By 2017, nine years after founding his t-shirt company Ugmonk, Jeff Sheldon had grown into posters and workspace products. Gather, Ugmonk’s modular desk organizer, had just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign with two shipping containers from purpose-built organizers on the way to be shipped to customers.
“There is no way my parents would show two shipping containers on their doorstep,” Sheldon told me. “So I used a 3PL. It was a very bad experience. We have encountered every problem imaginable. “
Fast forward to 2020 and Ugmonk has its own warehouse and fulfillment center that ships beautiful clothes and productivity items.
I recently spoke with Sheldon about the company, their passion for design and the decision to make it in-house. What follows is the entire audio recording of our conversation and a transcript which is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: You always met your own products.
Jeff Sheldon: Pretty much, except for a brief interruption in 2017. For the past 12 years we’ve done all of the fulfills in-house, from my original apartment to my parents’ basement, which later became the Ugmonk warehouse. And now we’re moving into a real warehouse, which is pretty cool.
Band wood: Tell us about your background.
Sheldon: I started Ugmonk straight out of college in 2008. It was a side project of designing t-shirts to keep my brain and hands occupied. I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. That came later. After I made the shirts I needed a way to sell them. The side project of designing and selling a couple of t-shirts slowly went beyond a few employees and into what I’m doing today.
I initially borrowed around $ 2,000 from my father to buy my first 200 shirts. Fortunately, he took a risk for me. I was able to repay it pretty quickly. This was long before social media and e-commerce as we know it today. I wasn’t sure if anyone would buy what I made. But slowly the customers came. I put all the money back in my inventory. I’ve booted it since then.
I’ve taken part in competitions like Threadless and Design By Humans which are kind of a Threadless clone. It was there that I began to see success and that is exactly what led me to design t-shirts. I knew I wanted to design things. I’ve always made art since I was a kid – making and creating things. But winning one of those competitions was one of the first times I saw people buy. I was addicted to seeing other people buy my creations.
Band wood: Do these companies pay a commission or is it a one-time fee?
Sheldon: They have changed their structure over the years. I don’t know what it is now. It was a one-time fee – $ 400 or $ 500 – when I won as a student in 2007. I loved it – $ 500 to design a t-shirt. It seemed like I made it. But then I quickly realized that these companies were selling thousands of that one shirt and I only had $ 500. That made little sense in the long run.
Band wood: Shopify didn’t exist twelve years ago. How did you sell the products?
Sheldon: Our website used e-commerce software called Big Cartel. I think they are still there. And then my brother, a software developer, teamed up with me and coded and customized it.
Band wood: How did you get people to the site?
Sheldon: In retrospect, it’s weird. How did someone find me? There were fewer opportunities to get the word out. I’ve used t-shirt forums and design blogs. Then a lot of people saw me on competition sites. I was often able to get their email or contact information. Or I leave a comment on my profile there, e.g. B. “Started my own brand” or “My own thing here here”. And people could find me. And again there were t-shirt blogs, design blogs, typography blogs that would mention me. The internet was different back then.
Band wood: How long were you just a t-shirt company?
Sheldon: In the first year. We then moved on to screen printed posters with the same designs, then to leather goods, and then to hardware and workspace products. In 2017, I started the Kickstarter campaign for Gather, a modular desk organizer. Kickstarter drove us crazy and put us in this rapid growth. It was and is a very successful product. It took me to where I am today and got this camp here in Pennsylvania.
Band wood: Why fulfill in-house when there are so many third-party fulfillment companies?
Sheldon: It’s a multi-faceted answer. Keeping it in-house has allowed us to touch the quality control that many of our products require. Since we’ve moved from screen-printed T-shirts to natural materials like leather and wood, the products have deviations and differences in terms of storage, fulfillment and shipping. It is difficult to do a 3PL troubleshooting. It becomes hard to control that we never see what happens.
In an ideal world, these things are made 100 percent perfect. They would go to the 3PL and we would never touch them. I moved in that direction when we launched Gather in 2017. There was no way my parents would show two shipping containers on their doorstep. So I used a 3PL. We had a very bad experience. We have encountered every problem imaginable – wrong orders, picking problems, delays, wrong shipping costs, overloading, things like that. It spoiled the whole experience for us. We had never encountered any of these problems in nine years.
It got us thinking. How do we work How do we manufacture? What should Ugmonk be? How big is a business? Which parts do I like? We closed the circle and realized that a physical space should become more of a boutique and lifestyle brand – similar to a design studio – in which we work directly with the manufacturers and can control everything from time to receipt sent to customers.
Band wood: How do you expand your fulfillment center?
Sheldon: We are now looking at warehouse management systems. We continue to use ShipStation for label printing and inventory management. But we want to get to a point where things are more automated so that we don’t do it by feeling or memory because we know where products are. And we have so many SKUs right now that we need a better system to control that inventory.
Band wood: At Beardbrand we had problems with a 3PL. The communication, the expectations. Doing this in-house will likely make you a lot more efficient.
Sheldon: The scalability does not work internally. If I go from 100 orders a day to 1,000, there is no other option but to hire more people. But then we have no more space. And there may be ceilings where we can’t keep up with demand. However, systems and processes can offset this efficiency.
And we’re not trying to get customers really fast, which many companies seem backward. But I enjoy our growth rate and how it attracts quality customers. And the customers we address – whether word of mouth or just an Instagram post – stay with us for a lifetime. And I like this idea of building an old world business in the digital age. Like a mom and pop – like the local bakery or the shoemaker, where people trust and come back over and over again – but in a modern way.
Band wood: This approach must be good for your bottom line.
Sheldon: Yes it is.
Band wood: Let’s talk about Analog, your new product on Kickstarter.
Sheldon: The Kickstarter campaign has ended. That means the hard work is now beginning to fulfill the Kickstarter orders. We are now in the manufacturing phase.
Band wood: They have sold around 5,500 units. They are beautiful.
Sheldon: Analog is a simple, tangible productivity system based on 3 “x 5” cards. It divides tasks into three categories: today, next, and some day, similar to a system that gets things done. Many people use this method through digital apps or just on paper. But with these cards I wanted to create a beautifully designed, self-contained system, the wood holder, a place to store the cards, and an overall system of how I do my work.
Analog is a culmination of all the things I love about running Ugmonk and design and productivity and form plus function. I started this because every time I open my phone, I check my to-do list or calendar. But I get distracted by those red badges or notifications. And before I know, I stare at my phone and think, “What should I be looking at?” The same thing happens with a browser tab. I can look at Asana and then get distracted as soon as I move away from her.
The analog card sits in front of me in a wooden holder. It stares at me all day and apparently says, “Jeff, this is what you have to do. These are the few things that you have to do to move the ball forward. “Even before it was a product, I was using regular index cards so I could work on the right things.
So analog has a single purpose. It’s on a desk and has bullet points that must be filled in for each task completed.
Band wood: It is exciting. You become a productivity company in addition to your other products.
Sheldon: Yes. I love this direction because it hits exactly what I am passionate about and what I enjoy. It applies design to the productivity industry – workspace products, monitor stands, organizers – creating a niche with taste and minimalist sensibility.
Band wood: They have a beautiful website with stunning photography. Your company is a measure of how you can develop great products and communicate with an audience. Where can our listeners find out more about you? How can you buy?
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