Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at BrüMate and how you got started?
My name is Dylan Jacob, I am the 23 year old founder of BruMate, AKA The Dehydration Company. We create / innovate / and sell insulated beverage containers for the adult beverage industry.
I grew up in a middle-class family. My father was an accountant and I was raised to be humble so naturally anything I wanted that was considered “frivolous” was off limits. Growing up in that environment taught me the value of a dollar and that I had to work hard for the things I wanted in life. I started my first lawn care company at the age of 9 using a $20 lawn mower I picked up at a garage sale and had 6 accounts in the neighborhood I would mow bi-weekly. I was only making around $250/month but for a 9 year old I was basically a millionaire.
With high-school approaching, I needed money for my first car so I had to formulate a plan to make enough cash in one year to buy my dream car (a 2006 Ford Explorer, don’t ask). After sending my phone in the mail to get repaired (this was pre-phone repair shops), waiting weeks to get it back, and paying an exorbitant amount, my eyes were opened. The opportunity I had been waiting fell right into my lap. I started buying broken devices in bulk off of Craigslist, ordering the parts from eBay, fixing them using YouTube tutorials, and reselling them back on Craigslist.
I did this all the way through Junior year until repair shops started popping up around town and crushed my business for the time being. If I couldn’t beat the competition, why not befriend them? Immediately I started importing parts from China and selling directly to the repair shops which blossomed into my first real company GV Supply Co.
By my first semester of college GV Supply Co. was doing over $250,000 in sales and served over 60 repair shops across the nation. I ran the company out of my college apartment first semester, realized I was making more money now than I would be 4 years from now with a degree, and ultimately decided to take a semester off to focus on my company. Just 4 months later, in May of 2014, I sold the company for 6 figures to a franchise repair chain in the midwest.
After the sale of my business, I wasn’t sure what my next move was. I was a big fan of HGTV and had always wanted to flip / remodel a house, thought it would be a fun project to work on while I figured things out, and I did it. Long story short, that went from a fun 3 month project to a year-long nightmare. (You can see a detailed breakdown of the flip here.)
During my remodel, I started my second company, Vicci Design, a high-end glass tile company after I noticed there were hardly any options available for glass tile (you can see the glass backsplash in the photos of the kitchen in the link above). I took my first trip to China, visited manufacturers, and had already secured deals with WayFair and Overstock by the time our first shipment arrived. Vicci Design is still running strong and was sold in July of 2017.
The idea for BruMate came to me at a Christmas party in December 2015. I was drinking a 16oz beer, forgot about it for around 15 minutes, and came back to an undrinkable warm beer. I hate warm beer. Actually, everybody I knows hates warm beer, yet nobody was doing anything about it. I used my background in sourcing, e-commerce, and product development / design and hit the ground running.
What an amazing story! What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
The first product I launched was a really shitty version of our Hopsulator, which is our 3-in-1 insulated beer koozie. I found a manufacturer, paid a few grand to have a very generic mold created to accommodate 16oz cans, ordered a small batch, and launched them in a local brewery here in Indianapolis that specialized in 16oz beers.
How did you get your first sale?
Our first sale for the Hopsulator was in-person at the brewery we launched in. I had set up a meeting with the owners, showed them photoshopped images of the product I had in mind, and got them to commit to launching them before I had even started the molding process. It was a bit of a crapshoot but I knew that if I was having this problem other people were too. After launching the MVP and getting customer feedback I came to realize people LOVED the idea but there were a ton of issues that needed to be worked out.
What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
Our biggest issue that really hindered our growth early on was cash-flow. After going back to the drawing board with the Hopsulator, I had came up with the idea for the Winesulator which was an insulated wine canteen that kept a full bottle of wine cold for over 24 hours.
In order to gauge interest I launched some really generic Facebook ads for the Winesulator touting it as the perfect Christmas gift, redirected customers to a landing page to capture their email, and had gathered over 7000 emails before we pulled the trigger for production. We started off really strong with over $250,000 in sales within the first 3 weeks of our launch in November of 2016 before ultimately running out of stock a week before Christmas and staying out of stock until the end of February 2017.
I spent the next year doing pre-orders, selling my house, maxing out credit cards, and doing everything in my power to order as much inventory as possible to stay in stock but it was never enough. We did $1M in sales through November 2017, I placed an order for over 1M in inventory for our holiday order (it was supposed to last until our next shipment arrived in February after Chinese New Year) and it sold out by the 2nd week of December. Black Friday we did $135,000 in sales and in the following 3 weeks we did over $1.1M in sales.
In January of 2018 we were finally eligible for a line of credit with our bank and started getting offers for Shopify Capital (which we use constantly). That really helped us scale and we are finally (almost) done with our cash-flow issues.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
I had used Shopify for my previous 2 companies and was familiar with the platform and knew how easy it was to customize on my own without paying a developer. When I first started BruMate I created our entire website, outsourced custom development to India, and had the finished product for under $500. Most agencies will charge $25,000+ for a completely custom website.
What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
Getting started was rough. When I first started doing Facebook ads I had no clue what I was doing. I watched a series of YouTube videos, read blogs / write-ups on Reddit, and basically learned through trial and error.
My biggest hurdle was moving from doing the ads myself to trying to find someone that was capable of scaling our ad-spend without compromising our returns. After interviewing and trying out a few agencies (which all suck for the most part) I found a freelancer that has absolutely killed it for us.
I can tell you first-hand that agencies are generally worthless and you will have better luck finding a freelancer that can actually get to know your business the way they need to in order to be successful at their job. That can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack but if you can find someone that knows what they are doing you can crush it.
Great advice! Any tips on where to find or how to source good freelancers? What sites do you typically use?
I’ve used Fiverr, Upwork, and Freeeup. Upwork is generally overpriced and is quite the process trying to find a new hire and Fiverr is worthless for the most part. I was recently introduced to Freeeup through the Shopify Plus private Facebook group and the experience was fantastic. I only have experience hiring customer service agents through the site but all I had to do was submit the job I was looking to hire out and they sent over three pre-vetted freelancers that all met the criteria I was looking for and our first hire from there has turned out to be a rockstar on our team. If you are looking to hire out customer service / virtual assistants I think that is the way to go.
As for digital marketing freelancers, everybody on Upwork thinks they are a marketing guru. The truth is that the majority of them don’t know a thing and without actually learning the basics of digital advertising yourself, you won’t know if you are hiring someone that truly knows what they are doing. The best thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of digital advertising (here is a really good starting guide) and then use that information to vet your potential hires. If you know more than they do that is a pretty good indicator that they suck.
I went through a ton of potential hires for each of our platforms before I found someone that truly knew what they were doing.
The most important thing is to make sure you find someone that specializes in one specific platform (Ie, Facebook advertising) and not a 360° marketer. Nobody can be good at everything. You want someone that only works with one platform and really knows their shit.
If you are looking on Upwork or other sites for a freelancer that specializes in a category of digital advertising; search for their speciality (Facebook marketing, Pinterest marketing, etc), narrow down the search to 90%+ satisfaction, over $10,000 earned, independent (not an agency), get rid of anybody without screenshots of past campaigns / a solid portfolio, ask for as many additional references they can provide and then reach out to their current / previous clients for feedback.
The most important thing to look for is previous contract length. Nobody fires a marketing expert that delivers. Look for people that have multiple ongoing contracts. if they have multiple jobs that lasted < 90 days, run.. fast.
Experience is all that matters. Facebook blueprint, Hubspot, and all other “certifications” are not a good indicator of performance. Look at their portfolio and past success and base your decision off of that.
Ideally you will have an expert that handles each platform. If they haven’t managed over 250k/mo in ad spend you don’t want them. Anybody that is worth your time won’t charge you hourly, they generally charge a monthly maintenance fee + a success fee based on your ROAS (Return On Ad Spend).
Once you find a few potential hires, ask each one to screenshare the ad accounts they manage currently on skype (to make sure they didn’t reuse / edit someone else's screenshots or campaigns), have them walk you through the processes they are following, and have them explain what sort of results they are seeing, the difficulties they have faced scaling and how they overcame them.
If you are already running ad campaigns you can typically ask for an audit of your account before they start. An audit will give you a good understanding as to whether or not they truly know what they are talking about and most of the time they will do it for free. It will also ensure they are familiar with your industry and make sure they are comfortable with your goals prior to starting. If they can’t / won’t provide an audit before hiring them I would steer clear. Responsiveness is a huge indicator of reliability.
Lastly, a successful digital marketing strategy is like a well-oiled machine. You will have a bunch of different moving parts (individual experts) that all need to work together to create one giant, successful force. Make sure you are hiring team players who have experience working with others and have your entire marketing team together in a slack channel or some sort of group chat so they can all strategize / communicate on a daily basis. Team building is the most important aspect of this. If you can build a solid team that believes in your vision and understands your needs, you will be successful.
What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business?
We use a ton of apps (there is literally an app for everything) but my favorite is Spin-a-Sale for email capture. It has boosted our email capture rate to over 4x what it was before compared to a standard pop-up.
What theme did you choose for your site and why?
We currently use the Launch theme (with some custom code) because it was simple and did the trick. We are working on a fully customized website now (finally) and it will launch in a few weeks!
That’s great - congratulations! What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow BrüMate?
We push really hard with digital advertising to scale our e-commerce presence, but the larger our e-commerce presence is, the more retailers have came knocking on our door wanting to carry our products because we provided them with social proof that people want our products.
We are now in over 1000 retailers spread out over 15 countries (and growing) - all without ever doing a single trade show / sending pitches out via email. Retailers move at a snail's pace so by focusing on our online presence I have been able to scale the company to over 1M/mo in under 2 years and now the retailers come running.
The traditional method of pitching retail first and focusing on e-com second is completely outdated.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
We have a huge private Facebook group for our biggest fans. We do giveaways, contests, and provide them with the inside scoop on upcoming releases. They basically act as a giant focus group for the brand - I get to pitch them ideas for new products, get feedback on packaging / new colors, and hear from our most passionate followers what we are doing right / wrong so we can address it!
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
We currently do over 7 figures monthly on Shopify alone. We did $250,000 our first year in business, $2.1M in 2017, and we are on track to hit $15-20M in online sales this year. Our growth year over year has been nearly 1000%.
Simply amazing! To what do you attribute those positive metrics?
Awesome products. I listen to our customers and provide them with things they actually need so making a sale isn’t hard. Every single one of our products solves a real problem.
Warm Beer? Hopsulator
Warm Wine? Uncork’d Wine Glass
Glass Free Zones? All of our products
I am constantly listening, innovating, and improving. Our Hopsulator 3.0 and Winesulator 2.0 launch in less than 8 weeks. I have 3 new products releasing this week and another 3 launching before the holidays. By the time someone knocks off our products we have already launched a new version so that one is outdated, it makes it impossible to keep up and has allowed us to crush our competition.
This week we are launching the following:
1. NOS’R, the world’s first unbreakable nosing glass for whiskey
2. Hopsulator Slim, the world’s first insulated koozie for 12 oz slim cans
3. Hopsulator Juggernaut, the world’s first insulated koozie for 24/25 oz cans
What are you working towards now?
My immediate plans are to focus on scaling BruMate into a 9 figure company. My future plan after I exit is to start an accelerator program for e-commerce brands. Most accelerators focus on tech but the reality is that almost all e-commerce brands are profitable off the bat and much more likely to succeed.
I likely won’t start another company but I would love to take all of the knowledge I have acquired over my lifetime and help other entrepreneurs take their e-commerce brands to the next level.
Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?
Google. If there was a degree in google-fu I would have a doctorates. I have learned everything I know through trial, error and Google.
Based on your own success, what advice would you share with others who might be just starting out with Shopify (or with eCommerce in general)?
My first couple projects weren’t anything super successful but they were stepping stones. Without those stepping stones I can tell you 100% that I wouldn’t have been able to get BruMate to where it is today. You always hear people say they learn more in the first 6 months on the job than they did during their 4 years in school. This is basically the same concept. You can read all the books you want, listen to all the podcasts in the world, and you still won’t know shit because you don’t know how to apply it.
Find something you’re knowledgeable / passionate about, figure out how to make it better, and run with it! You’ll make a ton of mistakes along with way but when you go for round 2 and round 3 you will remember those mistakes and (hopefully) not make them again.
Such an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing! Where can we learn more?
~ Dylan Jacob, Founder of BruMate