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Jon Callahan: “Live your Life”

Building an e-commerce brand is much like creating a typically brick and mortar, so I think a lot of them same rules apply but people don’t think of that. Much like an in store or event you may attend, the experience is everything. So there are a lot of things that play into this. Have great […]

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Building an e-commerce brand is much like creating a typically brick and mortar, so I think a lot of them same rules apply but people don’t think of that.

Much like an in store or event you may attend, the experience is everything. So there are a lot of things that play into this. Have great photography and videos to show off your products and how they work. Remember this is your way to show to the world how amazing your brand is, so have fun with it. Consumers want to be able to navigate through your offerings on your site with ease, so have as few clicks as possible for them to get to the check out.


As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Callahan who founded LAUNCH in 2012. It evolved into a game changer in the snowboarding industry with innovative designs that define individuality. LAUNCH quickly grew to become one of the fasted growing brands, both online and in-store, with their expansion into skateboarding, outerwear, and lifestyle apparel. Grounded in years of research and testing, LAUNCH prides itself on being an independently owned brand that produces premium performance products. More than just a love for shredding, LAUNCH is driven by a passion for the community, riders, and environment that board sports fosters. Staying true to its authentic roots is what makes riding LAUNCH more than an experience, it’s a lifestyle.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?

Thanks for having me. I’m Jon and I am the founder of LAUNCH which started as a snowboard specific lifestyle brand that has expanded into skateboard and streetwear.

I guess I started out as many people in my space. I was introduced to skateboarding and fell in love with it. One winter we had so much snow that I couldn’t skate and that led to the decision to get a snowboard. SO I shoveled a bunch of neighbors driveways and sidewalks to afford my first board. That passion for skate expanded into snowboarding and I was lucky enough to get sponsors and travel to some of the best resorts and have some amazing experiences while doing so. I also got very involved in product development and marketing for my sponsors, which helped a ton when I was ready to start my own brand.

What was the Aha Moment that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I don’t know if I had an Aha moment as so much frustration of the way the industry has been run and where it was heading. I watched a lot of great brands come in and get gobbled up by the big boys and just terrible products getting released. Also, when I was sponsored I had hours of meetings about product development to then see an inferior product come to market just to hit a specific margin or price goal for the retail market.

So basically, I just wanted to release the products that no one was doing. I came across bamboo and have incorporated that in our snowboards, which has been wildly successful and many bigger brands tried to replicate but failed miserably. When we went into to skateboarding I wanted to have the tie to the snow side of things and bamboo came back into the equation and we were able to create boards with bamboo which much like the snowboards have better pop and last longer. By building different unique products that allowed us to expand into apparel that immediately was embraced by our retailers and consumers because they knew it would be quality and driven by performance as well as durability.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

As a business owner you face a ton of pressure and honestly early on, I think I was naive and clueless to what was happening and being built. But to be honest, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to quit at times. I honestly love what I do and it never feels like I work a work a day in my life. But you do have outside factors that affect your business life and that can drive you insane at times. I just usually have to dig deep inside myself and know I will get through it and walk away from the situation to think about it and come back stronger and clear headed. I am really into cars, in a major way, so basically when I get stressed it is not uncommon for me to go for a drive, listen to some of my favorite music, and turn off the phones and just get away. Take in the scenery, people watch, and most times drive way too fast to just blow off steam.

So, I suggest hobbies that take you away from your situation to just disconnect. For a lot of people that is golfing, for me it is cars and fishing.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going really well, and myself and brand are doing things I didn’t think we would achieve for years to come. When I first started this brand, I literally got laughed at by people, I was told I was stupid, I’d be wasting my time and money and it was going to fail. Some of those same people started asking to work for the brand a few years later.

I think the most important thing for a founder is to listen to your gut and your heart. Once you start a business and build a team, you get a lot of things thrown at you. Tons of ideas, opportunities, and new products to create. But if you don’t feel comfortable with it, then don’t do it. Even if you are unsure, wait. On average we take our time with products, sometimes two years of development to make sure it is the right product to be released. I know that a lot of our products are technical whether it be boards or apparel and if you are spending your money with us, I want you to be happy and come back again. So it is really just a train of thought and process that I refuse to stray away from.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?

It really wasn’t a starting out situation that was funny, and it will probably be funny in hind sight. But a few years back we developed our revised version our patented and exclusive snowboard binding. We thought long and hard about how to bring it to market and we were approached by a marketing firm that was a partner with Kickstarter. SO we proceeded with that path and it was literally one thing after another. They spammed the hell out of our customer base, that many people ran away and didn’t want to follow us. Then we get a decent traction behind the project to move forward, even though we didn’t hit anywhere near where we wanted to be.

I think it’s Murphy’s Law, if something could go wrong it will and damn did it. We had one issues after another, prototypes didn’t pass our quality control, we had to switch factories, we had to change the development team. It finally got to a point with my frustration that I had to pull people out of retirement to follow through on what I wanted to see. I am very particular and most products go through two years of testing before we even considering bringing to the market. This one was finally on track after all the adjustment and then Covid hit and our factories started feeling the effects starting I think in late November early December. Needless to say, it got completely stalled but we took the time to dial everything that needed to be addressed and our factories are back in production, even though at a limited capacity, but at least the binding will be everything we promised and more. I am honestly grateful that many stayed with us during that difficult time both from a business perspective as well as I had family matters that I had to address as well.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think it is just the fact that we do what we want. That has become even more apparent in the last couple of years. We have adopted the motto for LAUNCH, “Live your Life”!!!

I think that is important for anyone to do in general. I personally hate doing all the nonsense you are expected to do and be. If that was going to be my life and I was going to conform to that, I would work a 9 to 5 and go home at the end of the day and not think about work.

I think I came to this conclusion because of working with so many brands over the years. We would develop really amazing products or technology and then be so excited to see it in the end consumer’s hands. So, imagine how disappointing it was when it didn’t go to market.

At LAUNCH we have successfully incorporated bamboo into our snowboards and our skateboards. We have an exclusively patented snowboard bindings that make it easier to get in and out of without straying away from the traditional two strap that people are accustomed to. Then with our clothing and outerwear we make the things that we wish others made but instead we do it our own way with our own features, special pockets, trims, and even materials, especially recycled or low impact if possible on the planet/environment.

I think the funniest thing that happened was years ago our Session snowboard, got a lot of attention. We always have themes on our boards and apparel, this one had the earth in the middle of the board and towards the nose was heaven like theme in bluish tones and towards the tail was a hell like them in reds. Well we did really well with the board and it sold out super quick, but certain groups thought we were promoting devil worshipping and we had tons of groups calling our offices threatening to boycott and spread the word we were bad people. It wasn’t that at all in our minds. It was art, it can be perceived any way you want. Their opinion was their opinion, it was just very funny to see where some people took it.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not burn out?

Take control of your brand, in whatever way works for you. I got very tired of following the “industry standard”, which includes trade shows, delivery dates, and pricing. Why??? Do what’s best for you, do the things you want to do, create the products you want to create, and do the marketing and ad campaigns you want to do, not what the industry expects or assumes you will do.

Also, it isn’t a race, pace yourself. In my space most brands can take 10 to 15 years to hit or become known, we are happy we are 8 years in and have had the success we are having. It is just the beginning. Remember no one is an overnight success it is usually a TEN year overnight success!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

This is very true and there are a bunch of people who helped in various ways during my journey. My parents are amazing people and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have the work ethic and drive, that all came from them. SO I can’t thank them enough.

The others who have really been instrumental have been my friend Andy Longo who is like a second father to me and my friend Mike Epstein. Both of which are business owners and have years of experience over me. You definitely have those low points where you feel like you are alone and something it wrong with you. That usually happens when things aren’t going well and you feel like everything you are doing is all messed up with no resolve. Both of them helped me realize that I am not wired like everyone else. I don’t settle for things and that in some ways that might be different and maybe crazy, but I need to embrace it. I can’t thank them enough and I love that they are truly happy to see me achieve my goals and hit different milestones.

Ok thank you for all that. Now lets shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

This pandemic I think has been an eye opener for a lot of businesses especially those that solely focused on brick and mortar or a physical location. The advice I always give or a statement that comes out of my mouth a lot in business and just general for life, is that “Change is a Constant.” This was especially true for most businesses through this beginning of the pandemic and who knows how long it will take to get under control.

You need to step up your web presence, for many this might be fore th first time you are starting or doing a website. Make sure it is easy to use and easy to navigate. The cost is not what it used to be, there are so many platforms that are cost effective that you can use to get up and out there. The second part is marketing, I hate to say it, businesses are terrible at it, and this is the time to do it. Use all the analytics that are available to you from your Google analytics, to social media, and even the ones your website hosting offer. Then keep the message simple and to the point. People are too overwhelmed with advertising all the time, if you sell food, what kind, any awards, and how to get a hold of you or where to place an order. That is it!! IF you sell denim, what kind, who it is catered to, and how to buy. It really is that simple.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Crave your own path and be unique. Create products that you personally as a founder and your team stand behind. If you aren’t going to use it every day or as much as possible, why would a consumer.

It’s all about finding your audience and delivering to them. Those brands meaning the Amazon and Walmart of the world are all about the mass appeal, you can still have a great business and make a great deal of money catering to a niche market and doing it well. Brands do it every day. There are brands that kill in a segment of business and do one thing, really really well. Be that business and embrace it.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I think they get over excited and spend a lot of money on the wrong things. I have seen many brands buy a ton of inventory to sell to their potential customers but don’t leave money to market and position themselves in front of their potential clients. It is all about balance and scaling at a reasonable pace. Start small, make it work, then create or reorder/manufacture more inventory.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

In my opinion it is imagery, video and content. This is where you really get to set yourself apart from the competition. It is really how you want to be seen by the world, and many times it is how you are perceived by your customer base or possibly a first impression.

For example, we have lots of themes going on depending on the products or collections we are releasing. So, we make sure that the mood is understood and captured by our team as we set it in motion. From the photographers, web team and so on.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

There is so much in the way of analytics that is crucial to your business. For instance, Instagram now gives you a breakdown of what your consumer market consists of age, location, gender, and when your posts best perform. Almost everything you use from social media to your website should track this. Just pay attention to it and use it build your audience and grow, as well as cater to your already existing customer base.

We have had a lot of success with Shopify and their platforms. When we first started out you had to spend so much money to connect shopping carts, to online bank processing and so on. Now you can use Shopify as a one stop where everything plugs in and links up really easy. Plus the apps that you can add to your site are amazing and using custom coding for special things is pretty easy as well. It is a lot different than when we started 8 years ago.

As you know, conversion means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

Definitely proper practices and using keywords to get the right customer to your site. This is very overlooked and you should have an expert handle this side of things.

Engagement is essential as well as to keep your customer active while spending time on your site. By curating the user experience.

Also using email marketing and social media can help drive the proper traffic to your site. This can be done with new releases or updated news and or events that are coming up that would interest your audience.

The final part is to make the checkout and shipping experience as seamless as possibly for the customer. Otherwise this can bottleneck a potential purchase and drive a customer away or lose them completely.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

I think the real simple answer is to be authentic. The world is full of so much fake and unfortunately a lot of brands have built a following doing such that. Consumers will catch on, and walk away. You have to have an ethos for your brand or good quality product/products that you stand behind. This is what wins every time.

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

This is probably one of the most difficult things for all businesses at this point. We have learned that haters will be haters and most of the bad reviews that are out there are by people who didn’t even use or purchase your products. Which is a scary thing to think about.

You really just have to stay focused on good positive content, work with those who are happy with your products and get more people who are will to try your products from those who love your products. Create a loyalty program or give the customer a reason to come back. We originally started our brand on word of mouth, no online reviews or bloggers, just word of mouth. As our industry has slowly gotten into that and more reviews are out there, we just make sure we are in the Product Review features with our publications and we send products when invited to these exclusive opportunities. They have worked well for us.

Any of the real criticisms we take into consideration and it helps us improve our brand and our products. It makes us look at the issues and resolve them to keep making our products more progressive and premium performance driven.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

Building an e-commerce brand is much like creating a typically brick and mortar, so I think a lot of them same rules apply but people don’t think of that.

Much like an in store or event you may attend, the experience is everything. So there are a lot of things that play into this. Have great photography and videos to show off your products and how they work. Remember this is your way to show to the world how amazing your brand is, so have fun with it. Consumers want to be able to navigate through your offerings on your site with ease, so have as few clicks as possible for them to get to the check out.

Cart- Make sure your cart is very easy to work with. Once again, not a lot of steps to buy your products. Plus I think a lot of companies go wrong with forcing you to sign up. If a customer is going to be a steady customer they will sign up to make the cart process faster and easier. But don’t make it mandatory. I personally have walked away from purchasing things because I need my login and all that, I don’t have time. Who does? Make it easy for them to buy your products. Period.

Newsletters or email sign up is a must. But don’t misuse it. LAUNCH has a great email list and our customers are very loyal and like to know what’s going on. We have had great response from our customers on emails and how people are excited about the updates of new snowboarding and skateboarding products and industry news. We don’t send emails just to do it. I think that is overkill. At times, we don’t even announce things so people have to pay attention to our Instagram.

Social media is very important but not always necessary. Remember it is social, meaning you need to interact and keep things moving like a conversation, be engaged. If we don’t have anything to say or are leading up to a big product release, we might be silent. Nothing wrong with that. But use it as a tool to keep your customers in the know and aware of the upcoming things you are doing. In our case, we know our audience and they like the videos or our team riders and they like to see the new products being released. But if your brand or business isn’t going to be active on it, don’t waste your time, stay away.

Search Engine Optimization is essential at this point. It is also a very tricky world. But if people are trying to find you and don’t know you exist, it will continue to stay that way without utilizing. It is a great way to boost your presence and when someone is looking for that product you come up in the rankings. What’s even cooler is if you have something very specific you can really go crazy with and really drive your product through the roof with sales. I have seen some of the most random products kill it because they have really solid and people are constantly searching keywords that come in this space and they rank super high as a result.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think giving back is extremely important and it can be done at many levels. For me now, it is about giving my time to those who are looking to advance themselves and help them with advice and avoid the pitfalls that I had to endure to build my business

Also, I am in the process of starting a charity. You will see this come out very soon to really help people get to the next level, I don’t want to give too much away but it is going to be different. Plus, we will do fun marketing and opportunities to raise money for the causes we believe in.

At LAUNCH we have always tried to give back but over time we realize what works and what doesn’t. So now we are going to take what we have learned and really apply it to a charity that is different and unique but true to our beliefs of picking people up and achieving their goals and aspirations.

How can our readers further follow you online?

www.LaunchSnowboards.com

www.LaunchSkateboards.com

@LaunchSnowboards

@LaunchSkateboards

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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