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Ep. 98 - Your Brand’s Cultural and Emotional Significance with Rebecca Zhou

An expert in bringing digitally native brands to life—Rebecca has led teams in the launch or relaunch of over 20+ brands in the last decade, including Glossier, Reformation, Backdrop, care/of, Khaite, Sustain Natural, The Nue Co, and more. 

Rebecca is also the co-founder of OFFHOURS, an in-activewear brand that launched in 2018 with the introduction of their hero product—the Homecoat. 

She is currently working on another company which will launch in early 2021. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [00:57] Rebecca’s history in Ecom
  • [06:13] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [06:42] What hooked them to Ecom
  • [08:22] Balancing form and function
  • [11:42] When clients give website examples
  • [14:01] Tying in product photos to your brand
  • [16:53] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest 
  • [17:41] From consultant to starting her own brand
  • [24:41] Putting your money where your mouth is
  • [27:15] Sponsor: Postscript postscript.io/install
  • [27:46] You really have to know your numbers
  • [30:12] The advantage of Off Hours
  • [31:29] Simplicity for success
  • [32:55] Off Hours’ significant impact
  • [35:23] Aesthetics that define a brand
  • [36:55] Different disciplines working together

Resources:

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 Transcript:

Rebecca Zhou  

The way that I am observing the industry and what's working for my businesses is changing because I'm continuing to add more data into my decision making.

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. 

I'm your host Chase Clymer, and I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.

All right, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. 

And today I'm bringing to the show the best of both worlds for you: a subject matter expert, Ecommerce expert, --we can get more into that-- and also a brand founder. Rebecca Zhou, Welcome to the show.

Rebecca Zhou  

Hi, thanks so much for having me.

Chase Clymer  

I know. Thank you. I'm so glad to have you on. We got a lot to talk about here. But I guess the one thing, the headline probably on the podcast, maybe, is going to be you are one of the core team members helping Glossier just do the damn thing. 

Rebecca Zhou  

(laughs)

Chase Clymer  

So let's just dive in. Let's talk about your background and your history in Ecommerce and just that whole experience there and then we can move on.

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah, awesome. So how did I get into Ecommerce? I grew up in a household. My mom worked in data science at Ford Motor Company using data to help sell cars. And my dad is a computer science systems architect. 

So he built you know, the backbone for -- the stock exchange platform-- as I grew up in a family that was very technology and math focused. I, on the other hand, wanted to paint pictures, and play with a computer game where I could like the design of clothing. 

But when I went to college, I wanted to study graphic design. And my parents were like, "No, no, no. You need to study a hard science." So we basically compromised. I ended up studying computer science and economics versus they wanted me to study math and physics. And so I studied computer science. 

What I learned through studying through science for 4 years is I'm not a good developer, but I really love technology. And I love thinking about things as systems. So after I graduated NYU, I ended up finding my way to Gin Lane. They're now called Pattern Brands

But they're an incredible digital agency at the time based in New York. And I joined the team as a strategist, having played all through college with web design and UX, also having a background in development. 

But being really a consumer of fashion and more lifestyle brands, it was a great place for me to land. While I was at Gin Lane, we worked on digital projects that were both like marketing. Marketing websites to sell: Michael Kors’s new fragrance. 

But we also luckily ended up working with a lot of these startups, D2C startups that were just forming. So you have when Everlane was just launching, we work with them on the technology and their pop-up shop. 

We're really lucky to work with Harry’s in the early days, Reformation during their transformation. 

And so there, I really got a taste of Ecommerce as this amazing place where like my technical background, my business education, study, economics, my design background, and also just my sensibility as a consumer really came all swirled together. It allowed me to be really good at my job. 

And then after I was at Gin Lane for a number of years, I had an itch to want to go to the other side. When we worked on Reformation's complete website redesign that... When we worked with them, it was in 2014.

They had at that point, like 3 stores in New York and LA and started seeing traction on their website. Their website was like a PHP website. The images were tiny. They're like 100 by 100 pixels. But they were starting to see a ton of sales. 

And so they basically pivoted into direct-to-consumer business. And I feel like they've been, I would say, one of the most successful fashion DTC companies. 

They really liked the case study and showed everyone that you could do it. And so we worked with them in that transformation. And it was so fun, but after launch, I was like, "Is it working?" 

Like, "Let me look at the analytics."  "How did this go?" and although Reformation's team, I guess, they indulge me a little bit with like, "This is going well! This is going on..." Ultimately, they had their jobs to do and they needed to sell, like focus on selling products. 

And so they didn't really have time to like review how the website was working with me. And so I ended up going in-house. 

So I've met Emily Weiss, and I was super excited to hear about Glossier and learn about  the vision and it seemed like she had a hole in her team. 

She had the physical products done, editorial, she had branding, but like really how do we bring this thing to life but online, was what she didn't have a team for yet so I convinced her to hire me. 

And you know, there it was just like amazing and so crazy to be a part of that rocket ship. I was like reminiscing about this other day, like the night before launch. Me, her, and Annie Kreighbaum who ended up being the VP of brand over time. 

We met up at my apartment in Bushwick from 8pm to 2am just like working through calming every single last detail on the website before glossier.com launched. It was like in October of 2014. 

And yeah. I think they're like....I think before I was thinking about like, "Okay. How does technology, design, and me being a consumer work together?

Then at Glossier, it was even beyond that like, "How does packaging, product development, marketing, website design, analytics, development, customer service... How do these things all come together?" 

And really, it's a team effort that then like, allows the customer to buy a product, get it and be really happy. So yeah, that's --I guess-- how I ended up in Ecommerce. 

And since I left Glossier, I've been an independent consultant for the last 5 years, helping brands, startups, larger companies manifest themselves online. Most of them have called me and said, "I want what Glossier has." 

And I'm like, Well, you can't have that. But we'll figure out how to make that same type of magic for you." And then in the meantime, as Chase said, I started my own brand with my husband called Off Hours, launched it. 

We started working on it in 2016, actually, and then launched in 2018. And we are an "inactive-wear" brand and we have this amazing, weird hero product called the Home Coat. It's a blanket that you can wear.

Chase Clymer  

That's awesome, so much to talk about there.

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Chase Clymer  

So first and foremost, when you were getting into Ecommerce, did you ever have this odd feeling of like the numbers being like super fun? That's what hooked me to it. 

I'd been doing marketing and all that jazz, just random stuff, cutting my teeth and learning about the industry. And then once I got into Ecommerce, I was like, "Wait. It's very tangible." If you make these efforts, you can see the numbers work. And that's what hooked me into it.

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah, totally. I think I've never thought about it this way until just now. But before I started working [with] more marketing and Ecommerce, generally I was more focused on [a] digital product. And I think that what to me... 

Actually, what ended up happening with Ecommerce, is like, you think about digital products and all the things you get to think about the customer journey, and really refining to make a great experience, and you have marketing on the other side. 

Ecommerce is a marriage of those things. It's like... It's highly... you can track how something's doing. But then on the other side, it's very focused on a customer and that they're having a really good time. And the idea of something that really allows you to blend those 2 things for me.... 

I think I'm always like, "I'm left brain, right brain. I'm like an Aquarius and a Virgo.'' I see myself as very like executional yet strategic and I think Ecommerce is definitely those different [sides], like the yin and the yang mixing together.

Chase Clymer  

Oh absolutely. It's got to be... Finding that right bit blend of like form and function is like the cornerstone of a great user-experience and a great website design in the Ecommerce space. 

And that's essentially what everyone's working towards when you have a big website build or something like that. But it's also one of those things where  it doesn't stop. It's constantly evolving.

Rebecca Zhou  

Totally. Yeah. And it's funny because I was thinking about when you're asking me what we should talk about on this podcast.  I think Ecommerce today, the landscape, how it looks, it feels like it's always been this way with these like branded Ecommerce websites where there's storytelling and you can convert. 

But actually, when I was thinking back, it's like... When we did that Reformation website, when I worked at Glossier, like most Ecommerce experiences still more or less felt like Amazon or like Macy's.com

This idea of branded Ecommerce really hadn't been done. And so at Glossier, it was like we were saying, "We're gonna sell beauty products entirely online." People thought we were like crazy. Literally, there's just a New York Times article called "What It Means to be a Gen Z Beauty Company" I think. 

And there was a quote saying, like ."..when Emily Weiss set out to do what she did in 2014." It was unheard of. No one tried to sell makeup without people being able to touch it. 

And I think that we were a part of this movement of how do we not only like to introduce someone to a brand, intoxicate them in a world, but also give them all the information that they need to convert like "What are the ingredients? How does it feel? like How do I use it?" What does it look like on my skin tone? Do other people have other people using it? Had they seen results?" And it was funny. 

I think we did a really good job of balancing these 2 elements. But when we launched, we had plenty of investors and industry people emailing our team saying like your website is not best practice. Like "Your text is overlapping your images... There's these weird icons that appear when I hover on different pictures'' That was something we did. 

We did like to randomize the icons from the sticker set. Randomize them when you hover over images. This is what Everlane or Warby Parker’s website looks like. We get it's cool, but like no one's gonna buy on this website. 

And I had to deal with all those like inquiries and tried to build confidence in "The team trusts me. Our customers [are] different. What we're trying to do is different." If we're saying we're a business that's about irreverence and changing the beauty industry, our website ultimately needs to reflect that and have an edge and it works. 

But I think it's really interesting to.... Now it's like you see Recess’s website or you see XYZ, new DTC brands, their websites take risks. Their website feels like a whole world. And I think that in the last 5 years, that has seemed to be commonplace, but the reality back then it was like very... Those 2 things were not connected. 

Even funnily enough, I remember when my first client was like, "Hey, I need help. my website's not selling my product. Can you  help me?" I'm like "Okay. Great." Go in, take a look at analytics, talk to her, etc. 

And then I come back. I'm like, "Listen, the website design is not great. But that is not the problem. The problem is your photography and it's your copywriting. 

Because you are trying to sell a product that is a premium luxury product, but your photography makes it look like it should belong on, I don't know, Amazon or Forever 21. So like, that's the key thing we could talk about first. 

And then ultimately, you change the images, we change the product copy, the copywriting..." And then we did a website redesign and like sales went up, conversion, all those things happen. 

But if I had just said like, "Yes, we'll rebuild your website because it's a little bit slow." or "The fonts could be cheaper."None of those results would really happen. Because all these different components that make up this world, they depend on each other.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. Content is the number one thing and I spoke about this last week. A lot of people when they're like going into that first redesign after hitting their stride with their product, their examples are glossier.com.There's they're sending us websites that are like, "This is a $500,000 website I hope you know that." 

Rebecca Zhou  

(laughs) Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

And it's like... 

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

..."Anyway let's also take a look at this list of websites." So you just shared with us.  The one thing that they all have in common is they have amazing assets. These are photography, the graphics, the video. All this stuff is top notch. Do you have that? (laughs) Because if so, it's gonna make my job a lot easier. But like... 

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah. Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

...if you're trying to compare things here, you gotta invest in the content, and the assets if you really want a website that's going to be taken seriously and to get you to that next level and instill that trust. 

And going back to what you said about best practices, it's like, yeah. Best practices exist for a reason. But you can break a few of them.  If you break all of them, you're probably gonna have a bad time. But like...

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

...you just pick and choose. And then it's like... 

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

...that's what makes it fun. And that's why there's... Anytime you talk to any brand founder, they're just like "We did it [in] a way that no one else has done. And it worked." Because there is no right path. 

There is no set of decisions that need to be made. It's just trial and error. And usually, you can use some data and 9 times out of 10, your guests are going to work out if you got some data to back it up.

Rebecca Zhou  

Totally. Yeah, I'm always... When I'm thinking about clients or even for off-hours, it's like, "Where are the places we can take risks? And where should we be a little bit safer?" And for me, it's always anything that's more conversion-related, let's play it safe. 

If you're at a store, and you can't find where the checkout is, it's like that. Even in a real-life situation, like that's a problem. But beyond that there's a ton of stuff that we can play with. Especially the consumer or the internet user today has matured so much. 

Even when I'm using Snapchat, I'm confused as to where some of the UI is. But if they understand how to use those types of experiences, like an Ecommerce website, even if maybe something is slightly in a place that they didn't expect or a button is a little bit bigger, there's not so much tolerance for that today versus like what they [had] in 2005. 

Yes, you show us on our website that is more experimental, they'd be like, "Whoa, I'm not gonna trust this." So the content thing that you were just talking about, actually very timely. 

Today, we're recording this Care/of just was announced to be acquired by Bayer last night. And I worked with the Care/of team during their launch. I knew Craig from when he was at Bonobos

They were a client of ours at Gin Lane. And he... We worked on a number of different things, but one of the things was really like defining a photography style. He was also one of the ones that was like... "We want to have a spirit of what Glossier is like. What made them successful." 

And so there were a number of things we've worked through, but one was really a signature photography style because when Glossier launched, the photography was so signature that customers would be sharing that on Instagram all day every day. It's like free brand marketing. 

And so I worked with Craig to really think about, "Okay, what is  photography style for you?" And I brought in this amazing art director named Sarah Kissell who had come from like Nasty Gal before and we've collaborated on that. And we defined this photo side that was... 

We worked with this photographer, Lauren Coleman and she did this amazing set styling with like a vitamin was in the middle and then there was all this prop styling around the body that really spoke to the transparency and ingredients and what is actually in a vitamin because it's like... 

Before Care/of, you would go to GNC, you'd buy a vitamin like "I don't know what's inside. It might be sawdust. But someone told me to take this." Versus Care/of really tried to bring transparency.

Like "It's ashwagandha. It's like an ancient root that is doing X, Y and Z for you." Your prenatal vitamin has a little bit of A and a little bit of... Sorry, I don't know what's in a prenatal...Prenatal vitamins...

Chase Clymer  

 (laughs)

Rebecca Zhou  

But it has all these proteins. We use photography to really explain that and that for us... Not only do we want to create a signature photography style, but when you saw a photo from Care/of, you'd be like, "This is definitely not from GNC." but also the photo really taught you things about ultimately what the company stood for. 

And I think that's something that... I do see that... I think a lot of brands understand that they need to invest in good photography, that doesn't just mean hiring expensive photographers to make it look good. It's how you use photography to communicate the core essence of your value add. 

And so for Glossier, it was a lot about like this effortless energy. It was about skincare and makeup, showing real skin. We did a lot of stuff with tan so you could see the scale of the product, you wouldn't really be able to touch it. 

But using photography as a communication device... I think when I see new companies launch, and they really just nail it. 

You're like, "Not only is this a beautiful photo, but in a way, this is a photo that wouldn't make sense for any other brand or any other vertical." 

And that makes sense. It's a very specific communication tool that you develop [so  even] without words, without even a website, when someone sees a photo, they get a sense of why your company exists.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. Yeah. That's a great way to look at it. tying the photography style back to just being an extension of your brand is a fantastic, you know, project to take on. 

But it's probably something that you can't take on right away, you know, I think you might need to do some experimentation. First figure out who your market actually is and make sure that there's a market for whatever you're trying to sell. You know, that kind of goes back before that.

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Chase Clymer  

But I guess that's a good transition to now. With going from being a consultant to launching your own brand, what happened in that journey that was surprising to you like being on that side of it? 

Is there anything that you want to share with the audience to help them in their journey if they're launching a brand soon or they're struggling to get off the ground? Any insights there?

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah. Totally. I mean, it's like I had worked at Glossier. I was the third employee. I've worked with all these startups, but nothing is really like truly launching your own company. And for Off Hours, my husband, David, and I decided to bootstrap the company. 

We really wanted to... For us, it was like a thesis and putting ideas out there that we could live with and continue to push forward. Versus with a client, in a way, there's like an end date to a project, and you're like, "Hey, I was thinking about you in the shower the other day. I had this idea..." 

But ultimately, it's not really how the relationship works. So we bootstrapped the company. We didn't take any outside investment. We initially... Actually Off Hours started as a concept of sleepwear and loungewear. 

I had a specific observation that like when I went to buy new sleepwear, there was nothing in the category that I was particularly excited about. Either there were these like, super high-end pieces on like... And not afford to... 

Like a silk robe and a silk night dress and it's like, "They're beautiful, but I have a dog that like leaves on me and I also spill ice cream on myself." So I'm not buying sleepwear that I have to dry clean. 

On the other hand, I would go to a Victoria's Secret or a Gap and it's like, "There's comfy items here. But none of them are things that I desire or have any lust for it. [It's] just like, "Oh, yeah, it's like a t-shirt. Oh, yeah, it's a sweatshirt." 

So that's where I first started in sleep and in the lounge and we had designed this like a larger collection that was around this idea of interesting pieces that were inspired by outerwear and fashion. 

And what ended up happening is because we self funded it, we're like, "We can't afford to make this line of 6 products in different sizes." So we started basically doing [product] testing with our friends and showing them the lineup just like, "Here's a sweatshirt. Here's the top. Here's a dress." We had all these ideas. And then the Home Coat was one of those products. 

We're like, "Oh, this is a product that we're going to do eventually because it's conceptual. It's like a blanket meets a robe." And everyone was like, "Yeah. Everything else is cool. And I want it but.. I need that right now." It's like, "When are you making [it]?" We're like, "No, we're not gonna make it for 3 years." 

It's like something we could do like a collaboration with a high-end brand but they're like, "Okay. Yeah. But I really want that." And we heard that so many times. And at some point, David and I sat down, and we were like... He was like, I had worked... He had worked at Bonobos. 

And he was like, "Bonobos was about the pants. They got their pants right. That's how they built their whole business and then they expanded. Why don't we focus on one product? We'll just start with the Home Coat. We don't have the money to fund all this product development." 

And I was, at first, hesitant. And then after I thought about it, I was like, "Okay wait... No. This is brilliant." And this is also what we're hearing in our consumer testing which is... 

Everything else was like, "That's cool." That one was like, "Oh my god. I need this right now." And so we ended up going down this path from 2016 to 2018 to really build out this Home Coat. 

If you've seen a photo of it... It is like a funny object. (laughs) It's like a blanket beneath a robe. It looks... We think, very chic and intentional. But it's made of fabrics like sweatshirt and t-shirt, which are really, really comfortable. 

And we ultimately,  the initial observation that led us into sleepwear is what we answered with the Home Coat, which is, "How can we do a product that's so comfortable, but something that actually you desire, and you want in the way when you see a new sneaker or [a] really cool dress that a fashion designer release?" 

If you see it you're *gasp* emotionally... You don't even know why you're like, "I need it." So that's what we really --I feel like have-- accomplished with the Home Coat. But that part was fun. 

And then it's like, "Okay, we have our product. We can design the website, we can do the branding, we can like get some friend's favors, do the photography, and we can launch." And these are all the things we know. Of course. 

And it's like, "Okay. Yeah. And then we launched and it's like, "What about the operations? What about the shipping?" Which is... Our product is huge. It's 6 pounds. It's a giant box. Where were you gonna store all these Home Coats? 

And now it sounds like, "Oh my god. Of course." But you're only looking at what's in front of you. And you only know what you know. And so we were so focused on the brand. Ultimately, that was great. 

And I think that's a large reason that ours got word. It's that we really built this brand that is so hard working and a product that sells itself. But there were so many things we had to learn. 

David and I, we hand-fulfilled for like the first year and a half. And we had... I, at the very beginning... It's like, I'm carrying a trolley with 25 boxes, 7 blocks in New York to like the closest USPS. Those are all things that we were like, "Why are we doing this? This is so crazy." 

But I'm... I listen to your podcast or on How I Built This. And it's like, so many early businesses, you end up having to go through things like that. And I think also beyond that, it's just like learning about... 

I think the biggest challenge for us is knowing when to take the right risks, and knowing when to take the bigger bets because we really run the business as like, "Let's have the market. Let's have the customer tell us where to go." 

And so we really rely on inbound, because for us, it's a way to really get a sense of where our message is sticking versus... We didn't want an idea that was catching on because of the large ad dollars behind it. 

And then once the ad dollars started to go away, or if Facebook and Instagram was not working as well, which we all know. It's like, it's still okay, but we know that the ticking... There's a clock there. We don't want to just be dependent on that. 

So we really have listened to see where this product sits, and if there's like a real demand for it. And we have had that signal validated, essentially. 

But now there is something that we're challenged with. It's like "How big of a bet should we make on inventory? How much should we push on paid marketing?" Because neither... We're both learning and I have taken finance class through HBS

And I've got together with my friends who are really great on the growth side and the marketing side. I'm looking at a model and I passed this. Economics, all this stuff. I understand and like I'm very fluid in those areas. 

But still, with your own business and your own money, it's very hard to figure out like, "Yeah. What kind of bets we should make." And it's funny, because then we'll talk like a paid marketing person. 

They're like, "Oh. Of course. You guys should order x 10s of thousands of products. we'll put this much money into paid marketing, it's a no brainer. Your CAC is incredible." 

And we're like, "Oh okay." But for us, it's like, that's not our area of expertise. And so it's so much fun for us [in] Off Hours. 

It's been so incredible because we've gotten to work with so many people that are already in our network or people that we really respected in different ways: Photographers, paid marketing, PR etc. And it's a giant learning experience. And ultimately, what more can you ask for?

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I think... I don't know. Just as a side [note] we're launching a brand ourselves here shortly. So it's fun to put your money where your mouth is.

Rebecca Zhou  

Ooh! Exciting!

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. Yeah. It's fun to put your money where your mouth is. And also like you said, like you don't know until you do it. As a consultant in e commerce, we're like super on the Shopify side of things. 

So we're only dealing with Shopify, whatever touches it. So we're not really dealing with like, sourcing 3PLs or helping with inventory or... Any of that stuff isn't really what we're doing these days, which is... 

Rebecca Zhou  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

...it is what it is. But that's stuff that we need to learn and it will only help us grow as professionals. So I'm excited to kind of dive in there.

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah. Totally. It's a lot of fun. And I think at the end of the day, you talk to other business owners, it's like, everyone... If it takes 10 things to make a successful Ecommerce business, everyone starts by being an expert or has the background in only a subset of those are right. 

And everyone rounds it out over time. I think that it's just a part of the journey. And for us with it being our own company, the feedback loop... I left Gin Lane to go to Glossier to get a better... 

To get closer to the feedback loop of what I was doing really makes a difference. I think Off Hours is a continuation of that getting even closer in that feedback loop of the product, the specific product, the size of it, the unit economics, the marketing, the branding, the name... You name it. 

All of it is one machine. It's like a car that you're driving around. Every school piece depends on the other. And it's really cool to start to understand how they work and then being able to optimize or like "We need to get this part changed. We need to upgrade this piece..." Yeah."

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I agree with you. There's definitely... You have to wear a lot of hats as a founder, especially a brand founder. And you mentioned those 10 things. That's a made up number. But you got to understand a lot about your business. 

But it's not something that you need to be an expert. You don't need to be an expert in all these things. You just need to be able to have a conversation about them and understand the responses you're getting from whomever it is you're working with, be it like an employee or a consultant or an agency. 

You need to be able to understand what cost of acquisition is what your margin is... These are things you're gonna need to go in and learn. It's not the fun part of it. No one likes the math of it. Well, some people do. But... (laughs)

Rebecca Zhou  

(laughs)

Chase Clymer  

You just got to understand your numbers because without knowing your numbers, you're destined to fail. 

Honestly, if you don't know that you're losing money acquiring customers through Facebook because it's more expensive now, you're essentially just  running out your run rate

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Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah, I think for us, it's like I... Even though I've never worked on... I haven't had a job in a finance department. Like I said, with my parents, it's like I grew up on the weekends having to solve math logic puzzles.

And I actually did get 100 on my math SAT. But it's just about like, a new lens to look at the business. So now like that I worked with friends to help build out a model, it's like I have this spreadsheet that allows me to basically diagnose where there are issues. It makes a ton of sense. 

But it's just about being able to frame that problem in that way. Initially, with our business, it was like we put in an initial investment. We're like, "Okay, we're making a bet of... We're ordering 200 units. 

Do we think we can sell 200 units to friends and our network?" "Yes, we think we can do that. But if we can't do that, then really, this business shouldn't exist". 

And then we've since cash flow the business. And until I think the beginning of this year, we basically have just been like "However much is in the bank account, we can spend." And we also just want to make sure we can pay off all our credit cards. 

And that's just how the business has turned. And at the end of the day, we haven't gotten into a lot of trouble because that math is very easy to be, like "If you don't have this money, don't spend it." 

But that's also why the business hasn't grown in the way necessarily, at its full potential. Because we haven't said "Okay. But let's take 10 of these things, put it into the business because it's gonna bring in 30 more." 

And earlier this year, I think we finally based on our customer feedback and the numbers that we had gotten and just general feedback from other people in our network of like, "No, no, no. The core economics of this business work really, really well." 

You can have the confidence to put your foot... You can kind of like step on the gas now. But it's now more than ever. It's really important to have all those metrics tracked in the right way and understanding where the money's going and how it's flowing out. And if ultimately you're profitably acquiring customers.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. Yeah. That's the part that no one really talks about when you talk about scaling. It's like, "Yeah, you got to do all this math stuff. You got to understand all these numbers, and how to do a lot of equations." Honestly, it's pretty simple. And you can do it on a spreadsheet. 

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

But you need to know these numbers. You need to know these numbers so then you can like see cash in and what cash out's gonna look like. 

And then the reason that's important is because anytime you're buying inventory at scale, you're essentially putting money in a block of ice. And you can't access it until it melts, aka it sells. 

Rebecca Zhou  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

So that's where it gets weird. And you got to start understanding how your cash flow works and how your money can help you make more money, if you can... That's when... 

Businesses are working when you can put $1 in to get more than $1 back. You got something. 

Rebecca Zhou  

Totally.

Chase Clymer  

But then understanding how long you're gonna have to wait to get that dollar back is  the scary part. And that's like, what separates winning businesses from losing businesses.

Rebecca Zhou  

Totally. I guess to talk about what we did, right, just to give us a little bit of credit, I think, we had a lot of great initial thesis about what would be important for a business like this to work on the more product brand and marketing side. 

And I think even more so by this being our own company, we've really been able to expand and experiment in a way that was harder being an employee or just like being a client. So I think like I had always been with the client that I work with. 

It sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but it's like a differentiated products that is easy to market is so important. So it's like our product, even though it is at a high price point, it's still... 

We knew when we showed it to customers, and our friends, there was that magic of like, "Oh, my god. I need it! I see it like this is something I want. It's not a robe. It's unlike anything out there for us. Thank god we had that." 

Then we have made a product that's unisex and one size fits all. So our inventory management is simple. I think if we had done something where we had multiple sizes, and multiple SKUs, the business would have never survived, at least not in the like bootstrap manner that we've been able to run it on. 

So we have like, very simplified like kind of inventory operations. And then a really great product, if you can... And actually that advice I got from a friend, Justin, who's been at Brooklinen forever. 

I think he's now maybe... I don't know, he's the CMO or VP of Growth or something. But he's the best. And I had met with him in the early days. And he's like, "Anything you can do to minimize the number of SKUs..." 

Because a company like Brooklinen or Casper, it's like, you have all the different bed sizes, and then you have all the different like prints and then you have the fitted sheet or not. And he was like, "If you can simplify, I will tell you that will make your life easier." 

So that's something that we took to heart, we're like, "Okay. Great. We're listening to you." And beyond that, it's like a product that's differentiated and easy to market. So I think that was a big thing for us. 

When we thought about this product, like, "Can you talk about it very simply in a photo? Is it very recognizable?" I feel like people have probably heard the story of Harry’s razor that was on an orange background that was so important in the early days on Facebook. 

Arbitrage is really a thing because that razor really stuck out in the feed. So for us, we thought about a product that when you saw it in an ad somewhere, you weren't confused like "Wait, what are they selling it?" 

It hits you over the head like "What is this puffy thing that this person is wearing?" And then as we built the brand, it's like we knew that beyond this product, it needed to stand for something that really emotionally connected with the consumer. 

And so the idea of like, "Why is there all this fun and attention and money spent in the things that you wear outside of your home, but there's no attention and love to how you spend your time at home?" 

In theory, the people that are the most important to you, --your kids, your significant other, the friends-- [are people] that you invite into your home. And so I think emotionally, that's where it started. 

But then we also just started, especially me, my husband really liked pushed us to develop this more of... Like, in our society, it's like "Always on, activewear." What is it called? Like active rest, even when you're not working, you're working out and then you're with a friend. 

There wasn't really a space or conversation for like "It's fine that after work, you just want to go home and put your phone on airplane mode and do whatever you want." That might be watching 25 cat videos on YouTube, it might be organizing your books in color order, or it might just be doing absolutely nothing and just like sitting with your thoughts. 

And so I think for us, it's like, we have this product that's easy to market, but then behind it, it stands for something bigger. And it's a part of an emotional and cultural conversation that we all are like that we felt like was missing, and one that really felt inclusive. 

I think when we looked at the home category, there were a lot of brands that like... We were consumers of it and admired Hasami Porcelain or a Parachute Home that really painted these, l very idyllic pictures of what a house looks like, which is like it's organized, it's chic, it's minimal. 

But then for us, we realize like the reality of our home, although my husband is like a neat freak, it's messy. And you go to a friend's house and that's where you really discover who their real personality is. 

They have all these like weird little lighters they've collected over the years or you go to someone's home, and that's where their kids are those drawings on the wall. And so for us from a branding perspective, I think you might see this when you go to Off Hours. 

The world is very rich and a collective because we ultimately feel like that really reflects the space that we're going into, which is like people's homes. 

It's like this tapestry of where you keep your most intimate items and allow those people in your life to come and visit. And that was really fun. I think that was different. Most, I would say, new companies still have a very specific aesthetic, Glossier is defined by pink, and they have a very great photo side that's like very rich now. 

But there's a look. And you look at any of the other startups, it's like, there's a photo style, it's recognizable... It's one thing for us, we were lucky to be able to say like our product is so signature, that the actual visual worlds we were able to create can really be dynamic. And that's been so much fun. 

That's also just placed our string of being able to work with different photographers, different animators, different writers, interpret this like world of the home and show people, I think, just visually that anyone is welcomed in and no matter who you are, and what your relaxing style is, it can be for you. 

This is not just for the super chic woman who has a Southwestern home that has a cactus in the background. And that it's like... I think sometimes with brands today, like the visual style can be so specific that it can target a very specific person, but can be alienating to someone who doesn't see themselves in that way. 

And so that's been really fun to like, play out and experiment and actually see work. And I think a lot of... We've had a lot of comments from people within the brand industry world of like, "Oh, this world you've built is so rich." You don't have one style. 

And we're very inherently... We did that in a very intentional way from the beginning. Because we wanted to be able to work with different types of talents, be able to partner with different types of companies. 

And not for it not to feel off-brand ever meant to never ever, ever have to go for a rebrand. Really. It's like it doesn't get old if it doesn't stay the same.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. Rebecca, I can't thank you enough for coming on the show today. Is there anything that I forgot to ask you that you want to leave with the audience before we go?

Rebecca Zhou  

Let me think. I don't think so. I think we talked so much about just how different all the different departments in the discipline really need to work together. I think ultimately, that's what I feel like, has been like the most interesting perspective that has really guided me through my whole time in Ecommerce. 

It's like, never to allow there to be tension between the brand marketing team and the growth marketing team. It's like, "Well, these people want to optimize conversion. But we don't want to do that because we want a nice website." It's like "No, no, no. These 2 things are not at odds. These 2 things can work together." 

And when you start to bring those people around the table, and problem solve together, that's when the magic really happens. 

And I think for me, both my time at Gin Lane, my time at Glossier, as a consultant, building my own company, it's like nothing comes through more than every single piece of the pie. Work has to work together for you to really make magic. 

And ultimately, that also requires you to not be scared to be a part of conversations or work with people in areas that you're not familiar with. 

So now, it's like, I'm working with ops people, finance people, so I can learn as much as I can. So I can take it back to the areas that I'm the most familiar with. And I think that... Also just for me, it's like, I'm always learning. I've never just... 

This is the thing I know. I rinse and repeat over and over again. But my perspective, and the way that I am observing the industry, and what's working for my businesses is changing, because I'm continuing to add more data into my decision making.

Chase Clymer  

That's so true. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us today.

Rebecca Zhou  

Cool, thank you.

Chase Clymer  

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well. 

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