March 19th, 2014
Last night we had the opportunity to attend the Montreal edition of Startup Grind. It is essentially a gathering of like-minded local entrepreneurs who meet up occasionally to network, share ideas, drink beer and learn from those who have built amazing companies. This edition was hosted by the Frank & Oak team at their spot on Saint Viateur. Ethan Song, the company’s CEO was the night’s keynote speaker.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Ethan a little while ago for an exclusive interview where he discusses how Frank & Oak quickly became a Globally recognized name in Men’s fashion.
What drove you to tackle Men’s Fashion?
I see us more as Lifestyle Company. We are a generation that is interested in art and clothing and most of the brands out there are not accessible from a price perspective. We wanted to create a brand of quality that was accessible.
How long did it take to get off the ground and how did you know you had something big brewing?
The company was launched on December 15th 2012. It took us a about year. What takes time is the web experience and knowing what the customer wants. Working on the supply chain and wanting to make a great product that consumer will love. I spent a lot of time in Europe and Asia before launching.
What were some of the difficult challenges the company faced early on in terms of building the platform?
In a Start up company, you have two goals, the objective of a creative and great product that consumer will love but the company itself is also a product. To build a solid company with a strong foundation and the right team was very difficult. For example, we were trying to figure out how we should we run meetings. We spent a lot of time thinking of how to make the best company and how to deliver the best product. It is the way you deliver a product that makes the product good.
How did you overcome it?
There is no technique on overcoming the challenges, but for the next while we focused on one thing at a time. It is important to rotate through priorities as fast as possible. At the end, you have to make sure that everything is improved at an even pace.
How did you break past competition in the market?
To be honest, I don’t know if we have broken past the competition in the market. I only focus on our community, members, product and if our customers really love the product. And as long as that’s happening, we’re successful.
Was there a pitching process involved?
Yeah of course, we didn’t do a road show per say, but there was a process of meeting with investors, presenting the budge, forecasting and all that stuff.
What platform is the F&O website built on?
Originally, it was a magento platform, but most of the features you see nowadays, are custom features, developed internally.
Were there any technical issues as the site took on more traffic?
Yeah of course, we had to develop some complex features to handle traffic. We have a very strong technology team. We were prepared for it; you always have to be focused on thinking ahead.
Number of employees? Around 100
Current member count? Around 1.1 million
Frank & Oak doesn’t seem to sell a brand, it’s almost like you’re selling a culture by showcasing mixtapes, sourcing from certified manufacturers, stressing high quality and ultimately being located in the mile-end. What type of guy should shop at Frank & Oak?
Any kind of guy can shop at Frank and Oak; our culture creates a community and a sense of belonging. We want our customers to feel like they are part of the progress. Our customers are going on a journey and we went them to feel like we are companions in that journey. We are happy to have that role.
Considering you run a vertically integrated operation, what type of quality and customer experience can the shopper expect?
We offer a product of great quality. We have surveys and qualitative feedback on the product, so the customer has a close relationship with the designer. We will always deliver the great experience they expect from us. Feedback is always part of our process and is taken into consideration.
Were there any other business concepts you experimented with?
Yeah to tell the truth I’ve always been into consumer oriented products and I’ve always been interested in the middle ground between design and technology, we looked into consumer electronics before, like Nike plus, Apple, or Job boom, but we realized the cost and the distribution was too high at that point in our lives, which is why we settled on Men’s wear and fashion.
What trends do you predict seeing in retail and e-commerce for 2014?
Mobile shopping, people shopping on tablets are becoming very popular. A lot of companies, including us launched applications for shopping.
We noticed Atelier is a super fresh concept. How is this space different from a regular boutique?
It is based on service while a boutique is based on sales. In the Atelier, you can try on clothes then buy them on the Internet. We also offer barbershop service. It is about serving our customers and creating a relationship with them.
What advice or tips can you give to entrepreneurs trying to kill it in retail and ecommerce? on getting funded? Finding new customers and ultimately dominating their respective niche?
- Create a great product. Forget about investors, forget about business plan.
- Listen to the customer. Once you have that product listen to your customers and it’ll give you an indication of how to the market is. A lot of people listen to trends, they don’t tell the truth, your customers do.
- Always hire a team that will deliver. Always think a head in terms of the team you want to build that will deliver your product.
Interview by Vee Thakrar & Sandra Morcos