This week on Start Me Up we talk to Danny Wong of Blank Label.
Blank Label offers an online co-creation service that allows customers to design and customise dress shirts to specific requirements, providing inexpensive bespoke tailoring.
In one sentence, what is Blank Label?
Blank Label is a co-creation startup looking to change the way men shop by empowering them to become their own designers, starting with co-created custom dress shirts.
What problem does Blank Label solve?
We're resolving the inefficiencies of mass-production, and hopefully giving more power to the consumer.
Instead of retailers creating product to sell to consumers, you are co-creating product that you really want. We feel it has the potential to really shake up the world of retail.
When and why did you launch it?
We launched on 31 October 2009. Hallowe'en may seem like a strange date to some, but it was a long time coming.
We believe in the lean startup philosophy: "Launch early, launch often."
We launched as soon as we could get our BETA product and service out to actually test the market because we were incredibly tired of distributing surveys and not receiving useful data, site conversions etc. This way we could accurately track things from the start.
Who is your target audience?
Our target audience is the new-age male. The 23-48 year old who cares about the way he looks, and also has a sense of entitlement. Our customers feel that they'd love a bespoke dress shirt and want to stop purchasing off-the-rack.
What were the biggest challenges involved in building Blank Label?
The biggest challenges in building Blank Label have been production. Working with Chinese manufacturers can get sloppy because of the business culture. In effect the hierachy dictates that they pretty much own us.
That situation isn't helped when we are working with them remotely, but luckily we relocated to Shanghai to better develop our supplier relations and supply chain.
Our other challenges are technical development because we have one CTO and a few support contractors.
We have so many ideas and recommendations from customers for how to build out our website and shopping experience, but not enough hours in the day to make them all happen.
How will the company make money?
The company actually makes money on each shirt sold since we are an on-demand service.
You co-create a dress shirt, pay us, then we use those funds towards the cost of the shirt with our supplier, and ship it to your door in 3-4 weeks.
What is your pricing model?
It's a basic pay-for-play model.
Our shirt fabrics start at a base price of $45, then as you add special features to your dress shirt, the price rises as more detail is added to the shirt. But at the end of the day, you're still getting a really amazing, individually made dress shirt for about $76.
Who is in the team and what does it look like?
The Blank Label team is made up of a few very interesting characters.
There is Fan Bi, CEO and co-founder, who is an Aussie, college-dropout and former Investment Banker. Then there is me, a 19 year old university student taking some time off from school to build out Blank Label.
Alec, our Graphic Designer, rejected the corporate life and his first job out of college was with Blank Label to help develop the aesthetics of our website and co-creation experience.
Zee, our CTO, is an interesting character who moonlights with us because of his day job, mortgage and wife and baby daughter. He's out in California, and truth-be-told, we've never met him before!
So it's a core team of four with a few supporting contractors.
Where would you like to be in one, three and five years' time?
One year from now, we're shooting for $1m in revenue. In three years I would hope we would have expanded to other products to allow people to design more of their wardrobe. Perhaps suits, pants, jackets or women's dress shirts?
That part is really up to our consumers though. If they demand it, and enough of them demand it, we'll make it happen.
In five years' time, we hope to have really revolutionized the retail industry by encouraging more consumers to adopt our model.
We'd like to see more retailers offering co-creation, and to have built our business in preparation for a decent exit, or perhaps just a great retail empire to keep on building.
Why the move to Shanghai? How does that suit your business?
We moved to Shanghai because we do all of our manufacturing here. But there were a few other reasons to bring us out here too.
For one, it is a great way for startups to cut down on costs because we pay ourselves a modest stipend which works great here in China but this wouldn't work in America.
Then, the cultural experience of just being in Shanghai is mind-blowing, which makes us thankful we have the business which brought us here and we continue to work hard on it so we can continue to stay!
Lastly, it was just very good to have the team together.
We worked remotely for about eight months pre and post launch with a team split between Orange County, Boston and Shanghai. But having the core team together has been great for productivity purposes because we work out of the home office, exchange thoughts, and collaborate.
It has also been good for us to be together because it has allowed us to further develop our relationships with each other which makes for a more positive work environment.