Michael DiMartini from Everest Bands come on the show to chat and share his success with us. He's gone from failed businesses to two successful Kickstarter campaigns and an amazing product line sold through Shopify. Michael doesn't just sell watch bands. He sells literally the best rubber watch strap made- and it's for a Rolex.
- What Everest Bands is all about (it's more than just swiss rubber)
- What goes in to a successful Kickstarter
- The ROI of Facebook likes
- What it takes to be a luxury brand
- The Apple Watch
- Michael's favorite watch
- And his single best tip for Shopify store owners.
PS: Be sure to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes and write a review. iTunes is all about reviews!
Announcer: This is the Unofficial Shopify Podcast with Kurt Elster and Paul Reda, your resource for growing your Shopify business, sponsored by Ethercycle.
Kurt Elster: Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Unofficial Shopify Podcast. I'm your host Kurt, and with me is my business partner and co-host Paul.
Paul Reda: Welcome. Hello.
Kurt: Joining us today is Michael DiMartini from Everest Bands. He is one of our favorite clients, a Kickstarter success, a manufacturer and a Shopify store owner. Michael, it's around 3:30 there in St Loius, what are you up to?
Michael DiMartini: Well, if it was Friday, I'd be drinking a cold one.
Kurt: There you go.
Michael: Obviously, I am excited to do this first inaugural podcast with you guys and really appreciate it. Super excited to talk more about our company and Shopify and the great job that you guys have done for us.
Kurt: Thank you. Tell us a little bit about Everest Band. What's an Everest Band?
Michael: About two and a half years ago, my partners and I came up with an idea for a rubber Rolex replacement watch strap. Now, two years later, we had a successful Kickstarter with our first rubber strap. We are on our second version now, made in Switzerland. Just recently, last month, we had our second successful Kickstarter for a leather strap. It was a wonderful experience. Thank God for Kickstarter.
Kurt: [laughs] This band is made in Switzerland, huh?
Michael: Yeah. Our rubber strap is entirely made in Switzerland, rubber-wise. We actually have a steel oyster link that is attached to it and we coat that with a coating called DLC, diamond-like coating. That is actually from here on the US.
Kurt: I think, I and a lot of people, we have ideas. We're like, "Oh, we got this great idea for a thing." Making a thing is hard. It's easy to have an idea. It's tough to actually get it manufactured. How did you go end up in Switzerland, asking a manufacturer to build your rubber? How does that happen? How do I get there?
Michael: To be very honest, we actually had two previous versions. One was made, or tempted to be made, here in the St. Louis area. Honestly, it was a complete epic fail and we did not actually produce any straps for sale.
We had a second version that was also made in the United States. That was a very good strap. We had some limitations with the manufacturer on, basically, material choices. We traveled the globe to find what we think would be the absolute best manufacturer. Honestly, the Swiss just blew us away with their technology at rubber molding.
The company we use specializes in rubber watch strap molding. I can't list the names of the companies, but probably the top 10 watch manufacturers in the world use them to make their rubber straps. I actually had to pretty much beg them to take my business.
Kurt: Did you pretty much beg them or did you literally beg them?
Michael: Oh, no. I got on the proverbial hands and knees and literally said, "Please, please make my strap." They said, "Sure. We'll do it." How did I get there? A lot of research. Honestly, a tremendous amount of research and actually asking industry experts. I asked other watch companies who they used.
Kurt: I think that's one of the things a lot of people should do or don't know how to do is, do I go out and ask people in my industry or even competitors, "What are you doing? How do you do it? Can I pick your brain?" Did you do that? How do you go about that?
Michael: Yes, of course. There's a two-part answer to that. One of them does relate to Kickstarter. Whenever you're producing a product like we produce or really anything of a higher-end level, don't be embarrassed to ask others how they're doing it. For sure, other people are more than happy to help.
We just started with other watchmakers, high-end watchmakers. They were very open with us. Some were, of course, tentative for giving us any information whatsoever. When they immediately found out that we weren't a competitor, a direct competitor in any way, they were more than happy to talk to us.
Kurt: Really, the only barrier to entry is you psychologically just being willing to go out and ask. What's the worst that can happen, they say no? If you don't ask, you've guaranteed that you get nothing out of it.
Michael: Honestly, let's call it, any entrepreneur has to have some balls.
Kurt: [laughs] Right. It took me a long time to get there.
Michael: You can't be fearful of being told to drop dead.
Kurt: [laughs] That's a good line. That's a great quote. We should include that as a tweet. Tell me, what goes into...You got the seed money or got this off the ground using Kickstarter twice now, right?
Michael: Yeah. Just a really quick back story, I had another business that was a failure, to be honest. I think that the best entrepreneur is the one that get kicked down at least once or twice and they then learn from those mistakes and take it from there.
Our first business, completely unrelated in every single facet, local business, didn't deliver a product, delivered a service, et cetera, was a failure because of a lot of different things. One, we added too much debt to the business. When we were looking at the product itself, the product idea, we felt that Kickstarter was perfect for us.
It gave us the ability to have a presale, so we knew if the product was worth doing. We did of course put a lot of money into it at the very beginning. The amount that we put in was a little bit more than what we got from Kickstarter, but really Kickstarter did finish line us on our first product.
On the second one, we took a completely different direction. We were going not for what we did on our first one, where we were trying to get the seed money to finish the project. It was more of wanting to make sure the market place wanted the product. We, of course, used the funds to pay for the finish line of the second product.
We also didn't go after retailers, for example. We just went after the general public. On our first Kickstarter, more than half of our Kickstarter proceeds were from retailers. If I was doing this all over again for a first time, I definitely would try and get retailers involved in my first product.
Kurt: Now that you're a Kickstarter veteran, if you had one tip for someone who's about to launch their product on Kickstarter, what would it be?
Michael: The first tip that I would give is you really have to have your crap together. I mean it.
Kurt: It's a good tip. Get your shit together!
Michael: Get your shit together! Don't start Kickstarter with questions, because you're going to get annihilated, number one. Number two, when I say that, I mean there are so many different levels to that. Starting with that, not only do you become an expert in your area through at least understanding the part that you're going to sell and manufacture, number one.
Number two, you're going to want to have excellent pictures of a prototype. You want to have connected with the lowest level of purchasing. Usually, that's through forums and different items that are connected to some type of social media connection. Yes, get your sit together.
Paul: You mentioned social media, and we think that social media advertising is sort of bullshit here. It's a lot of snake oil. It doesn't get the ROI that the social media people like to claim it does, at least in our experience. However, you have a ton of Facebook Likes and the majority of your traffic comes in via Facebook. Why do you think you were able to pull that off?
Michael: That's a really good question. To be really honest with you, I think that each business has a different successful tool in some level of marketing. For example, we seem to have a product where people need to physically see it. With social media, we can present pictures constantly.
When we have a Facebook Like, for example...and I'll be honest, it costs us very few cents per Facebook Like, whereas in other industries it's very expensive to acquire a Like because...
Kurt: Actually, I didn't know that Likes are on like a bidding system where it varies by industry. How many Facebook Likes do you have, anyway?
Michael: We have 128,000. We're probably going to achieve today 129,000.
Kurt: How many did you have where you saw it really was paying off for you, in terms of sales?
Michael: Probably after 5,000. Honestly, after about 5,000 Likes.
Kurt: So, 5,000 is the baseline that people should be shooting for and 100,000 is ideal.
Michael: Actually, to be very honest with you, our end goal for Facebook Likes for the end of 2015 is over a million.
Kurt: Yes! There's no limit, so why not shoot for the ceiling?
Michael: Exactly. To better answer your question, because that's a really good one especially for entrepreneurs, Facebook, Instagram, those things are free. There is no form of free marketing better that that.
It costs you money to put a sign on the wall of your office or your storefront. It costs you money to have, honestly, Ethercycle do work for you. Facebook is free. Social media's free, but to make it successful, you need those tools behind you, like Ethercycle's work, like a sign maker for your outside, like a very good business card printer, so on and so forth. That is what gets you the end success.
Paul: Social media marketing takes a lot of time too, which people just assume that it's a thing that just happens for free and you don't have to worry about it. There's a lot of time-suck there as well.
Michael: Yeah. For my own self, as the marketing person for our company, I focus 50 percent of my day on social media. Development of it.
Paul: Earlier, you mentioned forums and that really tickled something in my brain. Another one of our big clients that works in aftermarket auto parts and they do millions of dollars in revenue a year, a portion of their sale staff is just devoted to pumping up the product on forums and selling on forums.
Because a forum dedicated to the kind of product that you're selling is essentially just a captured audience of people that are super interested in what you want to sell them.
Michael: Yeah. A forum is a community of hobbyists, obviously. Some of them are not hobbyists. Some of those are people like, for example for us, a watch repair company. They might have access to a forum and they keep up to date on what's popular and what not.
That's how a lot of our business has come from, especially on the retailer side. To be very honest with you, we involve ourselves enough to give a presentation of new products and ideas but not so much that we're going to get kicked off. Because it's a club. That's what it is.
Paul: You think to swoop in and be, "Buy my stuff!" You can't spam them.
Paul: Engaging is the word. You want to engage. Not just spam.
Michael: Yeah. Exactly. At the end of the day, let's call that as it is, no one likes to be sold anything, everybody likes to buy stuff.
Kurt: Speaking of buying, you're selling a luxury brand. You're selling a premium item for people who have already bought from a luxury brand. You only sell for Rolex, correct?
Michael: On Everest Bands, yeah. We do have a secondary site, we don't need to get into that today but yeah. Our primary focus is Everest and Everest Horology products in general, just only focuses entirely on Rolex users, Rolex owners and wearers.
Kurt: All right. I think luxury brands as an idea fascinate me. I know we've gone back and forth about it in the office. Sometimes you have to tease out, "Is this just a product with a very expensive price tag?" It's purely a status symbol.
Rolex is extremely well made. It's a premium product. It's well made. At the same time, everyone knows it's expensive. Starting Rolex, brand new, is going to be eight grand. For a product like Everest Brands, it's a luxury product. How did you get to become a luxury product? What's the barrier to entry to be a premium luxury brand? Is it just a big price tag? What is it?
Michael: A lot of people are trying to make things in different countries right now for a super low cost. The consumer today of course likes value but, if you're talking about a luxury product or becoming a luxury company, you have to remember that, what does the end user want? True end users. Luxury purchasers.
Quality is a corner stone of whatever you're making. Second - longevity of life. Don't think that people with money have any interest in buying something over and over again every six to 12 months. They're just not interested in doing that.
It's very uncommon that you see a destroyed Gucci bag or a pair Ferragamo shoes that are quite a few years old and still look excellent. Mercedes Benzes last a very long time. They're not a car that you drive for three years and throw away.
At the end of the day, Everest makes a product that is the highest quality in the world. There is no better rubber strap or leather strap ever. The longevity and life of our product is very long. From a luxury standpoint, our service is extremely high. I have direct communication with almost with every single costumer at some level.
Kurt: All right. A luxury brand obviously is more than just the premium price. You have to back it up. If you're going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk and have a product that's number one in its category, in terms of precision manufacturing. Then being able to back it up with customer support, so people don't even have to wonder. They know they'll be able to get a hold of you.
Speaking of luxury products, premium brands, we can't ignore Apple. You're a watch guy. I'm into watches. I think partly you've got me into watches. The Apple watch was just announced yesterday. I'm dating this podcast a little bit. The Apple watch just came out. I love it. I think it looks great. For $350, I don't think you get a watch that's better. What do you think?
Michael: First, obviously Everest has had its own level of getting kicked while it's down, we'll say, when we were first starting. I'm not going to kick the Apple watch while no one's even really seen it yet. Do I think it's going to hurt the hot horology world? Absolutely not.
I don't think it's even going to get remotely dent Rolex, Omega, Bell & Ross's sales because, honestly, people buy those products because they love the watch. They could care less about time keeping.
Paul: Yeah, I agree with you there. Hublot has nothing to worry about. But in my mind, judging by what I've read and what I've heard you and Kurt talk about about the low end of the watch industry, in terms of the low end of the luxury watches, the kind of things that are available at that price point, it's my impression that the Apple watch blows everything out of the water at that price point.
Michael: Yeah. The other side of the spectrum is - not to try and compare entirely a Rolex to an Apple watch...I have a Rolex. It's seven years old. It looks brand new. I treat it well but I don't have a seven-year-old iPhone, gentlemen.
Kurt: [laughs] Good point.
Michael: Do I think it's going to be somewhat or something that you replace every three to four years at a maximum? Yeah. The Everest Band, for example, I am still wearing the original first single piece that came off the assembly line today and it still looks as if it's brand new. That was a year and a half ago.
Again, it just goes back to the whole luxury idea. Is Apple producing a luxury product? No. They're just producing a great piece of technology that has a lot of advancements. It's not going to affect Hublot. It's not going to affect Omega. It's not going to affect Rolex.
But on a low end line, say for example a Casio? Yeah. Casio, Seico, low ends, they're going to feel it. They're going to feel the heat pretty hard probably.
Kurt: The sub-five hundred dollar people are in trouble. The heirloom, status symbol and $10,000 watches have nothing to worry about.
Michael: Yeah. I don't particularly see that Southwest is affecting private jet sales.
Kurt: [laughs] Good point I didn't figure it out that way.
Michael: Lets call it as it is, but do I feel the Southwest is probably affecting American Airlines in sales? Hell yeah, gentlemen. Come on. It like $98. Give me a break. To go up to Chicago from St. Louis, I would pick that over $300 flight on American Airlines, for example.
Also, there's a million of those, but I'm excited to see what happens with the Apple iWatch, especially because I watched kind of amazingly as the Pebble watch was coming down the pipeline. It was in its Kickstarter when I was doing my first Everest Band Kickstarter.
We are brothers from another mother. I really feel that the Pebble hasn't really hit the marketplace the way they thought it would.
Paul: I think that is true. Every smart watch that's come out.
Kurt: Every smart watch, yeah.
Michael: Oh yeah.
Kurt: I had a Pebble watch, I thought it was an awful. I wore it like handful of times and I ended up selling it. I lost money on it. It's just not a good product.
Michael: Then, on top of it, I really almost feel bad for Pebble, because they had such enormous phoenix rise at the very beginning with, I think it was $10 million in sales...
Kurt: I know they broke a record for fundraising on Kickstarter.
Michael: Oh yeah. Just recently the Coolest Cooler knocked them off the top. More importantly, they had countless issues. They couldn't get the damn thing out for a year. I can tell you right now, our customers were...we were late by three weeks and they were freaking out.
I just feel that when it comes down to being successful, selling a product and what not, there are a lot of different parts that have to play in to it. The one great thing about Apple is that they are so well organized that this multiple-billion dollar company is going to probably hit it really well on their first version.
The first iPhone was pretty sweet, but I am worried that, honestly, it could be the next Newton. I don't know if you guys remember that P.O.S.
Kurt: Yeah. I love it. The only thing I can ever think of about the Newton, I think a lot of people our age too, is the Newton on the Simpsons.
Paul: Yeah, "Eat up Martha."
Kurt: "Eat up Martha."
Paul: The main thing that is in my mind is that I don't wear watches. I don't understand why anyone would wear a watch, because I have an atomic clock that I carry around in my pocket at all times that also does things more than a watch.
Kurt: It's jewelry really...
Paul: No. and I don't...
Kurt: It's jewelry that happens to tell the time.
Paul: I don't wear any jewelry, so it's kind of meaningless to me. I saw the smart watch and, because I'm stupid, I was kind of like, "All right, I kind of want it a little bit."
Kurt: It's not stupid, it's geeky. It's another screen. I see the attraction.
Michael: I totally see the attractions too, because honestly, you don't fit in to...like Kurt fits in to it but not everybody fits into that wanting of a high-end watch. Honestly, Rolex probably produces about a million high-end time pieces a year annually.
Kurt: That blows my mind. A million people a year are spending $8,000 plus on a watch.
Paul: I was doing research on how the watch might affect Apple's bottom line, because I am an Apple shareholder and...
Kurt: That makes two of us. High five.
Paul: ...the world watch market produces something like 1.2 billion watches a year. If 1.2 billion watches get made, Rolex makes 1 million of them. That's less than one percent. [laughs]
Kurt: It's still crazy.
Paul: I'm sure in terms of revenue, they're way higher, but not in terms of watches produced.
Michael: Exactly. At the end of the day, you've got 1.2 billion watches being made annually. There's going to be a large percentage of them that are going to last a very short amount of time. They're $20, $15. They're $75.
You know what? You're right. I think the Apple watch is a creative, brilliant idea that is well-designed. I'm simply not going to bang it, even though...I don't think I'll ever buy one. But it's just a different animal.
Paul: It's a different thing.
Kurt: It's a new market.
Man 2: I think Jony Ive said during the video that, "You know, we are going to replace Rolex." He made some crack about replacing Rolex and a lot of those brands. That is kind of like, "All right. You are not right there." Because that's...
Kurt: Don't be reaching for the stars.
Paul: This is a different thing they are selling. They both might be called watches, but they are different things.
Michael: Rolex is not a buggy whip, gentlemen. Honestly, for him to say that shows, sadly, that even though he's a beautiful and wonderful designer, his complete and utter ignorance on the watch industry is completely...he overly showed it during that point.
Paul: I'm really excited to listen to this in five years and then we're like, "Oh man, Apple controls everything. We were idiots."
Kurt: [laughs] "I can't believe Apple bought Rolex." Tell me, you are a watch guy, what's your favorite watch?
Michael: I hate to say that I'm a...Even though I love complex, beautiful watches, I have to still say that the Rolex Submariner, in it's simple form, it's absolutely the most beautiful watch I've ever seen. It is a timeless, gorgeous definition of what a watch should be. It's accuracy is absolutely impressive.
It's an over a 60-year design that's slightly evolved to almost absolute perfection with their current version. I look at so many other watches, and you just don't ever see that.
When you look at watches, in general, or really products in general, let's just start with the car or anything like that or the Internet for that matter, very seldomly do you see one company be able to take their vision from 60 years ago and still keep running with it perfectly.
Kurt: Yeah, it's true. The Rolex Submariner shape is classic and timeless, like people will always recognize a bottle of Coke, I think number one, and number two, they'll know Rolex when they see it.
Michael: Not to try and push Ethercycle in any way, but...
Kurt: Oh no, please do. Please do.
Michael: I know, but I really feel like one thing that you guys did great was that...I said to you during our design meetings that I wanted a website that showed the essence of Rolex's website and Rolex's presence.
I didn't want to be Rolex. That's not what my intension was, but you guys were able to take the essence of that. That's complex. Countless people try and make watches just like Rolex watches, and they are completely off the mark every single time.
It's good to see you guys, actually, were able to both manufacture my idea of what our website should look like but also give it that same feeling that it's going to last. I'm not going to change my website six months from tomorrow.
I actually think that we are only going to minorly evolve it over the next two or three years as technology develops better in Shopify.
Kurt: That's the way to do it. I think the people who have the most success are not the ones who tear down their website every six months, but instead are doing just constant iterations. With you, it's really every two weeks, even sometimes weekly, we're making continuous changes that really add up to better conversion and more sales, et cetera.
Speaking that, as a Shopify store owner, give me one tip for Shopify store owners.
Michael: The one tip is I do believe you need to trust something as important as your website to professionals, because if you are going to run a website like Shopify's -- very well built technology -- you can download one of their templates. You can figure out how to put some images and things like that. At the end of the day, the consumer is very short lived in their decision-making online.
I look at the amount of time that people are on our website, and they are only there for a minute or two really sometimes.
Kurt: A minute and a half is good. That's extraordinary.
Michael: That is such an integral important part. To spend 2, 3, 4 thousand dollars on something that you are going to have as an asset in your company for the next 12 to 24 to 36 months...it's kind of foolish to think that, "I will just download a fifty dollar template and just start going with it."
You need professional guidance, especially, even at a base level when you first do Kickstarter, when you first do this things, when you're first coming up with the product idea or your first, you're even just starting up a retail store online, you need to have that guidance. Because without that, your conversion rate will be much lower. Even if you think it's looks great and your mom does too, it doesn't matter.
What matters is the end consumer has complete confidence in buying the product and you need the company to really do that and develop your website.
Kurt: Hell yeah. God, I'm going to have to embed that audio on the second website now. [laughs]
Paul: Autoplay audio now on the website. Big conversion. People love that.
Kurt: You are right. That is a conversion killer.
Kurt: I think that I learned a lot. I hope other people learned a lot. It was really good. It was great having you. Michael I looked forward to talking more with Everest Bands and really growing that brand. Thank you for joining us.
Michael: Thank you guys. Again, I really feel, not to go back a couple of times to do something, but if you're going to do a Kickstarter, you really need to get things organized. One of the most important things in organizing it is the image that you put out there, because if you don't have that, you will fail.
Kurt: Your number one tip is still, will always ring true in my mind and it's good to hear it, "get your shit together."
Michael: Get your shit together. Don't start without your shit together boys, because it's going to fail. I had a great time...
Paul: Advice for everyone.
Michael: Yeah, honestly. Your mom told you when you were 18 years old, "Get your shit together."
Kurt: All right, this is fantastic. Thank you, Michael.
Michael: Thanks guys.
Paul: Thank you.