Always challenge yourself. Constantly learn and challenge yourself. My background is in design and earlier this year with the ongoing pandemic and less opportunity to create content outdoors, I decided to learn more about 3D and AR from scratch. It has proven to be extremely useful for the business. On our website, we have added augmented reality to most of our products and you can project our popular tumbler in your living room from our website on your phone. It also helps us to sample more products.
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 Julian O’hayon, a French serial entrepreneur, designer and founder of lifestyle brand, Blvck Paris. Julian has amassed a cult following online with over 270,000 followers on Instagram. Julian founded two new tech companies and participated in an Entrepreneurial show broadcasted on National TV whilst studying Business Engineering at university
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?
Thank you for having me!
I am best known as the founder and designer of the lifestyle brand, Blvck Paris. It’s kind of funny because I never really intended to go into fashion, it just kind of happened.
I grew up in a very entrepreneurial environment and have always been very much into design and technology. While in high school, I taught myself web-design. I would spend hours designing impeccable user face and decided to start my own design agency. By the age of 22, I was working with over 100 clients worldwide designing their websites whilst studying business engineering at university.
In all my projects, I honed my focus on beautiful yet minimalistic and functional design, which can be regarded as my distinctive signature. Creating my own brand and products to share my vision with the world was always a dream of mine.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Via my own Instagram account, I would share my monochrome and minimalistic lifestyle and I also began applying my personal stamp to household brands.
Through posting images on Instagram, I wanted to bring a memorable and aesthetically pleasing effect by ‘blvcking out’ everyday items. For example, I designed a can of coke in black. The photos quickly went viral on social media. I also got a lot of press recognition worldwide. This is when I knew it was the start of something bigger and that I wanted to explore the ‘Blvck’ concept further by creating an all-black lifestyle brand.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
This year has been really good for us at Blvck Paris despite the global ongoing pandemic. We have increased our footprint in Asia and have had our first ever physical pop up there.
The beginning of COVID was not easy for us as we had some inventory and shipping issues caused by the pandemic. At the time, we decided to take this opportunity to focus on things we don’t usually have time to and optimise our website and operations. It really paid off as soon as we received our inventory, we saw a major increase in conversion rates online.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I would say our creativity and a very strong branding is what makes Blvck Paris stand out.
Blvck Paris is very much a lifestyle brand, where we want our community to live this ‘all blvck everything’ lifestyle with us. As an example, in July, we launched our first ever physical pop up shop in Taipei, in Asia. The pop up was not a traditional shop displaying our clothing line but more a lifestyle shop. We had a food corner, where you could buy an all black ice cream and drink coffee from our branded monogram cups. On top of our merchandise, we also had a basketball hoop and a claw crane machine full of exclusive Blvck products.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would recommend to always appreciate every success and celebrate them.
Many founders tend to think immediately of what is next, which of course is good, but forget to appreciate and celebrate every success they have along the way.
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?
Blvck Paris started as a direct to consumer brand selling exclusively via our online shop www.blvck.com. We had plans to open more pop-up shops in 2020 but with the global pandemic we decided to be strategic about it and to test the physical experience online in countries where COVID was very low. In July we opened our first pop up in Taipei. Taiwan has been hardly impacted by COVID, with only about 550 cases in total and 7 deaths.
In the US, a key online market for us, we decided to launch a section offering digital products. People are spending more time online and at home. We started earlier this year by launching a free stickers app available on the AppStore called ‘Blvckmoji’. We had a crazy number of downloads and saw there was a real potential for us in the digital space.
We recently launched our first paid digital product, a set of ‘iOS14 icons’ to be able to customise your home screen. It has been incredibly popular and we will soon add even more digital products.
There are a lot of brands also focusing more on comfortable outfits and home selection with more people working from home. Our clothing is quite casual and perfect for everyday wear but with the pandemic, we have decided to launch even more home products.
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?
It is important to find who your clients are and always keep them in mind. If you find the right audience and grow with them, you will find much more success than if you focus on what everyone else is doing. At Blvck Paris, we try to stay innovative but at the same time very consistent.
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 have many friends who have started businesses and I was also very involved in the entrepreneurial circle at university. From what I saw, the most common mistakes from early stage founders is to forget about cash flows. If you are not careful with your cash flows, it is very hard to afford growth and to keep going. Another mistake is to forget the bigger picture and focus your business on something that is not easily scalable.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
E-commerce is a very competitive market and a relatively easy one to enter. However, I would say that if you start an e-commerce brand, you need to stay open-minded and be flexible and always question yourself. If you see that your business is not generating cash, not generating enough interest, think of how you can adapt and what is the issue with your product or marketing strategy.
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?
As a team, we all use a lot of different tools to be more productive and also marketing wise.
My focus is more on the design, branding and marketing. On my side to edit photos, I use mainly photoshop, blender and lightroom. These tools are not easy to use if you are not familiar with them but once you master them, it can help you a lot.
For emails, we use Klaviyo. It is a really good platform where you can easily create campaigns and follow the metrics on what works best for your firm.
For productivity, we use Monday, a project management tool that helps us manage our tasks and always stay on top of it.
For customer service, we use Zendesk. It is a great software, super easy to use and really good as you scale and receive more and more emails.
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?
There is actually a lot of small things that can help improve conversion rates.
The main one is the website itself. The average across the industry is around 2.5%, however, it really depends on what you sell. If you sell very high-priced products, your conversion would naturally be lower.
To improve your landing page conversion rate, you need to make sure your website is very user-friendly and has all the basic equipment such as a good FAQ, a return and shipping policy.
The second aspect is your ROAS that can help you boost your conversion rates. It also depends on the products sell but having good creatives always help.
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?
There is no secret, it takes time. We started the brand almost 3 years ago now and we are still building our reputation online. I think working on having a good customer service and always listening to your clients and constantly improving your service and products is key.
I also think domains are very important, invest in the right domains. We bought blvck.com earlier this year and I still think that it was our best funding of 2020. Having a strong social media presence also helps, as it can show other consumers buying the products and loving the brand.
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?
Reviews are differently important especially when you start a brand and you still need to build that trust and reputation.
We use this tool called Judge.me with our website and ask every customer to review their purchases within 2–3 weeks after receiving it and they can also attach photos. I personally think it is a great way for anyone browsing our website to directly hear our customers’ opinions on it.
When we receive bad reviews, we try to publicly respond to it as to remain open and transparent with everyone reading the reviews.
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.
- humble beginnings, great endings
I started Blvck by creating a community of people who share the passion for the color black and the minimalistic and high-quality lifestyle. We first started by offering tech accessories and a very limited number of products and organically grew the product offering and the regions covered. The bigger picture is constantly on my mind, but we want to scale the business in an organic way and make sure we get to this great ending.
2. Work hard but smart
Focus on what you are good at and outsource the rest. At Blvck, we are known for our strong branding and unique aesthetics. It is something we will never outsource because is the DNA of Blvck. On the other hand, we work with a lot of contractors to assist us with other tasks, we are not great at and cannot afford to focus at risk of losing the bigger picture.
3. Be able to pivot, stay open minded
One of my friends I worked with in the past, he built a social network for students. From the start, he saw that it wasn’t profitable and that there was not much opportunity there but he kept trying and stuck with it for about two years. I would say that if there is no market for your service/products, adapt and find your right audience or try an alternative product but don’t stay stuck with an idea that will end up wasting your time and energy.
4. Know your clients
It is very important to understand who your audience is and really grow with them. We noticed earlier this year that we had a lot of demand in Japan and decided to focus even more there and even creating some products just for them.
5. Always challenge yourself
Constantly learn and challenge yourself. My background is in design and earlier this year with the ongoing pandemic and less opportunity to create content outdoors, I decided to learn more about 3D and AR from scratch. It has proven to be extremely useful for the business. On our website, we have added augmented reality to most of our products and you can project our popular tumbler in your living room from our website on your phone. It also helps us to sample more products.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!