Custom Merchandise with Kevin Ramsey of Warren James: FTH 083

Kim Doyal 0:01
Welcome to F the hustle. I’m your host, Kim Doyal. You want a life that is meaningful and exciting. In this podcast, we’re going to talk about launching and growing an online business that fits your lifestyle. After the hustle is all about doing good work, building real relationships, and most importantly, creating a business that supports you and you want to live your life. You don’t have to sacrifice the quality of your life today to create something that sets your soul on fire. And yes, that includes making a lot of money. So we’ll be talking about selling, charging, what you’re worth, and how earning more means helping more people. My goal is to help you find freedom and create a business on your terms. Hey, what’s going on everybody? Welcome back to another episode of the Kim Doyal show. I’m excited today because we’re gonna dig into something that I don’t know a ton about. Obviously, I’m very aware of it. And my guest is going to peel back the curtain, so to speak. So my guest today is Kevin Ramsey. He is one of the co-founders of Warren James. And we’re gonna dig into that. But first of all, Kevin, thanks so much for being here today.

Kevin Ramsey 1:08
Thank you for having me. I’m stoked to be here. Yeah, so

Kim Doyal 1:11
this is great. And this is, I’m just gonna share this. And any of these little tidbits that you can share with your story would be great. But we connected via Twitter. And I’ve been saying to people recently, you know, having moved to Costa Rica, and like connecting with people here that I’m sure it’s similar for you so much of my business has grown because of relationships. So I love that you just reached out to me, we had a little conversation, you’re very patient, I’m like circle back in a month, we had a conversation. And so just the point in connecting and having real relationships with people can really shift the trajectory of your business.

Kevin Ramsey 1:48
Yeah, without a doubt, I’ve been trying to be more proactive personally, when it comes to platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, and those connections are at your fingertips, it’s just a matter of like, you know, putting in the time looking around, like for me recently, I’ve been really focused on the new phrase, you know, called the creator economy and seeing who else is involved in that space. And yeah, it really, really helps with your business and helps with your personal growth, like having those connections, whether it be something now or like, years from now, right? Like having that relationship. Who knows what that can mean for you.

Kim Doyal 2:21
Exactly, exactly. I’m, which I don’t want to go sideways with my stuff. But I am doing an event down here next year. And it’s crazy. I think I’ve landed a sponsor a pretty big sponsor already without even having a hotel book because of relationships. So it’s just one of those things. And I love what you said too. I am obsessed with the quote-unquote, crater economy. I love that it’s this tangible thing. Now, it’s not just what creators call themselves. And just a side note, if you’re not following her follow Cody Sanchez, she is amazing. She has. This is a random thing. I don’t know her personally. But she has a newsletter and a platform. It’s called contrarian thinking. But she’s all about diversifying in the creator economy as well. So it’s pretty fascinating. Anyways, I want to dive into Warren James, which I’m gonna let you explain what it is. And then before we go too deep into the company, I’d love to know a little bit of your backstory. So feel free to jump in where it suits you best.

Kevin Ramsey 3:20
Yeah, totally. So I guess a quick little synopsis of Warren James. We’ve been around for a little under three years now. And we really work with the top point oh 1% of content creators out there. And we run their direct to consumer merchandise businesses from start to fitness, finish everything from you know, designing, purchasing a product, running the website, customer, customer support, fulfillment, you know, everything that goes into it, so that the Creator just needs to approve the product, approve the plan, and then market the product and then they get paid out on sales. So that’s kind of top line of Warren James. But, you know, for myself personally, how I’ve gotten here, I’ve been in what, you know, the creator economy wasn’t called this before. I think we were calling them influencers or there was a bunch of different names thrown around different times, but I’ve been in it for roughly a decade now. I got my start back in roughly 2010 2011 when I started a Minecraft server company called hunger craft. We were the first kind of automated event-based Hunger Games in Minecraft server. This is back when Hunger Games like really blew up. And that was kind of my first foray into the space it we got to a point where we had millions of uniques every month playing on the server. We had one that we won the top Twitch live streams at the time this is like the first year when Justin tv switched And back then, you know, creators are super dialed into gaming right like especially at that time. It’s still today, right like Minecraft is one of the biggest verticals on YouTube. we would partner with content creators, pay them in some instances, you know, give them free product to help market the server. And that was kind of my, it kind of opened up my eyes a little bit to the power that creators have, you know, someone like camping Russia at the time or skies Minecraft jumping on the server and it would just, it would blow up, you know, the amount of people trying to join that we’d hit our capacity and then like they would upload videos and it was just being involved in an ecosystem in terms of like a service like that a game like that. It was pretty crazy. So that was that was really my kind of my first step into the space.

Kim Doyal 5:36
Okay, you’re gonna have to totally dummy that down. So I’m very aware of Minecraft and Twitch and everything. I don’t get the whole piece of you are hosting it. You had a server? So can you like, explain it to a fifth grader? For me?

Kevin Ramsey 5:48
Yeah. So Minecraft, the way that it there’s a bunch of different ways to play the game. There’s like the base game itself, which is kind of single-player based. But what you know, a huge portion of the community plays is this server-based element where the community can go and spin up a server, they host it on their personal computer, and you have an IP address related to that server, and you mark it that or you just keep it close to your friends. And people can join that. And it’s there’s a bunch of different things you can do. Right? You can customize the map, you can customize like the code of the game so that you’re making a unique play experience. And yeah, so what we did was the base version of Minecraft is very survival-based like you’re, you’re mining, you’re doing all the different elements of Minecraft. What we did was back when hunger Hunger Games was like, really, really popular was like the first movie was coming out. And we wanted to be able to be in The Hunger Games like to take part in the combat of The Hunger Games, but in Minecraft, so we, we coded our own game, we made our own maps, so that 32 people, every week, we would host a live stream. And we’d have commentators like spectators, and you would sign up every week saying like, Hey, I would love to be chosen to be one of the 32 people that are fighting it out to be the winner to get prizes. And we would select them randomly. And then every Saturday it would, we would bring them into the map. And then the casters would come in the live stream and go live. And it’d be like Last Man Standing combat and they would be running around the map, there’d be easter eggs and all these different elements. And it was like kind of one of the first of its kind in terms of this event-based Minecraft experience. And then the popularity of that led us to want to have it be available 24/7 Because at first it was just noon on Saturdays was the only time and if you want, we had 1000s of people signing up every week. So it’s like, you know, the likelihood of being selected was really low. So we eventually made it so that you could play at any time of the day. And then we had, you know, millions every month competing in these different automated servers that were running 24/7.

Kim Doyal 8:09
Do that is nuts. I’m just sitting here, astounded. One I mean, I’m not in the gaming space. But just I love the I don’t know, it sounds like you just jumped on this opportunity. But with that piece, let me ask you that. So do you have a computer science degree? Where did you see this opportunity? What made you jump into that?

Kevin Ramsey 8:28
That’s a good question I funded if I wasn’t a Java class, at that point in time, which is what Minecraft is based on. But no, it was like my friend David and I were just kind of talking, we were playing the game or like it would be so cool to be able to play this ourselves, you know, and at the time, this is back in the beta of Minecraft, so it hadn’t quite reached like mass popularity yet. And within my school, there weren’t enough people that had Minecraft to be able to get 32 people together to play this game. So without having anything, we just had like a little map that we made, we didn’t have any code or anything. I went on to the Minecraft subreddit on Reddit. And I just made a post and like, Hey, guys, like, we’re looking for a couple extra people to compete in this little this event. Like, you know, let me know if anyone’s interested. And the next morning when I woke up and I checked the post it had like a 10,000 people that had comments and like, I would love to take part. And as soon as that happened, I was like, we got it this would be so cool. We have to we have to make this happen. So I went into my Java class and I like I booton rallied the whole class pretty much so like it was a it was a kind of a group effort to get the first like, the alpha version of the code ready. And then from there, we eventually made some money we’re able to like start legitimizing the development process a little bit, but it was like kind of almost community made to a certain degree.

Kim Doyal 9:53
Oh my god, that is amazing. And then as it grew, did you get funding or you guys were just you were? How did you make money? If this were you charging people to get on what was the no accusation piece,

Kevin Ramsey 10:04
Yeah, in hindsight, we could have made some good money. But our the thought was like this is, you know, by the community for the community, we don’t want to make it pay to win because a lot of the competition at the time was like, if you want to spend 10 bucks, you could have a significant advantage over people that didn’t spend money. And we didn’t want that to be part of the game. So it was all esthetic-based. So it’s like, change the color of your name, or like, giving you a little badge on the website. And then in addition to that, we sold some sponsorships, like during the live streams, but that really was kind of breakeven, for the most part, like, especially at that point in time server costs were, were pretty high. Like, I remember, we were spending, like, 500 or something a month on servers in for me, you know, in high school, a team of high schoolers, like, it was a lot of money for us. And, yeah, it just, it just didn’t

Kim Doyal 10:56
pay more than 100 bucks for hosting today. Like, let alone. Kevin Ramsey 10:59
Yeah, it was crazy. We were like, we were, uh, we were trying to figure out how to make it happen. And it really didn’t end up monetizing it, unfortunately, did end up selling it a couple of years later to one of our competitors that wanted to kind of aggregate the marketplace a little bit into in own a bigger percentage of the market. That wasn’t a huge acquisition. But it was something to get kind of at the end, the bigger piece for me was the experience of developing a game running a community, you know, running live events, you know, everything that went into it. And plus, you know, like we were talking about earlier, the connections that came through it, like, a lot of the YouTubers that I worked with at that point in time are still massive YouTubers today. And it just kind of it put me on a path for my career. Kim Doyal 11:49
Wow, that is just amazing. Well, and I would think to that, what made it a saleable asset? Was the audience. Right?

Kevin Ramsey 11:57
Totally. Yeah, the brand name as well, like all the assets of it, or around it, as well as the code. That was also in all the maps and everything.

Kim Doyal 12:05
Oh, my gosh, okay. So first of all, I didn’t know you started that in high school. That’s nuts. But it’s amazing. It’s amazing. So what happened then between that and Warren James, that seems not a big leap, but I mean, what what’s going on in between, then, from

Kevin Ramsey 12:21
from then that put me on a path that I was like, Okay, I want to go down video game development as my career path. So I went to Savannah College of Art Design for interactive media and game development. And my first year in college, I was playing smite professionally, it was it’s still around, but it was really popular at that point in time. It’s like a MOBA, similar to League of Legends. And through that made, some connections started to get really dialed in with the eSports space. And back then, just like roughly 2013 2014, the space was extremely underdeveloped, there weren’t too many players in the space, there wasn’t a lot of money in the space. And we came up with the idea of at that point in time, it was pretty, it was pretty siloed in that an Esports community, for the most part, had a League of Legends team, or an Esports company had a Call of Duty team, they hardly ever win across games within the same organization. So the idea we had was like, why not create, you know, this brand, that is an umbrella brand across all of the major eSports games out there. So have a Call of Duty team or League of Legends team, a smite team, etc, etc. And then use the collective audience size to sell advertisement, as if like the Yankees had, you know, a soccer team, a basketball team, a tennis team, oh, yeah, Cetera, etc. And that was kind of what led me to my, after my freshman year of college, things started to pick up a little bit. And the thought was, okay, let’s, let’s take the summer to really focus on this project, and then see how it goes. And near the end of the summer, it was really, really quickly growing. And I was like, you know, what, I can always go back to college, you know, why not? pursue this for a little while and see what happens. And I ended up just, you know, never going back so that I was at that organization for roughly two years or so. And through that, unfortunately, not always, you know, in hindsight, these sports Spaces has ballooned in valuation, but yeah, back then it wasn’t super profitable. And I thought that, through going to events and meeting companies and selling advertisements, I met Jazwares, the massive toy manufacturer and they gave me a good opportunity to join them to kind of lead their gaming division in a sense because, At that time, they had the Minecraft retail license. And they historically had worked with games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man. So they were very dialed in with gaming and they are very forward-thinking company and they’re like, we identify that gaming is going to be a bigger portion of retail moving forward. So we want to, you know, put our flag in the ground, and we want to make sure that we’re paying attention to it. So they brought me on to kind of be that person to keep my ear to the ground within the gaming space. So that was kind of my as well like going through hunger craft and going through these sports organizations. I was like, I’m, I don’t have any corporate experience, I’m still really young, I don’t have an education, like, it’d be great too, to have mentors at a bigger company and learn from this experience. So that kind of ultimately made me make the decision to move down to South Florida from Columbus, Ohio at the time, and go full-time for Jazwares.

Kim Doyal 15:57
Your story is so fascinating. Kevin, I’m just I’m like, I want to pick it apart a little bit, though. I just, I love it. I love that you just had ideas and you acted on them. And then you dug deeper and you trusted your gut with some where, where along that path. Were you ever like, oh my god, what am I doing? Or here’s a challenge. And maybe it’s you know, ignorance is bliss at a certain point. But I mean, you make it sound very easy. That whole journey. What were there any challenges in there?

Kevin Ramsey 16:26
Oh, totally. Yeah. Every stage of the way, especially during, during my own companies. Like you said ignorance a little bit is nice, because like, you don’t know that you’re not doing things correctly. But there were like moments where it’s like, we how are we gonna make enough money to do what we’re trying to do here, or a big thing that I faced a lot earlier in my career like being, you know, I when I was at Jad when I started at Jazwares, I believe I was 19 or 20. So, you know, going into these meetings with when I was at the eSports company, or when I was at hunger craft going to these meetings with major game publishers, or just major companies and trying to sell them on advertising or sell them on partnerships. And they see a teenager walk in, you know, it’s like, just fighting through some of the assumptions. People make a view when you’re young. It’s a double-edged sword. Like, a lot of times people will be like, wow, like, you’re, you’re clearly not legitimate. You’re like, you’re just you’re faking until you make it. But a lot of people, you know, just like the founder and CEO of Jazwares has a way a lot of people have a way of seeing on the other side of like, wow, like, you’re showing signs of being an entrepreneur being successful later in life, like you’re at such a young age, or you’re trying to do these things. So it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, but yeah, totally there. It’s so tough, like looking back, I’ll like identify, like, oh, wow, I, if I was there, if I was there, now, I would have handled that differently.

Kim Doyal 18:02
But that’s how we learn, right? I mean, you have to kind of figure it out. So okay, so you’re working for jazz? Where was the leap to Warren James?

Kevin Ramsey 18:11
Yeah, so at the time I was managing licensing for within gaming. So I was like, trying to identify gaming properties for them working with Minecraft as well. And then we, at one point, like 2016 or so, came up with the idea of going out and signing all the top gaming YouTubers, and putting them underneath an umbrella brand called Tube heroes, turning them into action figures and plush toys, and then selling it into retail. So we got people like The Diamond Minecart Captain sparkle, SkyDoesMinecraft all the biggest guys at the time, and put them in Toys R Us target Walmart, they went global, it did tons of money within the two year period. And through this, I had my ear to the ground of YouTube, like I was always trying to identify up-and-coming creators for us to sign like we, in aggregate, we had like 10 billion views across all the channels is like 50 creators or so. And I started to notice creators that you know, they’re making Minecraft content or whatever, they would start to create content for Roblox and their videos would start to just they would blow up off of these videos, they would do double or triple their normal viewership and started to really

Kim Doyal 19:31
look up you gotta tell me roadblocks because you mentioned that the other day and we were talking and I was like what is wrong?

Kevin Ramsey 19:36
Yeah, so Rob ello X,

Kim Doyal 19:39
Roblox, Roblox okay.

Kevin Ramsey 19:41
Yeah, it’s kind of a little difficult to explain what it is. It’s like it’s within a new space. We’re calling them the metaverse where it pulls together a couple of elements of social so it’s a platform where you go on You create your own avatar, there’s a catalog, you can buy outfits, you can buy accessories, etc. So you customize your avatar. And then there’s a big catalog of games that you can jump in and play with your friends in the games are made by the community. So like, I could go on there, develop a game using the Roblox assets and the roebucks tools, publish the game to the platform. And then users come across it and the cataloger I’ve marketed and they’ll jump in and play my game, and they could spend money. And then if they spend money, I make some money. And in addition to that, it’s got like voice chat, it’s got text chat. It has they have like live events, like, I think later this month, or sorry, last month, they had little nos x do a live concert in Roblox. So it’s kind of a social meets video game platform. And at the time, I started to see it and looked into it, and it’s like, okay, so it has a bit of a snowball effect to it, because players will go to the game, don’t play these games will spend money, the developers will make money from it, then they’ll have the ability to hire staff and more developers and make better games, which in turn, will make more people come and play the game. So it’s kind of like a little bit of a snowball effect. And I mean, they went public earlier this year at right now their market cap, I think he’s like 50 billion or something. So they got really lucky with identifying them back in 2016. So jazzers went and signed the master toy rights for Roblox. By the time we signed it, we realized it was really going to be something special. So I then moved to China, Shenzhen, China to oversee product development to get it out on an expedited timeline. And it’s still retail today is a massive, massive, like, I think it peaked it within the top five boys property of retail in the US within toys. So it’s it’s a massive program. And I oversaw like two toy lines when I was at Jazwares for it. And then eventually, Roblox approached me and asked me to switch sides of the table and go work for them to manage their merchandise business in-house. So, you know, I, I took the opportunity and moved to San Francisco. And that was a that was it was kind of funny at being on the other side of the table. I was then managing Jazwares. So like I was working for the company to manage the company.

Kim Doyal 22:39
Yeah. But who better to do I kind of?

Kevin Ramsey 22:43
Yeah, I was, it was interesting because I understood both sides, you know, so it worked quite well. And then I was at Jazwares are so I was at Roblox for a little under two years. But all throughout this, I’d been helping creators on the side with their merchandise programs, it was like, you know, for a while, like 2015 2016, it was a lot of logos, slapping a lot of print on demand. And then there eventually just was like, there’s a shift in the market. And I think YouTube got cooler, parents were more comfortable putting their credit cards into YouTubers websites to buy product, the product would show up. And it just, it’s something started to change. And my business partner, Ben and I, who were we both both in helping creators kind of just came to the conclusion at the same time that if we didn’t take the jump now and go full time into this, we’d be looking back on what we thought was gonna be a massive industry. And so this was beginning end of 2018, beginning of 2019. And from there we moved move from San Francisco to Los to down to Los Angeles to be in like the heart of entertainment, the heart of domestic manufacturing.

Kim Doyal 23:51
Oh my god, what a story. I sort of had Kevin, I have like 20,000 questions, always. But I’m like, I just think it’s fascinating. I mean, you move to China, that must have been an amazing experience in China to San Francisco. And I mean, I just think it’s astounding. So So let’s, halfway now, let’s jump into Warren James. So Ben, where did you and your co-founder, Ben connect,

Kevin Ramsey 24:12
we actually connected back during hunger craft. So back in high school, we, one of his friends when I think was his middle school friend was working for me on the community side. So we got introduced, we became friends through that. And then when I got into college, funnily enough, he was on that professional smite team that I was on. He was the ad carry, and I was support. So that was kind of our, it kind of took a little bit further in terms of our engagement, how much we were talking about opportunities. And then when I was especially when I was living in China, it opened up my eyes to like, I saw fidget spinners really, really early. We tried to do a fidget spinner project with a YouTuber. At that point in time, we also opened up a warehouse in southern Florida to do fulfillment print on demand. So it just kind of naturally. We just started jumping after we both had the inclination to be entrepreneurs. So we just like naturally just started jumping on projects. And when I was out, at one point, when I was at Roblox, he moved to San Francisco lived on my couch. We just kind of like brainstormed, you know, what could be based on what we were seeing in the crater space. And then that was kind of the jumping off point. Kim Doyal 25:29
Just Alright, that I sort of this is so fascinating. Alright, so you guys decided to go all in with this. How did you get this started? I mean, obviously, you had connections, you I mean, the whole ability to, to get stuff produced and reach out to influencers? Did you get funding for this? Did you guys self fund it? What was the beginning stages of going let’s go all in with this. And I like that the the naming so if you guys want to share this with the listeners, how you guys came up with Warren James?

Kevin Ramsey 25:57
Yeah, war. So we’re in James. Ben’s been only in this war. And my middle name is James. The thought process behind is like, especially at this point in time, the creator economy was extremely unsophisticated. So we wanted to have a name that showed a little bit of mature maturity to it kind of sounds a little bit like a law firm. But yeah, it was, we wanted to sneak our names in there without being super blunt. But yeah, so luckily had the connections with creators. We, funnily enough, our first real account was AF now, which is just crazy that we’ve been involved with their, their, their story up to this point because they’re right now they’re currently sitting at the biggest gaming channel in the world getting roughly half a billion views per month. And when we started working with them, they were doing, you know, 30 or 40 million views per month, which is standard, which is incredible. That’s a huge account. But going from 30 to 500 million. During the last three years, it’s it was a real blessing to be partnered with them, because from pretty much from day one, they tasked us with a couple of projects, one of them being a plush toy project, one of them being a roleplay project. And for us day one, it was sizable enough that like, we were just so focused on their program, we were day one pretty much booked a flight to China, and spent that year I think I went five or six times for to oversee development and production at different stages. And it was just, it was just awesome having an account from the beginning that we could just really dedicate our time to, and learn and grow with.

Kim Doyal 27:40
So they really I mean, not necessarily they funded it, but they really helped you take off from the beginning and set everything up. And so you already have relationships in China for manufacturing and product sourcing. Now, when it comes to, so let’s say you’re working with them, and you want to do some plush, do you guys design it? Where do you get the designs done? What is that process like?

Kevin Ramsey 28:02
So now it’s changed a bit. Since when we first started, we’re really scrappy with it. But now we have in-house design. We have a whole creative team, we have a creative director, both in the US and China, we have technical designers in China and fashion designers in the US. But back then it was it, we were just we’d go on Fiverr we’d go we’d search anywhere possible, you know, to find artists that we could afford to help us create the designs that we were trying to go after. But to answer one of your questions from earlier, we did do an angel round of investing. When we launched the company, which gave us a little bit of runway gave us you know a little bit of security, you know, buying a ticket to China is not cheap, right? Like getting the hotel in China all day, just like it gave us a little bit of runway. We didn’t raise a whole lot, but it was enough for us to know that. We had enough time to make it happen. We had some time to make some failures, lose some money, and then like learn what we were doing and then get it on the right path.

Kim Doyal 29:06
Man, it’s it’s just astounding. So when you guys started, I’m guessing like it looks like I mean, just from our conversation today. So I’m in making assumptions here. But you were in a sort of like a warehouse or manufacturing. So do you have facilities in Los Angeles now, as well as relationships with manufacturers outside of the US?

Kevin Ramsey 29:28
We had facilities in Los Angeles COVID really shook up the manufacturing space, especially in the US. We do have a facility like a warehouse in southern China or sorry, Southern California that we will put the product in sometimes but at this point, our operation in China is quite large. We have roughly 2530 people in China full-time. We have our office there that is made up of product designers, product developers quality control, accounting, you know, everything that goes into running a facility, and then we have our own warehouse fulfillment center in China, that will actually ship will move product from a factory to our own warehouse in China and then ship it directly to the customer. And that’s been caused by a symptom of COVID disrupting supply chains. And actually funny enough, through it all, we found that it’s cheaper and faster for us to ship a product from Guangzhou, China on the facility to a customer in the US than it is for us to put it on a boat, bring it into the states on board in a facility in California and then ship it out. So that’s predominantly what we do now. And then, in addition to that, we also own an apparel factory in Guangzhou, China, it’s all our office, the apparel factory, and the fulfillment center all in the same warehouse building. So we can go from designing an item, manufacturing the item, moving it upstairs to the warehouse, and then out the door to the customer. All verticalized all through Warren James employees.

Kim Doyal 31:08
Wow, this is so fascinating. So let’s talk a little bit about who you guys work with and how that process happened. So my understanding is I mean, you guys, but with your experience, I’m guessing that you do source and approach influencers or I don’t want I don’t know what other term to use, let’s say creators instead of influencers. But so are you. Are you going after still specifically in the gaming market? I mean, how do you get those people that are like, Yeah, let’s go ahead. And let’s do this, especially since you’re doing so much in-house for them, like you guys are kind of running the whole show, and they just use their brand to market it is my understanding.

Kevin Ramsey 31:47
Definitely, yeah. So because we really have product development as the backbone of our business, the fact that both Ben and I come from product development, you know, career, we came into this space, trying to treat these brands as you would a mainstream property right, like as you would a Spongebob or a Pokemon and not forcing them to fit inside of a box you know, of okay, it’s easy to make T-shirts, it’s easy to make hoodies, it’s easy to make mousepads. And that’s what you got. That’s what you have to choose from. We really look at each brand holistically. Look at what the brand represents looks at look at who the audience is, and then identify what product assortment will truly make sense for this audience and what will they appreciate. So, at this point, we’ve produced I mean, we’ve produced so many categories, everything from Cut and Sew apparel, to plush and toys, to jewelry, to consumables to furniture stationery, like we’ve done a massage gun, we’ve done an ice cream maker, it’s like we’ve made some pretty crazy categories. And because of that, we can work with any type of creator that has you know, an engaged large audience, right. So like, we work with Tucker Bud’s in you know the most famous Golden Retriever on the and I friggin love those videos. Yeah, it’s adorable. And like for them, like the demographic is different than, you know, AF bows, younger audience demographics of the product assortment is different. And just because of what we can do on the creative side, and on the product side, we don’t just work with gamers we work with any creator, right. But that being said, because you know, custom product making, you know, custom gaming chair, there are minimums and there’s investment associated with that, we tend to only work with the largest creators out there, craters that you know, we’re doing millions a year in direct consumer revenue.

Kim Doyal 33:55
Because I’ve got the audience to sell it. And there’s I mean, in terms of getting this stuff, I’ve no idea what type of investments required right but to see because you’re looking at starting a merchandise line with people, right? You’re not looking at oh, let’s create one thing. And the goal is to create a merchandise line to add a revenue stream for them and for you guys.

Kevin Ramsey 34:14
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we look at it as like we’re in many cases we’re building brands like a lot of the programs we do like destroying the biggest like football influencer, former D one athlete. For him. It’s not destroying merchandise. It’s the 11 by destroying and it’s an athletic clothing line. And that’s the thought process we typically take like AF Mt. AF now merch it’s funny it’s not it’s funny merch is crew district by its funnier crew district. So it’s all about building these standalone brands that will at some point transcend the Creator themselves. These programs could be spun off into their own companies they could go through venture they could be sold So we don’t really call it merchandise, like a lot of times its apparel development, or it’s because it’s just custom product development. It’s not, it’s not merchandise.

Kim Doyal 35:11
No, I totally get it. It’s not really relative. But I mean, it’s like, I’m such a little bit obsessed with newsletters and this sort of second coming of them. And when I work with people, I’m like, you want to create a publication, it’s not just your newsletter, so that it’s a standalone asset, in essence, is what you’re building right with it a unique audience for that company. And it’s so my understanding with you, it’s similar and that, you know, the brand, the influence, or whatever it is, it’s like, there’s the powerhouse behind it, but it becomes a potentially saleable company if that’s what you want to do with it. Yeah, spot on. Wow. So what do you have expectations of what they have what they do with the product, once you guys have developed it, or literally, it’s like, hey, it’s up to you now? Or do you guys work on a game plan to market

Kevin Ramsey 36:01
is super collaborative the process with them, like we just, you know, we found that, you know, the cooler the product is, the more excited the creator is, and the more likely they are to market it. But that being said like we brand team, and the marketing team will work really closely with the Creator to build out a strategy that makes sense for them, based on their content, right, like everyone uploads different ways in, you know, the different social outlets that they use for pushing product, like certain creators, the Community tab on YouTube is super powerful, other creators, their Instagram is really relevant. So we’ll work with them to build out that strategy. Because it’s, you know, it’s a mixture of they want to sell out, but, you know, you want to make as much money and sell as much product as possible. So like, really trying to understand that balance. And a lot of times you will generate assets for them so that they’ve got, you know, imagery and video videos to show in their content to make it a little bit easier to take the work off of their plate. And, you know, a lot of times it’s all about, especially with the older demographics, it’s about building up hype, in advance of launch. So starting to see the product, we’ll put together like influencer care packages, where we’ll send a box of apparel out to other YouTubers that maybe they’ll wear it, maybe we’ll post about it. And we’ll also in many cases, produce less inventory than we know the Creator would move. That way it sells out quickly. And it’s like, okay, if you want to take part in this, this experience next time, you got to, you got to move a little bit quicker, you got to buy a little bit faster, right. So which the fans like, as weird as they like, they actually kind of enjoy that. It’s like you’re taking part in the moment, you know? Yeah.

Kim Doyal 37:43
What was the company? I’m totally drawing a blank. I mean, my seven-cylinder they used to do drops. And I mean, that that was it, they would do it for one day, and you had to and then people started just reselling it, because they knew Oh, supreme, supreme. Thank you. Thank you. Yep.

Kevin Ramsey 37:57
Yeah, yeah, super similar, like a marketing strategy. We don’t do that all the time. Because like, if it’s a, we work with some craters that have like toddlers as the audience, and doing a job model is not, it’s not gonna work. Like we’re trying to reach the parents. And it’s like, so it depends. But that’s, a lot of times I’ve worked for a lot of like the teens or young adults.

Kim Doyal 38:18
Interesting. So what would you recommend? Let’s, let’s talk a little bit about what happened. I mean, I don’t have deep I want to go with COVID. And because it’s turned everything upside down. And, you know, when we were talking today, I was mentioning a friend I want to connect you with, they’re doing a series of sort of documentaries called the death of brick and mortar, which is all about ecom, and all of this. And so where do you see some big changes that have happened sort of in the merchandise space, or manufacturing in terms of people who are listening to this thinking, Oh, my God, I’ve got this idea for a product I’ve always wanted to, to get a product created and get it out there. I mean, I know you guys are specific to the Creator space, but for those, for those of us who don’t have, you know, millions and billions of views, you know, what would you Where would you tell someone to start?

Kevin Ramsey 39:05
Yeah, that’s a great question. It is unfortunate that like, you know, we’re talking about COVID Hoping that was in the past, but like, you know, it’s starting to come back up a little bit. But, you know, the biggest thing we’ve kind of seen there, you know, there was a period last year where at the beginning of COVID, e-commerce sales, were just through the roof. You know, retail wasn’t really an option. People were buying like crazy amounts of toilet paper on Amazon. It was just like, everyone was seeing this massive increase but that aside, where it’s come back down to the new normal, the big thing is the supply chain is still to this day just totally disrupted like I don’t know if you’ve seen but like, container costs have like tripled or quadrupled. There are just port delays on the China side and port boats are just stuck on the US side with containers on I’m not able to unload Just like even trucking has been disrupted in the US because of the labor force. So it’s just been kind of thrown upside down. That being said, you know, retail is starting to pick up again, like I know, especially at Target and Walmart are doing pretty crazy numbers. And now that they’re back open again, the big thing that I’m kind of seeing is a shift, sort of, to direct consumer from those big retailers, like they’re starting to, in the past, right? He was like, you look at, like a hot topic, right? Or you look at a Walmart versus an Amazon for these, like massive retail toy programs, like was like, was just, it was whatever. In the past, it was like, they would always be like, hey, we want to test you on And like, that was a worst-case scenario, because like, you’re gonna move like no product, because they got like, no traffic. But COVID has caused those retailers to be like, Well, hold on. It’s convenient. There’s a habit there, there’s a bigger variety selection wise, like, maybe that’s it, maybe there’s a place here in our business for calm. And kind of through that as well. Like, the interesting thing, looking at our business, and we’re actually doing a program next year, where we’re taking one of our bigger craters into retail, the value proposition is that we have so much data, you know, we know, average cart size, we know returning customer rate, we know retention rate, we know what items are selling best, we know what items are causing them to leave, we know like, what price per item makes sense, what price is too high, what prices too low, and like, we have all this data that you can’t get at retail, like POS, pos data at Walmart and Target will tell you like roughly how much you’re selling, you know, like on a day to day basis, but it’s really kind of weekly and really monthly, and you don’t get very much it’s like you’re trying to read in between the lines understand what’s going on. So for a retailer, looking at direct to consumer, it’s a, it gives them a lot of confidence, you know, bringing a new brand and brand in. So it’s like, Oh, you guys are doing whatever in terms of sales, and you have all this data like, Okay, I’ll put you I’ll give you placement because I know pretty confidently that you’re going to move through a certain amount of product. And then in addition to that, you have your calm, so you have a pretty strong audience there, that’s checking the website every day, you can use that audience and drive them into the retail store. So it’s like, it’s starting to become like a good addition too, to the retail, like, and I was woken up finally. Yeah, it feels like a little bit yet. I think it’ll just continue over time, that percentage is going to shift more and more to direct to consumer.

Kim Doyal 42:48
Wow, that’s fascinating. It’s, uh, one thing I always thought about with, you know, you look at online advertising. And, I mean, as much as Apple’s trying to shut stuff down with some of that, you know, the fact that you have so many more points of data, and you can literally see, oh, they left the page at this time. And, you know, or they did this action in this action, but then they stopped here. And so you know, where to tweak and course correct in that marketing funnel? Kevin Ramsey 43:11
Totally. Yeah, it’s, um, it’s eye-opening, like coming from retail going to direct consumer, like, there’s so much there. And that is super valuable.

Kim Doyal 43:22
Wow. So what would you recommend? What would you tell somebody who thought I think I want to get into manufacturing my own merchandise line? I mean, forget the audience piece of it. But just that that front-end piece of I want to create a physical product.

Kevin Ramsey 43:36
Yeah, it’s, it’s tough to remove the audience or the consumer from the conversation because, you know, you can have the best product in the world. But if you can’t, if you can’t reach anyone with it, right, it’s not gonna sell that. That being said, though, there are a lot of resources out there, you know, Amazon, I’ve got a bunch of friends that make crazy amounts of money selling on Amazon, like I have a friend Fulfilled by Amazon. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I have a friend who, you know, I, there’s software out there to help you like dig into what’s moving on Amazon and trying to identify holes in the market. But I had a friend who identified that these circle sponges for the sinks, you know, that for whatever reason, there was a hole in the market in terms of like, customers were looking for something and it wasn’t really available. So he went and got those produced, and he was making like a million in the first month of listing on Amazon. That being said, right that, you know, that’s an extreme example, but you know, Amazon has the audience already, right. So it’s, it makes it there are resources where you can focus more on finding your place in the market and not having to connect the whole picture but understanding the audience and how you’re going to reach them is like it has to kind of go in tandem with deciding what you’re going to make. Yeah. And then in addition to that, there’s like Shopify and WooCommerce and a bunch of if you don’t go the Amazon route, if you feel You know, you have a strong understanding of digital marketing or whatever might be, you could also do it yourself. And it’s it’s relatively plug and play.

Kim Doyal 45:08
Yeah, well, I mean, in terms when I say, you know, leave the audience aside, just, I mean, I would assume you have to have an audience, right? I mean, this is not for somebody who I always tell people this with content marketing, any that I mean, build the audience, first, I mean, build a relationship, connect with them, and then make an offer, as soon as you can, as soon as you have validation that your audience likes, what you’re doing and who you are, you know, get something out there as quick as possible. So, since you guys are collaborating with the craters, let me ask you this, where do you go about finding craters usually are just paying attention to what’s happening on social or obviously, in certain spaces, or people approaching you now, how does that relationship come about,

Kevin Ramsey 45:47
we do have some creators that reach out to us through social or through other creators or, you know, through our website, but, you know, the vast majority is always going to end up being because we were quite selective with who we work with because they have to hit certain thresholds in terms of the business size. So, you know, in regards to getting in touch with, like, those types of creators, we’ve got a business development team that just solely focuses on outreach in, you know, an account acquisition. So, you know, we do everything under the sun, right, in terms of identifying it’s like, you know, really dialing into the data on YouTube, understanding who’s trending who’s not trending, paying attention to upcoming platforms, like, you know, looking at TIC TOCs. Now, no longer I guess, an upcoming platform, but when it first came out, paying attention to who is trending there or clubhouse, or whatever it might be. And creators are tough, they’re there, most of them. They’re not, they’re not a business. They don’t have, for the most part, they don’t have like someone on the other end, that’s checking that their email every day, it’s a little bit of trying to shotgun approach it like sending them a cold email, you know, maybe tweeting at them on Twitter, trying to understand like, a lot of them, the big ones will have like formal representation by the WMD, or CIA’s of the world. So I tried to get in touch with whoever the representation is. But it’s tough sometimes, like some of them are just like a black box. And there’s like nothing available of how to get in touch with them. And in that instance, we have to like, we have to pull the favorite card and like try to ask someone we work with like, Hey, can you help us here? Like, can you reach out to him?

Kim Doyal 47:30
That’s so funny that there’s no way to get in touch with them. I’m just different generations

Kevin Ramsey 47:36
I was I kind of get it to a certain degree because like, if, you know, looking at Mr. Beast, right, for example, he does have public info, but like, the amount of fan emails he probably gets is like, whatever form of contact is available, the fan base is gonna find it, and it’s gonna, it’s gonna hit him up, you know? So it’s like, I kind of get it how it’s like, how do you make this like this convert this communication channel just for business people, and not have it just get flooded by fan mail.

Kim Doyal 48:08
Valid point, totally valid point. So let me ask you this. So if somebody you know, is listening, and they’re smaller, they wouldn’t be an ideal candidate for you. Maybe? What would you recommend? Would you say, you know, start with a print on demand and see if your audience wants merchandise from you? Because, I mean, there’s a difference between merchandise and there’s an in swag, right? Like, I love swag. I don’t know why it’s dumb. But like, Yes, I love T-shirts from companies that I love, right? I just do. And so it’s one of those things that at the same time like you to point you’re like, I don’t need another plastic water bottle, or a tote bag that’s just really can hold like two books. But, you know, what would you recommend to somebody who thinks they want to start getting into the merchandise space?

Kevin Ramsey 48:50
I highly recommend people get into merchandise, it’s like, it’s such a strong marketing tool. It’s a revenue stream. It’s a brand extension, right? There’s a lot in addition to the money element, there’s a lot that makes it valuable for creators. And I always say like, you know, regardless of the size of the Creator, like the fan base, wants merch, right? Like the fan base doesn’t care how big the fan base is, it’s just like, they know that they want to engage with you. So they’re not going to be on board with the idea of like, okay, I’ll come you’ll come out with merchandise when you’re way more popular. Like they, you know, they, they don’t get that, you know, so I think it’s worth getting into merchandise as soon as that as soon as you identify that there’s a customer there, right? And, you know, one of the big value points of being smaller is that like typically the audience is more engaged. So you know, pull your audience see what they want, see what they vibe with, you know, use the poll tool on Twitter or the community tab and like sort to figure out, you know, is it that they just want t-shirts or is it like, I’ve seen creators come out with, you know, electronics to start or plush toys like this They don’t really dial into what it is their, their audience truly wants. And they’ll come out with that. Those types of items, right, the more custom ones are a little more challenging because there’s, there’s not really print-on-demand solutions for that. If, if the answer you get back is like, yes, we want hoodies, we won’t have to on T-shirts, I would recommend going the on-demand route to start. Because of the lack of risk, right, you don’t have to purchase inventory. The unfortunate downside to print on demand is the quality of the product. Yeah, I would recommend, doing your research on that. Right. There are a lot of providers out there that offer that there’s a lot of different types of blanks out there. Right. So like, you know, infamously it’s like, oh, print on demand is terrible. And like, the item that shows up is a Gildan, blank, or whatever. And it’s like, okay, well, that is literally you know, the bottom tier, that’s the cheapest garment available for on-demand, like maybe, you know, go that route, maybe you go the champion route, or you go the American Apparel, or the Los Angeles apparel route, in terms of your blanks, and like, unfortunately, hurt your margin. But, you know, the the quality of the products a lot higher, and like it’s a

Kim Doyal 51:12
brand, right? I mean, it hurts your brand or your margin, but it helps your brand.

Kevin Ramsey 51:18
Yeah, especially in the beginning, right? Like those fans, those really, diehard engaged fans wearing a hoodie that they’re really happy with, that’s gonna pay dividends, right, like you’re gonna make way more in the long run, then you get off of the loss margin, right. So that’s what I would recommend. And then big thing craters, I feel like always take Miss always have a mistake of is, you know, if they go the on-demand route, you look at the catalog available from these providers. And it’s like everything under the sun, right? And they still they select everything, and you go to the store, and it’s like, you got 127 items available like consumer paralysis is a real thing. Totally diversion fatigue. Yeah, dial that back. Like, let’s come out with a couple of things. Let’s see how it goes. Like, come out with the things that truly make sense. And then make educated moves from there, get data and make decisions moving forward. Don’t throw, like the one that always kills me is like, it’s a gaming channel or whatever. And you like they have aprons for sale on their websites. Like, I mean, if you’re a cooking creator, but why are you selling aprons? You know,

Kim Doyal 52:25
totally, totally. Yeah. I don’t see. Yeah. That’s pretty funny. No, I think that’s, that’s hugely valuable. And I’ve seen that too, are a lot of they if somebody wants to sell merchandise with a brand, and you’re like, wow, there’s too many. You know, it’s interesting to the research piece of it. So I think I was telling you that so I have another brand e-commerce with the content creators planner. It’s a physical content planner that we’ve got some digital versions and stuff too. But, you know, we originally were looking at it because it’s a spiral-bound now, but we were originally looking at it like a faux leather bound anyways. But, we started pricing, and we were looking at China, it was fascinating. And we had a handful of samples done. And we ended up with somebody in the United States who did the lowest minimums, and it was the highest quality. I mean, I couldn’t have painted a better picture for us. And so it’s taking the time to do that and do your research. And then, you know, if you’re going to go the merchandise route, I mean, would you recommend outsourcing overseas, which you need huge minimums, though.

Kevin Ramsey 53:21
Yeah, it depends on the category. There are items that like, for example, notebooks, like, a lot of times the minimum is 100 pieces in China with the right supplier. So there are ways to get that down. And like, I feel like, you know, even if you’re, you have a pretty small audience like 100 hats, 100 notebooks, like, you’ll eventually move through it, right? Like, it’s usually not a huge investment. So that’s what I would typically recommend. In the US, there are options, but the fight usually, funnily enough, the minimum is a lot higher in the States because US labor is more expensive, and like the supply chain isn’t as sophisticated as it is in China. So it depends on the category. But like, if you want to cut and sew apparel, or tie-dye in the states, like true tie-dye in the States, the minimum could be upwards of 1000 pieces sometimes or 500 pieces. So it’s it kind of depends on what you’re trying to do. Yeah.

Kim Doyal 54:16
Yeah. Well, you know, as you’re saying that it’s funny because and this was also we probably didn’t have the resources. I think the minimums we were looking at which we shifted the direction but was like 1000 in China, but then we found a printer in the US for two for 250. Minimum, you know, to get going. And the price points were great too, which even you know, we saw our price per planter go up during COVID Two because of the manufacturing and stuff go up and even it’s still profitable everything but we watch that to God Kevin, I feel like I could pick your brain all day. This is so fascinating. This is wonderful. So where’s the best place for people to find out more about what you guys are doing and just a dig into this? Yeah, I

Kevin Ramsey 54:59
think LinkedIn is always a great place. You know me, Kevin Ramsey on LinkedIn. We also have Warren James on LinkedIn. We also have our website where James dot work. That one’s a little more white-label, it doesn’t have as much info. So LinkedIn or Twitter probably are the best places. I’m Kevin J. Kevin J. Ramsey on Twitter or WJ merchandise on Twitter.

Kim Doyal 55:22
Okay, perfect. And then for everybody listening to I will have the links in all the in the show notes. And when I’m showing this as well. So it’d be very easy to find, Kevin, God, this has been fantastic. Your story is you need to write about Kevin, I think you really need to write I’m not kidding you. It’s just a fascinating story. And I think it’s a huge inspiration. And I love that you followed your gut and just kept taking one step after the other. I mean, it’s a great story. So put on the back. You’re in your head, you need to write a book about your story. Thank you. Yeah. You’re welcome. So Kevin, thanks again for joining us, and we will catch you soon.

Kevin Ramsey 55:57
This has been awesome. Thank you so much for having me. Kim Doyal 56:02
This episode is brought to you by my f the hustle newsletter, the newsletter for vision-led entrepreneurs ready to enjoy the journey. Do good work, and grow a profitable business. It is time to ditch the hustle. Just go to Kim forward-slash f the hustle to sign up today. Transcribed by

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