was fantastic, the quality was great and that the underwear was “incredibly soft”. But most of all, a lot of them commented on how happy they were that a brand was actually engaging with the followers. I always make it a note to reply to all comments, comment on their posts, talk through DMs and post content that they seem to like. Our Instagram is growing slowly by the day, but we’re getting awesome followers that love the brand!
But after Facebook kicked me off, I was honestly devastated and thought “how the hell am I gonna promote this brand”. And it hurt, even more, knowing that other underwear brands were fully allowed to advertise on Facebook, Instagram, etc. I decided to start running some Google ads, Bing ads and retarget website visitors through display ads. Those have brought in some sales. Since then, Facebook has allowed me to start advertising again, and that has been bringing in some sales.
Our best methods of attracting and retaining customers have been:
Email Marketing - our email list is where most of the revenue comes from. Klaviyo is an absolutely fantastic platform that I recommend to everyone.
Reddit - I post blog content on the site and on Reddit focused around men’s health and topics that guys don’t really like to discuss - one of them got around 1000 upvotes and over 2000 site visitors. Some others are doing well on Reddit as well!
Imgur - believe it or not, Imgur was a big source of revenue over the past week. I ran an ad on PornHub which I later posted to Imgur, and it got pushed to the “Most Viral” page. From there, about 3000 people visited the site and I sold around $400! Here’s the viral Imgur post
Now, I’m focusing mainly on SEO, Google Shopping and nailing down Google Adwords. Also, I’m going to be pushing social media heavily. Getting kicked off of Facebook was a big wakeup call to focus on channels that I can control - email, content, etc.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, the company isn’t profitable. Minus startup costs (product, initial emails), I’m right around break even. I also more or less break even when it comes to acquiring a customer, but those customers usually end up buying again. It’s too early to tell what the actual lifetime value of a customer is, but so far a good percentage have already reordered. Everyone needs underwear, and if it's a brand they connect with and trust, they’ll keep buying from it.
The social media platforms are also growing - I’ve been recently considering getting into TikTok and making content there. My personal account gets a good amount of views, so I think there’s good potential. I’ve also started getting some traffic from Twitter, organic searches are going up and I’ve had a few podcasts contact me because of the Imgur post to see if I’d like to advertise on there. I’m willing to put down a few dollars to test the waters in those - worst-case scenario, I get some solid backlinks! However, I don’t wanna spread thin on a bunch of different channels - I’d rather really nail down Instagram and potentially Reddit to at least collect emails and then do most of the marketing through there.
Get rid of the “get-rich-quick” scheme mindset that so many new eCommerce stores seem to have. You’ll only be disappointed once you realize that it takes serious work.
If you want to talk numbers: From January 19 to February 19 revenue was about $700. Today is March 7 and it’s doing around 10% better than the last month (granted Facebook only just let me back on), so there’s growth happening. I set a target for 10% month-to-month growth and I intend to hit it.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Initially, I was pretty upset that the business wasn’t profitable. But then I remembered that most businesses, in general, don’t make money until a few years down the line. I think it’s very easy to think of eCommerce as a get rich quick scheme where you just throw up a product, make some Facebook ads and the sales will start pouring in. While there’s definitely the potential to make a great living from eCommerce, it definitely takes work.
What you save on lease costs, insurance, and property tax, you’ll probably end up spending on marketing. In my opinion, I’m more than happy to spend on marketing compared to the costs of a brick-and-mortar retail store. This is why I’m happy that I went into this with the mindset of hard work. If you scan the Shopify or eCommerce subreddits, you’ll see plenty of people saying things along the lines of “I’ve spent $25 on Facebook ads and I don’t have sales, what am I doing wrong?”. If you have the mindset that this is a quick money scheme, you’re going to be disappointed and lose the motivation to work hard.
Next, I’m also really happy that I’ve considered unconventional marketing routes. Facebook and Google ad costs rise every year, and while they’re essential for marketing, you definitely need to diversify. Just like what happened with me - they can decide to kick you off at any moment and not be bothered. My main goal right now is to try to build customer lists and a community that I can control - email list, SMS lists, social media followers, blog subscribers and so on. But all of this isn’t important if your customer service isn’t exceptional. BE GOOD TO YOUR CUSTOMERS AND THEY’LL BE GOOD TO YOU.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Shopify is absolutely incredible. I recommend them so much that I swear it seems like I work for them. I used to use Wordpress and Woocommerce in my previous business, and handling all the PCI compliance, security and updates was a total nightmare. When you think about it, $30/month vs. a $3000/month lease is unbelievable.
Klaviyo - I can’t say enough about Klaviyo. The email marketing platform is fantastic. I was on Mailchimp in my previous business, but their interface was pretty confusing. The fact that Klaviyo was built with Shopify in mind makes the integration seamless. Most of my revenue has come through email marketing.
SMSbump - this is a text messaging marketing platform (think Klaviyo for SMS). The open rates are really high, and it’s saved some abandoned carts!
ShipFusion - Fulfillment Service. These guys are awesome. I had a hard time finding a fulfillment center without minimum order quantities. ShipFusion integrates with your store, the shipping times are fast and the costs are more than reasonable. I love this company.
Junip - Product reviews. I was initially going to go with YotPo, but Stuart from Junip came to me and offered me an awesome deal. They’re a new Shopify reviews app. I love how their reviews widget looks (it’s fully customizable), their review form is awesome and most importantly, their customer service is fantastic. I highly recommend these guys.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Shopify podcast is great - they talk to people that built great eCommerce businesses and really dig into how and why they’re doing so well. Great advice for people starting up an eCommerce store or those looking for some cool new strategies!
The Unofficial Shopify Podcast is also amazing. Kurt is a great host and the information is really valuable.
Ezra Firestone - This guy knows what he’s talking about. There are so many Shopify “gurus” out there that I almost immediately distrust anyone that talks about strategies. But Ezra gives great advice, goes through case studies step by step (he himself is the owner of a big brand - Boom by Cindy Joseph), and he’s an all-around likable guy.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just go for it! If you have an idea that you want to pursue, overthinking every little detail will slow you down. The great thing about being a one or two-person team is that you can be nimble and quick. Figure out what you want to sell, how you want to sell it, look at the competition and see if there’s a market and go for it! You learn more during the actual process of building a business than you ever will reading some blog post or watching a YouTube video.
Finally, even though I’ve said this before, get rid of the “get-rich-quick” scheme mindset that so many new eCommerce stores seem to have. You’ll only be disappointed once you realize that it takes serious work. Do the work, make an awesome product and be great to your customers. Think about it like this - it might take you a few hundred dollars to start an eCommerce store, but it would cost you tens of thousands to do the same thing with a brick-and-mortar. We live in a time where you can start a well-oiled business from your laptop. Take advantage of the tools at your disposal and put in the work!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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