Episode #5

Yong-Soo Chung from Urban EDC

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Yong-Soo Chung, the founder of Urban Everyday Carry (Urban EDC), talks about his journey from being a software engineer in the blockchain industry to starting his own ecommerce brand. We cover a broad range of topics related to building a successful ecommerce brand, including community-based ecommerce, email marketing, and personal branding. Yong-Soo shares his insights and experiences with each of these areas, providing valuable information to anyone looking to build an ecommerce brand or improve their marketing strategy.

One of the key takeaways from the interview is the importance of community-based ecommerce. Yong-Soo believes that building a community around your brand is crucial for increasing customer loyalty and driving sales. He shared how he created a Facebook group and a paid membership program to build a trusted community of customers around his brand. By focusing on building relationships with his customers and giving them a sense of belonging, Yong-Soo has been able to create a strong foundation for his brand that will last for years to come.

Another important marketing channel we discuss is email marketing. Yong-Soo emphasizes the importance of email marketing in driving sales and shares his email marketing strategy, which includes a welcome series, first purchase series, an abandoned cart workflow, and regular promotional emails. He also talks about the importance of personalization and segmentation in email marketing and how he tailors his emails to different customer groups. By using email marketing effectively, Yong-Soo has been able to build a loyal customer base that keeps coming back for more.

We also delve into the topic of personal branding. As an ecommerce entrepreneur, Yong-Soo emphasizes the importance of building a personal brand. He shares his journey of building his own personal brand and how he overcame his fear of putting himself out there. He explains how personal branding can help build relationships and increase the luck surface area. Yong-Soo provides tips for getting started with personal branding, including setting goals, focusing on daily practice, and not worrying about the results.

Overall, this episode provides a detailed insight into the strategies and tactics used by Yong-Soo to build a successful ecommerce brand and promote it through various marketing channels. It is a valuable resource for anyone looking to build an ecommerce brand or improve their marketing strategy. The interview is full of practical advice and actionable insights that can help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.

Show Notes

  • (07:47): Yong-Soo Chung talks about the financial regulations that impacted the blockchain industry, causing his team to halt progress.
  • (08:45): Yong-Soo Chung explains why he decided to start selling knives online.
  • (09:39): Yong-Soo Chung discusses the importance of execution risk in his decision to start Urban EDC.
  • (10:34): Yong-Soo Chung talks about the importance of community in ecommerce and the development of Urban EDC's paid membership program.
  • (11:04): Yong-Soo Chung explains the benefits of a paid membership program, including access to exclusive gear and a trusted community.
  • (13:28): Yong-Soo Chung talks about the importance of email marketing in Urban EDC's sales engine, including the use of welcome series, first purchase series, abandoned cart emails, and segmented emails.
  • (15:09): Yong-Soo Chung discusses the importance of community in the future of ecommerce and recommends that brands create a regular event or habit for customers to look forward to.
  • (20:15): Yong-Soo Chung talks about the importance of personal branding and shares his reasons for posting daily on social media.
  • (23:42): Yong-Soo Chung talks about how to get started with posting on social media, including treating posts as experiments, focusing on daily practice, and not worrying about results.
  • (31:20): Yong-Soo Chung shares where listeners can learn more about him and his brands, including GrowthJet and First Class Founders podcast.

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:03): Yong-Soo, welcome to the show.

Yong-Soo (00:07): Thanks so much for having me, Sam. It's a pleasure to be here.

Sam (00:10): I have to be honest, I struggled to know what to focus on for this interview. You have so much going on. You have Urban Everyday Carry, you have Spotted By Humphrey, you have GrowthJet, you have the First Class Founders podcast. You're posting daily on social media, which I want to dig into later. My question for you to start off with is how are you managing everything?

Yong-Soo (00:36): Yeah. That's a great question, Sam. I think the key to this is building out a team that really helps you not only with your daily tasks, because I feel like a lot of solopreneurs, they think, "Okay, I got to delegate the tasks." Really, that's the first step. I think the next more advanced step is delegating decision making. And that has really changed a lot for me because now I actually trust my team to make decisions on my behalf and for the greater good of the company. And that has really freed up a lot of my time. And I use this framework called I, We, They, and so when you first start your business it's all you. You're doing everything yourself, you're talking to potential customers, you're out there and you're just grinding away. And then when you get to We stage, then you start bringing in people to help you, and then you create the systems that you need to run the business. And after that, you go to They, which is, you have your team essentially running most of the day-to-day operations within the business.

(01:54): And so that way it actually frees you up from the daily looking in the business. And now you can take a step back and I guess either enjoy your lifestyle, your free time, or you can continue to build businesses like I'm doing. So yeah, I think really the key is to systematize everything and then offload those systems, delegate decision making. But the important thing is never fully lose track of your business. It's like you want to keep a pulse on it, but I think over time you gain that trust with your team and you can slowly, slowly take a step back.

Sam (02:41): Is that something you keep in mind when you are hiring, knowing, "Okay. Down the line, I'm probably going to delegate decision making to this person." Is that something that's very top of mind for you when you're hiring?

Yong-Soo (02:57): It's really hard to do that at that very beginning stage because each employee that I bring in, I really think about their entire journey of them being with us. And so the employee that we have now who is, he's the general manager of Urban EDC now. He came in as a customer support agent like five years ago, and now he's just grown with the company. And I mean, he and I have worked together for so long now that we know what we're thinking, almost like I'll say something and he'll finish my sentence. It's just so in sync that it just made sense that he was going to step up into that next phase of his career. And that's another thing, great employees will get bored and they won't stay at- we're delegating tasks, they won't just do those tasks forever. They're going to get bored and they're going to be like, "What am I doing here?"

(04:01): So, you have to continue to develop them. And just how you think about customer experience from a, you're running an e-commerce shop, you want to think about your customer journey. You also need to think about your employee journey and making sure that they're getting what they want out of their employment with you. And so, to answer your question, no, we don't do it on the job description, but it kind of just evolves naturally as the company grows and the needs kind of shift. You identify talent in certain areas and you talk to the employee, you get their buy-in and then just everything falls into place.

Sam (04:38): Speaking of employees, you have a fascinating background. I want to read a note I have here. You've gone from financial analyst to blockchain engineer to quote "selling knives on Instagram." How did you get started with Urban Everyday Carry?

Yong-Soo (04:56): Yeah, this is a really interesting story. So, I was a trader on Wall Street in 2009 and I graduated probably one of the worst times, well, I guess Covid is probably even worse. But I graduated in 2009, which during the great recession it was a really tough time to find a finance job. But I got into finance and then realized that technology was something that I was more interested in. But being in New York, there was no startup community, and that I knew was really the first step is you got to surround yourself, immerse yourself in the community that you want to be a part of. And so I actually bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco. I lived with a high school friend in Berkeley for three months, and I was sleeping on an air mattress, I was eating burritos, and just after a while my back hurt.

(05:59): Yeah, I didn't have a place to live, didn't have a job. And it just looked really, to be quite frank, really dire situation for me. But I wanted to be in a place where I could network and meet these people from the startup community. And eventually I got a job and an apartment at the same time. It's kind of like a chicken and the egg problem. You need one to get the other. But yeah, that happened. And then I was at a startup for a while and then I actually got let go from that startup two years in, and then I went to a bootcamp for software engineering. And that really changed my thinking about, "Okay, now I'm in the engineering space." I was really excited to get into engineering because I always looked at software engineers, I always revered them.

(06:48): Like wow, these guys are like, they're just crazy people that are just so revered in technology. But then all of a sudden I was potentially one of these people and I had a lot of imposter syndrome to be honest with you. So yeah, I got into the company called Ripple, which is a blockchain company and it's done really well. And so I joined the company in 2014 March, and then I stayed there for a year and a half and right around the time all this financial regulations stuff started coming down on the industry as a whole. And there was literally a time when our team was really pushing forward and I was really happy with the progress, but it just stopped because we were starting to move money on the blockchain and the leadership team literally told us, "Hey, you got to hold off because we need to make sure the compliance is all in check."

(07:47): And so when that happened, it was crazy because we were moving so fast and so well, but then all of a sudden it was this brick wall that we just hit. And then it was so strange because, actually I remember one Friday we all went as a team to go watch a Pixar movie. I think it was Inside Out. And it was so weird because we were on a roll and then all of a sudden we were watching a Pixar movie together as a team. So at that moment I was like, all right, I knew I was done because I am someone that constantly needs to keep going and keep moving. And so when that happened, I started planning my next move. And this is where the story gets really interesting because like you mentioned, why would I go from a software engineer in crypto to selling knives online on Instagram specifically?

(08:45): So yeah, that's a really great question. And to be honest, I think that looking back on it does seem really crazy and a lot of my colleagues thought I was really crazy for doing that, but I was just looking at things that interested me. So, I was looking at my credit card statements and seeing what I was purchasing just without even thinking. And then I was also looking at how I'm spending my time and I realized I was on Instagram a lot and this everyday carry community, and looking at the gear, and I just got really into it and I was like, "Okay. Well, this is probably not going to be a life-changing, world defining company because I'm not working on blockchain or AI or rocket ships or anything like that." But there was way less risk in terms of regulation risk and also market risk.

(09:39): So I knew the market's probably there because there are already people buying this kinds of stuff. It was really about execution risk for me. And so, I knew that I was a pretty good operationally and I kind of doubled down on myself, "Okay, I can do this. I have all the tools," all these platforms like Shopify, all these email marketing platforms, they all exist. So it's all a matter of just putting the pieces together and executing on it. And that's something that I was willing to take a risk on. And so yeah, I left the company, it was September of 2015 and launched Urban EDC in October 2015. So I actually left a full-time job and launched the company without a job. So actually, it was never a side hustle, which is kind of crazy now that I think about it. But yeah, that's the story.

Sam (10:34): There's so much to impact, unpack rather, from what you just said. But there's a word that came up a few times, community, and I had a question around that because one of the first things I noticed when I went on Urban Everyday Carry's website was community. You have this Facebook group called EDC Nation, but you also recently launched a paid membership. And I wanted to ask you, what was the thinking behind having a paid membership?

Yong-Soo (11:04): So, I think that the community and the membership or just, I guess, the feeling of belonging to something is really the next step in e-commerce. And the reason why I say that is because back in 2015, it was all about Amazon FBA. And I remember thinking, "Okay, there's all these resources and everybody's talking about Amazon FBA," but then I saw this trend shifting towards, "Okay, no. Instead of Amazon FBA, you got to build your own traffic and your own platform and a brand." And so people started creating their own brand on Shopify, and that was that subtle shift. I saw it happening and I was like, "All right, I'm actually going to skip the Amazon thing altogether," so we've actually never sold on Amazon, and started building this brand. And now I feel like the market is at a point, it's pretty saturated with all the brands out there on Shopify.

(12:11): And I really think the next wave of e-commerce is going to be community-based. And I'm not talking about the free ones, like you mentioned, we have a Facebook group, and that's been around since the very beginning by the way, in 2015. Create a Facebook group, it's free to create, and essentially they get invited as part of the welcome series email, and that's just been grow growing naturally. But recently, so end of last year, we created a paid membership. So yeah, there's two tiers. One is a $9 per month tier, and the second one is a $99 per month tier. And the $9 tier is kind of the base level. So you get access to the Discord server, and a lot of the perks include access to gear that is only available through the membership. We also have a buy sell trade group in there. So since it's a paid membership, there's not going to be scammers for example, because that's pretty rampant in the community right now, especially with these free groups, is anyone just joins and then just pretends they have an item and gets the knife and scams people.

(13:28): So, we're trying not to create a trusted community. And that's why free communities are great to start with because I think it's really good for, I guess, branding and getting awareness about your brand. But then the Facebook group really is not meant to be a place for deep discussions and deep relationship building. We wanted that to be somewhere where it's off of Facebook and in something like Discord where the communication and just the interactions are a lot more livelier. So, I really think that the next wave of e-commerce is going to be community based. So if you're starting a brand, you really want to think about how can we bring people in this interest group together, caring about what they're doing, but also encouraging them and just empowering each other because that to me is the most, that's the stickiest thing. People will come, they'll know your brand and they'll come back because of the network effect of that community, not necessarily the item that you're selling on your shop. So that's really the core essence of building that community.

Sam (14:49): One of the ways that you are promoting this community is through email. I'm on your email list, and I've really been enjoying some of the emails I've been getting lately. And I wanted to ask you, how are you thinking about email marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy?

Yong-Soo (15:09): Yeah, email marketing is really, really important, and it's been the heartbeat of our sales engine since day one. So, the entire funnel looks like this. So we drive traffic to our website, and then we have a popup that's a little bit gamified, so we have a spin the wheel type of thing, and we get the email. So grabbing the email is really important when they visit your website. And then from then on, we have a welcome series, and the welcome series is 10 to 15 emails. And we only send the welcome series until the first purchase is made, and then we take them off of the welcome series, and then we actually bring them into another series, which is the first purchase series, and we really want to get that second purchase because the repeat customer, once they make the second purchase, what we found is that everything, the purchases that come after that are a lot easier.

(16:10): And so getting that second purchase is almost, I'd say, just as important as their first purchase. So we have an entire flow for just the first purchase to try to get them onto the second purchase. And then once they're on the second purchase, then we actually tell them about our VIP program and our loyalty program. And so once the second purchase is made, then they're kind of in that, I guess, it's just reminding them how many points you have, you could redeem them for whatever, a gift card, and just driving them to continue purchasing. So those are the more automated stuff mean. We also have a abandon cart emails. We have emails that go out if you look at a product and you don't purchase. We also segment that out into international and domestic customers.

(17:05): So if you're international, we tell them that, "Hey, don't worry, we have really happy international customers," things like that. So, those are more of the automated flows. And then the regular emails that we send out, on Mondays, we have, actually, I should take a step back. So, the way that we run our, I guess our sales engine, is that each Wednesday we have a gear drop. And so, each Wednesday we always show the latest products that we bring into the shop. And so this has become kind of our consistent heartbeat of the company for the last seven years. And so people expect to have a gear drop each Wednesday without fail. And so we actually have people setting alarms because a lot of the stuff it sells out really quickly. And so we've actually had people emailing us being like, "Hey, I run a law firm and I told all four of my employees to get on the website at 12:00 PM Pacific, try to get this flashlight."

(18:10): And to be honest, they all missed out. And so this guy got really upset at upset at us, "Hey, did you even have any items on there?" Things like that. But the whole point is of that is to drive hype and to essentially train customers to always come back to shop with us at that time each week. So it's kind of like a pattern, it's like a habit. And so Mondays we send out an email that's like a preview email, and say, "Hey, this is what's coming up on this week's gear drop event." And so they get a little taste of it, "Oh, I really want that item. Okay, I'd better set my alarm," whatever. And then on Tuesday we send an email, so we give early access to our VIP customers, and that group is very small. And we actually mention that we save more than 50% of it for general public.

(19:08): And so the early access folks may only have, that item might sell out for early access people. But then in the general release, we'll release the rest of it. But I should also mention the $99 tier for the community, that includes three hour early access, so that's why it's $99 versus the $9 tier. I forgot to mention that on the community thing. But anyway, so Wednesday, that's the gear drop. So we send out an email on Wednesday to everybody saying, "Hey, this is the gear drop. Go get whatever you want to get." And then we post everywhere on socials, we work with content creators, so they already have the gear that we're dropping and they post about it to amplify our message. And then Friday we send out another email, and that one's a little more flexible. So, whether we do a restock or we have a special collection, like a weekend sale or whatever. So Friday's a little bit flexible. But yeah, that's kind of the whole entire structure of our email campaign.

Sam (20:15): That's incredible. That is a super fair answer. I have so many questions. I'm sat here listening to this thinking, "This is so well-thought-out," especially how all the parts move together with the upper tier paid membership and the weekly drops. Do you think this is something that's sustainable for brands in other industries? Could an apparel brand do something that is the equivalent of a gear drop every Wednesday and build something that is sustainable long term?

Yong-Soo (20:55): So, the model that we have, we work with a lot of different makers, and so we bring in a lot of products and they might be lower quantities, so they'll sell out really quickly. But for brands that are doing larger quantity production runs, I would say definitely this is a little bit harder to do because obviously you're doing a production run and it might sit there for a little while. But I think it's important to have at least some kind of event maybe every month. And it doesn't have to be based on product. Maybe you can do a live each week. There's a company that my wife really likes, it's called Tibi. It's a clothing company, and the founder of Tibi goes live every Wednesday and just talks about how to style things and why certain things go well with others. And my wife watches that religiously and it's crazy, but it really does drive that human connection because when you go on an e-commerce website, there is not a lot of personal touch.

(22:08): You're just looking at a website, you're looking at a bunch of products. But when you make that connection with the founder of the company that's showing you how to wear it, and she does a lot of events too. I think they're based in New York, but she'll fly out to all these different cities and have meet and greets and things like that. And she'll even do some of the lives in these other showrooms that carry this brand. And I think it's really important to have some kind of event that people can look forward to and doesn't have to be product based. But yeah, I think it is important to have that cadence. It's more about training people to behave a certain way at a certain time during the week versus just trying to drive sales each time.

Sam (23:01): I couldn't agree more. And I think this is a good transition into, I want to talk to you about personal branding. Because you and I first connected on Twitter, and what I find fascinating about you is your cadence with posting daily on social. You have your newsletter that goes out, you have your podcast that goes out. I see you teasing the release each week. I think we're both fans of Justin Welsh, and I know that's something that he does a lot as well. My question for you is why did you start posting so frequently on social media?

Yong-Soo (23:42): Yeah, so I'll give you three reasons. The first reason is, and this is a personal reason, but I get bored every three years or so, I've noticed this about myself. So Urban EDC I started in 2015, and then Spotted By Humphrey we started in 2018, and then around a few years later, we started GrowthJet, which is a climate Neutral Certified 3PL. And, I don't know, just for some reason every three years I get kind of bored of it. And then, I guess, part of it is I can scale up my team to a certain extent. We talked about this earlier, but I can have someone kind of managing more of a day-to-day and then I want to move on to something else. So yeah, so that's the first reason, which is I wanted to try something new that I haven't really done.

(24:39): And getting myself out there honestly is very challenging for me, and I'd never done it, and to be honest, I wanted to remain anonymous for the longest time, just the opposite of building a personal brand. But I felt like if it's fear that's preventing me, then I know that I'm on the right track and I should probably just push through it because fear should never be the reason why you don't do something. And so I just looked at myself and said, "This is the area that I probably need to improve most on." And so, that was kind of a big reason why I wanted to do this.

(25:20): The second reason is I've realized the power of a personal brand. And not only for monetary reasons, but just building relationships. Like you and I connected because you saw a post and you commented or whatever. We started talking, and now here we are, we're doing a podcast interview together. And so, I just feel like that's so invaluable and you just never know what a connection, what a relationship will do in the future. They're all open-ended. Anyone you meet online can do something in the future that you can help them with and they can also help you with. It's a really interesting thing where it's all open-ended and you're kind of leaving all these doors open, and I guess it's kind of increasing the luck surface area. And so that's been a really interesting thing that's been happening as well in the last three months or so.

(26:15): And then the last reason I think is for me to share everything that I'm learning. So, I've been heads down just building for the last seven years, and I have a lot of experiences just learning from my mistakes. And I wanted to encourage everyone to start a business and everyone to, I guess, not make the mistakes that I made. And so if I can help just one person out there get started on something, that would make me so happy. Because I truly believe having a business on your own, it changes the way you approach life. It's kind of like having a baby and you're responsible for that. Because now I have employees and I'm responsible for their families and their wellbeing, and that's a lot of added pressure on me. And initially it was really uncomfortable, but I've gotten over that and I've embraced it, and now it's empowering because now I'm like, "Wow, look, I have other people's families that are relying on me," and that's a really powerful feeling. So, those are the three main reasons.

Sam (27:24): I think when most people think about posting daily on social, they're thinking about posting pictures on Instagram, and it's common for a lot of founders to do that. But what I like about what you are doing is you're showing up every day on Twitter and LinkedIn, which are not commonly platforms associated with e-commerce. And I'm wondering if someone is listening to this right now and they're thinking, "Yeah, this sounds great. But how can I get started?" What would your advice be to someone that is a busy e-commerce marketer or founder, they want to get started posting on social, sharing their journey? How would you advise them to do that?

Yong-Soo (28:05): Yeah. So, this is something that I actually went through very recently. Which is, when you first start posting, it's going to feel really scary. You're going to get no likes, very little engagement, and it's just a process that you have to go through. Yeah, I mean, I won't lie, it's really difficult in the beginning because literally I'll spend maybe an hour, maybe even sometimes two hours because I was so bad at it, but two hours writing a Twitter thread, and then I'm so proud to share it. I remember I was up at 1:00 AM once and I was like, "Oh, I'm so happy with this thread." I've been crafting all this little thing. And then I post it and it was a dud, like silence. And I'm like, "Oh, that's interesting." I spent all that time and literally probably no one saw it. And, that's a really humbling experience because it's just like, I don't know, it's a tough beginning. But everything you start always starts difficult.

(29:11): It's not going to be easy in the beginning, but then everything gets easier as you do more of it. So your skills will improve. So your hooks for writing will improve. You'll build relationships, you comment on my posts, I comment on your posts. You build these relationships and then you get their network effects, you get their followers looking at your stuff. So it's a very slow progress, but you just have to get started. And, oh, this is an important one, is don't worry about the results, just focus on what you are actually doing. So if you have a goal of three Twitter threads a week, always meet that goal and just measure it and don't take it personally. Treat them as mini experiments. After that Twitter thread that bombed for me I just analyzed it. I was like, "Why did it do so badly?"

(30:02): And so, it's all about just experimentation and not taking things personally and just going through this process where you're going to be terrible for a while. I mean, that's just the truth. But you can't get good at anything unless you just keep at it daily. And that's why I post daily, because it's not even a matter of, yes, I want to get followers and all that, but it's an exercise for me. Okay, I know I'm not the best that I can be at this, but if I don't write today, then I'm not going to improve. And so it's really about daily practice of just going in there, put it in your work, reflect on what worked, what didn't work, and then reassess, and the results are actually kind of a bonus. You should treat them as like, "Oh wow, it's finally working," but that shouldn't be your goal because if you go in there with that goal in mind, you will be very disappointed. So focus on your own things that you can control.

Sam (31:08): I think that's an amazing place to end. Yong-Soo, where can our listeners learn more about you, your brands, what you're doing? Where would you like them to go?

Yong-Soo (31:20): Yeah, so I've got actually two places. The first place is if you have a growing e-commerce brand and you need help with fulfillment, then check out growthjet.com. It's our Climate Neutral Certified 3PL. And then if you want to learn more about what I'm doing and kind of follow my journey, I have a podcast called First Class Founders, and I share all my lessons learned. And yeah, I put a lot of time and resources behind it, so you can check that out at firstclassfounders.com.

Sam (31:57): Perfect. Well, this has been an amazing conversation. I've learned so much, as I knew I would. And I'm looking forward to following your growth on the socials, but also for Everyday Carry as well.

Yong-Soo (32:11): Thanks so much, Sam. I really enjoyed our conversation as well.

Sam (32:14): Thanks, Yong-Soo.

Yong-Soo (32:16): Take care.