How a former Research Scientist sold tens of thousands of gym bags last year.
Stefan Gehrig, a former Research Scientist, started King Kong Apparel in 2011 when he was heavily involved in the still-niche sport of CrossFit. Since then, starting with a single (relatively crappy) gym bag he has scaled to a Shopify Plus store that sells tens of thousands of bags, backpacks and meal prep bags per year.
Oh, and you'll never guess where they got their mascot from. It's wild.
King Kong bags are widely known for their toughness, durability and functionally and have grown with the sport of CrossFit, and branched out into other fitness markets.
The Unofficial Shopify Podcast
Kurt Elster: Today on The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, I am talking to a research scientist. Wait, no. I’m talking to a former research scientist turned CrossFitter. Well, hold on. He’s a CrossFitter and a Shopify Plus merchant. Yes, my guest today is Stefan Gehrig from King Kong Apparel, which makes some of the coolest gym bags, gym apparel that you could come up with, and they’ve got really tremendous branding. The whole thing. They have a guerrilla mascot. I thought this was really cool and I want to find out about it. So, he reached out to me, I checked out his site, I got through the homepage and I said, “I’m not gonna look at anymore.” I want to hear about this direct from the man with you guys, so we’re gonna learn about this together.
Stefan, how you doing?
Stefan Gehrig: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me on, Kurt. I really appreciate it.
Kurt Elster: Oh, my pleasure, and where are you located? Though I’m sure we could guess from the accent. You’re in New Jersey, right?
Stefan Gehrig: Close. Melbourne, Australia is the headquarters at the moment. We are an American company and I started the brand when I was living in San Francisco about eight years ago now, but I’m back home in Melbourne and facing some of the time zone tribulations to run a eCommerce brand in America from Australia.
Kurt Elster: You know, I’ve always wondered about that. Trying to run things with that big time zone difference and how much trouble that creates. But okay, let’s go back. What were you doing in the US?
Stefan Gehrig: I was actually over there for a conference, a muscle disease conference in New Orleans, and then I stayed around for another three months after that. There was the CrossFit games on, which I was competing in at the time. This was 2011. So, I lived in San Francisco. I was training at a CrossFit gym overlooking the San Francisco bridge in a parking lot, and that’s sort of what I was doing in America, and decided that we CrossFitters didn’t have any bags that were specific to our needs, and I thought… I had just finished my PhD and I thought, “I need another project, so I’ll make some bags and see what happens.”
Kurt Elster: So, I’m not a CrossFitter, and I don’t particularly go to the gym, but what is it about CrossFit that you would need a specific gym bag? Like if I were to go to the gym right now with some stuff, I’d grab my trusty duffel bag, which is in no way special. It’s just a duffel bag.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, sure. I mean, the duffel bag will do the job, but it doesn’t have some of the more specific things. I guess a few other things. Multiple shoes. You’re always bringing weightlifting shoes, cross trainers, you’ve got maybe knee sleeves or knee pads. Sorry, shin pads or shin sleeves for rope climbs. Lifting straps. You’ve got all sorts of gear, and if you throw it all into one bag, you’re never gonna find it. It’s not really particularly useful. And the CrossFit gym’s quite a tough sort of environment with concrete floors a lot of the time, so throwing a regular Under Armour or otherwise gym bag around is gonna get it torn up very quickly. So, in terms of toughness and compartments and functionality, that was sort of what I found was missing and what I thought would be nice to have.
Kurt Elster: This is crazy. Every single time on the show when I interview someone who has invented a product, or made something new and brought it to market, we’re three minutes in and already it’s, “Hey, I had a pain or problem in my life, there was no existing solution I liked, and so I said why not me? Why can’t I solve it myself?” Every time! That’s great.
Stefan Gehrig: It’s a similar story. Yeah. I’ve listened to your podcast for a while. I’ve listened to a few other, How I Built This, and it’s very similar stories all around. Absolutely.
Kurt Elster: All right, so you were a CrossFitter. This is back in 2011. And CrossFit requires specific gym equipment to get the job done, and so you want a specialized bag for that, and it’s gotta be tough, too, because it’s not going into a locker. It’s getting thrown onto a concrete floor and it’s gonna get beat up as it gets moved around. Did you look at other bags, other solutions, and go, “Man, I’m on my tenth bag here. My bag budget’s out of control.”
Stefan Gehrig: I did have a few other bags. Your standard thin polyester duffel. And I think that was fine, sort of I could fit my things in, but it just… Yeah, it didn’t work as well as I would have liked. The other thing I think about CrossFit, especially back in the early days, back then, was it’s quite a counterculture. It’s for people who don’t want to go to a regular gym, to a global gym, to your Snap Fitness or Jetts. And so, that counterculture, I sort of ran into the brands that people were using, as well, that were very supportive of brands within that CrossFit space, which were very small brands, generally. So, that was part of it as well, I guess. Made it easier to start initially because of that supportive atmosphere.
Kurt Elster: Oh, okay, so there’s definitely a community aspect to it. And it’s interesting. When you’re starting this, this is when Shopify, this is very early for Shopify, as well. They’ve not been around that long either. In what point in your journey did you spin up the online store?
Stefan Gehrig: Pretty much straight away, so the way it sort of came about was I had these ideas. Actually, someone from my gym suggested I read The 4-Hour Workweek, the book by Tim Ferriss.
Kurt Elster: Ooh, Tim Ferriss’s classic. I’ll put that in the show notes for people.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, exactly.
Kurt Elster: For like the two people who’ve not heard of it.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, I think everyone’s read it by now, but that was great, because it was really tangible advice on how to bring a product to market. Not sort of mumbo jumbo that you hear from some other books. It was go to Alibaba, find some factories or manufacturers that can do what you want, send some designs, get a few samples, iterate from there, and maybe produce, and that’s basically the template I used. I had a close friend of mine who was pretty good at WordPress, and he built a one-page website once we had the product, took some photos, put up a PayPal buy now button, tried to run a few Facebook ads and people started buying. So, it was fairly quick. It was several months, obviously, but it was fairly quick to get people to start buying, which was cool.
Kurt Elster: So, at that time, certainly it was easier to market to a small niche community, which CrossFit was, and Facebook ads were much easier. You could just go to the Traffic Store and buy some traffic for your website, right?
Stefan Gehrig: Yep. Yep.
Kurt Elster: But there was also, Kickstarter was around then. Did you think about or consider crowdfunding?
Stefan Gehrig: I didn’t at the time. I didn’t know about Kickstarter back then. We did try a Kickstarter campaign sort of two or three years in for a new range of bags, which was unsuccessful, unfortunately. We asked for 30,000 and we got to about 26,000-
Kurt Elster: Oh, that hurts when it’s close.
Stefan Gehrig: Didn’t quite get there. We probably could have pushed it over with some friends and family, but it didn’t make sense in terms of all of the outgoings or the costs. It needed to be sort of 30,000. But we didn’t try Kickstarter. Well, we. I say we. It was me at that stage and poured some savings into it and ordered from a Chinese factory, and just sort of dove headfirst in, I guess. Rather than getting preorders, testing it a little bit more than we… like we probably should have. And then launching. So, yeah, we dove in.
Kurt Elster: Sometimes not knowing what you don’t know is an asset. When things work out in your favor, it’s easy to have survivorship bias. Look back on it and go, “I’m glad that worked out.” And the same is true for me in starting my business. I mean, if I knew what I knew now, I probably would not have started, because I would have known too much. It would have been too scary.
Stefan Gehrig: No way. No way.
Kurt Elster: Everything worked out for you! But you’ve got… I still want to go back a little bit.
Stefan Gehrig: Sure.
Kurt Elster: And I want to remind people, all right, this is 2011, so some things are easier, some things are harder. You had the idea for the bag. Did you have any background in product development? How do you from… An idea is one thing. Sketching it out on a piece of paper is one thing. But then actually prototyping it and getting it manufactured, that’s extremely difficult. That’s what stops a lot of people. Walk me through that.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. I had no background in product design or business in general. I’d done science all my life, mainly biology, and so I guess part of the fun was learning some of the new stuff. In terms of the product design, it was, “Put this style of pocket onto this style of duffel. Put two shoe pockets in.” It was sort of… It wasn’t sketched, even. It was drawn up in PowerPoint and sent across to China. And not surprisingly, the first bags weren’t aesthetically pleasing or particularly hard wearing like they are now. It was this cotton canvas that we weren’t particularly happy with. And so, I think, like you say, without knowing what we didn’t know-
Kurt Elster: So, you gave them basically a rough idea to a factory and said, “Send me a sample?”
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Yeah, pretty much. They had a few bags that they designed, and I said, “Yeah, that’s good. Make these changes to that bag and we’ll see where we go.” And then, so we got a sample back a month later or so. I took some photos, said, “Make this pocket bigger. Put our logo here and here.” And got another sample, and so it was about three iterations before we were happy enough to bring it to market. And looking back at that product now, I can’t even look at it. It’s so hideous. And the quality is not particularly good, so I’m happy we’ve moved on from there, that’s for sure.
Kurt Elster: Well, you know what? At the same time, you should be able to look back on things you did a while ago and be embarrassed by them. I recently, someone put together a list of the best eCommerce podcasts and they had our very first episode in it. We’re on episode 200… Closing in on 300 episodes here. And so, when I went back and listened to that first episode, within 60 seconds I was like, “I can’t listen to this anymore. It’s awful. Cringey. Embarrassing. Hideous.” That’s how it should be. If I had made 300 episodes, or you’d been in business for 10 years, and your current product is just as good as but no better than what you started with, all right, that’s not a good sign. That’s a red flag. So, that’s a badge of honor. That means you have improved dramatically.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve gone through… Yeah, I wouldn’t have any idea how many iterations of different bags. 50, 80, 100 maybe, and maybe six or seven websites. It seems like every year and a half, two years, it’s sort of redesigned and relaunched. So, yeah, we’ve come a long way, which is great, and you’re absolutely right. If we’re where we were back then, well, we wouldn’t have a business.
Kurt Elster: You came up with the… You’ve got the first iteration of the bag. You put that up on a website. You’re able to drive traffic to it with Facebook and start selling it. But that’s 10 years ago. Now, you’ve got these really incredible bags. That was I assume a process of learning, and revision, and iteration, where they get progressively better over time. And you’ve got this really tremendous branding, and it’s called King Kong Apparel. So, I love this branding, and you’ve got a gorilla mascot. Tell me about this. How did this come together?
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, so when we started, which was eight years ago, CrossFit was in the early days, and the toughest workout in CrossFit or one of the very toughest was called King Kong. It was super heavy weights, it was quite technical, Olympic weightlifting, and only the toughest and the best athletes could complete it, so that was… We were really talking to our demographic there about this aspirational bag or this aspirational workout, and then obviously King Kong has its connotations of strength and toughness.
Kurt Elster: It’s one of those things where your audience would recognize that immediately, like that’s a subtle sign that indicates to them like, “Okay, these guys are legit, and they get our space. They understand who we are.”
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Yeah, I think that was one of the main things that we did early on, was use the CrossFit vernacular about… Other names, I can’t remember exactly, but it was the bag for elite fitness, I think, which was one of the catch phrases that they were using. Being ready for anything with your bag, because the idea was to go in and you didn’t know what work you were gonna do, you’d be ready for anything. And that’s why you’d have a bag with all your gear, because who knows what’s going to get thrown at you? So, we were really I think able to speak to that demographic with our branding on the website and with some of the Facebook ads that we ran initially and that sort of thing.
Kurt Elster: Well, now you’ve got a guy in a gorilla suit, and it actually looks really good. Talk to me about this guy.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, so that’s quite recent. That was actually last year. We engaged a friend of mine to do a branding piece, so we were pretty happy with the products, but we really wanted to knuckle down on the branding and come up with sort of a brand ambassador that stood for what we wanted to stand for as a brand, and that is that our bags are kind of an extension of a coach. So, the bag’s ready for you when you need them, the coach is ready for you when you need them, and this idea of this old school, sort of take-no-prisoners coach, who’s really tough, but he’s on your side, sort of mirroring the bags.
And Ray, which is the monkey, or in the gorilla suit, was sort of the personification of that brand identity, and that’s where we made the videos, where he’s this tough, old school coach with a stopwatch and a whistle, and I think that sort of speaks the personality of the brand quite well.
Kurt Elster: The gorilla costume is so good. Where did you get this thing? I wouldn’t even know where to go buy a gorilla costume of this caliber. Like, to give an idea of how good this thing is, I had to stare at it. I’m like, “Am I looking at a render, or is this real life?”
Stefan Gehrig: It’s real life. It’s an animatronic suit. Actually, that was done in the UK. This is the beauty of a global business. We can go on Upwork or any of these and have some of the best people in the world do things where we’re not even sort of at the gym. I wasn’t there for that shoot or anything. That was done at a gym in the UK. Using, yeah, an animatronic monkey head that was used for one of the Planet of the Apes movies.
Kurt Elster: No way!
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. It’s a really, really good quality head, and the reason we could do it on a smaller budget was we had a relationship with the filming studio who did it. We knew the gym where they filmed it. And we only needed the head. We didn’t need the whole body. We had the hands and the head, which made things much easier, and then you see that red track suit that he’s wearing. And yeah, my understanding with that head, the guerilla head, is that it attaches somehow to your facial muscles. It actually only fits one guy. It’s made specifically for him. And then his facial expressions get transferred into the guerilla using small motors or however it works in there. But it’s-
Kurt Elster: Holy crap!
Stefan Gehrig: It’s a pretty serious piece of equipment. There’s no way we could buy it. We had to hire it for half a day for the shoot.
Kurt Elster: All right, so Unofficial Shopify Podcast first. You got animatronics, number one, and like full on Hollywood, big budget, blockbuster movie props for what, you know what? Honest to God, where that image ended up, in your popup. You used the same props that… I don’t know who directed those Planet of the Apes movies, but like Hollywood level, Andy Serkis costume stuff in a damn newsletter popup.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. We did use it in other videos, as well, but that’s sort of where it’s ended up, I guess. Yeah, you could say that. I don’t like to think about it that way, but-
Kurt Elster: All right. It’s funny.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, that’s where it’s ended.
Kurt Elster: No, I saw it on Instagram. I saw it throughout your social media. But yeah, I was drawn to it. I was like, “Okay, this thing is cool.” You’ve been doing this since 2011. How has running an eCommerce business changed, do you think, in that time?
Stefan Gehrig: We could probably talk a couple of hours about that. Initially, we ran only a few Facebook ads, and as you know, our cost per conversion I think at the time was something like… I don’t know, $8 or something. It was ridiculously low. That’s gone up five-fold. It’s really a really noisy space on Facebook and on Instagram, so I think it’s changed heavily. If I could sort of summarize it, I think for eCommerce, it’s gone from trying to jump on these social media platforms, all the way back around to build your email list, use automation flows, build your brand through that, and have a channel that you own, as you’ve said in many podcasts, many episodes in the past. That’s kind of what we’re really working hard at doing this year. And yeah, I think it’s just blown up in terms of how much noise there is on social, so it’s really quite hard to build a brand purely through those channels.
Kurt Elster: So, let’s say you were to start over today. Suddenly, I don’t know what happens, but you have to rebuild a similar business just right… This year. How do you do it? And how would that be different from 10 years ago?
Stefan Gehrig: Well, you’ve put me on the spot. How would I do that? Well, I would be able to make a much better product from the beginning, so I’d have less time spent iterating the product. I’d know exactly where to go, how to get the right people on board to design a bag in this case again. If I had to build the community again, I probably would try Kickstarter. I think that’s a worthwhile initial step. I think if you fail on Kickstarter, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the product or the brand can’t work, but it’s a nice way to potentially jumpstart a year or two.
And depending on the success there, I would build a very simple website. I think I would have the classic Tim Ferriss buy now button, and then it takes you to a page saying, “Drop your email to buy when this is available.” So, you can really see how many people would have purchased. You can do a bit of a market test. You can drive a little bit of traffic there. I know social media’s expensive, but you still need to drive a little bit of traffic. And I guess push your friends and family to share as much as possible and try to carve out a little tiny niche, as tight as possible, and grow outwards from there.
Kurt Elster: I like that. I forgot that that was what Tim Ferriss recommended. Maybe I need to go back and reread The 4-hour Work Week. One of the keywords I heard there was build a community. Have you a built a community around this brand? I mean, CrossFit is very much a community.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Yeah, I think we have. One of the… I don’t want to blow your horn too much, but one of the things that we heard about during one of your chats with I think Tyler… Is it Tyler from BombTech Golf?
Kurt Elster: Yes. Tyler Sully Sullivan. He goes by Sully.
Stefan Gehrig: Sully. Yeah. Sully. Was this idea of this owner’s group on Facebook, and that’s what we’ve done in the past few months, so there’s a really strong community of bag owners there, which we drive from a thank you page popup and our post-purchase emails. They get invites to the group and then we can talk about designs, new bags, what they’d like to see, new products, things like that. And that’s probably our tightest community. I guess if you sort of think about that as our inner circle, and then we’ve got an email list of 30,000 people. I don’t know how many numbers you want here, but I’ll give as many as possible.
Kurt Elster: Well, I encourage people to not compare themselves and get obsessed with the numbers. It’s still really cool when people share the numbers, because I think it’s easy to look at a brand from the outside and you have no idea. Is it 1,000 subscribers? 100,000 subscribers? Who knows?
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I love to hear the numbers myself, so I can sort of see what to aspire to, or where we sort of sit and how we can know what’s possible, and I guess… So, that email list there is a second circle of people who are very engaged, we have sequences that get rid of people if they’re not interested. And so, I think we’ve built a really tight community around the brand. Not necessarily CrossFit anymore. We’ve worked pretty hard to move into some of the other niche functional fitness sports, like powerlifting, strongman, a little bit into MMA, which is a real big focus for us over the next 12 months, to really push into that space, as well.
And yeah, like you said, it’s all about the brand. I think that’s one of the most important things that we’ve tried to do. Every couple of years I’ve gone to this fair, it’s called Canton Fair in Guangzhou. You may have heard of it. It’s one of the biggest fairs in the world.
Kurt Elster: I’ve not, because there’s no way I could remember the phrase you just said.
Stefan Gehrig: It’s in Guangzhou, and all the manufacturers from China and around Asia go there, and if you walk along, it’s football field after football field of bag manufacturers, and obviously everything else, as well, and it’s all about the brand. The only way to distinguish yourself is to build a strong brand and be able to build a community around that, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do. I think we’ve come a long way in the last few years of doing that, but we’ve got a long way to go on that, as well, so we’re working pretty hard there.
Kurt Elster: And so far, I love everything you’re saying. This is turning into an excellent episode. I’m very pleased with this. I love that you’ve been doing it for so long and you came to it as an outsider. I went to school for business, so even when starting my business, I still had some background. I had some preexisting expectations. What do you think, coming at it with someone who didn’t have a business or marketing background, what was the thing you struggled with? What were some of the skills that you have now that you wish you could have had then?
Stefan Gehrig: I think a lot of it is the marketing aspects for me. I think knowing the suite of tools that you have to market to people and to reach people, all the different social channels which there are… There’s TikTok now, which is great for younger people. Obviously, Instagram, Facebook, all of those. Email. We did a lot of supporting of competitions early days with prizes and things like that. I think-
Kurt Elster: So, like event sponsorship.
Stefan Gehrig: Event sponsorship.
Kurt Elster: Okay.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, I think one of the things I didn’t realize, I mean you can market… It’s only limited by your imagination and what channels you can reach people with. And that’s… I think I was quite limited in that thinking, where it was like you need a big budget, you need to be able to go on radio or television, and that was sort of the only way to reach people. You can reach niches of 10 people potentially, or 100 people, through all sorts of different ways, and that’s something I probably would like to have the opportunity of doing again.
Kurt Elster: I think one of the… Well, a couple things that have stood out to me in this discussion is that prototypical entrepreneurial story, of course, where you built the thing for yourself, because you saw that need, and you came at it as an outsider. And then you used it to an existing community, to leverage and then to build something for them, as a member of the community, and then build your own community, subcommunity within that. Can I say community a few more times? I love that about this story, and I think that’s one of those things where like no matter how bad times get, if you have dark days in a business, and it happens to everybody, being able to lean back on that community is great. Like for me, with our Facebook group, being able to post in that group and then get immediate feedback, and comments, and reactions to stuff is always really cool.
Sometimes when I put together a really great post, it’s because I’m having a really bad day, and it’s like I know, “All right, if I just go help some people, that’ll turn that mood around.” That was quite the tangent I went on. Sorry. So, speaking of dark days, you’ve been doing this a long time. I hate to even ask this question, but small businesses fail. Have you ever come close to going under in the last decade?
Stefan Gehrig: We haven’t been incredibly close. We’ve had a couple of interesting sort of run ins. I think for me, one of the things, I know a lot of people say, “Burn the ships, jump right in.” I think for me, one of the things that worked really well was the fact that for the first few years, it was a side hustle. My primary income was research, so there was no pressure to take a salary. We could grow slowly and organically.
I guess the closest we’ve come to having big problems and going under was during one shipment of bags that was shipped from our factory in southern China, through LA’s port, and somehow, I’m not even sure how, there was a miscommunication and the factory didn’t put these country of origin labels on.
Kurt Elster: Oh no.
Stefan Gehrig: And so, Customs was quite upset. There was a full container load of bags sitting in customs for several weeks, trying to communicate. At one stage, I was scheduled to fly over and manually stitch in these labels of about 500 or 800 bags.
Kurt Elster: So, the issue was you went to your manufacturer, they made you your standard load of bags, put it on a shipping container, pallet, whatever it is, and it shows up and the Port Authority, whoever goes to, Customs goes to inspect it, and it doesn’t say made in China on the bags. That’s the issue?
Stefan Gehrig: That’s correct.
Kurt Elster: Okay.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, which doesn’t sound massive, but it’s actually a really big deal. And you don’t want to stuff around with the Customs people, either .They’re pretty serious about their job, and so they should be. So, yeah, they were quite upset. And the other problem was because we’re building up slowly, we’ve got 200 or 250 preordered bags that customers have paid for, because we need sort of cashflow to tie us over, so at one side these customers are saying, “Where are my bags? It’s been promised for weeks.” And I’m obviously not able to provide those at that stage. Luckily in the end, we managed to put some stickers on the bags as a stopgap, sent the bags out and got a black mark next to our name, so now we get Customs intensive exam every time.
Kurt Elster: Oh, geez.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, which adds another couple of weeks to transit, but that was probably the closest we’ve gone to really being in strife over the years.
Kurt Elster: That’s a fascinating story, but it’s one of those things, you worked through it and you survived it. If you just panicked and gave up, that’s how you fail.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, absolutely. And like I said before, if I’d known of all these hurdles, maybe it wouldn’t have started initially, but you just gotta have your head down and keep jumping each one as they come, and all of a sudden you’re eight years down the track and things are starting to go a bit better.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. I’ve learned with age and wisdom, and trials and tribulation, that one of the key skills is to be able to think long term. So, things seem like a godawful nightmare. Everything’s bad. My life’s falling apart. But you always have to remind yourself, like that’s just right now, this moment. A year from now, a month from now, even a week from now, maybe even after a good night’s sleep, things will not seem so terrible. And maybe things will be entirely fixed. We can always hope.
You had mentioned… You said, “Well, early on what helped was it was a side hustle.” And how did you know when to make the switch? I get that question a lot. People want to know. They’re like, “I’ve got a side hustle. When do I know when to dive headfirst? When do I quit my full-time job?” How’d you know?
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. For me, it was probably a bit… I probably waited a bit longer than I should have, looking back. I would have dived in, knowing what I know now, obviously, which is the benefit of hindsight. For me, I had… I’d finished my studies. I maybe was two years of still working or three years of still working as a research scientist while King Kong was sort of starting up, and I was supposed… I was scheduled to go and work in Boston at a university there, or a college there. And so, it was sort of coming to crunch time. It was either go down this career path and work as a scientist, or maybe there’s something you can do with King Kong or with business in general, and I was kind of forced into that decision at that time, and like I said, I probably should have made it two years earlier. But that was probably 2014 or so, 2015, where I was able to make that decision.
I’d had enough income. I was still living at home at that stage, so that was obviously helpful, as well. And I jumped into it and decided to give science away entirely.
Kurt Elster: I think we can guess as to the result, but what was the immediate result? Were you terrified? Were you elated by the opportunity? How did it feel? What happened?
Stefan Gehrig: I guess a little bit of both. I’ll guess part of it was I’d studied for 12 years in one thing and I was like, “Well, is this a bit of a waste?” And I think all those skills have translated really well into business, as well. The scientific method of coming up with an idea or a hypothesis, figuring out how to execute it, checking the results, making conclusions based on that, that’s exactly what you do for any sort of marketing, as well. So, a lot of that thinking is very similar. And so, it was less of a waste, and I was ecstatic. I was super happy to be able to spend all of my time, literally seven days a week, on my business, on my baby that I sort of built up and wanted to… And I think thought had opportunity to really get bigger, and I still think that’s the case.
So, I’m very happy with the decision.
Kurt Elster: Certainly it sounds that way. Yeah, I’m glad you addressed that. Because I did… It was in the back of my mind. I didn’t want to ask, it’s like, “Well, you spent all this time being a research scientist. How do you feel about that?” But it’s good. It sounds like that has… You’re right. Those skills, that mindset, that scientific thinking, oftentimes things you didn’t realize would be beneficial become beneficial, like I once in my twenties spent a summer assisting in a music studio. I had no idea that that would become incredibly helpful now, when I’m recording a podcast with a million downloads, right? But who knew? You never know.
Stefan Gehrig: Exactly.
Kurt Elster: Not that I’m comparing a summer as an assistant in a studio to 12 years of academia and research.
Stefan Gehrig: Not at all. Transferrable skills, I completely agree. Yeah, you don’t know how useful it is until down the track when you need it.
Kurt Elster: So, one of the things I noticed on your website that I like, and I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is quizzes. On your site, it’s like traditional, it’s very clean, very nice and branded. It’s traditional header navigation. A single hero image. Congrats. That’s just a great image. And it does a really… You’ve done some cool Photoshoppery in that hero image. And then right after that, “Discover which bag is right for you. Take the quiz.” You’ve got a quiz up here, and I’m gonna click the quiz. I want to see what this thing does. Ooh, I’ve never seen anything like this.
Okay, tell me about this quiz. How does it work? Is this an app? A service? What do you think about this thing?
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. I was looking for a way to get customers or to sort of almost like a guided shopping experience for the customer, and so this is an app called Pickzen.
Kurt Elster: Okay. I’ve heard of that one. I’ll put that in the show notes. Sorry. Continue.
Stefan Gehrig: Yep. I think I put it on one of the questions on The Unofficial Facebook page at one stage, and it’s really good. It’s not the cheapest app, so we’ll see how it goes over a couple of months, but it’s worth a try. And so, that’s hosted elsewhere, and so customers can then go through a tree, sort of like a choose your own adventure, and it selects the best backpack or the best bag for them based on the answers to questions. So, for example, which style do you prefer? Initially it’s backpack, duffel, or tote. And so, you just go further and further down into the product line and we make a recommendation.
We also provide a mystery discount, so depending on the actual selected product, you put your email address in, it’s linked to Klaviyo, and it sends the customer a discount depending on what product they select. So, hopefully we can build our mailing list through that, as well. That’s sort of the thinking there.
Kurt Elster: What has been customer response to this thing?
Stefan Gehrig: We’ve got actually a good amount of information on the breakdown of types of bags that people want, and some of these other questions that we’ve asked, so we get some really good customer insights there. The response has been good. That automation flow has a really good conversion rate, but obviously we’d prefer more people to go and put their email addresses in so we can explain about King Kong.
But the response has been really positive. It’s allowed people to sort of understand our product line better based on what they want.
Kurt Elster: I love this thing. So, you’ve got several products, but they’re all very similar in that they fill the same need. Like you’ve got a tote bag, a backpack, a duffel bag, and then variations on those things. So, it could be overwhelming, where you don’t want to make the wrong choice. I mean, it’s not a cheap bag. It’s not inexpensive, so you don’t want to be like, “Well, I’ll just buy three and donate the two I don’t like.” So, the way this thing… It opens and it’s really very clever. It’s a popup and it says, “What do you prefer?” And asks you to pick your style. So, I like duffel bags. I’m gonna choose duffel. If you haven’t tried a duffel bag, they’re great.
And then it asks my purpose. Well, my purpose… This is smart. Meal prep, gym, or lifestyle. All right, lifestyle. And how long are you packing for? Oh, a day, or a weekend, or longer. See, now this is tough, because I don’t know what the right answer is, so maybe I should have the option to select multiple things. I don’t know how this app works. I’m just walking through this out loud, but I’m gonna go… I think bigger is better. I like big bags, so I’m gonna go with a weekend or longer. And boom, this thing immediately popped up with, “Based on your choices, you want the Giant Kong Bag.” And sure enough, looking at this bag, that seems like a bag I would want, like I could put my race suit in there, I bet this thing will fit the helmet, I could put all my track gear in there. That’s cool.
And then it could take me straight to the product and even asked me, “Drop your email below for a mystery discount.” All right, so you said you wished more people would sign up for the discount. I think one of two things. I would experiment with instead of saying, “A mystery discount,” tell them what the discount is. And it’s also the smallest thing in this popup, so it’s really… hidden.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, I know. You’re right. Yeah. It is designed for mobile. 80% of our traffic is mobile. I’m not sure if you’re on the desk-
Kurt Elster: Oh. Yeah, see, I’m desktop right now.
Stefan Gehrig: But I agree, I don’t think it’s that much better on mobile. We have some limitations around the design, because it’s in a builder, in Pickzen, but I think you’re right. We need to make that bigger so that people, it really stands out, because the percentage of people who add their email after going through the quiz is quite low, like less than 10%.
Kurt Elster: Your product pages, though, are also awesome. It does a really… So, like I would be impressed if it was just the usual stuff of, “Hey, you’ve got really great photos, and it’s a clean page, and I got color swatches and Sezzle, and my key features.” Or Afterpay, sorry. You’ve taken that, this whole thing a step further. There’s an animated, stop motion GIF of the bag being loaded. Anyone could build that. That’s very time consuming. But that doesn’t actually take special equipment. You could do… Anyone could put that together.
And then it’s got a really nice Photoshop graphic, where it calls out the features of the thing, of the bag, and then FAQs. And then reviews. Whoa! There is nothing else I would do to improve this thing. There’s even video on here! Tell me, is there anything you don’t like about this product page? It’s your product page. What don’t you like about it?
Stefan Gehrig: I wanted the video as the first thing you see, but it seemed that people… It wasn’t loading for a lot of people. Based on the theme or whatever, it wasn’t loading for people who were off Wi-Fi, I think, they were on mobile data, so I would like the video to be front and center a little bit more, rather than scrolling. I really like the product page. We built it quite recently. I think this is only a couple… I can’t remember exactly when we launched, but this is a couple of months old, this product page, so it does have everything that we want.
We did have a packing video, a full packing video above the FAQs, where the link… which I removed today, because the link to the YouTube URL was broken or something. I think we could add a bit more of a description. Because it’s a higher-value item, we just want to tell people everything we possibly can about it.
Kurt Elster: Makes sense.
Stefan Gehrig: So, potentially a longer description, but I think it’s got most of the information that people want there. We can expand out on these FAQs based on customer queries, which is the plan. We haven’t got round to that as yet, but just keep adding FAQs based on what people are asking.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, this video’s really cool. You’re right, it’s the second thing. I could see where you would definitely want that as the first image if you could. What you could do instead is embed it in the description and have it AutoPlay looped right in the description.
Stefan Gehrig: Okay. Yeah, I’ll have to have a look at how we can do that. Does that mean… I guess that would mean it would be on the right-hand side, a bit smaller, as well.
Kurt Elster: I think it would still work, but then it’s separate of the photos. I think it would work. It’d be cool. Oh, you do have the dimensions on here. Maybe like an illustration. I bet you have an illustration of the bag, with like the dimensions written on there. That might be cool.
Stefan Gehrig: Actually, that’s a good point. One thing we just did was a photoshoot. There’s no actual people on this site using the bag in the gym, so there’s no perspective of the size, so that’s one thing we will be adding at some time in the next few weeks, is photos of people with the bag, using them in the gym, so people can get a good understanding of the size next to someone who’s 5’8” or 6’ or whatever.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. No, absolutely. So, if you could start over, what’s one thing you’d do differently?
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah, that’s an easy one for me. I’d start earlier. I would… I’d sort of tinkered around it and thought about it for a little while. I would start earlier with almost anything. I don’t think the actual idea necessarily matters. I think it’s get started, get into the game, and iterate from there, because the first one, first idea or first product’s gonna be crap no matter what, so just get started.
Kurt Elster: I love that.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Your first idea’s gonna suck. Just start. You’re right! Like if I look at the first anything I did, it’s terrible. I loaded up archive.org. I looked at our first version of our agency website. Horrible! My first YouTube video. Total garbage. My first conference talk, I was really sweaty, and I didn’t hold the mic right, so no one could hear me. The first time you do something, it’s the first time you do it. Of course, it’s going to suck. And that’s fine! Just do it. You know the one that’ll be great is the sixth version. Right around five or six, you’ll be like, “Wow, I really nailed that.”
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Yep. That’s exactly right. I’d start earlier, for sure.
Kurt Elster: So, what was I going to say? Well, how could people learn more about you? They want to see these bags. Where can they go?
Stefan Gehrig: They go to kingkongapparel.com and the bags are all over there. We sell primarily through our website. We have an Amazon store, as well, if the people are more comfortable on Amazon. Just search for King Kong bag on Amazon, and they can have a look at them there.
Kurt Elster: Don’t go to Amazon! Oh my gosh. Get his direct.
Stefan Gehrig: Yeah. Well, the product line on our website is much more vast than the product line on Amazon, so that’s sort of one way that we filter the two out.
Kurt Elster: But for sure, even if you’re not shopping for a bag, check out King Kong Apparel to get inspired, because their photos are really phenomenal, and the site itself is really clean and nice, but the product pages. Oh my gosh. Really, really quality. And yeah, there’s a little bit of custom development there, but very little. Most of what’s carrying it is just the phenomenal content. So, you can look at that, get inspired, and then create something similar for whatever product you’re selling, like certainly you’re going to need an FAQ. I bet you could do a cool stop motion video with your stuff. Like absolutely, check it out. It’s great.
Man, thank you for doing this and sharing your story. This has been absolutely fascinating. I really enjoyed it.
Stefan Gehrig: Thanks so much for having me, Kurt. I really appreciate it. I’ve been following you guys for a while now, and it’s great to be on the show, passing on some of my journey.
Kurt Elster: Oh, that’s what it’s all about.