Episode 15
Jeff Sheldon, minimalist designer and founder of UgmonkDeveloping a great business is about working alongside your competition, staying true to your mission and keeping your brand focused and productive.

Jeff Sheldon doesn’t buy into common tropes about what it takes to create a successful business, including the idea that more is better. His 14 year venture, Ugmonk, has taught him that staying true to your purpose is far more important than growth for the sake of growth itself. Jeff’s passion for simplicity and focus on the customer experience shows up in his products and also helps him keep Ugmonk free from the entrepreneurial trap of staying ahead of the competition.

Less is enough, and more isn't better. This simple phrase is something Jeff Sheldon has lived by and has used to keep his business and purpose connected to his roots. His journey and creation of his company, Ugmonk, started with something other than a business plan or the desire to become an entrepreneur. However, fourteen years later, his designs and focus on bringing form and functionality to the marketplace have made him an ongoing success.

Making every product by hand and taking the road less traveled approach to business, Jeff explains why sticking to the core of your business vision and mission is the ticket to true success. Ugmonk's philosophy results from Jeff's passion for high-quality products, customer service, and sustainability, with some inspiration from a Mexican fable on how to live a full and busy life while staying true to oneself.

Jeff sat down with The Entrepreneur's Studio and shared the keys to his business sensation, the future of Ugmonk, and how he connected his products in a world of obsolescence.

Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. In the episode, you'll hear:

  1. A Mexican fable and the birth of Ugmonk
  2. Minimalism — it’s a business
  3. Success is ensuring your business is more than a name
  4. How to be your own competition and progress
  5. Branding: Reflect your best self
  6. The journey from intention to start-up, becoming Ugmonk
  7. Rapid fire questions

A Mexican fable and the birth of Ugmonk

Chris Allen: Super glad to have you. So, CEO of Ugmonk.

Jeff Sheldon: Yep.

Chris: All right. So, tell us what is Ugmonk?

Jeff: Yeah, so Ugmonk is a product design studio that I started almost 14 years ago, which is aging myself a little bit, but it started as a side project to design shirts that I wanted to wear. That was literally it. I was like, "All right, I just want to make shirts." I was doing a lot of T-shirt design in college, and I was like, "I want to make shirts, I don't see these designs anywhere. What if I just did it and printed some and tried to sell something?" Didn't know anything about business, e-commerce and social. It was like pre-social media, 2008.

Chris: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Jeff: But it was just to make products that I wanted. And that kind of snowballed slowly over the course of the last 13, 14 years into what it is today. And I've just been making it up one day at a time. But yeah, it's been a really fun journey and not your typical path into business.

Chris: Yeah. So, you have not always been an entrepreneur, what'd you cut your teeth on originally to kind of prepare you for Ugmonk?

Jeff: I mean, I should have probably had a business plan and thought about it a little bit more. So, looking back, I'll back up a step. Like growing up, I was always into making things, creating things, like art was just coming out of me. So, if it was cardboard and duct tape, it was Legos, it was whatever I could get my hands on, a paintbrush. I was always drawing and doing that. That was so natural to me to make things. And that's what still continued to this day with Ugmonk. Because I just love making things, love the tangible, like this idea in my head that I can conceptualize and then I can actually put it through the stages and then have a finished thing, the biggest change was when somebody would pay actual money for that thing that I made. And as the creator, that's so rewarding.

So, I always had that passion. I never thought of myself as the entrepreneur. My older brother was the guy that had a newspaper route when he was like 12, he's on his bike throwing newspapers. And I was like, "I don't know, that seems like a lot of work." And it wasn't like I was the kid that was doing that, selling magazines door to door. But I actually had a lawn business in high school that I bought from my friend. And he was going off to college and he was looking for someone to buy it. And I started mowing lawns and I took that from like, I think there were like 12 or 13 lawns, and I grew it to like 25 by the time I was done and passed it down to my brother. And people are like, "You always were an entrepreneur." And I guess I never-

Chris: You never thought of yourself that way.

Jeff: No, never thought about it that way. But I think what I realized was the control. So, the harder you work in the lawn business, the better the payout is. It was a totally different mindset than the hourly job I had working at the nursing home before that, like my first job ever. And I was like, "This is a whole lot better. If I just want to mow 13 lawns in a day, then I can get the rest of the week off." So, there was something entrepreneurial about me, but I never would've called myself an entrepreneur.

Chris: All right. So, talk about the lawn business. Did you mow at angles and do designs in the yards?

Jeff: Sometimes. Yeah. I mean, I wasn't putting typography designs in the lawn, but it was about efficiency and how do I get these lawns? We'd have like three lawns in a row in these neighborhoods and I could mow them all in one swipe. And I was like, "This is great." So, kind of always think about optimizing and how you take those just simple things and make them better, but that's all hindsight. In the moment, I was like, "I don't know, I'm mowing lawns and I'm making a lot of money doing this, and I only have to work two or three days a week." But the entrepreneur side of Ugmonk was really born out of like, "I'm making these things, I'm having fun making them, I want them, I'm telling my friends."

And then the rest of it was like, "Okay, I got to build a website, I got to have some sort of plan here. What are we going to call it? How are we going to do this?" I didn't know how to ship anything. The second order that came in was like to Australia. And I'm like, "I've never sent anything international." Yeah. And like, "What's a customs form and are we charging enough for shipping?" So literally, that's why I introduced myself as designer by trade and entrepreneur by accident, because I literally fell into this thing. I wasn't the kid that dreamed of starting businesses. So, yeah.

Chris: That's so great. Well, on your website, you have this story about the Mexican fisherman. You should tell us that story.

Jeff: Yeah, I'll give you kind of the summary of it the best I can.

Chris: Okay.

Jeff: So, it's a fable, and this wasn't original to us, but it really characterizes the way that I think about business and the way I think about running Ugmonk. And so, the story goes something like this, where there was a fisherman in a small village and he's out there with a small boat catching fish. And then there's a banker that's on vacation out in the same place. And he sees this fisherman and he says, "Wow, look at these fish you just caught. If you stayed out here a little bit longer, you could catch a few more fish and then you could buy another boat, and you could hire people, and you could have more than this."

Chris: The entrepreneurial evolution.

Jeff: Yeah, exactly. And he's just naturally. And then, the fisherman says, "I'm good. I have enough to feed my family, I can stay with my kids after work, we get to eat well, we get to enjoy the outdoors." And the banker kind of look at him puzzled like, "You're such a good fisherman, you could do so much more, you could grow and then you could sell off your whole business." And then the fisherman's kind of like, "And then what? Then I could enjoy time with my kids, I could have enough for my family, and I could be content with life." And I feel like that kind of mimics the way that I'm building Ugmonk is it's not to scale into a global brand.

Jeff: I mean, I want to grow the business, don't get me wrong. Everybody wants to be growing their business to keep it healthy, and reaching new people, and seeing the products go, but the goal is not to find this mystical pot of gold that doesn't exist at the end of the rainbow. Like, if you're just aiming for that, that time to sell the business and cash out, I feel like it's just a different mentality of the way that you build that business. So yeah, I'm more like the fisherman who's like, "I'm enjoying the fishing, I love doing what I'm doing right now, I love the building process, I love the product design, I love being in the thick of it, having my hands on the business." Versus, "I can't wait till like in five years, I think I can get acquired, I can sell. And then I'll what? Start another business again."

And I'm just wired that way. I don't know that everyone's wired that way, but I'm not wired to grow and scale huge businesses. I'm just not a great manager. And thinking about business in that sense, I love the day-to-day doing of the thing. Like this is what we get up and do, right? Most of our life.

Chris: Yeah, you just described yourself as a tradesman first, right?

Jeff: Exactly.

Chris: But that has a lot to do with, there's a spark that you're chasing, there's something more special about this. It's not an outcome that you're looking for, that is some sort of financial benefit, there's a spark that you're chasing. What's the thing that you think about all the time? When you talk about growth, what's the why? What's the spark there?

Jeff: Yeah, making better things. I think I look at the world through this lens of like, "How can I make a better version of that?" So, there's frustrating things, the way a door handle works, the way a water bottle leaks, the way that your desk gets messy. I'm always looking at like, and this is just my weird brain, I think I've done this ever since I was a kid. Like, "Why do the hinges on the door work like that?" And I'm just kind of thinking, "Is there a better way to do that? And is there a more beautiful way of doing that?" So, combining these things, and usually how I sum up, like the thread that ties all of our products together is the marriage between form and function, so does it look beautiful and does it work as good as it looks?

And if one of those is out of sorts, if it only looks beautiful, but every time you use it, you're like, "Oh, this is annoying," there's a problem. But if it works great and it's so ugly, you have to hide it away in a closet every time somebody comes over, that's a problem too. So, I'm trying to marry these things of making better things and beautiful things. And I think we're all wired for beauty, we love to look at aesthetically pleasing things, but we also want them to be the thing I want grab, like the Ugmonk shirt is the one you want to grab when you go on a trip, the Analog card system is what you want to use every day. And it's like, that's the spark that drives me.

Chris: Oh, it's good. Well, the business started off as a side hustle. You talked about the T-shirts and stuff like that. Talk about when it became a full-time thing for you.

Jeff: Yeah. 2010 was when I went full-time, but I mean, honestly, at the beginning people started asking me like, "Oh, are you starting a business? Are you going to do this full-time?" And I'm looking at them like, "No, I'd have to sell a lot of shirts to do this full-time." And a couple years later I was selling enough shirts to make it kind of take the jump. And this is also a point in the story too, where this was unique to me and where I was at in life. I was married, no kids, renting an apartment, didn't have a lot of commitment, my wife was working. So, the joke was that I was the starving artist while she was the breadwinner for a while when I took the leap.

Jeff: But people said, "Wasn't it risky to leave your full-time job?" And it was like, "Back then, I mean, the risk was there, but it was also the right point of inflection for me to jump into doing Ugmonk full-time." And I was like, "I think if I could work on this all day, I could probably replace my salary," which was just entry-level designer at an agency. So yeah, when I went full-time, the economy was not the best, in fact, back then, but it also was the turning point for when Ugmonk started to gain more traction than just selling 5 or 10 shirts a week. It was like, "Okay, now I can actually put my whole head into this space to really create things."

Minimalism — it’s a business

Chris: Something that you just said was, you talked about the door hinges, why do they do that? And there's the spark of, I would say that a lot of entrepreneurs, they design their business around solving problems. And a lot of them, like you talked about, and we'll talk about scale and talk about the financial outcomes and things like that, but there's something that is driving you in a way that you approach the improvements on things and the aesthetic attention you put on them, and it's this minimalism thing. So, talk to us about minimalism and what's sort of like, because that's a bit of your how and a bit of your aesthetic.

Jeff: Yeah, minimalism is a great buzzword right now, right?

Chris: Yeah.

Jeff: Like everything's minimalist, and minimalism, and simplicity, I think almost to the point where those words have lost their meaning. There's even the documentary, The Minimalists, these two guys that talk about minimalism, which it's a really great idea and mentality, and I think they have a lot of great things to say, but the word minimalism and minimalist, kind of is like, what does that mean? Just like a black dot on a white page? Is that minimalism? So, the way I think about it is more around minimalism means clarity and it means less but better.

So, Dieter Rams, a famous industrial designer who's really like a role model for what I aspire to someday create products like he did, he had this phrase, "Less but better." And minimalism is not about just having nothing, like take everything off the page and just have a logo, it's about the clarity and the communication that happens when you strip away all the unnecessary parts. So, it's like peeling away, peeling away, peeling away in order to allow that main thing to kind of be central and focused on. And I think in life, in design, in all of that, it plays into it. And I think, again, we'd rather have a menu that has less options and just kind of clearly shows you what to pick from than this book that you have to sift through, and it's like overwhelming, and there's choice, and there's so much going on. But minimalism is an aesthetic, but it's more than an aesthetic. I think it actually goes a lot deeper than just how something looks.

Chris: It's an approach.

Jeff: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, that's awesome. I wonder, it seems like there's a purpose behind that. And so, one of the things that has been really good about just the little bit that we've gotten to know each other is it seems like you're a values-centric person, so as it relates to maybe sales and things like that, and keeping your how and your why, what are some of maybe the values that you have and how they show up in places that people wouldn't expect?

Jeff: Yeah, as I'm running a business, there's a tendency to just keep doing more of everything. It's hard to kind of pull back when there's opportunity everywhere, and I think right now in this time where you can create a website really quickly, you can create a store, you can create an Instagram, you can do everything, you could capitalize on the trend, whatever the trend is now. If it's fidget spinners, let's go on that, let's go on that. You could really get tied up in jumping around to all these different things and trying to latch onto that stuff. And I have to kind of really pull back and I'm trying to think of everything through this lens of like, "I want this to exist now in 5, and 10, and 15 years from now, and creating things that have more of a timelessness to them."

And I kind of have to put them through that filter to be like, "All right, am I just doing this because it's hot right now? Are we trying to do too much, or can we pull back and really focus on fewer things?" Again, less but better. Like, fewer better things and put my time and attention into that. Like, I've been working on a new product line, which I haven't teased yet, maybe I can show you guys after the podcast.

Chris: Okay. All right.

Jeff: For two and a half years. And I haven't teased it out or shown anyone, but we spent over a thousand hours on this product line, and it feels like sometimes like, "Are we ever going to launch this thing?" But on the other side, it's like, "We're getting everything dialed exactly the way... Every detail's got to be perfect." And it's the opposite of rushing things to market and move fast and break things. We're doing the opposite. We're like, "Move slow and perfect every detail."

Chris: Oh, that's amazing. So do you guys have like a cutting room floor of ideas that are just... What does that look like? I mean, how many of these things that you're like, "Ah, let's abandon that."

Jeff: Yeah. I think my brain is that cutting room. My head is... Man, ideas for me are the easy part. And I know some people that are like, "I can't think of anything." Like, "You give me a blank sheet of paper, I can't think of a single thing." I have so many ideas, and concepts, and things where I'm constantly just like observing the world and seeing things, and I'd love to make a version of this or better this. That's so easy for me to come up with. It's more of like, "How do we focus on which thing do we focus on?" Like, "Which goes on the back burner while we're working on the one thing that's on the front burner?" And you have limited space. Like if you're using that metaphor of the stove, you can only have a couple things on the front and the rest has to get pushed back.

And that's where I get really impatient as a designer, because I'm like, "Oh, I want to make this, I want to make this, I want to make this." But trying to focus and reign myself in. And really, the creative product design is still driven by me as the owner of the company and trying to focus and trying to pull back on kind of pacing things out. Like I want to do this for a long time, so maybe that's 2025, we start working on that. And that seems like an eternity, but it's a slower, methodical approach of business.

Success is ensuring your business is more than a name

Chris: It's amazing. And one of the things that has been super clear is, you're a bootstrap organization, you haven't pursued funding. So, I think it'd be really helpful just to give everybody a little bit of an understanding of why you think, and describe sort of the Ugmonk story as counterintuitive to starting a business.

Jeff: Yeah. And part of this comes, because I didn't go to business school and I didn't even look at different business models, looking at a VC-funded startup or getting angel investors and doing all this. I didn't even know that stuff existed, and I still feel like an outsider in that world, like in the world of tech where things are moving so fast and people are... Valuations and trying to IPO and all this. I'm like, I'm still more like an old school, mom-and-pop craftsman-style business from 100 years ago. And I like that. So, we're using the digital tools also to get out there, to promote to market, but we're still really building things like they did 100 years ago, where you had the cobbler in town who was the best shoemaker and repairs.

Jeff: So, we're doing that. And to me, that's normal because I'm like, "I'm going to find the best craftsmen around to make our products." So, we partner with small manufacturers and a lot of them now in Pennsylvania, where I can drive to and I can be in the shop where the woodworking is happening. You leave there covered in sawdust. And for me as a designer, I'm like, "This is what I want to be doing."

Chris: You're in it.

Jeff: Yeah. And if someone was to say here's, "X number of dollars in funding," I don't even know what I would do with it because I'm not trying to pour gasoline on the fire. I really want to be intentional about how we're growing. And to other people, they're like, "Man, I would love $1 million. Right now, we could do all this. And we could run ads, we can do that, we could do that." But I think for me, it's counterintuitive, I guess, to the normal business culture that's out there. And I think it's okay to run a slower, old-school business and be in it for the long haul. I'm not building to sell. I mean, I want to keep doing this for a long time because I love doing the thing. I'm not trying to sell myself out of doing that. And I think people need to give themselves that option, just to keep doing the thing that they love.

Chris: There was a study a few years ago in a book that was written about this exact concept and exact thing. And this guy named, Bo Burlingham, wrote a book called Small Giants. And it was all about entrepreneurs who were intentionally trying to build the best business that they could and had the opportunity to sort of scale well beyond what it was, but the experience and all of these sort of elements were so important, especially to things like these guys and gals were all very local in nature and things like that. But I think you're... Have you read that book, or you heard about Small Giants?

Chris: I mean, that study is like... That intentionality, I think, is counterintuitive. It is not something that people that are starting a business, which is not typically what they think. So, what do you think was sort of the reason why you picked that?

Jeff: Yeah, it's hard to say. I mean, I think it's because I care so much about the product and the actual experience. If I'm trying to make something cheaper and faster, there's other ways of doing it, of mass manufacturing. And if I'm just trying to get global distribution, then I would have to change the way we're doing it because the way we're doing it is not infinitely scalable. We're working with like Amish woodworkers who literally are making and finishing these wood products in their barns. This is like old school craftsman-style approach, and they can't crank out 100,000 in two weeks if I was like, "I need an order for a big-box store." But to me, it's because the product is just so much better done this way, versus trying to scale and cut corners and figure out, like optimizing the cheapest way of doing things.

So, to me, as a designer, I care so much about, and I call my products that they feel like kids to me. It's like, I want to make sure when I pass this off, and this product is sitting on your desk, that my name's attached to it, and I want to be proud of what we've done. So yeah, sometimes I think I value that too much. As a design purist, I'm so obsessed with like we're using solid wood, we're using the best finish. We're using all of these things because I care, but even though the end consumer may not know all of those things, there is a difference when that product sits on their desk next to something they bought at X big-box store. And people do notice, I think people subconsciously notice and that's what they keep coming back for more.

Chris: There’s a lot of choices that make up and we'll talk about brands and things like that, but there's a lot of choices that go into the direction that you're taking the business, what was kind of a moment where, one of the ones that are like, that's real obvious to you, where you're like, "I'm making this choice and we are going to maybe make a counterintuitive business decision to commit to this the way we're building this business"? What's a moment that it was just like, "Nope, the best business decision would be this, but we're going to go this way because it's going to honor our legacy, our story and who we are"?

Jeff: Yeah. So, a year and a half ago we opened up our first headquarters warehouse/product design studio in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, where I live. And having a physical space where we're doing all of the shipping, the fulfillment, the product inspection, product photography, customer service. Literally all under one roof, like with actual walls around this, we can't expand beyond those walls. There are some limitations until we get more space and we can expand, but doing it that way versus outsourcing everything, because we had some bad experiences with outsourcing to three PL shipping partners, and outsourcing other aspects of the business, that it felt like, "No, I'm losing control. I need this back. I care too much; I don't want customers having this experience. This doesn't reflect on Ugmonk."

So yeah, we're doing things the long, hard way, which means we're bringing everything in, my employees and my team, they're inspecting every product. When you send a return to us, it's going directly to the person that send you the email back, that's writing, that you're chatting with, and the product is sitting on their desk. And that to me just felt like this is the sustainable way of doing it. It's not the Amazon, the drop shipping, like all of these things out there, but because we care. And we kind of put our stake in the ground, like we're opening this space and we have like a showroom in the front, we can have customers in, but we're opening this space to do it all in-house because we care so much.

And I don't know any other way. Maybe it's a trust issue, but I just don't trust anyone else. I'd rather have it all there with my team working on things to know that the Ugmonk brand, our reputation and everything is going to be intact.

Chris: Yeah. That reminds me of Tony Hsieh with Delivering Happiness. His lesson was, and they eventually got bought by Amazon, but they had outsourced what they considered their core competency, which was shipping and that experience. And that was his biggest lesson was never outsource your core competency. And I think that's really awesome to hear the way that you're approaching things. What is a moment that like, I'm just learning about how your brain works and you're constantly thinking ahead and constantly thinking about things. What is a, "It keeps me up at night," kind of moment as it relates to, is there a moment where you hit a... I don't know, like an accelerating point you're like, and we have to start saying no to shipments. What are some of those thoughts that you have about that maybe keep you up at night a little bit?

Jeff: Yeah, there's some tension there because I'm trying to design products that I want more and more people to enjoy, so when I'm talking about constraints, it's not like I'm only making 10 of something, like a fine artist, and there's an edition of 10, 10 people own that. I still want to make products that can be distributed widely to the people that enjoyed them and appreciate them, so there's this tension of growth. And we were talking about the fisherman story, I want to grow sustainably, I want to do that. But what happens if we have that Oprah moment where it's like, "Oh no, what are we going to do?" The Shark Tank effect, where things go that big. And the biggest stressor for me is, how do we keep the quality the same at 100,000 units as we were doing in 1,000 units? And that's really, really hard to do. You see big brands struggle with this all the time. As they grow, they lose the core essence of what they were, right?

Chris: The essence. Yeah.

Jeff: Like if you run a guitar company and somebody's crafting each guitar body by hand, it's perfect. And then all of a sudden, some famous guitarist has their guitar and everybody wants it, it's really hard to take that and multiply that. So, there's a tension there between how do we scale that level of detail in brands? It is possible, but it just takes a lot of work. And so that's the part where I'm like, "Man, I need some really key people to be overseeing all sections of production." But we have control, so we're doing it in-house. And we may have to say this product doesn't ship for two years, or you're on a waiting list for two years, which would be a really big bummer, but I'd rather do that than just push stuff out the door and start just throwing stuff out there just to make customers get the product sooner.

Chris: Yeah. But you have like a unique kind of global phenomenon that happened that made everybody wait, right?

Jeff: Exactly.

Chris: You have this unique moment right now where people don't have the... We have the Amazon will deliver same day and all these kinds of things that people commonly expect, or food will show up to your house in 30 minutes, but you have this unique sort of COVID experience that people are like, "I'm willing to wait for great things." And so, is that something that you think about as like, I mean, do you have stuff that is on a waiting list right now?

Jeff: Not currently, but the way we're doing things, when we launch a Kickstarter campaign or a crowdfunding campaign, it's like, you're backing that campaign. You may have to wait 6, 9, 12 months before you receive the product. And one, people, they don't like to wait, but there is something about the anticipation of waiting for that thing and then finally getting it, that's actually almost better because the instant gratification of like, I can go on Amazon and have something in 30 minutes and you're excited about it. It arrives, and it's kind of like, eh, push it aside. There's something about, like when you're waiting, we're talking about cars and people on waiting list for the Rivian or they're waiting for like the Bronco for two and a half years.

Chris: Totally.

Jeff: There is something special about that and it's hard. And people are not patient, and you get a lot of emails saying like, "Hey, when is my order shipping?" But I think the right consumer and the right experience when you get that, it's that much better, it's that much sweeter to get the thing that you've been waiting for. So, yeah. I mean, we don't like to keep people waiting intentionally, but if that happened, I think we would take the approach of keeping people up to date with what's going on versus like, "All right, we're just switching manufacturers and we're no longer doing the craftsman approach, we're just making it out of plastic and here you go." We're never going to do that. So yeah, it's tricky. I think for a physical product company, the scale is very different than a software company or a tech company that can kind of push out to more people faster.

How to be your own competition and progress

Chris: Yeah. That's really well said. I just kind of think about this slow and steady kind of wins the race. How have you, I don't know, really committed... Think about some of the operations inside the business, what are some of the other ways? Other than just scale, what are some of the other things you've done to just be slow and steady as it relates to commercializing these products?

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, the way that we've launched products is different too, and this is for better or for worse, we don't have a quota, we have to hit each quarter of like, we launched X number of products. Now, that can also be a problem if we're not launching things for a while in between there, but we're able to kind of... We meaning me as I'm able to dictate that pace, we're able to say like, "Let's hold off, let's hold off, let's hold off." And we run such a small boutique-style studio that it's okay to kind of have some of these ebbs and flows, where we're not worried about numbers and we don't have anybody breathing down our neck to say, the investors aren't like, "Where is the three products you were supposed to launch in the last three weeks?"

So it allows us to kind of create our flow in the way that we do things, but my idea, and the way that I look at it, is like layering things on top, so when we launch a product, I don't want that product to just arc and then fall off, and then we have the next product. I'm trying to layer things on there. We've been selling products on our site for 10-plus years, the exact same product. We haven't changed it; we haven't had to do anything. So, I try to make things, these like timeless products that we can sell and we can layer onto each other, that kind of closes those gaps and allows things to, when one thing falls off, maybe there's supply issues. The other things take that place. Doing things in a different way than, again, capitalizing on the trends and trying to blow out something really quick.

Chris: Yeah, I like that timeless idea. I mean, that's core to your strategy with minimalism, it's like that is timeless and something that you can keep sort of doing over and over again. That's powerful. Do you worry about competition?

Jeff: Yes and no. Probably a lot less than people might think. And it goes back to just finding our own path and doing our own way. We explored a little bit. If you put a product on Amazon and it does well, you will be knocked off and reverse-engineered almost instantly. So, we actually experimented a little bit of that, pulled everything off and not even bothering with that. When people are buying an ongoing product, they're not usually price comparison shopping and looking at different reviews around this plus that. You either want it or you don't, and you're appreciating it for what it is. There's cheaper versions of everything out there than what's on our site, but the way that we're making things, it's like when you're going to buy a real product from a brand, if you're looking for a pair of Nikes, you're going to buy the ones that are actual Nikes. The people that were going to buy the knockoffs, were going to get the knockoffs anyways. But most people are trying to find the real thing.

So, I kind of, I mean, we're obviously nowhere on the level of an Apple or Nike, but for people that appreciate the Ugmonk brand, they're trying to find the real thing. They're not necessarily comparison shopping and looking like, "Oh, Amazon has a cheaper version of this." They were going to buy that anyways, but the people that are looking for the nicer quality made product are going to buy from us. So, the competition part, yeah, keeps me up at night sometimes when you see people... I mean, we've gotten knocked off more times than I'd like to admit. And it kind of hurts as a designer, like as a creative, it's like, "You're stealing my art. I put my heart and soul into this thing." But I try to just kind of keep moving forward, always be one step ahead and there's always people are going to be knocking off and kind of leeching on the success of something that we do.

Chris: Yeah, that's powerful. As it relates to, I mean, you've talked about branding a number of times, and I think that you can... A lot of companies, as the marketing person, a lot of companies think that your brand is a logo, and maybe the colors that you use. And some of the similar photography or whatever. There's an aesthetic. And I sort of think of, and I think brands are more owned by the company, but the reputation is held by everybody else. So, what are some of the things, as it relates to kind of brand development that you've put into the business that you're intentionally saying, "This is a part of our brand, this is a part of who we are"? Sort of, how do you ratify that that brand attribute's showing up in the market?

Jeff: Yeah. Brand is not just the logo and I think we talk about rebrands and we talk about rebranding, or we see the old logo and we see the new one. And how does that affect? And that's a very small part of what a brand is and how people perceive something. There's actually been backlash when some of these big brands have rebranded. I don't know if you remember Gap rebranded a number of years ago. And the consumers were just like, "This is terrible. I can't stand it." And they actually reverted back to their other one, but what that means is there's something deeper than just the logo. I think when we hear a brand's name, it's what comes to mind when we hear that, not just the visuals, but what do we think about? So, using Gap as an example, customers had some nostalgia or had something connected to it that they cared more about than just changing the logo. If Coca-Cola changed their logo, there would be a huge uproar because there's a connection, there's a deeper level of meaning to people in the brand.

So, for Ugmonk, when people hear the word Ugmonk or they think of us, or they land on our website, what I want them to be thinking of is yeah, quality, they care about people, the customer experience, that craftsmen approach, like all of that should pop into their head. And yes, there's an aesthetic, and there's a minimalism, and there's a simplicity to what we're doing, but you don't really... I think it's a subconscious thing and we're trying to deliver this customer experience from the time you land on our site, or you see our Instagram, or you message me, which is literally like, I'm still managing our social media. It's a very personal approach to connect with other people that value the things that we're about, which is making timeless products and making them the long, hard way.

And what's really cool about that is, it's relational and it's human, and it's like, we're so into this transactional approach of yeah, Amazon and ticket number, support level of this. It's totally different. When it's like, "I'm talking to a real person across the screen." And when they write in, let's have a conversation, let's continue that experience. So yeah, it's a really human thing that I want Ugmonk to feel like that, like they know, like if I send it back or have the wrong size, we get these reviews like, "Wow, you were so helpful." It's like, "All we did was send you the new product," but compared to everything else, the bar is so low. We want our experience from the product to the experience, to the way you browse our site, to feel a certain way. And that's what brand really means to me, it's more than just the logo. We don't actually put our logo on our products, it doesn't say Ugmonk on all the shirts and everything because it's not about that, it's about the feeling and what it evokes when you hear the word Ugmonk.

Chris: So, you're saying somebody, because there's the, I think we just called recall. It's like when somebody says the name Ugmonk, there's this feeling, or an emotion, or these, I don't know, things that people think about or attributes, but you just talked about not having the name, but experiencing the aesthetic or experiencing the service or whatever, and people think Ugmonk. That is much harder to do than the one, it's like, "Here's our name, this is how you should think about us."

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. And companies want to kind of cheat that system. You're building something from scratch. I need a logo, I need a catchy name, let's use some trendy color palette. And then people are going to know that we care. It's like you scroll Instagram for any amount of time and there's brand, after brand, after brand. I'm like, "I've never heard of any of these, and I have no level of trust." But then you think of legacy brands that people, the Patagonias of the world, or John Deere, or Mercedes, or anything that's been... Levi's, that's been doing stuff for a long time, there's a level of trust and the consumer sees that. When they hear the word Patagonia, they think a certain thing. And they've done that over decades, and decades, and decades of time.

When they first started, it had no connotation. So, I think, again, it's a long, slow approach to doing that, but a brand can't just be created out of thin air. Like a celebrity brand that just starts, the celebrity has clout, but if the product is terrible, the brand goes away. And people notice. So yeah, I think a brand is just so much more than branding in a sense. I mean, that's a big part of it, but it's not just the way it looks.

Chris: So, the thing that is striking me about some of the stuff that you're saying is you've got these instincts as it relates to brand building. And there's this whole science behind it as well, but you've made those discoveries. And would you consider yourself a self-taught branding expert?

Jeff: Yeah. I don't even know if I'd call myself a branding expert, but yeah, I think that a lot of these things, I've tried to learn and glean from other people that have done it and really soak as much information as I can from looking at why does BMW carry so much weight? Why does Apple have this elevated approach to everything? Learning what those brands are doing and just kind of applying it, to me, that's common sense. I'm like, "Is there any other way of doing it?" Because I'm constantly conscious of that reputation, my name, Jeff Sheldon, is on our website, is on the thing. And my face is on the brand. Even though I don't like putting myself out there, I'd rather the products have the spotlight and I'm kind of behind the scenes, but there's something that's good about that because it keeps me accountable.

I can't create X, Y, Z brand and just have whatever happened to it and do things. And there's Kickstarter projects that launch, and then they never fulfill the product, and then they go dark. And there's nothing really to lose because nobody really knew what happened behind the scenes. I'm so connected to what we're doing that I have to deliver. Like it's-

Chris: Oh, that's good.

Jeff: Yeah, it's a good problem or a good tension to have, because I want to make sure that we're delivering on that, because it reflects on me as the creator and the designer of the product.

Chris: Product. See, and I think that can be a really interesting accountability model, that's a way that you think, and I think as it relates to brands, I think the hardest part for brands is really what's at the center, what you believe, how you think, how you act, how you speak, how you appear. And something that I've noticed about you is like, you really know what you believe, you're super clear on how you think. And then, the way that you act, you're sitting here saying like, "Hey, my names on this, it's really important to me, I want people to have a great experience." And because you understand people and you also want to hold yourself accountable, you work through what it takes to execute.

Chris: And I think that that really, really matters. And that's why I'm saying, I called you a brand expert, but I mean, you definitely, you got the chops. I mean, if you go look at your website, you go look online. I mean, you know how to build something and draw attention to it without self-aggrandizement or massive amounts of paid promotion and things like that.

Jeff: Yeah. And I would caveat that there's still, and this maybe helps people think about it, there still is always the imposter syndrome of like, "What if people knew I'm just making this all up?" I didn't get certified in being a brand expert or whatever. The imposter syndrome for anyone that's making something, I think hits at a certain point where they're like, "What if they find out we're just trying to do this and we're not as good as people thought we were?" But I think that's natural, and I think that's okay. And that again, that's momentum and motivation to keep doing the thing. And once you realize, when you take the curtain back off anything, that nobody knows what they're doing, and everyone's making it up, it's kind of comforting.

But as a business owner and an entrepreneur, whatever type of business you run, that can be a little bit intimidating. Like, I don't have 30 years of experience in running a lawn care business. What if I just started tomorrow and people realize I'm not that? But it's actually okay. And I think that's where I found comfort in that imposter syndrome, it keeps me accountable to keep doing... I want to create great work, I want the work to speak for itself, I want people to have a great experience, but there's still the times where I'm like, "I don't know that I'm qualified. I don't know I'm qualified to be on this podcast. I'm just trying." But I think it's okay to feel that way.

And you realize that most people are putting on a front too, but an entrepreneurship can get lonely when you're carving your own path and everyone, your family's looking at you like, "What are you guys doing? Did you read a business book about this?" And you have that imposter syndrome kick in and you don't have to be an expert in those things in order to do good work.

Chris: That's awesome. The reality is that those mindsets and those challenges show up all the time. And a big part about being a successful entrepreneur is being able to push through those, overcome them, use them to your advantage, and things like that.

Branding: Reflect your best self

Chris: Well, something that's kind of coming to me is like, you talked about rebranding, and you talked about just how the evolution, maybe the journey of the brand, how would you sort of... Let's say there's another, let's just say retailer, out there and they're thinking about their brand. What is something that advice-wise you'd give to them about how they should think about brand, designing their brand or being intentional with it?

Jeff: Yeah. It's a broad question to try to tackle in one answer, but I think the first thing is to just step back and think about what are the goals of what you're doing? What is the brand about? I think we're talking minimalism; we're talking simplicity. Most people are trying to do too many things at once and it confuses the customer. You land on the website, you're not sure where to click, what to do because there's opportunity everywhere, and you can always add on services, you can add on this, you get onto that, but less is really more. So, if you had to take your website and strip it down to 10% of what's on there, what would the 10% be that's left? And kind of thinking through like, what is the core that differentiates your business from everyone else? What is the core that you literally could not take that out or your business wouldn't exist?

Because oftentimes I think it's clouded, our businesses get clouded by all of this other stuff that's nice to have, but it's not essential, but really getting back to what is essential in your business? Why are you doing it? What is your mission? And do those other things even matter? So stripping away, trying to get back to the minimalist approach, but in a way that allows you to take your core competency, or your differentiator, or the one product that everyone is asking for and put all of your eggs in that basket and really push harder on that, you're able to headspace, you're able to be a lot clearer in your messaging, in how you think about your business and how people perceive your business when you're doing less.

Chris: Yeah. What are maybe some questions that they could ask themselves to get to that clarity, to get to the 10% that's left?

Jeff: I think the first one is just, what are we doing that no one else is doing? Or what are we doing that's unique to us? Maybe other people are still doing it, but a smaller percentage if there's something unique about their approach to what they're doing. So even for us, the craftsman-style business and doing everything in-house and doing things like that, that's unique to us and that's not how most e-commerce businesses are operating right now. It's manufacturing overseas, it's outsourcing fulfillment. It's all of that. And that's actually something we need to do a better job messaging to our customers, but that's a differentiator. So, thinking about your business through those lenses of what really sets you apart? If I could just fill in some other business' name in your mission statement and it reads identical, maybe you don't have a clear enough idea of what you are and what you're trying to accomplish.

I think sometimes mission statements get so vague that it does it mean anything right. And I think a good question, or a good test would be, go ask some of your best customers or your friends to describe your business. And if they can't describe it and they're like, "You do something with something, but I don't know what it is," try to get it to a point where you can explain it to a five year old. Get that business, distill it down into something that makes sense for somebody to understand, instead of a lot of jargon, and big words, and things that don't really make sense to the end user.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, that's brilliant. I mean, as an entrepreneur, getting feedback from people that you can trust is super powerful. And sometimes we're unapproachable with that feedback but asking for it makes you more approachable.

Jeff: And getting feedback from people that will give you their honest answers. Family and friends are good, but they're probably going to cheer you on and say, "Yeah, congrats. This is awesome. I love all of them." Here's six options and they're like, "I like all of them." That's great, but you have to find those people that are willing to speak the truth into, "This is a terrible idea. You need to stop; you need to take this off. Stop doing this, or this feels wrong, or this whatever." And having people give you honest feedback is really important to kind of keep you accountable.

Chris: What are some of the pockets of people that you have that help speak into or have spoken into the business?

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, I've developed relationships with other business owners over the years, just throughout the interwebs of connecting with people. And I value these relationships, whether it was a conversation on Twitter. And then we end up talking more about it, but kind of looking at them and appreciating or admiring what they're doing from maybe a branding perspective or design perspective. And I'll send them some concepts and I'm like, "Give me the real feedback here. Tell me which one of these is good or do they all suck? Do we need to start over again?" But having those people and those relationships has been key to kind of filter everything through.

And then, my older brother is my business partner and we started ever since the very, very beginning, but I kind of use him also as a sounding board. He has a good, less emotional, less gut-driven brain than I do. I'm very feelings-based, so when I run it by him, he can look at it kind of black and white. "Yeah, this makes sense. This doesn't make sense. Yeah, go for it." And it's helpful because I'm a very like, "It feels good. Let's do it. This is a great opportunity. Let's go for it. I love the way this could look and be." And then he's like, "This doesn't make sense." So having somebody like that, that can take a more objective approach to help you kind of peel back the emotion, or in the moment I get really excited about something and it's like, "All right, let's take a step back. Does this align with what we're trying to do or is this actually going to push off the main core competency of what we're trying to do?"

Chris: So you do have a cutting room floor. And it's feedback.

Jeff: Yeah.

Chris: That's really good. Well, something that is, I'd say, really powerful about your products, is the packaging experience. So I mean, I would love for you to kind of say, give us the play-by-play on how you think about packaging and some of the concepts or principles that you use when you're thinking about packaging.

Jeff: Packaging is an art form in and of itself. And I think now we're receiving, who knows how many packages a day, that show up on our doorstep because we're so used to ordering stuff online. I've kind of come full circle on this. So this might surprise people, but there's the Apple approach of packaging, which is this unbelievable unboxing experience. If you've ever taken an iPhone out of the box and the lid slides off just perfectly, and the box opens, and all the inserts, I think that's amazing, I think it's great.

Jeff: For a small business like us, there's no way we can compete with that or even spend that much on packaging, but I used to be more into like, "Yeah, let's create this unbelievable presentation," but what happens is you end up with these really beautiful boxes and you have nothing to do with them. So I'm sure a lot of people still, if they're like me, it's like I have all these Apple boxes in my closet. I don't know why I keep them, but they were too nice to throw away.

Chris: Yes.

Jeff: But I'm not using them for anything, they're nice to study from a packaging design perspective, but there's a lot of waste in packaging. And I've kind of come full circle. I'm like, "How can I deliver that Apple-like experience or that Ugmonk-level experience through something that doesn't create so much waste? So can we create a package, when you unbox it, can it still feel like it has those extra touches?" There's actually human touches in the way that we print the box and then we open it up, but you're not left with a whole pile of stuff that you're like, "I don't know what to do with this. I can't really use it for anything else." Or can we reuse the box for something else?

So yeah, when we look at people, how many boxes we have to throw away a day, it does start to make sense to be like, "Okay, we don't need to create something that is a gift box that could only be used once even though it looked amazing, but can we use just regular materials and use design as kind of the tool and the differentiator to print the box a certain way, to hide a little slogan on here to use things that are craft paper instead of a plastic bag?" Not even just from an environmental standpoint, but just from like, we don't need all of this extra stuff. But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice and it has to be an Amazon box with a pack of batteries like this in a box that's this big, full of packing peanuts and stuff like that. I think there's different ways.

Jeff: It should feel like the brand. And I think what we want our packaging to feel like at the end of the day is simple and thoughtful. And then, that it's also able to not sit around in your closet for the next 10 years.

Chris: Well, I mean, that's minimalist and useful right there. It's like your packaging is following that exact approach, which is amazing. And I think I would say that that is one of the things very few brands put attention on, like that level of attention. And I mean, it's a really powerful experience, it's the... Oh my gosh, what is it? The Maya Angelou saying where she's like, people may never remember what you say, but they may remember what you say... They may forget what you say, but never forget how you made them feel. I was terrible getting that out. You guys can edit that, but that whole thing, you're delivering, you're trying to design and intentionally deliver a feeling in every single touchpoint. And packaging's just one of the many.

Jeff: Yeah, and in a world where we're shipping products, I mean, we ship products over 85 countries and they're going halfway across the world, that packaging is an important part. I mean, first it needs to protect the product, it needs to serve the purpose of it, but can we add little bits of delight into that experience that you feel and represent who we are as a brand without going overboard? There's brands that have amazing packaging and they spend all this money, $30 on a box, but the product inside is actually worse than the packaging. And we're going through this whole direct-to-consumer brand kind of bubble where everything looks beautiful, everything looks gorgeous. The branding, the logos, all of the actual visuals on it are really, really nice. It gets you to buy once, you're like, "Oh man, I keep getting that. That looks sweet."

Jeff: But when the product inside doesn't live up to that hype, or doesn't feel like that same experience, it's a one-and-done thing, so the product has to be better than the packaging. The product has to continue that experience, and the product is what will get people to come back and reorder. And the number of customers, like I don't know what our return customer rate is offhand, but it's very, very high because once we get Ugmonk product in their hands, they're more than likely going to come back and buy again because the product. And I'm trying to push... Like, there's a theme here, trying to make great products and the products do the marketing and it draws people back in.

Chris: Yeah. Which is powerful because we talk about repeat business on here all the time, and it's like five times easier to keep a customer you have than go get a new one. And I would say that that fits into your marketing mix really, really well. Because you and I were talking shop about websites just before the conversation. And I was talking about your link profile, which you got to really rich link profile on Ugmonk. So talk to us about how you discovered the name and then how you've sort of shied away from paid, but you have over the past decade plus have brought a lot of digital attention to the ugmonk.com site.

The journey from intention to start-up, becoming Ugmonk

Jeff: Yeah. The name was a complete kind of accident and just like an inside joke when I was starting the T-shirt side of things. And I was like, "I got to call this something. And I guess I got to build a website." And that's when I picked up my phone and I was like, talked to my brother, "Can you help me build a website?" Because he's a web developer or a software developer. And that's how much I thought through it. I was like, "I guess we got to call it something." Had I thought that I'd be doing this 14 years later, maybe I would've spent some more time and invested more trying to think about the name and what it represents. But what's happened is actually when we Googled the word Ugmonk originally, it's just an inside joke, we actually haven't revealed where it came from, so it's like our little secret. Maybe someday we'll break that out.

Chris: That's going to come out in the documentary.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah. In the documentary of the 25th anniversary or something.

Chris: Yeah, there you go.

Jeff: But we were just kind of throwing in words out there and then we're looking up what URLs were open, because it's really hard to get a single word dot com.

Chris: Yeah, it is.

Jeff: And we're like, "Oh, Ugmonk." And there was only a couple of results, and it was in another language, and the URL was open. We're like, "Oh, what the heck? Let's just get it." So we grabbed ugmonk.com. Literally had no idea what we were going to be using this. And then I designed a logo and created a brand around that. It was because it was all about the products. I was just like, "I got to have this way to sell the products." And what happened though is now, that was like a happy branding accident because if you Google the word Ugmonk, there's over 100,000 or 200,000 results that come back to us as Ugmonk because we're the only Ugmonk out there.

And that was unintentional, but it kind of is cool because we were able to define what Ugmonk is. So when that Ugmonk word comes into your brain, if you know what the brand is, you associate it with those things. We didn't have to peel back the layers of previous connotations or like, "Oh, is that the outdoor brand? Is that the..." All of these other things that it could have been connected to. And yeah. So here we are. So you Google the word Ugmonk, it's going to show up our site, and our brand, and articles have been written about us, and blog features, and a lot of that organic press that happened in the earlier days pre-social media, which was powerful to get the word out. And it's been an organic, like one person buys a product and tells the friend. They tell two friends, they tell two more friends, and we're shipping products to countries I've never heard of. Is that a country or a state? It's literally wild.

Chris: That's amazing. So the amount of international, was that a big learning curve for you just shipping internationally?

Jeff: Yeah, we have a very large global customer base. I mean, the US is obviously our main customer base, but there's just so many people that have found us through all different ways. Through organic press, through just seeing their friends have it. And I didn't expect that at all. I'd never shipped anything internationally before. So the first, I think it was like the second or third order that we got when I launched the site was from Australia. And I said, "I don't even know how to ship something there." Like, "I don't think we were charging enough." I didn't know anything about customs forms and we're like writing them out by hand and just all of that.

But yeah, we have such a global customer base and I think what's cool is that, like I said before, we're using digital technology to find the people that appreciate the quality and the aesthetic in the way that we design our products, and it doesn't matter if you live halfway across the world or if you live two miles from my house, you can still buy that same product and the internet has flattened that out and made it really possible for us.

Chris: Yeah. Well, if you think about the website, it's like, you know how to get attention to it, you guys have done a great job, you've done a lot of brand building to get the attention that you have. What are some of the things as it relates to advice you would give to maybe another retailer or something like that, about how to really approach your website, just the thinking that you have, what minimalist thinking would be kind of applied to building a website? What are some of the lessons that you've learned about just web design and web development?

Jeff: Yeah, I wouldn't consider myself a web expert either, but I think of it as our virtual store window. So if you're thinking about a physical store location, it's easy to think about what's our window display going to be, what's the first thing customers experience when they see, when they walk in the door and they experience that? So I think of a website, it's the same thing. So people, maybe they found out about you from a friend, they go to your site, land on the page. You're basically seeing that window display, you want to see what's their best product? What are you known for? And then kind of walk them through the store in a physical way, but replicating that in a digital way. And I think websites can be really tricky because you have the ability to put as much information as you want all on one page.

You can cram it in, you can lose all the white space, you can change stuff. And the tendency is to just keep putting more, and more, and more. And have widgets popping up, and this, and that, and spin to win, and coupons. It's like if you walked into a physical store and somebody hit you over the head with a discount code before you could even see the product, it's like, "Wait, what's going on here? I was just coming to check this out and browse." But you think about, like when you come along, when you go into a nice retail store and a good experience, and the sales rep comes alongside you and is helping you kind of understand your needs and what you want. And if you're looking for shoes for running, they're able to walk alongside you, help you, guide you, let you look at things, but provide the information that's needed.

Digital shouldn't be any different. We shouldn't be skipping all of those steps and just being like, "How do we convert quicker? How do we just get people to click Buy Now?" People still want to understand the product, they want to understand the service, they want to know what they're getting into instead of hiding pricing till the end. If you walked into a retail store and there's no prices on anything, one, you know it's very, very expensive. And two, you're just confused. People are like, "Oh, I would've thought this was $100, not a $1,000." So in the web experience, I don't know why we lost all of these human ways that we interact with a product, but it seems to be that people kind of skip that and they hide those things, or they push people to convert before even understanding the product, but I try to always think about it through that lens of walking through this digital retail store.

Chris: Yeah. The humanizing of that is really huge, especially digital. A saying that I say often is that a confused mind always says no. And so on a website, when you put all of these options out there and you put all of the stuffing, if you will, and all the clutter, you have less conversions, but if you make it clear, and the thing is, is that it's a part of your brand, clarity. We talked about minimalism being that, it's a practice that you have, but that's something that I think everyone with the website should adopt is core message, core product, why you matter, why it matters. And without all of this stuffing and getting people to get that impression and be able to take a step towards you rather than only take a step towards buying.

Chris: Well, tell me about like, let's just go 30,000 foot view on maybe the past of Ugmonk. What is maybe the biggest lesson as an entrepreneur that you've had, this sort of like something that you would want to share with people that watch this podcast or listen to it?

Jeff: These are loaded questions.

Chris: Loaded, man.

Jeff: Yeah. I think, oh man, looking back, it can be intimidating when you're constantly comparing yourself and looking to other people and other brands and businesses to be the example that you're trying to imitate. And we all have this desire to be like, if I read the Steve jobs biography, will I create the next Apple? We're always looking for that. And including me, like I'm listening to other podcasts, hearing other people's stories and trying to be like, "Oh, I should do that, I should do that." And I think when you're in the thick of running a business, we get really kind of squirrel brain where we're constantly trying to look at everything, everything that's hot, and everything that's new, and I got to be on this new platform, and I got to do this, I got to do this, is to pull back and still, I mean, we're talking about the same theme.

What is the core of what you're trying to do with your business? Do you need to be doing that? Do you need to be on TikTok? Do you need to be doing text messaging? Do you need to be doing email? Do you need to be doing all of these things? But the tendency while you're building that, especially as you're trying to aspire to be another business, or you look up to these things, is to try to imitate without really thinking about what you're adding to your own business. And the answer a lot of times is like, "No, we don't actually need that right now." Like you said, we weren't running any paid media or advertising for 13 years. And we just started this past year and we've seen some good traction with it getting in front of new customers and seeing it work, but we didn't do that.

Jeff: And people looked at me like, "Why aren't you running Facebook ads?" In the golden age of when Facebook was easy to essentially print money. And I'm like, "Oh, we missed the boat on that." But you know what? We weren't. I was heads down making products and I was trying to build the Ugmonk brand. But as a business owner, I think it's intimidating because there's just so many things you could be doing that it's okay to say no to a lot of them.

Rapid fire questions

Chris: That's so good to hear. That's really good advice as well. , I have some rapid fire questions for you. You ready? Yeah.

The first one's super hard. What's your favorite color?

Jeff: I'm going to say black.

Chris: Okay. I picked up on that. I love that. We have some of those people here that love black. What was the most recent... Like, I see you as a person who has the practice of removing distractions. What's the most recent distraction you removed?

Jeff: Oh man, this is tough. I turned off all notifications on my phone except for texts and phone calls, I think is a good one. So if someone's commenting on a post on Instagram, I don't even know until I open the app.

Chris: Wow. That's good. All right. So do people in Philly really love cheese steaks? And if so, where's the best one.

Jeff: Oh man.

Chris: That's a risky one.

Jeff: Loaded questions. Yeah, I could offend some people with this answer. People do love cheese steaks and a cheese steak in Philly is the best cheese steak. So when you're out other places, I don't know what they call them out here. If they call it a steak and cheese sandwich, it's not the same thing. And the two popular ones, Pat's and Geno's in Philly that you have to go to, are probably not the best. There's a place called Dalessandro's, there's also a place called Jim's on South Street, but- sometimes the best cheese steaks are from a food truck on the side of the road, or some local pizza places around us. So yeah, it's a loaded question. Very opinionated, people in Philly are very opinionated on cheese steaks.

Chris: I just love that you didn't pick one. You were like, "Well, let's just talk about them."

Jeff: Yeah. I'm trying to make everybody happy here.

Chris: Super good.

Jeff: I don't know that I have actually tried to put the crown on who's the best one. I know there's a place that makes a $100 cheese steak at this steak place. I haven't tried it yet, but it's like incredibly Kobe beef with this whole five course meal or something, but yeah, a good old fashioned cheese steak from a food truck is pretty good.

Chris: Well, you could be like a Barstool Sports and be like, Dave Portnoy going around to eat pizza. You could be the cheese steak guy.

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah.

Chris: You know what I mean? Oh, that's good. All right. So in a single word, how would you describe your Philadelphia Ugmonk studio? Single word.

Jeff: Beautiful.

Chris: Okay.

Jeff: It wasn't a very confident answer, but if you've ever seen pictures of our space or where it is, it's right along the Brandywine River and it's a really nice little place tucked away in the woods.

Chris: Oh, that's super cool. All right. Would you ever build an app to bring your product, your Analog product to life digitally?

Jeff: I won't say never, but there are no plans for it.

Chris: Yeah. I figured, I was like, "It's analog. Why would we take it digital?"

Jeff: Actually, yeah. A lot of people have been asking like, "Can you make an app to compliment Analog?" And I think the beauty of Analog is that it is analog and you do not pick up your phone or have to have a device inside to use it.

Chris: Yeah, it is a beautiful product. All right. Someone here in the office, and I'm not saying any names, but it rhymes with Schmavin, said he once bought an Ugmonk T-shirt that he really loves, but he put on a few pounds since COVID, so I have a multiple-choice question here for you. It doesn't fit him anymore, so A, should he lose weight, B, buy a new shirt or, C all of the above.

Jeff: Let's say C, all of the above. I mean, we all need to get a little more active, including myself. So.

Chris: You heard his answer, Schmavin. That's good. So aside from Ugmonk, what's your favorite brand and why?

Jeff: Picking favorites like this is like picking your favorite kid and you can get in trouble.

Chris: Dude, this is minimalist. We're picking directions here. This is clarity, right?

Jeff: Yeah. I'm going to kind of steer this question a little bit different. My favorite designer is what I referred to before Dieter Rams, who designed a lot of the Braun products over the years, and heavily influenced Jony Ive and Apple's design. You see a lot of that come through in the aesthetic. So he's touched a bunch of different brands, there's a shelving brand called Vitsoe, and they've been making these shelves for 60 years in the UK. I just got them, put them up in my office. The timelessness and the way that everything that brand embodies is something that I really, really appreciate.

Chris: Okay. So this isn't a question, but a suggestion. So we really love sushi and so do many other entrepreneurs. So are you open to making Ugmonk chopsticks?

Jeff: I mean, they'd be pretty legit chopstick if we did it.

Chris: Yeah. Those are already pretty minimalist.

Jeff: Yeah, I think they'd be cool.

Chris: Yeah. Well, what's maybe another entrepreneur that inspires you?

Jeff: So, my original inspiration, this goes way back and kind of gave me the confidence to do a lot of the things that I'm doing. He goes by Johnny Cupcakes and he started a T-shirt company that actually looked like a bakery and they only sell T-shirts. So people walked in, think they're getting cupcakes and he sold shirts with cupcakes on them. But what I really appreciated about him was that he literally just beats to his own drum. The guy was doing things that no one else was doing. And everyone was like, "Why are you doing this?" He would throw pizza parties in the middle of Boston, just randomly, and have 500 people show up and they'd run a movie theater out. And just crazy stuff. And I think before that, you're always looking at kind of the clear cut business leaders and models of, the Jeff Bezos and all these people that have done things in a very big way.

Jeff: But I like that there's people just doing stuff that's kind of weird and different, and doesn't fit into any box. And that's kind of where you talked about is Ugmonk a CPG brand? Is that a retail brand? And I'm like, it doesn't fit into any of those things. People used to call it a T-shirt brand, it's not really a T-shirt brand either. So I think Johnny Cupcakes was way, way back in 2008, it was like 2006 even, was kind of that inspiration to be like, "Wow, you can do things and just make them up and do them completely different than anyone's done them before."

Chris: I have never heard of that person, but that sounds ridiculously fun.

Jeff: You should look him up.

Chris: The pizza party just randomly, that's amazing. Yeah. 500 people. All right. Aside from chopsticks, what's next for Ugmonk?

Jeff: Yeah. So I hinted at this a little bit. Let me give you a little bit more teaser on here. Basically, I've been designing a new system of products that's going to make your desk awesome. That's all I can say right now, but it's going to be the biggest and most ambitious thing we've ever launched.

Chris: Well, I don't know if you've taken the tour, but I would say that this building specifically has some minimalist features, so we love desks that are super... Well, we would love a desk, that would be awesome. So that's exciting.

Jeff: No, it's going to make any desk awesome.

Chris: Oh, make any desk awesome.

Jeff: Yeah. We're not going to replace desks because shipping desks is a little bit tricky.

Chris: Sure.

Jeff: But what goes on top of the desk, yeah. It's going to be pretty cool. So yeah, in a month or two, depending on when this drops, but it's going to be live. So yeah, then you'll get to see the full thing.

Chris: Oh, that's exciting. Well, thanks for coming to spend time with us, Jeff. Good to get to know you and know about Ugmonk.

Jeff: Yeah, appreciate it.


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