Ugmonk is a design studio that makes minimalistic accessories, clothing, and tools for your life and work space.
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Skio helps brands on Shopify sell subscriptions without ripping their hair out. Leverages Shopify's native checkout & also uses passwordless login for customers to edit their subscription.
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Under The Hood: Jeff from Ugmonk

Welcome Jeff! Tell me about starting Ugmonk. When did you start it? And what did it feel like? 

I started Ugmonk as a side project in 2008 (14 years ago). 

I just graduated college and I was designing t-shirts, trying to make a little extra money & keep me busy on the side. My mindset then was the polar opposite of what it is today. I wasn’t looking to be an entrepreneur, I didn’t have any business plan - nothing like that. I just wanted to make things I enjoyed & have fun with it. 

So - the growth of Ugmonk since 2014 has been really slow and steady. You could say it’s been a 10+ year overnight success. 

I did not know you sold shirts! When did you land into the desk / productivity space which is much more in line with your core offering today?

It’s been a winding path. 

But all of the things that I'm doing with Ugmonk are tied together by the same thread: High quality things that I want to exist, executed with a design-first mentality. It started with shirts and then it into journals and leather mouse pads and after that, desk organisers. 

And eventually, I created “Analog”. 

I was already using index cards as a productivity system - and I designed a simple little mechanism around that premise, to further enrich the “analog” note-keeping experience. 

Fascinating. And today, do you have a good picture of what Ugmonk looks like in 2-3 years in terms of the product range?

Analog” and our other workspace accessories have really really struck a chord in the market.  It’s been our biggest success yet. I see us moving more and more in that same direction where productivity meets function. I can’t share too much yet - but I’m going to be revealing a few new office products soon that I’ve been working on over the past 2 years. 

With the fluidity of your product range, how have you managed to build a team around you? Have you raised any funds? 

I haven't raised any money, besides borrowing $1,000 from my Dad to print those first shirts. 

This is intentional, because I like to build things at a certain pace. I've never had external pressure to hit metrics of marks, and that gives me the creative freedom to try new things, which I value immensely. 

And as far as building a team; it was just me for the longest time. My wife eventually got involved; my brother built the first website and I later hired my mom to do shipping. We turned our entire basement into a Ugmonk warehouse. 

And today, we’re still small: 5 people. We do everything from product design to product photography, shipping, customer service, operations, sourcing etc. I’ve recently hired a GM to take over day-to-day operations. But other than that it’s really just been a family operation. 

To reiterate an earlier point: My intention when starting Ugmonk was never to build a big brand. I didn’t have a clear vision on where things might be 3-5 years down the line. I just wanted to create beautiful items. And I've been able to hire based on what it takes to keep the business functioning. 

Jeff from Ugmonk

Let’s jump into acquisition. How did you generate sales over the years and especially on “Analog”? 

Until I launched “Analog” on Kickstarter, I hadn't been doing any paid acquisition. It was all truly organic growth: Email marketing, organic social on Instagram and Twitter. But since “Analog”, I’ve re-tested paid social and Google and saw positive results which I hadn’t seen before on previous products. We've been able to scale up spend in the last 9 months.

It’s cool to see it working in a profitable way. And if we weren’t making money on the first purchase, we wouldn’t have invested an extra dollar - that’s what happens when you’re playing with your own money as a bootstrapped business. 

The biggest takeaway from me with “Analog” and paid acquisition is that you need “product market fit” for it to all work. I clearly saw how “Analog” really solved an acute pain point for customers and I now recognise that selling t-shirts via Facebook ads didn’t as much. 

What’s the channel mix for you? 

It's 80-90% Instagram & Facebook. We haven't explored TikTok yet. And Google shopping search makes up that other 10-20%. On the Google front, we are seeing good traction - especially on products and terms like “leather mousepad” or “to-do list system”

Again - we’re not pouring rocket fuel on there, but the results have been encouraging. 

You also mentioned email marketing: How do you succeed at that? 

Email is the channel that drove most of the revenue until recently adding in paid social. 

The people that are on my email list are mostly customers or people that are invested in what I'm doing. The list is strong. The open rates are through the roof and the readers often write back to me. It’s a direct line of communication with my customers. 

My general approach is highly personal and human. I don’t hit my list with 3 emails a day and crazy promotions - instead it’s the opposite. So when I do send an email, people look forward to reading it. The cadence could be more strategic, but in actuality, it’s sporadic. I don’t send more than 1 email a week, and sometimes I don’t send anything for 3 weeks. 

All that matters is that when I hit send - I’m saying something valuable to my customers. 

I do have one email type which gets a lot of clicks called “5 things I’m digging”. It’s just a list of 5 things each month, unrelated to Ugmonk, that I find interesting. It could design architecture, music or books - And I’ve been sending it every month for the past few years. 

Let's switch onto the topic of conversion rate optimization. What have been some of the biggest wins on the CRO front? 

Up until working with Oddit, we hadn't done anything on the CRO front. 

And to be perfectly candid - I don’t have hard metrics to compare conversion rate before and after their input. But with CRO, especially as they treat it, it’s very difficult to isolate what are the 1 or 2 changes that are pushing the needle on performance… There are so many other variables that change in any period of time. 

But Oddit did an outstanding job in making my path to purchase much clearer. I had headlines which didn’t make sense, CTAs that were out of place - and their team helped me simplify the conversion journey greatly. 

Before & After: Homepage

Before & After: Testimonials

Let’s chat about bundling: Has that worked for you?

We’re using a very basic bundles app on Shopify called “Bundles App”. 

And overall, bundling has been a massive success for us. So many people are purchasing the “Analog kit”. Similar to the value meal at McDonald’s. You may not buy 3 items separately (drink, burger, fries) - but as a bundle, you do. It’s been the same for us. 

Let's switch into the operations side of the business: How do you handle packing & shipping? 

We're the complete opposite of a 3PL. We've kept everything in-house. 

That’s mostly because we’re so obsessed with making sure everything is executed perfectly throughout the entire Ugmonk experience, all the way down to the shipping.  

This is definitely quite unique to us. Most businesses do end up outsourcing their logistics, but we operate differently: A lot more like a mom & pop / old school business.

I joke about it but running Ugmonk is a lot of Blue Collar work: We’re physically moving goods in and out of our warehouse, packing, shipping, managing returns etc. 

Being so close to the product at every stage is also a real blessing from a creative standpoint: I’ve repurposed a beautiful pen holder, all from the scraps of the  “Analog” product. That couldn’t have happened if we lived far from the wood working site and warehouse. 

Let’s chat about the tech stack: Which tools do you enjoy? 

We use Shopify for ecommerce. Skio for subscriptions (which I love). Klaviyo for email marketing. Shipstation as our shipping program, though we’re switching to Shiphero. We use the Bundles App for bundling; Inventory Planner helps us forecast what to order and when. On the customer support front, we use Gorgias. For reviews, it’s though we’re likely switching to Junip as we’ve been hearing great feedback. 

Ugmonk Stack

So why do you love Skio so much? 

The idea with “Analog” is to complete a set of cards as you progress through your to-dos. So naturally, you’ll need refills and subscription makes a lot of sense for that. 

And when I looked around at tooling, Recharge wasn't even accepting new clients, and we were forced to pick Bold at the time which we didn’t enjoy. 

But then, Skio came around. I learned about it via Twitter and met Kennan, the founder. I personally love the fact that there are no logins required for customers to get back into their subscription portal (it uses magic links). That alone has saved us a huge portion of ticketing problems. The next bit is the UX/UI on the customer experience - it just looks super sleek which is in-line with our overall experience. 

We haven’t even tapped into the full potential of the tool yet, there’s so much more we can do on it. 

Last question: What’s been your key to success over the last 14 years?

I could probably do a whole talk on this, but creating remarkable products is the first thing. 

Seth Godin’s book “Purple Cow” does a nice job of bringing this idea to life. But if what you’re putting out into the world isn’t remarkable - it will absolutely be an uphill battle. So that’s where you must start. 

Secondly, consistency and working hard day in and day out is what brought us here and what will keep us here and the reason why certain customers have stuck around since 2010. 

Fantastic. Thanks so much Jeff for sharing your insights.