On this podcast, we talk about launching brands on different crowdfunding platforms, the impact of connecting with your customers, why niches are usually where the money is, and so much more!
Rahul Khatri is the CXO and Co-Founder of Stoggles where he leads brand growth and the end-to-end management of all their social marketing efforts as well as managing their in-house Customer Happiness team.
Together with his co-founder Max Greenberg, the pair are building Stoggles into a globally recognized and trusted brand that offers a product unlike any other in the marketplace today.
Prior to Stoggles, Rahul was Creative Director and Partner at ROAV Inc., a DTC sunglasses company.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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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.
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Alright everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. Today, I'm bringing to the show the co-founder and chief experience officer of Stoggles.
Rahul, Welcome to the show.
Thank you, Chase. Thanks for having me.
Alrighty. So quickly, let's explain to the listeners or watchers --if you're out there on YouTube-- what are the products are we talking about today just so they can understand a little bit?
Yeah, so Stoggles are basically just like stylish protective eyewear.
The idea was conceptualized back in 2020, just in the peak of the pandemic where we found that this unaddressed need where there wasn't cool safety eyewear on the market, and especially for healthcare workers at the time, was fairly in your face. No pun intended.
But yeah, we saw that a lot of medical health care workers just didn't have a good product. And it was such an essential product to have, because we'd heard Dr. Fauci talking about how you could get COVID through the eyes.
So essentially, we just dropped into the eyewear industry, in some sense, because we did have another brand just prior to that for about 3 years. And I'll dive into that a little bit. Because it's really important, I think, for the story, and our listeners to understand that sort of journey.
But essentially, we just launched Stoggles in August of 2020 on a crowdfunding platform called Indiegogo, which I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with. And it was just off to the races.
And we just found this unaddressed need and untapped customer who really resonated with that product, and was a really fun journey since then.
Absolutely. So let's go back, though, because I think we should start with the first company, because that definitely laid the groundwork to the knowledge and how you were able to so quickly pivot to this need that you saw. So take me back in time, what was going on? Why did you decide to start a sunglasses company online?
Yeah, that's a great question, actually. I never thought I would ever get into sunglasses or eyewear.
But I met Max, the other co-founder, back in design school. And we were...
We did sort of design school together, worked on a lot of projects, had our battles, and figured out our way of working. And we both graduated and he came up with this really ingenious idea of...
Again, it was like problem solving, right. That's why we went to design school. And one of the problems we saw with the eyewear industry was that convenience was a big problem. They would break, they have these products that have very rudimentary screws...
And [its] design, aesthetically, [it] felt great. You've got a fashionable pair. but functionally, how the product was built, had many, many issues, and I think he identified a lot of that early on. And we came up with this really...
He came up with this really fun product that would fold and would be able to slip inside like a pouch and then go into your pocket.
And it looks like a completely regular pair of eyewear when you can unflapped and open it up. So we found a lot of great learning and targeting...
That's how we got into eyewear. And targeting people who looked at eyewear and understood, like how unique eyewear was in the industry where it's half fashion-driven, which is a huge component, and then half it's very functionally driven by the features and the product build and the quality of it.
So it was a really interesting time for us to leverage social media marketing. And that was like our first introduction to it.
And we had a partner and --not a partner. I guess like a consultant-- who helped us get out the gate and started putting our ads together, started managing email, and it's just started to like, get the bare bones of how Ecommerce really works.
And I think that was crucial for understanding what are the major components that we can focus on and really do well, because both of us came from building great products and understanding what it means to have a good brand.
And that's been our focus from day one, regardless of it being on ROAV, which is the company we started in 2017 or Stoggles which we started in 2020.
So those 3 years I think were crucial for us like learning about getting into eyewear, creating good manufacturing partnerships with networking with people from China, understanding Taiwanese manufacturers...
All that stuff was crucial. And then when the pandemic hit, we've...
Really because I think social marketing as a channel was like our only attribution channel that we would get traction from.
We realized selling luxury eyewear during that time was almost impossible because the internet was just blowing up with COVID stories and "Wear masks." and you know, and all these other stories that we heard.
So initially it was just like a pivot to bring more like, I would say, more conversion and more traffic to the site on ROAV saying that, "Hey, look at this cool company out of Pasadena that does sunglasses. This is their initiative towards them going after, like the COVID angle and how to help...
How an eyewear company is engaging with...
Creating a new product that serves a benefit like these other people during this time." And as soon as we started doing that, we started playing around with names of the brand, and we soon realized there was going to be its own thing. So we sort of separated the two of them.
And since then, it's just been Stoggles, Stoggles, Stoogles just because we found a much larger addressable customer need and the product really resonates on like a functional beneficial factor.
Sunglasses are cool too and that was businesses or brands, but the sort of respect and the amount of like, people talking about how great the products have been to their lives, we never got from the sunglasses space.
So it's been an interesting journey, for sure ,to be now in eyewear and actually growing this thing. It's been fun.
Absolutely. So let's go back and talk. You were launching this in 2017 as the original brand ROAV. And you said that your go-to-market strategy when you launched and this is always something a lot of listeners always want to know.
It's like how do you get those first customers and you were talking about...
So the paid acquisition was...
You're going after it through Facebook and Instagram advertising?
Yeah, I think so. I think [for] both products, funny enough, we launched a crowdfunding campaign for both. So back in 2016. And in December, Max, the other co-founder and founder of ROAV, launched a crowdfunding campaign.
And that's how we've sort of initially got off the ground. And it wasn't...
He [launched it] on Kickstarter, which was really booming at that time. And everybody was like, "Oh, if you have a great product then you should be on Kickstarter." Like the Kickstarter of the day. But yeah, so that was an interesting journey.
But I think what it showed us was that if we could articulate and create a product and a brand that was special in both ways, or found a note within the industry, that crowdfunding would be the best way for us to reach that sort of target audience.
However, when it came to Stoggles, the rules around crowdfunding have changed so much, where we were getting a lot of visibility into attribution conversion, like targeting people.
And we leveraged those tools, which obviously now don't exist, because of a lot of iOS 15 changes, but we really leveraged a lot of those rules back in the day to help Stoggles be successful.
And I think ROAV was essential in us getting those learnings so that when it came time for Stoggles, we could just fire on all cylinders, make sure everything was attributed and working well.
Absolutely. I think that you mentioned that Stoggles just quickly became the main focus for you and your partner. Do you think it's because it is a nicher version of an existing product set?
Yeah, I think it very much is because when we looked at the safety eyewear market, it just felt so dated. It felt like we were in a space where form had defined function. And because we needed to have safety, more wrapping pairs...
Everybody looked like...
In our understanding, everybody looked like Lance Armstrong on a bike whether you were in healthcare, or you were behind a machine or anything.
That sort of performance, that OT look, really governed a lot of safety eyewear. And we really felt like there was no reason why safety eyewear...
Looking back now. It's like safety, our look sort of dated. And so we were trying to change safety eyewear or just eyewear in general by just bringing out a cleaner, more vintage form factor from the front.
But introducing the functional aspects through like introducing the side shields and windstop shields up here.
And I think that was really cool. In one sense, we found a form factor that was unique to just us, as well as a break out from this stigma of all other safety eyewear.
And then there were us who were able to combine the function and the style without compromising either.
And I think that's where we really found success in our target market, which is healthcare. Because I think they found that this was the best alternative that they had. And for a startup, that's amazing because if you're able to like...
You're bootstrapped. You're not able to fire on all cylinders and have the best product. So there's a lot of learning there.
But if you can just beat the competition and make yourself feel like, "Hey, I'm the best alternative that does safety eyewear best." then I think we live in a world where people really respect and appreciate that.
And we saw that happen even with other companies within our industry. FIGS, for example, they took scrubs and really made it like a beautiful product that people could use this self-expression and really honored those people within such a sterile environment.
And including brands, like Clove who had the same thing with shoes. And we sort of realized that the customer wants a specialized, personalized product that does one thing [good] and not a bunch of things. And the competitors were all doing that. So we sort of went the other way.
Yeah. Now so did you find these comparisons to FIGS and whatnot before you went all in on Stoggles?
Or were these learning post realizing the need for Stoggles and you guys, that's starting to blow up on you?
Yeah, so essentially, initially, the product of... The idea of Stoggles was just to help bugs or COVID, ideally going to the eye.
But what we realized was, everybody got that. And we didn't have to exercise and educate the customer why you should be wearing safety eyewear. Everybody got that. So when we found...
It was sort of a revelation when we found that the maximum amount of customers were in health care, we were like, "Oh my god. Of course, they're in health care."
And that's when the journey sort of... It was like an enlightenment. It's like, "Oh my god, of course. FIGS has been doing this for [years] in the scrub space, or Clove has been doing this in the shoe space. Why didn't we see this sort of happen?"
So that would be the aha moment that I asked about.
The aha moment. and haven't asked after we created the product, which is very, very different to most other startups, because they have the aha moment [way] before.
But yeah. [That's how] we started.
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So you guys realized that you're onto something here. You've got a very amazing niche and then you start to lean in heavily into that.
Explain the thought processes and weigh the pros and cons of abandoning the original business...
It's not abandoning. It still runs. But...
...why were you going all in on the safety glasses, which just might not be as cool as ROAV of the original brand.
What was the thought process and what were the learnings from making that decision?
That's a really good question. What we understood [in] the sunglasses space was that it's super saturated.
It was really these big players, like Luxottica and like a whole bunch of brands that had spent so much time articulating their value that we were not going to come close to without the resources and being a startup to be able to take that on.
So we were like, "Even if we get like 0.5% of the industry, this will be like a victory." But with safety, it was so different because it was at a time when safety eyewear was like...
Protection was like in the news and in everybody's frontal cortex. And we sort of capitalized on that.
But I think what the major point to your question is that Stoggles turned out to be like a product that appealed to a lot more people.
And we actually found product-market fit within healthcare and within serving women in the industry who had been underserved for a very long time.
So essentially, what ended up happening was that we would get like 30 or 40 likes on Instagram Stories of people tagging us saying how cool they were feeling with their new pair of Stoggles.
And it was like, similar to the stuff we would see on FIGS where everybody would post where figs and we were back then wearing Stoggles.
So it was, like, wear FIGS, wear Stoggles. Wear FIGS, wear Stoggles. And that sort of virality, I think, really took off because I think you're in a space within healthcare where the community is really tight.
And if you got something on, it becomes the next coolest thing that everybody wants to have. It's a classroom.
And I think that really helped us sort of find our first product. First market and target market and lean into that and understand that, "Wow, these people have the financial capacity to purchase a good, quality product." which was what we were offering.
Because all the other competitors, you have to understand, were like $10 and $12. And we were coming at $39.
So it was really hard for us to justify to the regular safety eyewear customer that this would be a game changer.
Versus the healthcare customer really bought into that. And I think to our benefit, they were able to organically speak about it and talk about it and help other people jump on this Stoggle stream.
And there's one thing I want to highlight here is while on the surface, it probably looks like "No, everybody wears sunglasses, and only a certain amount of people work in healthcare." And while you're right...
But when everybody's also in that same market with you versus you being the coolest thing in a very small market, you're gonna get way more market share. And so that's when...
If you're a young entrepreneur out there, and you want to start a business...
There are a million t-shirt brands right? But what can make you different? M you have some sort of specific fabric that's for a specific industry or something.
That's where you need to start leaning into: those niches.
That's where the money is.
Yeah. No, you said it perfectly. And we’ve seen it with Allbirds, too. They were the first ones to come across with shoes that are environmentally like made of sugar palm. It was like, wow.
Even if you're like $100 bucks and you're not competing with the Nikes, and the Adams, which are $150 and $180, you've provided such great value to a customer and you've highlighted something that nobody else is doing.
So my dad always used to talk about it, but go to a virgin market where you haven't seen something done before. Even if it's a smaller market, you will grow from there.
I think that's what's been really exciting for Stoggles now is that we found healthcare and to COVID's benefit, we have been able to grow really fast.
But now that COVID's gone down, now we're on this mission to really change the way people perceive safety eyewear and really change how people have perceived protection where it's like saying "We want to be the safety eyewear that people on their work schedules can wear throughout lunch. They're not... They don't have to take them off when they go somewhere else to try to relax or move to a recreational space in any capacity.”
So I think that's been really interesting for us.
But you're right.
Now, I think that the audience would yell at me if I didn't ask now. So you're focusing a lot more on Stoggles.
And obviously, the initial buzz of COVID and the need is worn out. So what is...
What are you doing now to acquire new customers? What's marketing look like? What's...
And you brought it up earlier, you alluded to it. Post iOS, what are you guys...
What's working for you now?
Honestly, it's been quite a reset for us in terms of refiguring out who our target market is.
And I totally feel the pains of all those media buyers and email marketers out there that are struggling to figure out what the new rules are and how do we navigate through this time. And we're in the same boat as well.
But what we've realized super essential during this time is really trying to like pick your battles and choose what to optimize on. Because I think the rules today are there is no silver bullet, there's no secret sauce, the rules have all been reset.
The people who adopt a "test and learn" mentality quickly.
And I know this is harder for some startups who aren't well funded or don't have the resources to do it. But again, pick your poison and choose where you want to fight those battles. Because there's so much to do and optimize on so many different fronts.
Whether it's like personalized ads, or moving towards video, having chatbots on your website to help with the customers journey, I think there's so much to do. And I think this is the time to really test and learn and optimize wherever you can.
Still, we see things sort of stabilize and then the rules are set. And then we can go back at it with a new strategy and like new things. But to touch on what we're doing now, we're like... Really, we see ourselves as a new category with eyewear.
And it's a little ambitious to think that but I feel like we've been given this opportunity from a form factor as well as from a brand standpoint, where we're like, "We're the only DTC company selling safety eyewear to really change what safety eyewear means to people today."
And that could mean you're not really like using it in a workshop, but you're using it on a hike and protecting yourself from falling or when you're giving a dog a bath. It's like protecting yourself from all the you know, water and soap droplets that probably fly into your face.
So we're sort of on the mission to really change the way people have perceived safety eyewear and then it helped bridge the gap that they could use it in their day to day lives for whatever it could be as well as really focusing on you know, the other workwear subset pockets, whether it's manufacturing, or construction, or these other larger groups where safety eyewear is being a big product for their lives and sort of their work style that…
We think we can sort of start to delve into those industries, because we do have something that's valuable, we just have to like to communicate it in the best way.
So that's been our efforts on the marketing side for the next half of the year.
Absolutely. Now, is there anything I forgot to ask you about that you think would resonate with our audience?
That's a great question. Because I was actually thinking today. It's like, man, so many of us probably are in this bubble, where there's so much unknown. The rules were set earlier and they've all changed. So how do we go about collaborating, and really talking to each other.
And I think what you're doing with Honest [Ecommerce] podcast and even Electric Eye is fantastic, because you're bringing people within this community to share and talk about what's worked for them and what hasn't.
I think it's never been a more important time that we all share our learnings, because I think that's the only way we're gonna find stability in D2C in the days or months to come...
...because it's not the greatest place at the moment where people are investing. And I think even stepping out from the regular initiatives, partnerships is a huge thing going forward for us, I think. The online experience, of course.
But I think brand activations and physical activations to help connect with people to show that you are a credible brand and that you do care in ways that are beyond just simple social ads scrolling across Instagram.
I think that's what's gonna help people hang on to you and keep coming back to like what you have to offer. So I would say that would be my biggest suggestion to all the founders who are struggling right now.
It's like trying to test and learn more and if you have the resources, do it smartly.
Absolutely. Yeah. Especially the community element. I tried to put out content here that people like and it resonates with and I try to ask tough questions to founders like yourself.
And I can't thank you enough for coming on the show. And let me ask you some of those questions.
Before I let you go, though, if…
I'm sure some of the listeners out there are working in an industry where they might be interested in the product. So if they are, where do they go to check it out?
Oh, yeah. So we're exclusively on our own website. Stoggles.com. We also have an Amazon presence, because we've noticed like this is fruit for all our other listeners.
We have a lot of knock offs on Amazon and so we've had to come on Amazon just to be the main official brand that owns this product, because we've put a lot into our product in terms of product development, the anti-fog.
And we want people to see that value and appreciate the product that we've given.
So yeah, those are the 2 places that we offer our product and yeah.
Rahul, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Awesome. Thanks, Chase, for having me. Appreciate it.
We 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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