Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hi I’m Paul, a 22 year old Korean American entrepreneur and founder of HUSKYBEARD, a 6-figure beard grooming brand. This was my first ever business and I’ve since sold it. I am now operating another Shopify store with a partner, on set to produce $1M by next year. I also consult and mentor eCommerce store owners on ecomswift.com.
With HUSKYBEARD, the focus from the start was to build a strong brand with beautifully crafted, unique, premium quality beard care products for passionate beardsmen. Our customers and community are men who are passionate about their beards and identify their beards as a lifestyle choice, rather than a grooming choice.
I’ve scaled using Facebook Ads primarily, with some SEO, Amazon, Reddit, and Email Marketing on the side. I’m proud to have accomplished a 30% customer retention rate with this passionate community.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
So here’s how HUSKYBEARD achieved success despite many beginning failures!
Summer of 2016, I wanted to grow a beard with my friend Daniel. Being both Asian, we had a pathetic, pubic-like patch on our chins, after a full month. With ambition, I wanted to explore how much facial hair I could grow as an Asian male (side note, most Eastern Asian males are bare-faced, so I wanted to stand out). Very soon I stumbled upon Minoxidil 5% (or Rogaine) and its application towards facial hair growth. I actually documented my 1 year experience with this ingredient on Youtube, and have had over 2 million people view my patchy beard growth. It’s weird I know. (Youtube link at bottom if you are curious lol)
I understood that dropshipping was not the means for creating a long-lasting brand that customers love. So I quit this method.
While I was on this Minoxidil Beard Growth Journey (as they call it), I learned that hundreds of thousands of men had the same desire as me: to grow facial hair. Being a natural born entrepreneur, I decided to execute the idea of a beard growth cosmetic and solve this problem.
I was immediately stigmatised and bashed on YouTube and other popular online forums, and was accused of being a scammer trying to sell “snake-oil”. My reputation plummeted but I decided to go for it anyway. I wanted it to be so effective and prove all of the haters wrong.
So I spent about about $1,000 on this project, read 100s of 30 page clinical studies on hair growth ingredients and the science of hair growth, and consulted with cosmetic experts, regulators, and chemists. Over 1,000 hours was spent on this project. I had a dream and I know how to achieve it.
But one day, a cosmetic legal regulator advised me to surrender this pursuit. This “cosmetic” I dreamt of creating was, under FDA’s regulations, a “drug”. And drugs require over 8 years of experimentation, and over $2,500,000 for it to be approved and ready for the market. I entertained the idea of “skipping this process”, but he told me of a guy who ignored his advice and ultimately had $800,000 worth of his materials destroyed by the FDA, just like that. Without warning, without mercy. That crushed any hope I had left.
I had spent 10 hours, every day, for months, got ridiculed and vilified, spent almost all of my savings, and got “nothing” in return (so I thought at the time). It was hard on me.
But rather than dwell on this “failure”, I took it as an opportunity and shifted from the idea of beard growth, to beard care. This pivot was the most important event that defined my success to come.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
After creating the Shopify store, huskybeard.com, in Nov 2016, I spent a few months analyzing successful businesses, reading hours a day, and watching countless Youtube videos on success, all with intense focus and purpose.
To test the viability of the business, I started off with the low-risk business model of dropshipping from Aliexpress. And to my luck and surprise, I was able to find a “winning” product almost immediately.
Monthly revenue grew from $200 in March, to $2K in June. Problems of course arose with this dropshipping method: very slow shipping times, angry customers, poor retention rate, damaged products upon delivery, etc.
I understood that dropshipping was not the means for creating a long-lasting brand that customers love. So I quit this method, had all my products branded, formulated cosmetic beard oils myself at home, purchased inventory in the bulk, and shipped all orders myself.
The beginning process for this was first ordering only the best-selling products in bulk from Aliexpress/Alibaba, getting them branded by talking with the supplier, and dropshipping the other products. I made sure to ONLY pay through Alipay/Alibaba trade assurance order for security reasons, and gave my supplier strict conditions for the relationship: refund for each damaged good during shipment transit, quality standards and inspection, negotiating wholesale price, etc.
I was also only selling products like Combs and Brushes, so I knew I needed to start providing actual beard cosmetics (aka “Beard Oils). So I purchased $70 worth of my competitor’s products to analyze their products, the feel/scent of them, and their packaging. I understood what it means to have great packaging, and learned exactly how to create a bottle of Beard Oil, right from home. It took about 10 tries, to get the formulation down. Afterwards, I created 3 different scents and hired a graphic designer to create the product labels.
I still to this day don’t understand how I managed to do all of this: marketing, customer service, business operations, order fulfilment, and juggling between a part time job. Working all night until 7AM was very common during these times. It got so difficult managing all of these things, so I finally quit my job (after having worked there for 4 years), and brought in my cousin to help out.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
I knew this was the niche I wanted to get in, so I spent a good deal of time thinking about what kind of brand I wanted to create and who my ideal customer was. Many other competitors in this space were hypermasculine (think “If you’re not bearded, you’re not a man” attitude) and the design aspects didn’t seem very modern.
I decided on HUSKYBEARD because it was catchy, and I thought “everyone loves dogs, men and women alike”, so a husky mascot would be broadly appealing. (I actually think this is why many wives and girlfriends of bearded men purchased from my brand).
I didn’t do any sort of launch campaign at the start, I just rolled the store out and slowly made the site look better and better, while learning everything I could. Thinking now, I made the mistake of consuming information non-stop and not actually taking action. It wasn’t until March that I actually started to acquire traffic and spending money on advertising.
Since launch, what has worked to attract new customers?
For traffic and sales, I focused primarily on Facebook advertising. I told myself I would master Facebook Ads first before I touched the other platforms. All the profits I made were immediately invested back into testing and scaling more Facebook ads.
The $5/day ad sets soon became $15/day, $25/day, and even $150/day. But I wasn’t making the figures I wanted to with Facebook ads. I slowly utilized other sales channels like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, etc. and also took on some SEO strategies as well as Email Marketing. With just a month or so of effort, I was able to rank #2 for a keyword that had 10,000+ searches a month and acquired over 8,000 leads through running a free contest giveaway.
As far as my top marketing channels, these were the ones that produced the most revenue:
- Facebook Advertising:
Since I was advertising beard products, it made sense to advertise Facebook audience demographics of men who liked pages related to “Beards”, “Facial Hair”, “Mustache”, etc. These were a bit too broad though, somewhere in the 5 million+. So I “flex targeted” (act of narrowing layers of audiences in one ad set). So people who liked “Beards” AND people who liked (competitor brand). Facebook ads is one of the trickiest to master, and took me over 6 months to get down. This is one of the most requested services from my clients: Facebook Ads Consulting and Managing.
Right from the start of my store, I implemented good SEO practices like writing down alt tags and descriptions and compressing images. I got introduced to techniques (both black hat and white hat) such as utilizing back links and getting “juice” from other sites, like my competitors. I spent some money on optimizing my store (making page load time quicker), and on acquiring backlinks (from packages and guest blog posts, like “Top 10 Beard Oils”. After several months, I was able to achieve 2nd ranking for the term “Beard Comb” which had ~10,000+ searches/monthly. Not bad.
- Email Marketing:
I absolutely loved Russull Brunson’s invaluable advice in DOTCOM SECRETS and his well known welcome series templates and branding techniques. After writing up 5 emails, I set them up from 1st email the lead gets to the last email (in the 5 day series) and gave them a huge discount off of a $100 product. This email series is automated, and still automated to this day and allows the customer to know us better before they purchase something from us. I’ve also setup many different automation series for when customers abandon cart, enter a giveaway contest, purchase a specific product, have not purchased a product, etc. In summary, email marketing is not dead!
In regards to sales and marketing, I would emphasize the power (and profit margins) of branding, and really understanding who your customers are and really catering to them. After understanding who they are, the next step would be to test continuously, and to not fall in love with your product/marketing campaign/etc. Do not get your ego attached. If you’re profitable, keep it going and test for better results. If what you’re doing is not profitable, be quick to revise and make the necessary adjustments.
How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?
Every month of 2017 produced more revenue than the month preceding. Q4 of 2017 was when I had achieved the most sales.
Though the revenue was getting higher and higher, I did not understand the concept of higher revenue not always equaling higher profit. I was just so focused on squeezing in as many sales as I could.
So in the beginning of 2018, I stopped being so aggressive with my front-end advertising, in order to focus more on giving value to my existing audiences (through email marketing and retargeting). I was able to increase my customer retention rate from about 13% to 30% in a very short time. And I only spent about $50-$80/day on advertising, which generated much higher margins. I also implemented an ambassador program where bearded men can receive free products in exchange for video reviews, product selfies, etc. (which can be used as ad creatives and social media posts).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
This journey has taught me so much about entrepreneurship, business, and achieving goals in general. Any success in any sense comes with a very heavy price, which most will not be willing to pay. I was foolish in thinking that I could live glamorously, after just a few months of making a few grand. Had I splurged in instant gratification, the business would’ve probably failed.
Anything great worth achieving requires you to sacrifice your comfort, your time with friends and family, and many of your hobbies/interests. Juggling between many different things and distractions, while attempting a big goal, is almost never going to work out. Because success is so much harder to attain than people believe. I had so much fun in college, going to parties, chasing girls, socializing, etc. And I dropped all of it (including college), in order to focus with 100% intensity on the growth of my business.
Going against society. Imagine a beardless guy telling you he wants to start a beard grooming business. Crazy right?
Culturally, my Asian parents wanted me to become a doctor/lawyer, yet I dropped out of college...to make beard products. Nobody believed in me. Not my family, nor my friends. I wanted someone to believe me, or someone to be proud of the small little successes I had. I didn’t have any of that. Facing endless discouragement from my loved ones, and going after a dream alone, was definitely the hardest part of my journey.
I’m only 22 years old yet I know my time alive is not long. Last year, my cousin, 22 at the time also, woke up, got in his motorcycle, and was killed in a crash. Just like that. No warning, no expectation; his life was taken away by a careless elderly driver. I know my day is coming, but I don’t know when. This is why I have such an urgency to do all of the things I want to do while I’m conscious and alive. And young. As young as possible.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The tools/apps/services I’ve used and recommend for eCommerce stores are: upsell/cross-sell apps (like Personalyzer and Zipify OCU), automated and segmented email setup, IFTTT for social media content distribution, a pop-up app for collecting leads and giving discounts (Privy or Zipify Coupon Countdown), and an accounting app that will track your profits (like SimplyCost).
I highly recommend Shopify for those starting out with selling physical products, dropshipping, etc.. I recommend Clickfunnels for those selling digital products, professional services, high-ticket consulting, etc.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
It’s absolutely necessary to rewire and recondition your mind. We are socialized and conditioned to live “normal”, ordinary lives and not achieve great magnitudes of success.
Here are 5 books that have had tremendous impact on business, pursuit of success, and self-growth (no particular order):
- The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
- The 4 Hour Work Week - Tim Ferris
- DOTCOM SECRETS - Russell Brunson
- E-Myth Revisited - Michael Gerber
- The ONE Thing - Keller Papasan
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Here are some lessons and advice that I hope will help anyone reading my story:
- When starting, ONLY listen to those who are where you want to be, or those who are masters at the craft you are learning. Everyone gives their opinion (even me right now), so you need to only give weight to qualified people/sources. It’s very likely your parents/friends are giving you the WRONG advice. Instead, go to books, mentors, consultants, etc.
- Everything has an ROI to it. And no I don’t mean monetarily. The things you do either produce positive benefit, or negative consequence, in the short or long run. Drinking beers with your friends could have a positive ROI if it means you’re in desperate need for a break and need to loosen up. Contrastly, this could have a negative ROI if it means you’ll be hungover the next day and incapable of any productivity. Choose your behaviors wisely.
- The mainstream narrative is almost always wrong. Not wrong in the sense that it’s not true (although many times just outright not true), I mean that what the general masses think and do, is exactly what you’ll get. And if you want to achieve massive heights, you absolutely cannot do what everyone is doing. You have to be willing to go against your social conditioning and belief systems, and go for what you want and do it all the way.
- The man working smarter achieves more than the man working harder. Working hard and hustling doesn’t always get you results. You only have so much energy, time, and willpower in a day, so you have to strategically prioritize the most important and effective actions, as quickly as possible. Essentially, the 80/20 principle.
- Starting a business is the best way to learn about business. It boggles my mind that anyone would pay $40,000 for a degree in business/marketing/related studies, and after 4-8 years, expect to be ready to start their business ventures. Save that $40K, learn the education online (which is mostly free), pay money to people who are actually millionaires (and not to business professors who have MBAs yet have never sold anything ever), and be empowered to do it on your own. You’ll learn much more this way.
- Know your numbers. Use Quickbooks. Know your net costs. Aim for 400% ROI minimal, after all expenses. How much are you making today/this month/this quarter? You need to know this or else you are running in the dark.
- Do not do it alone. I cannot stress this enough, for your own success and your own sanity, you need to have support. Whether that’s a friend cheering you on when you hit those sales numbers, or if it’s a mentor telling you why you can’t scale your Facebook Ads. Going at it alone, like I did, is extremely expensive, and takes forever.
- Do ONE Thing and do it with all your might. The more cups you have to fill, the less amount you’ll have in each cup. Your focus and time are your biggest assets. Knowing this, I dropped school; quit my job; quit social media; moved into my parents (away from friends and the city life); limited time playing video games, hanging with friends, and dating; and focused SOLELY on my business.
Where can we go to learn more?
For personal, one-on-one mentoring/consulting, you can reach me at ecomswift.com.
I also share my lessons and experiences on my ECOMSWIFT Youtube Channel. Check it out!
My 1-Year *Unsuccessful* Beard Growth Journey Documentary: Youtube
Follow Paul on Instagram at @impaullee.
- Paul Lee, Founder of HUSKYBEARD
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