Jon Kaweblum of Klipped Kippahs: “No entrepreneur went to business school”

A 3-year or 10-year plan where you can clearly see where you’re driving towards. In terms of where you want to get to, having a clear goal for your team to know and share in is an important part of building trust in an organization. Whatever that is, whether it’s taking 10% of the market […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

A 3-year or 10-year plan where you can clearly see where you’re driving towards. In terms of where you want to get to, having a clear goal for your team to know and share in is an important part of building trust in an organization. Whatever that is, whether it’s taking 10% of the market in five years or building a machine that is going to sell X number of parts, a big but attainable goal that everyone can get behind should be clearly defined.

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 Jonathan Kaweblum.

Jon Kaweblum is an architect by training and while studying for his architecture degree, he coached a boys’ varsity basketball team coach at a Jewish day school in Florida. One season, the Florida High School Athletic Association decided that the boys could not use standard metal clips or bobby pins to keep their yarmulkes on their heads while they played, as was required for safety reasons by school policy. Before it became a major media issue, Jon invented a yarmulke with clips built inside.

Klipped Kippahs was born as a solution to this problem. In addition to being used with great success by his team at then Weinbaum Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton (Now Katz Yeshiva High School), over 400 schools nationwide now enjoy the many benefits of Klipped Kippahs as well. In addition to sports, Klipped Kippahs can be worn whenever a regular yarmulke is required, as a convenient and aesthetically appealing replacement to your yarmulke and clips. Klipped Kippahs are sold all over the world, both in bulk for custom orders and in retail quantities. Today, Jon holds four national and international patents, manufactures the patented yarmulkes with licensed MLB and NBA logos and leveraged this single item into a general custom event production company. Currently, in addition to the Klipped Kippahs, they also manufacture apparel, including management and fulfillment for the Olympic Israeli Baseball Team looking to participate as one of six teams in the upcoming Tokyo games.

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?

I didn’t initially start out as an e-commerce business per say, I came up with a product and then I started to sell it online. My business model wasn’t designed to be on the web at first, but it became part of the strategy after the fact. A lot of our products are custom, so seven years ago before third-party platforms for customization were easily accessible, we built a system from the ground up where users could design yarmulkes and see what their creations would look like directly on the site. At the time, there was nothing else like it in our industry. Our customers were able to go online and satisfy 85% of their needs straight from the website which was pretty cool to see that work. Now it is somewhat expected in the custom e-commerce realm for consumers to be able to come onto your website and be able to create their designs.

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

I’m an architect by training and also a big basketball junkie in my free time. When I was in architectural school, I was coaching a boys varsity basketball team in for a Jewish Orthodox school in Boca Raton and they would play with their yarmulkes on. Eventually I also became the athletic director of the school, and every year we had to apply for a certain letter from the state that allowed to boys to wear their yarmulkes during the games. One year, our application letter got rejected and their reasoning was that the yarmulke clips could be dangerous during the sport. I had seen wig clips before, and I thought of this idea to sew wig clips into yarmulkes. I ended up creating a sample and gave it to the boys to use during practice. The boys liked it, so I decided to send samples to the Florida High School Athletic Association in Tallahassee. Once the state approved the concept, we took 25 of those samples and sent them to Jewish schools all over the country. And just like that, I was in the yarmulke business. I even bought a “How to Apply for Your First Patent” book, it was definitely an aha time for me.

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?

The first lesson I learned is that there is a big difference between a good idea and a successful business. It’s a really underrated difference, and a lot of times without a lot of money it can be hard to be able to give a business the fuel it needs to try new things and grow. I was a student in college with a family when I started out, so I didn’t have the capital to start operating a business. I literally started Klipped Kippahs with 1,000 dollars and credit cards. It was hard in the beginning to be able to pay for the expenses needed to operate or hire any employees.

On the web side, I’ve always had trouble with having programmers design the vision I have for my site. Both times I’ve done it, it’s been a terrible process because committing to a scope on a piece of paper with exactly what you have in your mind. I am also a graphic designer by training, especially one time when I literally created slides for how I wanted every single page of my website to look and I still had issues with getting my vision across to programmers. Getting the tech to match what I wanted was always very hard.

This year we took on our e-commerce solutions ourselves, building our own Shopify site using third party apps for customization. By being completely in-house we have full control over any changes we want to make. Early on, a big milestone was when we got our first patent and licensing with pro baseball and pro basketball. The novelty with coming up with this new idea and obtaining these licenses quickly wore off and I remember that I am doing this to support my family. That’s the north star, it’s not about what’s cool and gimmicky or having an ego, at the end of the day, I want to create a business that is viable and profitable to support my family.

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

I would say success is always a work in progress. But I think we are definitely on the right path. Having good mentors and joining business programs like EO, was really life changing for me. I have the opportunity to hear other entrepreneur’s experiences who face the same types of challenges that I do and what they have learned. Being given the knowledge about the difference between what makes a good business versus a bad one has really been game changing in my career.

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 is funny looking back at all the mistakes we have previously made with the knowledge we have now, but they certainly didn’t feel funny at the time. When we first got our patent, we came up with a product that used our patent to make wearable logos to clip that you could clip to your hair or your shirt or wherever else. I still think it could have gone a lot farther, but at the time we launched it as vendors in the promotional products industry and spent an entire year traveling to trade shows trying to get into that world. We just didn’t research the strategy properly and just jumped into it. There’s a big difference between a good idea and a good strategy. The good idea was there but the strategy wasn’t, so we lost money and it never happened because of it.

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

I believe my company’s ability to adapt between systems makes us stand out. Creating systems that are easily adaptable to different situations, can make all the difference for a thriving business, especially during this current pandemic.

We used to meet with clients to do studio sessions where they could design custom goods for their events. Those were really great, but once the COVID pandemic hit we couldn’t do that anymore. We started doing these studio sessions online and not only were they more efficient, but we are also now able to offer that service to the whole country. Previously you had to be in Florida to come in and do one of these sessions and now anyone can schedule a session with us through our website. Because you can have the client actually see the screen in front of them as we design the product, we it ended up being more efficient.

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

Try to be very clear and define exactly what you are great at and put all of your energy into that. Try not to do too many things often, it makes you a jack of all trades and master of none. Just push forward and make everything you do about that one thing will focus your team and focus all your efforts to get everybody rowing in the same direction. Without that, it can be hard for a team to row in the same direction.

For me, I have been doing some soul searching recently to try and figure out what my “thing” is. I thought it was one thing, but it turns out my efforts may be better spent elsewhere. But I believe it’s good to be constantly reevaluating that. For my company, our ability to create systems that allow for custom production at a good price and with a quick turnaround is “our thing”. We have this really strong back-end system that can produce at quantity, custom stuff. The point being the systems, not the channel. There are a lot of channels in a company that direct business. Events happen to be our biggest one, but it is just one channel. We are so much more than just that.

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?

No entrepreneur went to business school. Those who went to business school usually end up working in corporate America for some specific company. I believe that every entrepreneur is something else, learning whatever their trade is or not even going to college and figuring out some cool idea. Your education and MBA comes after.

Both of my partners are very successful businesspeople in major companies. Sitting in a room with them was like my MBA. Listening to their experiences, advice and how they approach things has helped me to get to where I am today. My biggest takeaway from them is that it doesn’t matter what you sell, it could be socks or airplanes, business is all the same. It really comes down to your business model and what your margins are. How efficiently you run your business processes is what it is all about.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s 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?

In terms of what we do, since most of our business is not brick and mortar, I believe we were always built for that in a way. For instance, some other companies have shifted to doing curbside pickup or deliveries whereas we have always been delivering our products

Our big adaptation was starting to sell face masks, it just seemed like the right thing to do in order to do our due diligence. Our hope is that we can transform a safety precaution into a point of connection and a new way to celebrate. Face masks have now become a crucial element to party throwing, and now you can design one to match a theme and be sure everybody has one, whether or not they came prepared.

In the beginning of the pandemic, we would cater to virtual events by delivering customized goods to each attendee’s house the day prior. This way, everyone is able to wear the same shirt or have the same bag and feel connected during this new era of virtual festivities.

I think the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated everything for us. We were able become leaner and trim fat by analyzing every expense to decide if it is really necessary. It has definitely made us more efficient.

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?

The internet has killed the idea of Chinese suppliers in a way. Before the pandemic, a lot of people’s advantage was having those connections to Chinese suppliers that they didn’t share. But now that Chinese suppliers have become more commonplace such as with Alibaba, anybody can go online and find someone who can make products for them.

The reason that people would still come to us instead of going directly to a Chinese supplier is all in our service and brand. Our customers know who we are and can trust that we are going to deliver on what is promised. Having a brand name and establishing that awareness and connection with consumers is what will set you apart. When you buy something from China, it’s generic. Having a brand name behind a product lets consumers know the quality of where their products are coming from.

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?

One common mistake I have seen is not having the infrastructure behind your store. A lot of times people put their website up and figure the rest out later. Having a good back end system is so important to handle the type of demand that comes along with success.

Another mistake is not putting enough time, effort and money into digital advertising. You will have no chance at competing because that is what everyone else is doing. Marketing is not really the place to save your money, you should have enough budget ready and prepared to strategize that aspect of business.

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

Consumers don’t usually understand or really appreciate what happens after they place their order. Now with big companies like Amazon and not having to pay for shipping, people are getting used to those luxuries. But a lot goes into having inventory to be able to ship quickly at a scalable level. What the client doesn’t see on the website is almost as big, or even more important than what they do see.

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?

Shopify is becoming very powerful and out of the box as well as open third-party channels makes it an amazing tool. We also use a really cool email company called Front that makes virtual collaborating really easy. I highly recommend investing in and taking advantage of tools that make the e-commerce process more seamless.

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?

Honestly, that is something that we struggle with but are working towards perfecting. There are many factors that come into play for conversions. Having a user-friendly site is an important one. If your website takes too long to load, especially in a competitive market, odds are that the user will just go and look someplace else.

Figuring out the variables that play a role is definitely company and industry specific. A lot of trial and error needs to go into identifying that lever.

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?

Delivering on what you promised is the number one way. Your word means everything and if you cannot stick to it, your customers are not likely to recommend you or use you again. Having some type of platform or way for word of mouth to spread, whether it be social media or ratings is a great way to build that trust. People come to you with certain expectations and they spend their money with you because they know what they can expect.

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?

I think in general people can tolerate a certain amount of bad reviews, it is somewhat normal and could even look fake if you don’t have any. However, those should be the minority and the way in which you respond sends a big message to potentially future customers. Being sympathetic and attempting to remedy a bad situation will come across a lot better than not acknowledging the poor review at all.

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.

Have a very clear idea of who your market is. You can’t sell everything to everyone, so a clear idea of who you’re trying to sell to. We made the mistake of just starting to sell and saw that it didn’t play out how we hoped. Had we had a targeted person it would have saved a lot of money, effort and energy. We try to clearly define our demographic by embodying who we are trying to sell to such as putting up picture up in the office. He or she could be 35–45 years old, likes to do such and such in his or her free time, he or she has a child this age, this is where they live etc.

Having core values and a core mission set is really important. A business owner can’t do everything. The whole point of a company is to have a team of people making decisions on your behalf because as you grow there is no way to be a part of every decision. The only way to have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people making decisions the same way you would, is to have core values. This is usually the essence of the owner, what characteristics he has used to get to this point. The core values need to be very clear to the whole company, from the janitor to the high executives. One of our core values is to keep upgrading. I like to keep finding new ways to make stuff better. On the same note, everyone in your company should have a clear idea of the core mission to make decisions based around it. If opportunities or situations come around that do not fit into your core mission, you have to have the discipline to not take them.

Having a group of people who can hold you accountable and that you can open up about real world problems you are facing in your business issues is huge. People always say, “how’s business?” and people always say, “oh it’s great, things are good”. Most of the time that’s not true. Confidants that you can really open up to makes you realize most of the time that your struggles are not unique. For me, joining EO gave me an outlet for that.

A 3-year or 10-year plan where you can clearly see where you’re driving towards. In terms of where you want to get to, having a clear goal for your team to know and share in is an important part of building trust in an organization. Whatever that is, whether it’s taking 10% of the market in five years or building a machine that is going to sell X number of parts, a big but attainable goal that everyone can get behind should be clearly defined.

Going off of the above point, having measurable and definable data where you can know if you are performing according to your mission is really important. Measuring that each one of your employees is performing correctly should be based on some KPIs as opposed to just “I feel like I had a good day”.

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 we should focus more time and energy into teaching people how to think rationally. A lot of times most people who run a successful business are rational, pragmatic and realistic thinkers. If they are not, then odds are they will not succeed. What’s funny is that many of these rational and successful businesspeople don’t apply the same amount of scrutiny to the rest of their lives as they do to their business lives. I always say, “if you wouldn’t do that in your business, why would you do that in your life”.

I would love some type of way to create a movement that teaches people the skill of using their mind in business, but also how to bring it out into every single part of their lives, whether it be political, family or religion, the same lessons are applicable.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can follow Klipped Kippahs on Instagram and Facebook.

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

    You might also like...


    Gracey Cantalupo On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

    by Karen Mangia

    How To Be a Team Player in Business

    by Mark Samuel

    Ravi Swaminathan On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

    by Karen Mangia
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.