On this podcast, we talked about contacting the press as an acquisition strategy, why reading guidebooks or looking at competitors may not be good for you, the honesty you should have with yourself as to why your brand exists, and so much more!
Jennie is the Founder & CEO of Kinn, a Los Angeles based jewelry company offering modern heirlooms meant to last a lifetime.
Kinn offers a range of fine jewelry all made with 100% solid and recycled gold. All materials are sourced locally in Los Angeles.
Previously employee #1 at Casetify, Jennie dived into the jewelry industry after her family's home was robbed and all heirlooms stolen.
In seeking to replace some of her parents' precious heirlooms, she learned the jewelry industry was one that lacked transparency and had deep markups.
Through Kinn, she sought a transparent solution that cut out the middleman and left consumers with modern heirlooms they can keep for years to come.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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You have to be really, really brutally honest, right like not the marketing pitch as to why you exist or should exist in the market.
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.
And today, we're welcoming to the show Jennie, the CEO of Kinn, a fine jewelry company offering modern heirlooms meant to last a lifetime.
Welcome to the show.
Hey Chase, how's it going?
Alright, so just to set the stage for all the listeners, let's talk about the products a little bit before we go back to the beginning.
Yeah, so Kinn is a fine jewelry company that is based out of LA. We make all solid gold, fine jewelry pieces.
That is yes, like you said, made to last a lifetime that you can technically pass off to your next generation, whether that be your family, friends, and whatnot.
Absolutely. It sounds like an amazing product. So where did you get the idea? Take me back in time. What was going on? Where [did] the idea to start this business come from?
Yeah. So I mean, even prior to that... So my background is heavily around Ecommerce and building businesses. There was always...
At the back of my mind, I really wanted to build or start a company, I just never really knew what.
I certainly knew that I wanted it to be a passionate thing. Something that I know, I can stay up at 2 in the morning, drop my weekend plans to build on. So it never really came to that specific moment until...
So my parents' house was robbed a few years back now. Gosh, it's been a while. It's been a long time.
And at the moment, they took all the family heirlooms, including my grandma's engagement ring that was supposed to be passed on to me.
Family pieces [are something] that you can't really replace. But I know that was a big loss for my parents. And my intention was to just help replace some of the pieces that they've lost. I was working in downtown LA already.
So I would kind of go up and down the streets of the diamond district. And if you haven't done that before, it can be very chaotic and also intimidating. So the experience for me was gosh... It was... Yeah, it was scary.
And I was just like, "Well, how much is this? How much is that?"
I found somebody who was a bench jeweler who took me in to help me understand "Why is this something that looks exactly the same thing $200, but next door it's $2,000?"
So the intention was to again, just to replace some of the pieces that were lost. And shortly after that, I learned everything about, I guess, the jewelry industry itself.
I've always loved jewelry. I was always that girl that always wore multiple layers of beaded jewelry and costume jewelry grown up. So the passion was there in terms of liking.
And I just saw this little void in the space and started to make some pieces for friends and family and quickly built it on to the Shopify template. And here we are fast forward.
Absolutely. Alright. So I got to ask though.
So the original aspiration was just to replace some pieces that were lost, that meant a lot to you and your family.
When did it shift to be like "I think we should build a business here." And how long did that whole process take?
It was actually more from my friends who are like, "Hey, you know how to build a business. You have all the right photographers. You know how to build margins and all of that." So it was really more of a nudge from my friends to try it out.
And again, building an Ecommerce business has just become so much easier at the time that I was building it too. It was just to get into Shopify template, take some nice photos, all take it on iPhone --and I still do it until today-- and post some nice photos, and see if there's traction.
So I think the "aha moment" for me was when I started to make pieces for [people] that weren't my immediate friends. So it was like, friends of a friend of a friend or somebody that I was just randomly introduced to.
And that's when I was like, "Okay, I think I'm onto something here. There's something greater in terms of why people are coming to me instead of somebody else."
So that was the "aha moment for me" to be like, "Okay, I think I have to take this leap in order for me to make something out of it."
And yeah, it went from there.
Awesome. So with your background in Ecommerce, do you think that that was definitely an asset to you with building out this business?
Yeah. So just as for background purposes, prior to Kinn, I was working for a brand called CASETiFY, it was an Ecommerce [company] that I was with for about 7 years. I was the first employee at the company.
As a founding employee, you do everything [and] anything from doing fulfillment, to marketing, to reaching out to influencers...
At the time, the influencer marketing was just so different. So I learned everything from that.
And, you know, brought that over to Kinn, essentially.
Now, would you think that if there's an entrepreneur out there that's listening, and maybe they don't really have an idea just yet, but they know this is the space that they want to get in, would you recommend going and learning the same route that you did to get that education under you until the idea comes?
There's so [many] resources out there. I think there's one common thing with the prior CEOs and founders that you've interviewed is that a lot of people listen to podcasts. A lot of people look for books to be self educated.
Nowadays, you can just google anything and everything, even for benchmarks. There's all the tools out there in the world that... All you have... You just have to want it bad enough to make it happen. Because obviously building something from scratch, is that that feeling of...
Gosh, I don't even... Well, I think there's a lot, right. One is, "Is this going to work? How am I going to look if this fails?" So people care about those things.
And I think during the building process, I think people still think about how to make it perfect before launch. and just spending too much time on making things so perfect, and being scared of failure.
Who wants to be a failure? Who wants to be rejected? No one. So I get that.
So take that leap. And if it doesn't click, then another avenue, A/B test, and then if it still doesn't click, I don't know, it could be turned into something completely different.
I think [the] Shopify founder, when he was first building it out, I think it was supposed to be like a snowboard company is what he was intended to build.
So you never know, right?
Absolutely. Yeah, I believe it was called Snowdevil.
Oh cool. That's the name?
Yeah, so Snowdevil was the brand that Tobi, his family... I think it was his family's brand.
They were selling snowboards and they were trying to sell it online. He couldn't find anything that was good enough or that he thought was good enough to sell this thing online.
And the technology that he built is basically what became Shopify.
Yeah, absolutely. But again, you would have...
He would have never known until he went with it and probably took the feedback from somebody else as, "Hey, I just love your website. I don't care about snowboards. I love your website. So can you build it for me?"
And he took a chance by doing it. And...
Yeah, it was. People were seeing how well it was working.
They're like, "What is that?" He's like, "Oh, it's just this thing I put together." (laughs)
(laughs) So again, you never know. I never thought I'd be making jewelry to be honest with you.
Absolutely. So let's talk about... You've started to build out this business and you're moving beyond friends and family, how were you getting those customers? How are you marketing?
How are you trying to get those really moving into selling this in marketing this to an actual customer race versus relying on direct contacts that you know?
Yeah. So I wanted to get a little bit, I guess, creative.
So I did reach out to an editor at Refinery29 mainly because I like personally loved her fashion and I've been following her and I was like, "Hey, I'm starting a brand officially.This has already been actually launching but now, I'm ready to officially come out to the public to say we are where we are today."
So I reached out to her and I said, "Hey, we're giving away free gold, solid gold hoop huggies as part of our launch, and we want to tell the story. Would you be interested?"
And I was surprised because I'm sure she gets pitched left and right being at a company like that. And she said yes.
And I thought, "Okay, great. It's gonna be part of like a round like 'Top 10 accessories To Shop your favorite gold hoops and whatnot.'"
It ended up becoming an exclusive piece of feature on Kinn. And at the time, I didn't know how much impact... Actually, I knew what kind of impact it would have. But I didn't know how much of a direct impact it would have.
So initially, first foot out the door, we thought of this campaign pitch to press. And when she launched, literally our Shopify, the order notification... At the time, I had the notification go off for every order that came there.
Because obviously, every time that happened, I was just like, "Yay!" When that story went out, I looked at my phone, and it was just like, nonstop. You have an order. You have an order. You have an order.
But at the time, it was a giveaway. So people had to pay for shipping on that giveaway. But yeah, that's how we first got our name out there.
But the first actually up until 2 years, we didn't spend on Facebook marketing and Instagram marketing. And now in hindsight, I wish we did, because it's gotten so expensive.
But I mean to do that, we were, thanks to the press, thanks to the referrals, we built a very organic, word-of-mouth brand.
And then fast forward, we start to dabble into paid ads.
So can we go back to that offer, though, that you were pitching? Was that a free gift with a purchase offer that you were launching with?
Oh sorry, let me clarify. Yeah, so it was a free gold hoop huggie earring. All you had to do was pay for $20 shipping.
So I was trying to really bring in transparency as to like how much gold should... [They're] small huggies. They should not be costing more than, I don't know, $20.
These are very, very small and very light. They should not be thousands of dollars. So I was trying to prove a point that pays for shipping, which is going to cover your gold, and you got these cute little huggies.
So it was not a gift with purchase. It was just straight up.
Absolutely. And I'm sure that in the long run, it ended up being a very profitable engagement.
Yeah. Because we were... I was actually in between moves at the time. So we were... I was in an Airbnb ordering my husband and my daughter to help me package those orders. But yeah, no. It was great.
It was thousands of orders. And to date, those people still come back. And they're the ones that said, "Do you remember when you gave away those free huggies? I still have those. And now I've been purchasing more and more through you.”
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So you mentioned that you wish you dabbled in the paid ads as when they were cheaper. And now they're not so much anymore. They're very mature platforms.
You said you are getting into it now. But what else are you doing now? Where are you guys finding your best avenues for either retention of existing customers or trying to find new ones?
Yeah. So retention has been something that has always been. So from the beginning. We knew exactly who our VIPs were. And the ones that would keep coming back.
So our retention has always hovered around 30% up to 40%s. So I knew that we got that honed in. And that could...
You do that through sometimes the smallest things like just writing a thank you note. It's like, "Hey, I recognize that customer's name, I'm gonna sign my name off of it."
Or "I'm gonna send them 3 candles, because we made a bunch of candles in the office," And nurturing that relationship. So I think for us retention has been incredible. And we've had intimate experiences just for our VIPs.
I think this past week our team was reviewing, I think it was 5% of our customers, we're making up around 25% of our revenue. So that's a pretty big number to know.
Yeah, so I mean, we want to keep nurturing them. But in terms of acquisition, the paid ads will... It's not going away.
It's just now a different way to talk to the customers and talk to them, getting acquisition. I know TikTok is also... I'm a little bit older so I'm trying to get... I'm trying to learn it.
But I know that's where our customers are. Retail opportunities certainly have come back post-COVID.
And I know a lot of econ brands are trying to do more pop-ups. And so that's like where we are in the second half of this year.
Now, looking back on the journey, are there any kind of standout moments where maybe there was a mistake that you want to tell the audience to avoid?
Or just any other "aha moments" that come to mind?
Not particularly. Just because we are talking about paid ads right now... And I know, part of me was just like, "I should just take that risk. Just put the money in because this is going to become very saturated."
So in hindsight, yes, I kind of wish that I did a little bit more of that and understanding...
I didn't know what ROAS was. I don't know. I didn't know any of these terms. Or I've heard of it, but I never really put it together with the company.
I was just very much focused on the branding, the experience, how we talk to the customers, the packaging... That's my forte. So that's what I focused on.
But I wish I've been closer to the performance marketing metrics just a little bit, because I feel like the opportunities slipped away for the same dollar that we could have been spending.
Yeah. The opportunity is still there. It's just...
It's not as cheap as it once was.
Yeah. I agree.
Now, is there anything that I haven't asked you about that you think would resonate with our audience today?
Oh, I think the typical question that I get is How do you build that... Like, yeah, "How do you take that first leap?"
I really wish that there was a playbook and I sometimes actually get emails from agencies or these podcasts. It's like "This is how you build a DTC brand,"
But I want to say, you take it with a grain of salt, essentially. Because just because it's worked on somebody else, doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to work for what you're building.
I think for us, when we take a look at those D2C guidebooks, we're not selling $50 - $100 jewelry. Our average order value is anywhere between, oh, now closer to like, $600. It's a very considered purchase.
So it takes a lot of nurturing. It takes a lot of trust for the customers to take that leap, to spend thousands of dollars with you. Now, we're doing engagement rings that we launched last September.
These are pieces that people are not seeing in person, and they're fully trusting us to make this piece for them.
So, some of those guidebooks, yeah, take it with a grain of salt, because it's not for every brand, it's not for every product, and you have to make it your own.
Yeah. That's something that I like about doing these interviews. Every time I talk with somebody, there's a lot of similarities, don't get me wrong, but it is never the same story with different names. And it's just... There are, you can definitely learn from how other people have done it. But...
...it really does come down... It's a different product, it's different markets, different customers, different margins, different investment levels... All of that stuff matters.
And that also gets me thinking about when you're talking about comparing your business to a competitor. It's like "You don't know anything that's going on behind the scenes."
So it's almost just like not even worthwhile.
Yeah. To that, I have to say, you have to be really, really brutally honest --not the marketing pitch-- as to why you exist or should exist in the market, because that's exactly what the customers are thinking as they're shopping.
It's like, "Well, you look just like the other one." And I feel like consumers have so much more choice than ever before that all you have to do is just google and then you'll just get a name brand that you've recognized for...
It's a heritage brand, all the way down to, "Oh, this is an Amazon brand."
You just got so many options that they're wondering, "Well, how does this look exactly like that one? How is this different?"
So like, I think being honest with yourself as to why you exist...
And it's actually something that we openly talk about within the office? "Well, why are we different? What is it that makes our customers keep coming back to us?"
So yeah, it's an exercise that we try to do constantly. And as the landscape continues to change, you have to do these touch points. And keep asking "Why do you exist?"
Yeah, it comes down to a little more of the mission and the vision of a business and less about the product.
It's like "What is... What are we... What problem are we trying to solve here? What are we? What's the big thing? At the end of the day, we're selling jewelry here. But what is it about the jewelry that's different?"
Yeah, exactly. What's his name? Simon? Is it Sinek? He has a great...
I don't know if it's like a book, but I listened to some of his TED talks, but Start With the Why. I feel like that always blows people's minds.
Everybody knows what you're selling, you know. But why do you exist? So if you can nail that down, I think you've got it. Go stick with business.
Yeah. That's the cornerstone of great marketing, and great storytelling, and great branding. If you can get that stuff, selling it is not going to be hard. It's going to be…
Keeping it in stock is going to be hard.
Yeah. yeah. And then just having really good people around you too. Because if you don't have the PR experience, you don't have the influencer network, so to say, find somebody who knows that area.
And we ourselves, we're fully bootstrapped still until today. You could find really great people. you don't have to go find an agency that has like a $10,000 retainer [per month]. Who can afford that first year out of the company?
So you can find really good people who believe in your mission, and [will] help you build a company.
I'm really happy to actually say that some of the freelancers that we've had since the first year, they're still with us and they've grown with us.
Absolutely, I think that one of the mistakes that we've made in the past at the agency was trying to cut corners on who you're hiring...
And not necessarily in a shitty way, but more just this is like what we thought we could afford, right?
And what you learn is, it actually is going to set you back and you're not going to get the results you want. And it's literally like hire...
You're gonna get so frustrated.
Yeah. Hire the most expensive person you can afford. You always... Especially when you're small and bootstrapped...
And this, I read this in a book. I wish I remembered what book it was. But it was basically like you cannot...
When you're a small business, less than 10 people on your team, you cannot hire someone to train them to do something.
You literally have to hire someone that's done it before and just give them the thing.
Yeah. And then come in and make it your own. Bring in that experience and say, "Well, how does it mold into your company that you're building?"
Because everyone's got different technologies and systems.
Absolutely. So we talked a lot about these awesome products. If I'm curious about these heirlooms, where do I go?
kinnstudio.com. Or you can also follow us on Instagram, @kinnstudio.
We are actually in a couple of pop-ups in Texas in New York, which is our top 2 markets in the US. We are looking to expand as I mentioned earlier, so you'll definitely see us. (laughs)
Awesome. Jennie, thank you so much for coming on today.
Thank you. Good to talk to you.
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.
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