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Ep. 129 - Where Do You Go When Facebook Blows Over? with Lindsey Johnson

Almost a decade after first meeting through mutual friends, Liz Eichholz bought a new house and Lindsey Johnson got engaged, and both were on the hunt for towels. 

Buying new ones proved to be daunting – if they weren’t put off by mediocre quality, embroidery lead times, or astronomical price tags, they felt overwhelmed by jargon. GSM? Zero twist? 

They wanted a brand they could trust, and towels that looked as great as they felt. In October 2018, after a year and half of research and development, Weezie was born. 

Lindsey Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer brand Weezie Towels.

Lindsey received her BA from Vanderbilt University and her MBA from Columbia Business School. 

Prior to co-founding Weezie, Lindsey worked in finance, including investing and serving on the boards of early stage consumer product companies. 

Lindsey and her family reside in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. 

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:06] Lindsey’s background
  • [02:01] Lessons from the Finance industry
  • [02:56] How the idea of Weezie came
  • [05:13] Complex product development for Weezie
  • [06:57] Go-to-market strategy and launch
  • [08:42] Paid ads and building credibility
  • [09:08] Expectations for the launch
  • [10:53] The “shiny object syndrome”
  • [12:08] Scaling saying no
  • [12:57] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [13:17] Sponsor: Mesa getmesa.com/honest
  • [14:19] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
  • [14:55] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [16:23] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [17:32] Weezie’s current marketing strategies
  • [19:32] Paid advertising is getting harder
  • [20:55] Other paid marketing channels
  • [21:49] Owned channels for Weezie
  • [22:00] SMS on par and even better than email
  • [23:06] Targeting, testing, and print media
  • [23:33] Print media attribution
  • [24:48] Same patterns, different journeys
  • [26:02] Working with partnerships
  • [27:33] What’s next for Weezie
  • [28:14] Why Weezie is only DTC for now
  • [28:48] Timestamp information

Resources:

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  Transcript:

Lindsey Johnson  

Be comfortable saying no. It's not the last time you're going to get a great opportunity and the next time it comes around might be the perfect time

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.

Alright, everybody. After some technical difficulties, we are back. Welcome to another episode of Honest Ecommerce today, bringing to the show an amazing founder. Joining me today is Lindsey Johnson

She is the CEO and founder of Weezie, a luxury monogrammed bath towel brand. I want to throw on the word luxury. Again, these are awesome products.I was goofing around on the website before we started today. 

Lindsay, welcome to the show. How are you doing? 

Lindsey Johnson  

I'm great. Thanks so much for having me. 

Chase Clymer  

I feel like my coffee just hit me. I'm talking super fast. So I'm gonna try to slow myself down here. 

So you guys have been rocking and rolling since October of 2018, but let's go back just a little bit before that. What led up to the inception of the brand? What were you up to?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. So I was actually working in finance before launching Weezie with my co-founder. So I worked in a variety of different roles. Investment Banking, I worked in a Crisis Management role abroad, and then was at a hedge fund for a couple years. 

And then most recently started investing in consumer businesses, early stage businesses, and actually attended Columbia Business School in New York, with the goal of going into venture capital when my co-founder, Liz, approached me with the idea for what is now Weezie. 

So definitely took a little bit of a turn there away (laughs) from my finance career, but haven't looked back since. 

Chase Clymer  

That's amazing. So we were talking a little bit pre show and adding some of the history and experience with the CPG space, consumer packaged goods

You said not much of it translated over. Is there anything from your finance world that translates over to running an Ecommerce business?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. I think my finance background definitely taught me the value of hard work, and being analytical, and thoughtful, and being a great problem solver. Worked pretty insane hours, the first couple years out of school. 

So definitely I think grit, tenacity, and time management skills... A lot of those things have certainly been applicable to my day job. In terms of industry-specific, definitely nothing, really (laughs) in the textile world until now. 

So we had to learn that stuff from the ground up. But for sure, I think there's there's some lessons learned for my finance career, for sure.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So let's talk about how the idea came about. I'm sure there's a bunch of entrepreneurs out there that they just... 

They want to do something. They feel it, but they don't... The idea hasn't come to them yet. So I always like to ask where did yours come from?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. Actually I have to give the credit to my co-founder, Liz. She... I think some of the best businesses that started just when you have a true consumer problem. 

[It's] less of like, "Here's a whiteboard. Let's come up with an idea." And more of like, "Hey, this is actually an annoying pain point in my life. There's got to be a better way." Which is exactly how Weezie was started. 

So she was registering for a bath house for her wedding. And when she was picking out a product, she found there to be an overwhelming number of brands, a lot of jargon that was super confusing. Price did not indicate qualities. 

There were super expensive towels that weren't actually luxury and vice versa. And just the entire purchasing process, for lack of a better phrase, didn't really "spark joy" with her. And she really wanted to get them embroidered, monogrammed. 

And that process was entirely offline. Having to wait up to a month to get her product back. And once she finally did, she was super disappointed with the way that it looked, the performance of the towel. 

And she sent a text to a bunch of girlfriends, of which I was one, asking if anyone had a recommendation for a towel brand. It was honestly crickets. No one had a great brand, a go-to brand. 

And that's where she got the idea that there has to be a better way and there was a hole in the market. Her background is in creative. So she's our creative director. 

And she actually  approached me separately and said, "Do you think this is a good business idea? Because I was working and investing in early stage businesses at the time." 

So that conversation started out. I'm actually a pessimist by nature. So my immediate answer was no. And then the more time she spent with anecdotes, telling me anecdotes. 

And then I spent talking to potential customers, asking people "Where do you buy your towels?" "How much do you pay for them?" "When did you buy them?" "Did you get them monogrammed? Why or why not?" I started getting really excited by the idea. 

I didn't realize she was on to something. And that conversation really just snowballed. So I went from pursuing the venture capital career path in school to helping her start Weezie.

Chase Clymer  

That's awesome. Now with getting into starting a brand, obviously, you figure out the idea, you do some research to figure out "Alright, maybe there is a market here. We're onto something." 

How does that evolve into launching a .com? And there's a million steps that we're skipping here, but what was predicated? What happened before launching the thing?

Lindsey Johnson  

I'd say we spent the most of our time on 2 key things. One is defining the problem. Making sure you're super clear on what problem you're solving. 

So that for us meant talking to customers, and just making sure we were crystal clear on why there was a hole and what people needed to be filled? And then the second part of that is probably even more important is really the solution. 

So can you actually solve this problem? And how are you going to solve it? And for us, that meant over a year of product development. 

So really, on the physical product side, we invested a ton of time there making sure that we weren't just creating a better purchase experience or a cool and fun brand, but delivering the same product that everyone could access elsewhere. 

We really wanted to innovate on the product side. So that's definitely where we spent most of our time.

And then given the fact that we offer customization, figuring out the physical operations of how to service that need for our customers, was also a big heavy lift for us.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I can only imagine building in the efficiencies there to be able to do that at scale just sounds like a big challenge to overcome.

Lindsey Johnson  

Yes. And it's an ever evolving challenge, I would say. Something we work on all the time. 

Chase Clymer 

That's amazing. All right. So you guys have an amazing product you've worked on, you've got an awesome idea. What is the go-to-market strategy? How did you launch the brand and how did that work?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. We took an approach... I should say, we were bootstrapped from the beginning, so we didn't have a lot of capital and work to do, which I think actually worked to our advantage. 

And I would recommend if folks can figure out a creative way to finance the business to do so, in the early days. So what that meant for us is that we spent a ton of time on PR. So we decided we were going to invest in earned media

What that meant was hustling, talking to editors, getting products in front of the right people, doing a press preview day, introducing ourselves, the brand story... And we really spent months leading up to launch on that. 

I think a lot of people sort of skip that stuff, because they're so excited to get to launch. But magazines and art, editors, articles, they have lead times as well. So I think we were patient with it and spent a ton of time on earned media. 

 

And then ultimately, what that led to was having Fast Company announce the launch of the business on the morning of October 9, 2018. I'll never forget it. 

And then multiple outlets picked up the article after that. And that's really what launched the company.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. That's an amazing strategy. It's similar to maybe launching with an influencer thing. It's a popular phrase these days that people are always talking about. But I agree. I think people either... 

They're in 2 camps, when they're about to launch. It's either they're terrified to launch and they just don't do it. And so if you're in that camp, I would just do it. 

But on the other end, if you want to launch with a plan, I think launching with  the editorial route and earned media, that's amazing. Influencers are amazing.

I think launching with paid ads is probably the worst way to do it. Because nobody knows who you are. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Right. 

Chase Clymer  

But yeah...

Lindsey Johnson  

I think you really want to establish credibility. And that way, when you start running paid ads, which we did do several months later, there's that credibility, like," Oh, these articles were about them. And these people have used them." 

And you have customer reviews and I think that really gives you... Gives people the confidence to try your product.

Chase Clymer  

So with the launch... You don't have to share numbers or anything, but did you guys feel it was successful? Was it higher than your expectations? How'd that all go?

Lindsey Johnson  

Definitely higher than expectations. Like I said, I'm a pessimist. So everything we do, I like to under-expect and be really excited when things go better than planned. So I had no idea what to think in terms of what we would see on day 1. 

And to tell you how unprepared we were for the success, it was just myself and [my] co-founder and our embroiderer sitting in this storage unit with embroidery machines and towels, waiting for orders to come in. 

We thought we'd be packing a couple boxes that first day and we got enough orders to keep us busy for weeks on day 1. And so we actually had on Shopify, you can set a notification where you get a notification every time you get an order. 

Chase Clymer  

Oh yeah, that's the best sound ever. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Oh yeah. It's just like "Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching!" and we were just shocked, it was going off all day to the point where we turned it off. Because it was... 

Chase Clymer  

Day 1, you had to turn it off. That's amazing. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah, it was awesome. And I think we were just so validated in all the research and hard work we had done over the past year and a half. But that's when the fun really began. 

Actually getting those products out to customers and then figuring out, "Okay. Now that we have proof of concept, how do we actually scale this thing?" And "Who do we need to hire? 

What processes do we put in place? Where do we need to invest our time and money and resources to make sure that success continues?"

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So you guys are not relatively young, because DTC is such a fast moving industry. You're going on 4 years, 3 years? 

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. Yeah. We'll be 3 years [old] this October. So we're about 2 and a half years old. 

Chase Clymer  

Okay, so in the last 2 and a half years? What is the mistake that you guys made along the way that you want to let our listeners know, "Please don't do this?"

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. I feel like I'm making mistakes every single day.

Chase Clymer  

(laughs)

Lindsey Johnson  

That's why this job is so challenging and fun. And I think, something that sticks out to me from the early days if you're just kind of getting off the ground is, we made the mistake of going after what I would call "shiny objects". 

And in the early days, I think opportunities will present themselves. You'll be surprised who comes knocking on your door with a great new idea for you, or a partnership opportunity, or a new revenue stream you hadn't thought of. And it's hard not to be flattered, especially when you're a brand new business. 

And I think we made the mistake of following those shiny objects, when instead, we really should have just kept our heads down and focused on our plan and what we had set out to do. Because I think about it all the time... 

When you have such a small team, taking your eye off the ball is really detrimental. 

So that's something that I would caution against is just try to stay focused and disciplined and be comfortable saying no, it's not the last time you're gonna get the great opportunity, and the next time that it comes around might be the perfect time. 

So that's something I would definitely caution folks in the early days.

Chase Clymer  

"Shiny object syndrome" is the bane of my existence. That's why I have a partner to be honest, because he keeps me on track. Within that same thing of saying no, I think as  you grow, your opportunities increase, and then the amount you should say no should also scale along with that. Focus is how big brands happen. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Right.

Chase Clymer  

And it's just... I don't know. People need to hear it. You can't be everything to everybody.

Lindsey Johnson  

It's really hard. I would say I'm more of a "no person" than my co-founder, Liz, and even I find myself falling victim to it, time and time again.

So we've definitely learned our lesson now. And now we're comfortable saying no. And it definitely gets easier the more you do it. I'll say that.

Sponsor: Electric Eye

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Chase Clymer  

So let's talk about everyone's favorite thing: Marketing. You guys got off the ground with this great editorial push. 

How did things change in the last 2 and a half years? Wherever you guys spent your time? What's working for you?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. Marketing for us... It changes, I think it's an ever-evolving story. So like I said, I spent the first few months focused exclusively on earned media. 

And then we increased the marketing mix by adding into paid advertising. So for us, that meant Facebook, Instagram, Google

And then we really did influencers a little bit later. And we've actually, to this day, never paid to work with influencers.

We're starting to change your tune a little bit there as I think the landscape is changing. And expectations are changing, certainly. 

But we were able to get away with gifting in kind, which one, was a budget constraint on our end. Like I said, We weren't well funded. 

And it's really hard to measure ROI on those things. So it was hard for me to justify spending money on something that I couldn't figure out what I was actually doing for the business. 

So for the influencers, we started with just gifting people who, naturally, were excited about the brand and wanted to support a young ,new company and really wanted the product. 

And I think that authenticity definitely, again, helped us with that credibility piece in the early days. Today, we've been testing mail. So that's a new new channel for us. 

And I'm sure a lot of founders at our stage are at that point where we're trying to figure out, if Facebook were to blow up over where do we go next. So those are some of the things on our paid strategy. 

And then I'd say on the other side of the marketing coin, if you will, is our brand marketing team. 

So brand marketing for us is the media, press is still really important, partnerships, doing events.

Now that you the virus seems to be turning a corner, potentially thinking about retail or pop-ups, all of which, I think, sort of help with marketing the brand.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. You said something that I want to zone in on here. You said what will happen if Facebook blows up? 

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

Why is that important?

Lindsey Johnson  

I think a lot of brands and us included... First of all, it's way more expensive today than it's ever been. And I think it was way more expensive when we launched than it was for the OG DTC brands that were able to take advantage of insanely low CPCs and CPMs

Chase Clymer  

It was awesome. The "Wild West". 

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. Exactly. And so I think it's a lot harder to grow a brand on paid ads today, it's a lot more expensive. And because we're unfunded, --we're not funded by VCs--  profitability for us and first purchase is really important. 

So, if Facebook were to get to a point where it was too expensive, we couldn't justify it. And so I think for us, just knowing that if that channel were to get to a point where we couldn't afford it from a profitability standpoint, we need to have other options. 

And so having those tested and vetted and figured out where our customers are outside of Instagram and Facebook, is really important. 

And I think for us, it's still really profitable channel. It's still our biggest channel. It works really well. But I'm not naive and thinking that it's not gonna continue to get more expensive. And [we] just [need] to be prepared for that.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. My advice to any of our clients is like, "Alright, we get it. We know Facebook's going to be the thing. But we are setting up a second channel, and we're gonna figure out how it works. 

And you'd be surprised at the success you can find on some of the other ones out there. Pinterest is wild. We've got just some awesome returns there for some clients. Snapchat as well. 

Facebook, and Instagram aren't the only things playing. Also Google Shopping. It depends on your product. But it's awesome.

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah, that's been great for us as well. Google Shopping and Pinterest. We're just starting to test our product lenses, I think lends itself well to projects... 

Chase Clymer  

You guys will do just fine there. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. Home space, decor, all that good stuff. So there's definitely other channels of opportunity. 

Affiliate is something else, we're kind of leaning into more so than we've ever had in the past. 

So [we're] just preparing for what I believe to be the inevitable future that Facebook will not be the be all end all one day. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. What about owned marketing, like email, SMS and all that jazz?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. So we actually... We've focused on that from day one, it's been important for us. We don't have a dedicated retention marketer, but it lives actually within our brand marketing team. 

And it's something that's been a great performer for us. And I'd say our email and SMS program has gotten more sophisticated over time as we learn more and more about our customers. 

And that's been great. We introduced SMS probably 6 months ago now, and I can't recommend that channel enough. 

I think I've been pretty excited by the performance there and I was quite frankly, surprised how well it does in addition to our email, so both of those programs are super important to us for sure.

Chase Clymer  

I've heard that from a lot of our clients, that stuff that we've done, and just from other people I've interviewed that SMS is almost on par, if not sometimes outperforming email in some areas.

Lindsey Johnson  

It really is. It blows my mind. I think... We've been doing a lot of A/B testing around, where to launch new products, what audiences want to hear, at what time. 

And we've been seeing, in some cases, that texts outperform. So it's definitely an interesting channel, for sure.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think it just goes to [show] just communicate with the customer where they want to be communicated with... 

I personally [would be like] "Get out of my phone. I don't want you to do that." But if I am a fan of the brand, I want the email. But there are people that are the complete opposite of me. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Same. I'm like you. And that's why I was, again, a pessimist on texts. And I was like, "We'll see. I just don't think our customers are gonna love this." And I'm glad I was wrong. (laughs) I think it...

Chase Clymer  

Oh yeah.

Lindsey Johnson  

...also speaks to testing. I think you just never know, until you try. And I think we are very deliberate when we test things. 

But I think we're kind of at a point now where we're more and more comfortable taking fire on things. 

So we've, for instance, started doing print advertising this year, which is something that I don't think a lot of DTC brands do. But [we're] actually paying for full page spreads and printed magazines. 

And I, again, anecdotally have been pretty pleasantly surprised at just how many people have told us they've heard about us via a print ad. 

Again, it's really hard to measure the ROI there. But I think if your customer is reading print magazines, which they certainly are, it's just another way of meeting them where they are.

Chase Clymer  

Now how are you asking your customers where they heard about you? 

Lindsey Johnson  

So we use a post purchase app that... You actually had Matt on your show. So Enquire is what it's called. 

And basically, when people check out, it'll say, "How did you hear about us." And you can feed them with a bunch of different options. 

And I've been pleasantly surprised at how many people say print ads. We also put a QR code in the UTM that we're able to track. But not everyone is super sophisticated with the QR code. So I'm not sure how reliable that is.

Chase Clymer  

See, I ask these questions on this podcast that I already know the answer to and people think it's fake. And it's like, "No." It's just there's a lot of patterns in all of these successful brands. 

They have a lot in common. They also have a lot that's not uncommon, to be completely frank. There's no right way to do it.

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. I think that's true. There's no playbook, I would say, that I feel like when you start a business. I made a mistake... 

And here's another mistake I made: It was calling every single person I knew who was a founder or was a VC and just asking them, "How do I do X, Y, and Z? What do you think about this? What should I do here?" 

And I was like, constantly searching for some sort of playbook, because it felt like that was the way to do it. And I think the best entrepreneurs learn early on that there is no playbook, every business is different. 

You're going to know more about your business than anyone else does. So it's fine to take in inputs from all those different people and read articles on what the other companies are doing and talk to other founders. 

But you're going to know what's best for your business at the end of the day. 

So having the ability to sort of filter through that feedback is really important. And I think, when you're a first time founder, it's so easy to try to follow some path set out by someone else.

Chase Clymer  

Also that leads itself to another question that I started to get more in the habit of asking: Along this journey, have you guys been partnered up with agencies or consultants or freelancers? 

There's obviously some things that are outside of the founder's skill set. So how did you guys solve for that?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah. So we've certainly had our fair share of help along the way. So for one, our team has grown from 2 to 40. So we have a lot of people on our team. 

Most of that is within our fulfillment and customization organization. But outside of our own employees, we've certainly worked with agencies, freelancers, on everything from paid ads to copywriters, photographers... 

On the creative side. [We] certainly have tried our hand at some marketing consultant. I can't necessarily say that that was ever a huge value add. I don't know if we had the right partners. 

But I think it's... You have to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. And their core competencies are different from yours. So I think that it just depends on what the founders background and skill set is. 

What do you choose to outsource in a brand house to? What do you want to be your company's bread and butter and what's going to be core to your growth and what is your differentiation in the market? 

So for us something customization would be something we've really invested in. And what's something that you don't think you need to be the best in the world at and you can outsource? That's how we've approached it.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now, is there anything that you guys are looking forward to in the future? What's around the corner? Or what big projects are you working on that you're allowed to share?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yeah, so we're constantly working on a product launch calendar. So we have new... We typically do new products every single month. So a lot of fun stuff is coming. 

We launched our summer kids' cover-ups yesterday. We have some new piping colors coming this summer. The long awaited bath mats and bath rags coming later this summer, which has been a number one customer request from us.... 

From our customers, excuse me. And just a lot of exciting new product launches. In terms of you know, what's next for us? We're really looking hard at retail, been thinking about that, which would be a big strategic shift for us for sure. 

Chase Clymer  

What about marketplaces? Are you guys in any of the marketplaces or you're only DTC?

Lindsey Johnson  

We're only DTC. So the thing about marketplaces, I definitely... I can see the value added there in terms of just building brand awareness and reaching new audiences. 

The thing that makes it very difficult for a company like Weezie to be in the marketplaces is that customization. So the actual customization process you have to go through really needs to be on our website. 

And so that's made it difficult for us to sort of participate in marketplaces without a heavy investment on the tech side. And so for that reason, we sort of stayed away. But that's not to say it's... It will happen in the future. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Yeah. That makes complete sense. So for people that are listening, where do they go if they want to check out the towels, check out the product?

Lindsey Johnson  

Yes. Our website is weezietowels.com. Our Instagram is @weezietowels, and you can find us there posting all the time.

Chase Clymer  

Cool. And is there anything I forgot to ask that you want to share today? 

Lindsey Johnson  

I don't think so. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on today, Lindsey. 

Lindsey Johnson  

Of course. Thanks for having me.

Chase Clymer  

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. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review

And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.