Elie Robinson is the CEO and founder of Under 5'10, a brand that makes clothing for shorter men.
His background is in financial operations, and spent over 15 years in the telecommunications & Ecommerce.
But like millions of other men in America, he was fed up with clothing manufacturers neglecting to make clothes tailored for shorter men.
He founded Under 5’10 in 2017 and has enabled short guys around the world find a place where they can buy perfectly fitting jeans, joggers, shirts, and more made just for them.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- [00:00] Intro
- [01:07] What does Under 5’10 offer
- [02:02] The origin and tackling the shorter guys’ needs
- [03:02] How Elie came up with the idea
- [04:08] Under 5’10’s go-to-market strategy
- [06:26] Crowdfunding as proof of concept
- [07:02] Transitioning from Kickstarter to Ecom
- [08:20] Setting up Ecom in Shopify
- [09:45] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
- [10:05] Sponsor: Mesa apps.shopify.com/mesa
- [10:49] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
- [12:15] Sponsor: BeProfit beprofit.co
- [13:46] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
- [14:43] Believe in the results that you made
- [15:52] Where Elie got his boost of confidence
- [16:39] Learning from others and teaching to others
- [17:53] Under 5’10’s biggest challenge
- [20:27] Why Elie is insistent on staying D2C
- [25:09] Elie’s SEO advice: Create content
- [25:53] You can’t scale without content creation
- [28:06] Balancing validation and reality
- [29:38] Just doing it better can be a basis for a business
- [31:49] Where to find Under 5’10
- Subscribe to Honest Ecommerce on Youtube
- Find Men's Jeans, Chinos, Joggers, Sweatpants, & More in Shorter Sizes & From 24" to 28" under510.com
- Connect with Elie linkedin.com/in/elie-robinson-4b93baa1
- A podcast for short men, by short men under510.com/pages/living-under-510-a-show-for-short-men
- Scale your business with electriceye.io
- Download Mesa at the Shopify App Store apps.shopify.com/mesa
- Level up your customer support gorgias.grsm.io/honest
- Visit beprofit.co and use code HONEST15 to get an exclusive 15% off any plan for the lifetime of your plan
- Get started with a free account at klaviyo.com/honest
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Once you put your products up on Amazon, --obviously they have full visibility-- it's their customer, not your customer. That's our biggest issue with going to any other channels.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results.
I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.
Let's get on with the show.
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer.
How are you doing today?
I'm doing great. Thanks for having me.
So for the uninitiated that can't figure it out from the name of the brand, what are the products and the problems that you're solving there?
Yeah. The good news is most people are able to figure it out from the name of the brand. We were pretty literal. There are still some that need a little help along the way.
We're solving clothing for shorter guys that couldn't find off-the-rack clothing, without having to go to a tailor or just settling for clothes that are ill-fitting or having bunching at the bottom of their pants or over-sized shirts.
That's what we're here to try and solve.
Now, here's the thing, I'm not your target demographic.
We're okay with that.
It didn't click for me instantly, which I think is almost [to] your advantage. I think that if it is... if I wasn't your demographic data made sense to me instantly, probably,
You're saying you would have shopped on the website? Had I not explained that to you?
Oh. Well, no. No, once you get to the website, it's very literal. I'm just talking about the name of myself. I'm 6 '2. So Under 5'10... It didn't make...
I didn't make the literal connection of the name to the brand until I started to explore the website.
Gotcha. Okay, so the “origination” of the name. 5 '10 is the average male height, give or take. Every year, [it] changes just a little bit. 5 '9 and 3/4, the male height average in America.
Obviously, different parts of the world have different averages. But that's where the name originated from. People that are below the average height that are really not... Mass clothing manufacturers are targeting that mid-range from 5 '10 and up. It's a different issue for your...
You said you're 6 '2, you can't have a pair of pants [that don't] cover your full body. It's got to go all the way down.
Whereas with a shorter guy, I think it's long been accepted that they'll just buy the pants, take them to a tailor, or they'll suffer the consequences and have ill-fitting clothing.
Absolutely. So take me back to... You started the brand in 2017. Was this always an issue that you're experiencing? Or do you see a gap in the market? How did you come up with the idea?
Yeah, it was an always... It was always an issue.
I guess I wasn't as self conscious about it until I really started getting into it. The frustration of when I decided to look into this, I had already bought the domain. I was interested in getting into this business.
And taking trips to the mall and just hitting store after store after store and realizing when I'm really focused on it, this stuff doesn't fit me properly. And why is that?
And is there anybody else out there that's doing this?
Is there a space for me to help in this genre or this niche?
As you said before, it's a niche market although it's not a very small niche market. There are 32 million men in America that are 5 '8 and under. So it's not a small audience.
I just think it's an audience that's been ignored for a long time by the mass retailers.
Absolutely. So you bought the domain. Have you identified the target demographic that you were going to go after?
How did you get these products in front of their eyes? What was that go-to-market strategy?
Yeah. So first, I owned the domain for a few years before I ever really got going with it. I've been in Ecommerce in previous jobs that I've worked at on the executive level and didn't really know anything about clothing or manufacturing of clothing.
I wouldn't consider myself the most fashionable guy out there. That's for sure. I'm a basics and more of a solution type of person.
It wasn't until actually I was sitting with the CEO and founder of another actual clothing company. And I told him about my idea and he was like, "You gotta make this happen."
He's 6' 3. And he was like, "You gotta make this happen." And he has the opposite problem.
It was finding clothing to properly cover his body. But he's like, "There's definitely a space for this." And I said, "I will do it, if you help me figure out the first step." And that's where we started with button down shirts. That was his area of expertise.
And he helped me find a manufacturer. We went through a lot of analytics in figuring out our first sizings, and what our ratios and sizings for guys that are typically shorter.
No body is created the same so you can have 50 people that are the same size and a garment of clothing could fit them a little bit differently.
So figuring out all of our specs and everything to hit as many people as we possibly could. That took well over a year just to get going. And then we eventually launched.
Once we had manufacturing for those original run of shirts, we launched on Kickstarter, as a proof of concept.
I wanted to make sure that there was enough level of interest in the space before I really dug any deeper and started going out fundraising or getting any deeper into the actual business. I wanted that proof out there. And we were able to succeed on Kickstarter
We had a 30-day target and we hit it, I think, in 20 or 21 days. And we knew we had something there.
Absolutely. I think that the Kickstarter route for a proof of concept is still a viable option to this day, especially with how expensive it is to get eyes on your products with the Facebooks and the Googles and how it's a bit more difficult to understand the analytics behind those eyes as well these days. So I think... You're not the first...
You're probably, I think, the "dozenth" founder that's been on the show that's like "Yeah, we had a great idea and we took it to Kickstarter as a proof of concept."
Once you had a successful campaign, what was the transition like going from "Alright, we're at Kickstarter'' to "Okay, now we're an Ecommerce business."
I'm sure there's a few steps in between.
Yeah. So one of my original founding partners has been with me from Ecommerce businesses in the past.
Obviously, between Google, Facebook, Tiktok, any mediums for bringing eyeballs and getting the interest and the word out there that would [say] that this brand exists, that this solution exists, and how to message that properly.
So he's been with me since I started in the background until that stage.
Once Kickstarter hit, that actually caught the eyeballs of a lot of people. And that's how we ended up actually getting our first round and our full funding.
[It] was [because of the] people that were watching that Kickstarter campaign.
Oh yeah. It's instant validation.
Yeah. It is.
So once the Kickstarter goes live, obviously, if you got that larger initial order, were you guys always set up on your own D2C site simultaneously?
Or did you have to dive in there and start building out that whole part of the business?
Good question. So pre-Kickstarter, we actually had to already set up the website on Shopify as a platform. Our previous...
That person that I was talking about [where] our previous Ecommerce business was back in the day, --before Wix, before Shopify-- really were out there. And robust systems...
Everything had to be custom-coded back then. Completely different set of problems and issues with that stuff. This was like plug and play.
We got our website up and running and everything within 24 hours, just getting the pictures up there and products all loaded in.
It's amazing how fast you can get stuff done today and how easy everything is, especially on a robust platform like Shopify.
Oh yeah. Big fans of Shopify over here.
We have our issues. They go down every once in a while and the tech could be faster for what it is and how many people are on the platform.
But as an overall experience, the ease of opening a site, the amount of app developers that are on their platform --similar to going having an iPhone and going into the App Store and finding so many choices and options.
Pretty much everything you could desire as a plugin [is an] app at this point.
So the ease of use of the platform is a huge help to stimulating startups like ours or anybody else is trying to get in.
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You mentioned a few times so far that you had received some help with getting things started. Were there any other tips out there that really helped you succeed in this field?
No, it was mostly fighting against the trend. Everybody's telling me "Don't do this. You don't want to go into manufacturing. You don't want to go into clothing." All the naysayers.
"There's not really a space for this. All the big companies that are out there could do this."
There's nothing stopping a Gap or an American Eagle from making 25 inch inseam jeans like we are. They're just not doing it. So it was more just fighting more fighting against the naysayers and believing in the actual...
That this could really happen and it was going to be a viable business. You never never really know until you know and the proof is in the pudding with results.
Yeah, that's something that you'll see all the time with.... Anytime you read a business book or even a biography about something that's a successful business. It's like "Yeah, at the beginning, nobody believed me. And they thought this was the dumbest idea in the world."
And I think that's what separates the wantrepreneurs from the actual entrepreneurs is they actually believe in their idea. And they have the gusto to keep going, even when life's telling them to stop at times.
Yeah. Probably the biggest one I took this too was one of my mentors is a head of a big VC of startups, anywhere from Uber to all sorts of big names and I knew it wasn't going to be in their wheelhouse as an investment opportunity, because I'm more into platforms and more widely-scaled opportunities.
But I wanted to take my pitch deck to him just to see what he would think. And he gave me some critiques. He gave me some advice.
But he said, "Elie, I know you as an operator and I know you're gonna make this happen. Go for it." And that really gave me a boost of confidence.
Yeah, that's some great advice from someone in the field to definitely keep going.
I think that's... We, personally, at our agency, we work with a coach. I think that you need to always surround yourself with people that are a few steps ahead, ahead of you in a similar business.
But also, I think you need to give back as well. There's people a few steps behind you that have just so many answers that would blow their mind and change their business.
So I think it goes both ways. And it really is validating at times when you're like, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing."
And then you just have the right answers for someone that's just a few steps behind you.
So I think it goes both ways with just making sure you're always trying to learn more and be educated in your industry, and learn from others, and then give it back.
Yeah, I can assure you we're learning. We're making mistakes. We're learning. But we learn quickly.
Yeah, once you stop learning, though, you're dead in the waters is what I feel.
Obviously, you guys launched on Kickstarter, had a great time, switched over to a more traditional Ecommerce model through Shopify.
What were some of the channels that you found were the most successful for you? And then what were some that are a little more difficult to crack?
Okay, so just to clarify on the question, we only sell direct to our consumers. We don't sell on any third party platforms.
So you can't find Under 5'10 products anywhere except on under510.com, or through our
We don't sell on anybody else's platforms. Probably the biggest challenge that we realized right away is, I think, we started the brand with 12 button down shirts and realized how similar of an offering it was.
And that if we really wanted to be in the space of making clothing for shorter guys, we really needed to bust out and get into a lot more product lines.
And once we started hitting on, I think jeans were our first offering outside of button down shirts and literally could not keep them in stock. The second they would come in they would just fly. It is literally eye opening for us and that's when we do...
Again another validation along the way. You're looking for these signals along the way to point you in the direction of "Yeah, you should keep going. You should keep doing this. You should keep pushing that".
Although we heard and we still offer a lot of varieties of button down shirts even today, pants were a much bigger struggle for a lot of guys.
A shirt, you can hide it. You can tuck it in, even if it's going down to your knees inside your pants. You can hide the defects or flaws of not being cut properly for your size. With pants, you really can't do that.
And another explosion further to pants was when we got into joggers.
When we got our first order of joggers, it was pretty sizable, and we were pretty nervous about getting into that space because there's a lot of activewear companies out there. And it wasn't really like in our wheelhouse at that point. [It] sold even faster than the jeans.
And the amount of interest in people wanting them to come back in stock was overwhelming.
And it was at that point it dawned on us that you can't actually alter a pair of joggers, because of the bunched up part at the bottom of a pair of joggers. It's got to fit perfectly off the rack, or you can't have it.
So it's been one thing leading to the next, leading to the next, till --I think at this point-- we have a pretty well-rounded collection for any, any consumer.
Whether it's dress, casual, dress casual, we've got a little bit of everything at this point and it [was] helping us continue to grow.
I want to follow up on how you responded originally, which was being omnichannel and just only having a direct-to-consumer business and that's like what you guys are prioritizing is potentially a unique way to approach it into space.
Do you have any more information as to why you want to keep it that way? And why you aren't exploring other channels like Amazon?
It's obviously the 800-pound gorilla.
Sure. Yeah. Amazon. Amazon is its own gorilla. So I guess we can address that one first and knock that one off.
Just from our experience in previous Ecommerce history, once you put your products up on Amazon, obviously, they have full visibility. It's their customer, not your customer. That's our biggest issue with going to any other channel. We want to own our own customers.
Obviously, it's a dream for every company. Not everyone can do it. Some people have to rely on third-party channels in order to get those initial sales going.
I think we've been fortunate. Well, I'll credit some of the team that was also pretty savvy at getting our own user base onboard and buying stuff directly from us so that we didn't need to rely on that.
Obviously, one of the worries with going to an Amazon would be them starting to compete with you. We've seen it. I think there's enough documentation and histories of brands getting wiped out.
Selling on Amazon, doing really well, and then all of a sudden Amazon's competing with you on their own platform.
And they're going to do it faster, they're going to do it cheaper, they may not do better quality in clothing, in particular, because we've tested some of their clothing.
But they're going to compete with you. And you're just putting yourself out there for that. Our main strategy was to try and build our... There's nothing proprietary about what we're doing. There are other businesses where somebody has invented something that's unique, its patented. This is not that. There's not...
Like I said earlier in the interview, there's nothing stopping the gap from selling 24 inch inseam pants or 25 inch inseam pants, they're just not doing it. And they won't do it until somebody proves and gets big enough that there's a reason for them to do it.
Or they'll just buy up those companies that are trying to take that business away from them. So that's in Amazon. Amazon happens to compete with their own people.
If you're talking about going to another platform like eBay again, our answer would probably be that we want to own our own customer base. We also don't want to pay extra fees.
We're selling out of everything that we make, even through our growth phases. So it hasn't been a necessity for our brand. And we don't anticipate it's going to be in the near future. Not to say that it never would be but for now, that's where we stand.
Yeah. And then just to follow up there. It also is just like... From a percentage of just the brain and systems and processes and team that you have to implement. They're completely different things.
And the way that you have to utilize those channels are completely different. So it is like...
It allows you to focus on what you guys are already really good at. And not really take away from it. And that's something... It's not just with channels...
I just see that across the board with a lot of brands, more particularly on the startup side of things.
They have a shotgun approach to their marketing and stuff. And it's like, if everything's important, nothing is important. And it's going to fall flat. So you gotta really pick the things that you're good at.
And so that I applaud you for not necessarily staying in your lane, but like, "We're good at this. We're gonna focus on this. We're gonna blow this thing up."
Yeah. It's my team as well. They're pretty laser focused and they're really good at what they do.
Going back to your original question, they were able to build a customer base pretty quickly for a brand that's as young as we are.
And really chip away at all the key search terms, any competitors that are in the space, or anybody that shows up in those searches that aren't even really competitors and becoming number one in search terms, all the key search terms for "clothing for short men" "jeans for short men".
They killed it.
Are you talking specifically about SEO or paid...
So with SEO, it's definitely more of a long-term play.
Do you have any advice to people out there that are thinking about getting any SEO for their brand?
A lot of content. (laughs) go crazy on content, you need blogs, you need... We have our own podcast team that's doing podcasts weekly to every other week.
Content is king and getting all your search terms in there and really owning your space, it's a lot of effort. I've found throughout my career, a lot of people are not willing to go as hard and as far as we've gone with this business.
But that's how you build those foundations so that those eyeballs are ending up on your website, as opposed to somebody else's alley.
Elie, so we consult with..., I talked to a million brands a year. Close. But the number one problem I see is like they're trying to get into that scaling phase.
And I'm like, "Yeah. Alright. You want to start doing things. You want to double down on what you're doing that all makes sense. But do you have a content generation system built into your business already? Are you producing photos, videos, blogs, etc?"
And they're like, "No, why do I need that?"
And I'm like, "Because you can't do it without it."
You cannot. That's a must have. I'll say, I know this is gonna be watched and replayed. You're hearing it from me, but [they're] also hearing it from you.
I'm echoing your sentiment. Those are must haves.
Yeah. So you're investing all this time, energy, and probably money into these team members or freelancers, whatever, to produce this cool content. But then how...
Where are you using it everywhere? Let people know how cool it is, once you have it, and you repurpose it all over the place?
Yeah. We're talking anywhere from blogs, podcasts, Facebook posts, Facebook ads, Instagram posts, Instagram ads, Pinterest, Tiktok... It's a team. There's not one...
It's not even one person dedicated to this. You're talking about 4 or 5 internal people, even at a young stage like we're at.
But those 4 or 5 have a network now built of people that are driving content for us, probably in the 20 to 30 range. And so it's pumping on a regular basis. It's an engine. It's producing. And it keeps producing and it keeps growing.
And we keep getting more and more people that are falling in love with the brand, whether they're micro influencers or they just look good in the clothes and they want to show it off, to using their photos to...
We're getting content from all over the place. You got to be scrappy but you got to have the content.
Yeah. Having the content is key, because you can't test and iterate on ads without the content. You can't really send as many emails as you should be without the content. It all just goes back to the content at the end of the day.
So I'm glad that we somehow ended up there. And thanks for sharing that.
Is there anything that I forgot to ask you about that you think would resonate with our audience today?
As far as [you] forgot to ask... I could go on for hours about startups and what it takes and all that stuff. I think we touched on some of the key points.
There's a delicate balance when you go into something like we went into with this project of believing in what you're doing and checking your blind sides to make sure you're not coaching yourself or convincing yourself that you're getting into something that really doesn't have an opportunity. And making sure you're taking those steps along the way for...
I think we talked about the sort of few different points of validation, and making sure that you're getting those validations along the way. But then it's tireless.
You gotta be willing to go into projects like this with crazy amounts of effort. You gotta be better than guys that are bigger than you out there. And you have to be scrappy. You got to figure out how to get those edges along the way.
So if we're talking to young entrepreneurs or people with their own startups --which is the audience I believe we're talking to here-- it's a lot of effort. Nothing's gonna come easy.
You hear all these stories about these mega stars turning, starting to sell a sweatshirt and doing $10 million in a day on their Instagram with their drops.
That's not regular business. That's not how you're gonna be able to [grow a] brand that's not... Those are unique situations.
I don't have 10 million followers.
Absolutely. And you said something earlier that you just really glossed over. You're like, "We're not doing anything special. We're taking clothes and making them a bit shorter and selling it."
It's like you don't have to invent the next Facebook or the next as seen on TV, weird products.
There are ideas out there that exist that you just have to do it better and be better at marketing and you can build a business on the back of it.
That's absolutely true. We obviously have yet to see how big this thing can scale. But we didn't go into it with any illusions of this being... This is not the next Facebook.
This is not building an electric car from scratch when nobody wants to build electric cars. That's not what most businesses are. Those are unicorns.
This is really getting into the guts of finding, finding a niche. But I think I mentioned earlier what we found, even though people call it a niche brand, 32 million as an audience just in the US alone.
We do international business. There's no limitations on our website. We get a lot of orders from Canada, the UK, Australia, all over the world. And we're not even marketing in their countries, per se, but they're finding us.
But really looking at those opportunities and trying to build them out as best you can. And like you said, there are businesses out there and there's enough market share to be had to build some pretty sizable businesses out there.
We're still what I would consider in the infancy stage. We've been growing at over 300% a year for the first 3 years consistently. And we see no slow up going and starting in 2022, which is a pretty rapid pace. It's not a unicorn pace, but it's gone pretty quickly.
The next turn phase is when you really start to get into those bigger challenges that the mass retailers [experience] from manufacturing to logistics, those scale up levels, which me and my partners have been through before and other businesses and hopefully those experiences will help us get there.
But we have yet to see how big this market can actually get. It could be a lot bigger than I ever thought.
Absolutely. And it's gonna be fun to watch you go on that roller coaster.
And if you have any questions, you'll see way more stuff in the show notes. Ellie, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Thank you so much for having me.
Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us.
We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes.