e56 Jeremy Parker, co-founder of Swag.com & Swag Space

56: Jeremy Parker, Co-Founder of Swag.com & Swag Space

Clip from episode 56 of the First Customers podcast with Jeremy Parker.

Full Episode

First Customers #56 with Jeremy Parker on YouTube

Summary

Discover how Jeremy’s innovative approach to customer acquisition and branding propelled Swag.com to become the fastest-growing company in its sector, ultimately leading to its acquisition by Custom Ink.

Now at the helm of Swag Space, Jeremy shares invaluable insights into starting from the top, the importance of focusing on unscalable things in the early stages, and why understanding your customer can make or break your business.

Links & Mentions

Notable Quotes:

“We didn’t have the money to do Google Ads, so we had to knock on doors and get our first customers.”

Jeremy Parker
Co-Founder of Swag.com & Swag Space
First Customers #56

“I wanted to start at the top and work my way down. If I could get Facebook and Google, everybody else who comes to my website will start to trust me.”

Jeremy Parker
Co-Founder of Swag.com & Swag Space
First Customers #56

“Really focus on the unscalable things because those are the things that are going to help you learn to make sure you build the right solution.”

Jeremy Parker
Co-Founder of Swag.com & Swag Space
First Customers #56

Takeaways

  • In the early stages of a business, focus on unscalable actions and hand-to-hand combat to acquire customers.
  • Targeting big-name brands can provide instant credibility and social proof for a new business.
  • Acquiring a strong domain name can significantly impact brand perception and recognition.
  • Curating quality products and focusing on customer satisfaction can differentiate a business in a competitive market.
  • Testing and learning from early sales is crucial for understanding customer preferences and building the right solution.
  • Building a strong online presence through SEO and content marketing can drive organic traffic and conversions.
  • Identify the ideal customer and connect with them through various channels to build relationships and drive sales.

Chapters

00:00 Introduction and Background

00:52 Getting the First Customers for Swag.com

04:11 The Strategy of Starting at the Top

06:20 Acquiring the Swag.com Domain Name

07:47 Curating Quality Products

09:26 Testing and Learning from Early Sales

11:48 The Power of Social Proof

12:17 Expanding Sales Tactics

15:33 The Role of Social Media

19:01 Connecting with the Ideal Customer

21:22 Expanding the Customer Base

23:00 Starting SwagSpace

27:36 Enabling Other Industries

34:01 Importance of Customer Conversations

36:55 Learning from Customer Feedback

39:49 Taking Responsibility for Success

40:17 SwagSpace and Local Print Shops

Show Transcript

Paris Vega (00:01.017)
Welcome to the first customers podcast. Today we have Jeremy Parker with us. He’s the co-founder and former CEO of swag.com, which was the fastest growing company in its industry generating about $40 million in revenue a year and was recently acquired by custom Inc a few years ago. And now he’s the founder of swag space. Jeremy, welcome to the show.

Jeremy Parker (00:25.91)
Thank you so much for having me.

Paris Vega (00:28.677)
So as you know, this show’s all about how different entrepreneurs got their very first customers. So that’s the question I want to ask. How did you get your very first customer? Even if it’s not one of the companies that we mentioned that you have more recently been a part of, you can go all the way back to the very beginning of any sale you’ve been involved in. What was that first sale or first customer experience like for you?

Jeremy Parker (00:52.802)
Sure thing. So I think Swagspace just launched about a month ago, so we’re still figuring out how to get our first customers. We have about 100 people using it, and I could go through that story a little bit later, but with swag.com, how I look at it, there’s so many different traction channels that you could use to get customers. You could do Google ads, you could do Facebook ads, you could do partnerships. I mean, there’s SEO, content marketing, all these different things. What I’ve found is that

different parts of a life cycle of a business, a different traction channel makes sense. So like for example, with Swag.com, it was hand-to-hand combat. We didn’t have the money to do Google Ads. So we actually had to knock on doors and get our first customers. You do the unscalable things. Oftentimes entrepreneurs want to do things that are infinitely scalable. And I always say, and I even tell myself when I’m starting a new business, really focus on the unscalable things because those are the things that are gonna help you learn to make sure you build the right solution.

With Swag.com specifically, we just had a landing page. We had this website, this awesome website, a landing page that said, coming soon. We had no customers yet. So how did we get our first customer? So most entrepreneurs always are told to start their way at the bottom and work their way up. Eventually they’ll start getting really great clients. And honestly, that just takes too long. So in my mind with Swag.com, I actually want to do the opposite. I wanted to start at the top and work my way down. So I felt like,

If I could get Facebook and Google and Netflix and all these big name brands, everybody else who comes to my website will start to trust me, right? It’s like the instant social proof. So in the early days of swag.com, this is in 2016, I really kind of thought about myself and my co-founder Josh, we thought about it, we talked about it like we were logo hunters. We really wanted to get these big name brands. Even if it was a coming soon page, people had to see the role of logos and they instantly feel that confidence and credibility with us.

Paris Vega (02:41.525)
Bye.

Jeremy Parker (02:47.746)
But then you say, well, how do you get those first customers? And honestly, it was pretty nuts. We used to show up at offices. We would try to find an in through a LinkedIn connection or something. I know with Facebook, I forgot exactly how we got into the office. I think it was a friend or a connection of my partners. And we got into the office of Facebook. And we actually just set up in an empty conference room. I remember we brought a bag of swag.

Paris Vega (02:47.754)
Right.

Jeremy Parker (03:12.75)
This is like the first couple of weeks of our business. We didn’t have any technology. We didn’t build anything yet. It was literally just a coming soon. And we set up this conference room, just putting swag items. And as you can imagine with Facebook office, there’s hundreds of people walking around. And somebody happened to walk by us, and they said, what are you guys doing? And I said, we’re selling swag. We have this company, swag.com, which the brand name definitely helped. It gave people that’s kind of feeling like we’ve been around for a while. And we ultimately made our first sale. We sold about $3,000 worth of T-shirts.

Paris Vega (03:34.142)
Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (03:41.622)
Honestly, I think we actually, we either made very little money or we probably lost some money, honestly. But it didn’t really matter in the early days. It was about getting that logo and getting that credibility and also learning. What are people looking for? What do they want to buy? How do they buy? And in those early days, it was just about getting these names, customers, and also learning about the right solution to build. Because oftentimes, entrepreneurs, you have this ego of what you think your customer wants or who the right customer is.

and often times you’re wrong. So I think just get out of your own head, start talking to customers, and see really what people are looking for.

Paris Vega (04:11.794)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (04:18.278)
All right, two follow up questions. One how’d you get swag.com and two, where did you get the swag that you showed up with? How did you get that?

Jeremy Parker (04:26.482)
Yep, sure thing. So swag.com, I was in the industry when I was 22 years old and I started the business when I was 30, swag.com. I was in a different business eight years prior. I noticed that the industry was only getting bigger. It’s about a 25 billion or so industry, promotional products. Every company in the world, every charity, buys swag, the industry, right? But the buyer…

Back in the day when I was 22 and I was in the industry, they were all 40 to 50 year old office managers. And I saw this shift that the buyer was changing. The buyer was becoming younger and younger. And that was kind of the big reason that we wanted to start this business because we looked at the landscape of the industry and there was no real great brand that was appealing to today’s buyer, this millennial. And what do millennials want different than a 50 year old? They want a different brand, they want to speak to them, they want different product selections, they want a more curated experience, they want things to be more automated.

There’s a lot of different nuance of how a 23-year-old buys something versus a 50-year-old buys something. So we want to build the right solution for them. But I need a really strong name for it. And obviously, my whole thinking of the swag industry, swag is not like an impulse purchase, right? If you’re scrolling through Facebook and you see a pair of shoes, you might just buy it because it looks cool and it’s 100 bucks. But you’re never going to see a swag, oh, buy bulk ordering of custom T-shirts on a whim. It doesn’t happen. You have a specific event for it.

You have onboarding new hires. So unless you’re gonna wait for the perfect and get in front of them at the exact right time that they wanna buy it, which is very hard to kind of predict, you wanna get in front of them whenever, let’s say January, and when they buy in October, you want them to be top of mind. So that was my whole idea. It was like, I wanna turn offline conversations into online purchasing. So imagine like Jenny, who works at Facebook, sees a Swag.com ad in January, and by October she’s talking to her coworkers and her boss and they’re saying, oh, we have a big event coming up, let’s buy some swag.

I want to trigger in your head, oh, let’s go to swag.com. So we needed that name. Now, I didn’t have any money really at the time. I had some previous entrepreneurial successes, but I’ve also had some previous entrepreneurial failures. And by the time I started Swag, I was running pretty low. And swag.com obviously, as you can imagine, is a very expensive domain name. What we ultimately did is we negotiated this kind of unique deal, which I think has gotten very much more popular now. I had never heard of it at the time.

Jeremy Parker (06:48.61)
but we exclusively licensed the name for swag.com with the option to buy, and we gave a little bit of equity to the person. So basically we were able to start from day one without putting any money down. We had this amazing brand name. This person had some equity in our company. If it succeeded, that’s great for him. If it failed, he owned his home domain back. He never lost the domain. And we had two years to come up with the number that we negotiate with. It was much lower than a million, but whatever the number was,

Paris Vega (06:57.235)
a while.

Jeremy Parker (07:17.506)
We had two years to come up with it to actually purchase it. After six months of running the business, we made enough sales that we were able to acquire the name fully. And in terms of getting those products, you said, we went to a lot of trades, all the money that we did have, me and my co-founder, Josh, we went to trade shows, we traveled to trade shows, we contacted suppliers, we bought tons of samples, and we were like curation experts. In the early days, we had no office. We were working out of his pool table room in his apartment building, like the common area.

Paris Vega (07:17.512)
Mm-hmm.

Yeah.

Paris Vega (07:25.373)
Wow. That’s awesome. Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (07:47.402)
and we would just buy hundreds, thousands of dollars worth of samples from all these different suppliers and say, oh, this pen doesn’t work well, this umbrella’s bad, and we were sifting through products and coming up with a really curated catalog. So when we went to these shows, we knew the products that we were offering were really the highest quality. People with swag, it gets a bad rep, right? Because a lot of people throw this stuff away and it’s like tarnished your brand, and that was the exact opposite of what we wanted. It’s such a powerful marketing tool if it’s quality and if people actually take care of it. So.

Paris Vega (07:47.454)
Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (08:16.414)
Instead of giving somebody something that they end up putting in the trash, which costs the company money, bad for the environment, bad for the company, we wanted to make sure that we only sold things on our site that people were proud to show off. So instead of offering 1,000 mugs like every other company in our industry did, we said, here’s the top 20 mugs. It’s fully vetted and tested, and like 99% of the products you tested didn’t make the cut. That was kind of the mentality in the brand of swag.com, and it really allowed us to cut through the noise and appeal to this millennial buyer that’s really

focused on, frankly, I mean, you’re 23 years old, it’s your first job, Facebook gives you $10,000 to buy for the company. Your main motivation is not to look bad. What makes you look bad if you buy from a source of swag that ends up in the trash and no one likes it? So our whole thing was buy quality stuff that everyone’s gonna be happy to wear and use.

Paris Vega (09:04.325)
So if you were just starting out, so that was like one of your first sales. Were you just pre like printing Facebook T-shirts through one of these suppliers and just guessing, kind of preordering what you thought they might like and then showing up and act and like, you know, this is what this is normal. This is something that.

Jeremy Parker (09:26.186)
Yeah, so in the early days, we did a lot of testing. So even before we went to Facebook, we spent a full month, which doesn’t sound like a long time, but to us when we were trying, like really ramped up wanting to go, we spent a month really placing sample orders with all the different suppliers that we negotiated with. So we knew what was quality, we need some screen printers. So we felt pretty good that we had the quality products. We showed Facebook in this case, three different options. We said, you know, better, you know, good, better, best type of thing. They chose what they wanted. We had a great…

screen printer that we were in our network. Now we work with tons of screen printers and all these different things, and we have 100 different suppliers that we’re using, and we’re sourcing from all over the place, but eight years ago, it was very, we didn’t really need to offer everything. We just wanted to get a couple of sales in the door to start to learn. A lot of entrepreneurs want everything to be perfect before they start, and so they kind of, what is the famous line? Like, fear kills more dreams than failure ever could. And people get into this mindset like,

I’m not gonna do something because it’s not gonna work. I don’t have all the things. They make excuses. People are trained to make excuses as entrepreneurs. It kind of makes you feel like it’s not your fault that things are not working because it’s, I haven’t launched yet type of thing. In our mind, we want to kind of get at that and just launch and learn. And if we printed something really poor in the beginning, take it as a learning experience and never work with that supplier again. And it happened, you know, here and there in the early days. We definitely messed up. But that’s okay, because…

You’re going to learn a lot more and you’ll get a lot further if you do that versus waiting for everything to be perfect and then you launch it and you realize that all the things that you felt like were perfect were actually the wrong ways to build things. I’ve had that experience in the past also, building the wrong thing. So get out of your own head and just go for it.

Paris Vega (11:09.733)
Yeah. So one last little detail about that Facebook meeting that you set up or that you kind of orchestrated, was it blank products or did it already have like Facebook logos printed on it?

Jeremy Parker (11:21.878)
Oh no, when we were at the office, it was just we showed them blanks and they put their own logo on it. So we don’t even have the logo, we didn’t even know what the print was, we just wanted to sell them on the quality. And honestly, I think I even said to them, I’m just trying to, it’s eight years, it’s a long time ago, but I think I remember saying to them something like, whatever price you got in the past, 20% off we’ll give it to you. I didn’t care, it didn’t matter to me at all. Like when we left that room and we were like, we just got a Facebook order.

Paris Vega (11:32.943)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (11:36.307)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (11:44.581)
Right, he swore in that logo.

Jeremy Parker (11:48.414)
having Facebook’s logo on our homepage before we even built a site, that was worth way more than making a couple hundred bucks. That’s like, that’s, yeah.

Paris Vega (11:50.921)
Right.

Paris Vega (11:56.982)
That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s such a great story. Awesome example of just hustling, making it happen and really smart strategy. Okay, so you did that really creative doing what you could to get in the door. Got the Facebook logo. How did your kind of sales tactics change or where did you go from there?

Jeremy Parker (12:05.762)
Thank you.

Jeremy Parker (12:17.482)
Yeah, totally. So we were repeated that cycle. So I remember like the next day we went to the WeWork office and we did something similar. Like they asked us who else we work with and we don’t lie. We said Facebook, right? But as you can imagine, if you’re pitching somebody and they say, who else do you work with? You say Facebook. They probably assumed we had hundreds of other customers, right? We’re swag.com and we say we work with Facebook, but it was really just Facebook because it was 24 hours earlier that we made it for sale. So we did a WeWork order and then you kind of the next person says, who do you work with? Facebook and WeWork. It’s the same thing. So it’s kind of like

Paris Vega (12:36.361)
Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (12:46.51)
It’s like a self-fulfilling thing. After we did that for the first six months or so, we got about 25, 30 customers, and they were all big name brands. Like this was like, so when you went to our homepage, it was still coming soon. We didn’t really build the site yet. We’re in the process of building it, but we had this huge row of logos that kept like scrolling, and it was like, wow, this is a really big company. That was kind of the vibe instantly, within a couple of months. Then it was unscalable for us to just keep knocking on doors and doing that. That’s like not, you can’t just do that forever.

Paris Vega (13:07.092)
Yeah.

Wow.

Jeremy Parker (13:16.586)
So our strategy changed. We had some money at this point. We know we did about 350,000 of sales in the first year and we made some profit and we took that money and we put it into Google Ads. Now for Google Ads, we really wanted to, and this is what I said in the very beginning, there’s different traction channels that you focus on at different times of the business. So the early part of the business, it made sense for us to knock on doors, but ultimately it made sense for us to do something more scalable, right? So we did some Google Ads and we drove more traffic and.

It was expensive. Google Ads is very expensive, but it got us a lot more customers for us to start learning from. Because in the first couple of years, it’s all about learning and building the right solution for the right audience. After we did Google Ads for let’s say a year, then we say, you know what? Let’s start doing all content marketing at SEO, which is free. And we started to write tons of content marketing. Now like my biggest regret for the business, we made a lot of bad decisions, good decisions, but my biggest regret is we started with SEO and content marketing. A lot, you know.

Couple of years too late. Like I wish we did it. I mean, you could write an article and it could generate a million dollars worth of sales because it appears first on Google rankings. And we didn’t really know about that until like our third year of business in 2018 when we started writing tons of content. Now, I mean content is like one of our, it’s 2020 what, three now, 2024? It’s one of our biggest ways to get traffic is free. You know, writing a lot of content and appearing really high in search results. And then after SEO, we then started doing partnerships.

Paris Vega (14:39.826)
Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (14:42.594)
So like every single, like to me there’s this, a lot of people try to throw a lot of things at the wall and see what sticks. For me, my strategy was really figure out what the right traction channel is at the right time. There’s usually one traction channel that works, that outworks all the others at every single part of the business. And as an entrepreneur, you have to be okay if something’s working, it might work one day and it might not be the right solution for the next day. So be okay with changing your direction or changing your focus. You know, now we have.

full marketing team, we’re part of Custom Ink, and people are doing, we have a whole SEO team, and a whole Google Ads team, and a whole partnership team, and everything’s working. But when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re just starting, you’re trying to figure out what works, really going all in on one traction channel, I think is the best recommendation I have to really kind of break through the noise.

Paris Vega (15:33.257)
Did you ever reach a point where you focused on social media in that aspect, that channel?

Jeremy Parker (15:39.082)
We try, but we really are B2B. We’re a B2B business. And what I found with social media for us, you need to have enough of a presence to show that you’re a real business. You’re on G2, you have some reviews, you have Instagram. When people come to your site, they’re like, oh, this is actually a real company. But you’re not really gonna convert people who are scrolling on Instagram to wanna buy swag. For us, really, I looked at it as this. And I said before, the brand name helped a lot. So imagine…

Paris Vega (15:43.253)
Okay.

Jeremy Parker (16:06.634)
We did a Google ad or even an Instagram post or whatever it is in January, and they saw swag.com, and then they come back to us in October. Really what happens is they’ll never just remember your name from viewing one post. It doesn’t happen. But what you could do is, let’s say you come to, you see an ad, and then because you came to our site from that Google ad, right, we could start retargeting you. And a retargeting ad is a lot less expensive than a prospecting ad through Google.

So now throughout the year, you’re getting constant retargeting ads. And we’ve done a lot of retargeting ads on Facebook and Google, et cetera. Tons of people are getting retargeted. They never click on it, but then when they actually need to, they don’t even need to click on it. They just go directly into the browser and they type in swag.com into the browser, which we were finding crazy, literally crazy numbers as if we were like a mainstay brand, like an Amazon. No one’s clicked on an Amazon link, right? You type directly into the browser, amazon.com or google.com.

So that’s what kind of we were seeing with our traffic is everyone was typing in directly to the browser, swag.com, because it was so short and so memorable and because the thing is the thing that they’re looking to buy, it became kind of this trigger point of going directly to our site. Yep. Exactly.

Paris Vega (17:13.545)
So you became synonymous with that product service. That’s awesome. Yeah. And it would seem like early on that SEO makes a lot of sense because back in the day, I guess, before swag.com became synonymous with it, you just type in promotional products or something. When it’s time to buy something for your company, you just go to start searching to see whatever it is because before you guys, it didn’t seem like there was some company who had some kind of…

Jeremy Parker (17:31.146)
Yep, exactly right.

Paris Vega (17:41.497)
emotional connection with a brand related to this stuff. It was just whoever has the price and the stuff we’re looking to buy. Just type in promotional products and just see who shows up.

Jeremy Parker (17:45.889)
Mm-hmm.

Jeremy Parker (17:50.622)
Exactly, you know, for SEO, we had two strategies, I guess, is people looking to buy at that moment. So like ideas would be like swag ideas. If you Google swag ideas, most likely that person’s looking to buy now or very soon because they’re looking for some ideas. And we come up the first for that topic, swag ideas, right? And that’s good to get conversions. We’ve got a lot of conversions for this free article that comes up, right? It’s like 75 swag ideas by swag.com. And then it comes up and then we convert it, right? That’s good. But then there’s other people who…

They’re not even looking for swag. They’re like event marketers or marketing teams or HR people. And we write blog posts geared towards them that literally have nothing to do with swag. Because the point is they look up like how to create a healthy work environment, something like that, or nothing to do with swag. And it’s HR manager and they click on it, but they’re going to swag.com. They’re not even buying anything. They don’t even know it’s swag.com. But now because they visit our site, we have the ability to retarget them. All right, so now you’re retargeting somebody.

Paris Vega (18:35.324)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (18:45.235)
Mm-hmm.

Jeremy Parker (18:47.842)
who you know for a fact is most likely in the position to buy swag, and you’re converting them. So even if they clicked on a retargeting ad, it’s way less expensive than if somebody was just Googling, I wanna buy swag now, and we have to pay for that prospecting.

Paris Vega (19:01.577)
So you’re creating the content that your target ideal customer would be consuming, even if it’s not directly related to that time of buying whatever. And this again, relates to something we repeat a lot on this podcast is it seems like the most successful companies are the ones that figure out exactly who their target audience, their ideal customer is, and then figure out all kinds of ways of connecting to that audience, whether it’s physically like you had to do it first, or some entrepreneurs in the past have talked about.

Jeremy Parker (19:06.762)
Totally. Yep.

Jeremy Parker (19:25.567)
Mm-hmm.

Paris Vega (19:31.185)
going to events and that kind of thing, trying to connect physically to their target audience or digitally, like you were just talking about, creating that content, showing up in different ways just to build that relationship with that ideal target customer. And that, that seems like the two kind of main ways to get those first customers is you be really clear on who that target ideal customer is, and then connect with them in whatever way that you can.

Jeremy Parker (19:57.07)
Totally, and I say in the beginning, so as an entrepreneur, and I think most entrepreneurs have this problem, we have an ego, right? Because we have an idea and we think we have the right idea. So I’ll just tell you a quick story. When I was starting swag.com, I thought that the marketing team would be our core customer. Like it was, I knew I wanted to go after businesses, I knew I wanted to go after young buyers, right? That was the kind of the principle, like the millennial buyer, but there’s so many different buyers within the organization, right? There’s the marketing team that’s buying for…

trade shows or your best customers. There’s all these different buyers. The sales team’s buying for leads and talking to all these marketing. And I used to go on LinkedIn and literally look up people’s title as like marketing manager or director of marketing. And I would just cold email people. And 99% would not even, you know, it’s kind of funny. I look at my messages now with some people I’ve connected with after. And I wrote them in 2016, hey, I’m starting a new business, swag.com type of thing. And no one responded, right? But a couple of did.

And I got on the phone with them and I spoke to them and I was just trying to learn as much as I could. And I was pitching them swag. And I realized everybody’s going after the marketing teams. Literally everybody. Like they get inundated with so many people trying to sell to them because they have the biggest budget. But what I realized is that the office manager, no one’s really going after, at least at that point. And they’re the gateway into the company. Because if an office manager is buying 100 t-shirts and they’re giving it out to the marketing team internally, they’re giving out to the sales team in the London office, the New York office,

all the different departments, and it’s every t-shirt says swag.com in the inner label, which is another strategy we used to kind of get out there, which I could go over. They were basically like a Trojan horsing it and getting us into the company and expanding it. So we start going all in on the office manager, and it really worked, it allowed us to cut through the noise and get in, and ultimately we got the marketing teams and the sales teams and everyone later on, because the office manager was doing the kind of heavy lifting for us and getting the work in.

Paris Vega (21:35.058)
Hmm.

Jeremy Parker (21:49.186)
But we wouldn’t have known that strategy unless we had those early conversations. So I would say for entrepreneurs, you could have an idea, you could think you know who the right audience is, and maybe you’re right and hopefully you are right, but it doesn’t hurt at all to have a lot of conversations with potential customers, because you’re either gonna say, yes, I’m 100% right, we’re going after the right audience, and it gives you more confidence, or you’re gonna realize maybe you’re going after the wrong audience and you’re building the wrong product for the wrong people. And that’s a lot easier to figure out early on than.

you know, spending time, and I’ve done this, spending time building the wrong thing just to realize that the things that you’ve lost sleep over and you thought were the most important things, none of your customers really cared about and all the things they really wanted, you didn’t even know about. And so, swag.com was very much about learning the right thing to build and figuring out exactly who the right audience is.

Paris Vega (22:31.326)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (22:37.181)
That’s a great point. Yeah. So the customer conversation, getting customer feedback, even before you’ve even launched the business, um, uh, one of the early episodes would talk to, went a lot of into that about like talking to, uh, potential customers at an event and this one entrepreneur was just pitching the idea and just getting feedback and they were honing.

Jeremy Parker (22:45.847)
Totally.

Paris Vega (23:00.701)
The idea just in the conversation that person ended up becoming their first customer just from asking for feedback and having conversations.

Jeremy Parker (23:07.83)
That often happens. That happened to us every single, most conversations we had, it either wasn’t a sale or became a sale. But if your goal is to learn and you can make a sale from it, that’s like amazing. It’s like the best of both worlds.

Paris Vega (23:21.653)
So ask for feedback, everybody. Talk to people. That makes a lot of sense. Okay. So then you sold Swag.com and I guess there’s a little bit of a customer type sales journey there when you’re selling the whole company. You’re selling it to investors or whatever. But now you’re running Swagspace and maybe talk a little bit about how you got those first customers.

Jeremy Parker (23:23.767)
Mm-hmm.

Jeremy Parker (23:39.144)
Yep.

Jeremy Parker (23:49.01)
Yes, so 2021 November, we were acquired by Custom Ink. So we were the fastest growing in the B2B space. We’re selling to businesses. And Custom Ink is the leader in consumers. So like somebody’s buying happy birthday t-shirts or Father’s Day or charities or organizations. They’re the largest and they do $600 million or so a year in sales. So we got acquired by them. I was still the CEO for the last two years up until December of last year. So about a month ago, month and a half ago.

I’ve had this idea for SwagSpace for so long. So I’m actually starting and founding SwagSpace underneath Custom Ink. So I’m still part of Custom Ink. They’re still funding it, I’m still part of it. About seven years ago, or eight years ago, when I started swag.com, I realized how old and broken the system was. So we were in the process of building swag.com for ourselves, but before, even as I said, while we were learning, I was doing everything the traditional way. Back and forth emails, presentation decks with customers to close sales, waiting on hold with suppliers.

Then when you actually make the sale, you have to collect the money, collect the sales tax, remit the sales tax, buy blank t-shirts from here and send it to that screen printer and buy notebooks from here and water bottles from here, keep track of everything. I found myself spending about 20% of my time on selling, which is the stuff I wanted to do, and about 80% of my time on the bullshit of fulfilling orders. It was just like completely wasted time. And then we built swag.com and we automated a lot of the process and we streamlined it and the site’s gotten infinitely better over the last eight years and it’s very, very.

scalable at this point. But the industry hasn’t changed. There’s 22,000 promo distributors who are, quote unquote, our competitors who sell swag the old school way, like I used to do eight years ago. They have no technology. They have no infrastructure. And my thinking is this, the buyers are getting younger and younger, and these promo distributors are getting older and older. And how can they just compete? They can’t compete. It’s going to be very hard for them to compete. And they’re always kind of…

capped out at how much sales they could do because 80% of their job is very manual and it’s time consuming. How I think of it is like this, imagine these guys are riding a bicycle to work every single day and they’re riding like 10 miles to the office and they’re wasting so much time biking to the office and they’re sweaty and they’re trying to catch their breath and they get to the office, they need to take a shower and their day is just consumed by doing the work to do it. Now we’re showing with Swag Space a motor cycle and we’re saying you can get to the office in seconds.

Jeremy Parker (26:14.518)
And basically the idea is this, what if we took all of the technology that we built over the last eight years with swag.com and we white labeled it? So now Jenny Promo has a website that’s her logo, her brand colors, instantaneously and for free can now start allowing her customers to easily buy swag through this white labeled solution. Jenny Promo could build the cart for her customer in seconds and just share a link and now her customer could just check out. But once her customer checks out, it hits our backend and we become the de facto supplier.

So we’re not only being the front facing technology to allow them to make sales, we’re also their de facto supplier that’s handling all the orders. So all of the 80% that I mentioned before doesn’t exist anymore. People could really just focus on selling because the system and the process and our infrastructure does all of the heavy lifting for them. And so that was a big idea, but it needed to take all the technology that we built, which we had at swag.com, and it needed the operational know-how and infrastructure that Custom Ink does.

to combine both things. And I feel like we have this really amazing solution that could allow promo distributors, like who I mentioned, the 23,000 of them, all screen printers who want to sell swag, event planners, you know, their clients are buying swag for their event, but now they’re gonna be able to handle the swag orders. Designers, a designer creates a logo for a client, that logo takes that, that client takes that logo and goes to a different company to buy the swag, even Custom Ink, right? Why doesn’t the designer?

Paris Vega (27:26.965)
Thank you.

Jeremy Parker (27:36.566)
handle the swag orders after they create the logo and make a lot more revenue. So now all these industries could easily add a new revenue stream of handling the swag orders, without having to know anything, without having to know the supply side, without having to know what things cost, how to print things, because we’re handling it often.

Paris Vega (27:40.757)
Hmm.

Paris Vega (27:53.873)
So I’m a partner at a digital marketing agency, website agency. We do branding for folks as well. So we could just add this as a service line by just handing over the order to you guys instead of somebody else.

Jeremy Parker (28:03.795)
Exactly right.

Jeremy Parker (28:09.506)
Well, it’s not even handling over your or you could create a service line and say, we now handle swag. If the, if your client goes to your website, they click on the button, it opens up fully white labeled, your logo, your colors, your URL doesn’t even say us at all. Your clients could either self serve or you could build the carts for exactly for your clients. You’re just building it like you’re building a regular e-commerce cart and we’ll train you how to do it. You share the link. They check out, once they check out, swag space collects the full amount. We,

collect the sales tax, we remit the sales, you don’t have to deal with that anymore. We give you 30% of the order, so if the order’s let’s say $1,000, you guys make $300 and you have to do nothing, very little, like right when the order comes in, it hits our back and we print it and we ship it directly to your client without saying anybody’s logo on it, without anything like swag.com or swagspace, they don’t even know about this. They’ll literally never hear from us, they don’t even know about this. It’s you, they’re dealing with you, but we are giving you the whole front-facing tech and the infrastructure to make sales.

Paris Vega (28:53.397)
That’s all.

Paris Vega (29:07.285)
Well, I’m sold. Shoot, it seems like we should start doing. Oh, I was about to ask, if there’s some kind of service fee or something.

Jeremy Parker (29:09.534)
And it’s free, by the way, the platform’s free to use. We had a guy, no, there’s no fee at all. How we make our money is very, very simple. Because our buying power is so large, we make about 10% of every sale. So imagine if we got 1,000 promo distributors and the average promo distributor does a million dollars of sales, it’s a billion dollars of revenue for getting 1,000 users. So we don’t need that many people for this to be a massive scale business. But when you add on top,

Like yourself, marketing agencies, design agencies, event planners, anybody could do it. And why not? Like why not be able to make, whether it’s an extra couple of thousand dollars or 50,000 or a hundred thousand, you know, we’re doing all the heavy lifting for you. And for us, it makes sense also. It’s like a perfect kind of balance.

Paris Vega (29:38.207)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (29:53.205)
Well, I’m definitely sold. Seems like a no-brainer for agencies. Yeah. So there’s no service fee. It’s just the, well, no, there’s not even a fee on that side because the transaction’s happening between you and them, basically. So we’re not having to process that revenue like, OK.

Jeremy Parker (29:55.19)
Awesome.

Jeremy Parker (30:10.878)
No, nothing, nothing. And by the way, the cost for your client is what they would get anywhere else. Because we’re only showing on our site vendor recommended MSRP. The reason why we can handle the order and give you such a huge commission of 30% is because we have such buying power in the backend that if you went directly to the supplier and we go to supplier, we’re making a lot more money than you because we’re sending $500 million, $600 million to them. You’re sending very little, so.

the whole model makes sense where we could still make money and allow you to make money and free up your whole infrastructure. And there’s no cost. There’s nothing.

Paris Vega (30:46.921)
So I know how you just sold me on it, but how did you sell the other first customers on the Swagspace service?

Jeremy Parker (30:54.386)
Yeah, so SwagSpace, we’re just getting started. We launched officially a month ago, legitimately. We were ran up in some press in our industry in the promo because we have four industries that we’re going after. The first one is promo distributors because that seems like the most obvious one. Now there’s some headwinds against us in the promo industry because just in general, if somebody’s been doing something one way for 20 plus years and now you’re saying here’s a whole new way of doing it, it takes some training. You know, they’re…

They see that they’ve been doing a bicycle, they see the motorcycle, they wanna do the motorcycle, but they’re nervous about it. We gotta train them, we gotta teach them. So we’re in that process of showing them how much easier their life is. Because we ran up in these press, and it became like a big industry story because it’s Custom Ink, who’s a huge name in the industry, they’re a leader, and it’s me, swag.com. It’s like all these kind of bits and pieces we’re able to get in front of a lot of people. So we just had hundreds of people applying for membership, and we’ve only approved about 80.

So there’s an application process, not everyone gets accepted. We wanna make sure we have the right people on the platform. But the platform’s free, so that’s kind of it. Now it’s about talking to, just like the same thing I did with swag.com, it’s about talking to these potential clients and learning about them, like what are we missing? Like I’ll give you an example. We’re going after some screen printers now. And I know this, talking to a lot of screen printers, they kept coming back with three big pushbacks on the platform. They loved the platform and they said,

The platform would be way better if you could do these three things. What are these three things? Number one, they didn’t want the URL to say swag.space. Because how it worked was before, be like jenn and they used it as a subdomain. They wanted it to be jennypromo.com backslash swag. They wanted to override the URL. So that’s something that we’re launching in a month, the ability to have your own URL. Another thing is a lot of these screen printers don’t even have a website. So they said, we just don’t want to have the website be the catalog, we want like a landing page, like a homepage first.

So we’re building a templateable homepage for anyone to easily create a homepage so there’s no blocker. They don’t have to go to Squarespace or Wix. They can just create a simple homepage and have the site ready to go in seconds. That’s the second thing. And the third thing, which is the biggest thing, is saying, well, anytime somebody buys apparel on this platform, it will get sent to the custom network of printers. They didn’t want that. They wanted that for hard goods and for notebooks and pens and mugs and all that other stuff. But for apparel, they’re a screen printer. They wanted to handle the screen printer.

Paris Vega (33:15.989)
Bye.

Jeremy Parker (33:16.226)
So we’re building the ability for them to add themselves as the vendor of record. So if their client goes through the process and buys a t-shirt, it will get funneled to them to actually do the printing. If they buy a notebook, it gets funneled to the custom network of printers. So those, but we didn’t know that until we launched it and we learned and we figured it out. And so it’s a very iterative process, I would say, for the next six months to really make sure we’re building the right solution for today’s buyer.

Paris Vega (33:41.821)
So there’s two themes here that seems like you’ve mentioned with both businesses. One is obviously talking to a lot of customers. So I was going to say how many, just to put some kind of quantifiable metric on there, how many customers do you think that just kind of as a good benchmark for yourself or rule of thumb, should an entrepreneur try to have conversations with?

Jeremy Parker (34:01.814)
Yeah, I’m gonna say a number, and I don’t know if this sounds a lot or a little. I mean, it feels like a lot when you’re having these conversations. I would say have at least 30 conversations with people that you think could be a good client. I think once you get past the 30, you might want a lot more, because you might realize you either have the perfect idea and you’ll need more, and you can now just build the right solution for them and figure out how to market them on a more global scale, because it’s not scalable to be knocking on doors and having individual conversations for an hour each one.

But you also, most likely, you’re not going to be on the right track and you’re going to need to pivot a little bit or you need to change your focus or you need to build something that you didn’t think you needed to build that’s preventative. My mindset, I tell my tech team while we’re building things, customers are going to ask for millions of things. What is a priority thing that’s going to… If we don’t have this, they’re not going to use it or we could build it in the second phase. You could say, what’s the easiest thing for us to build that gets them to where they need to be?

And then we can always have a backlog of things that they dream and we’re gonna get there. But let’s not build the dream scenario when they only really need this kind of beginning scenario. Because in the beginning days, you just wanna learn and you wanna make something work and you wanna get to that product market fit and then you can always scale up and make it better over time. But for example, I had a business before Swag called Vouch. It was a social networking app. And I spent, which is a high level idea, it was basically Oprah’s favorite things democratized for everyone. So.

Your friend could vouch for their favorite book and movie and whatever it is. You can follow celebrities. And basically it’s a way to get really amazing recommendations from people you trust. And the idea was good. And honestly, it did kind of link back to Facebook because everyone took one piece of Facebook and made a dedicated experience around it and made a billion dollar company, right? Instagram took the pictures and Twitter took the status update. And we wanted to do a voucher, take the like button. And because the like button is the most monetizable aspect of Facebook. It’s where all their ad revenue comes from.

If we felt like we built a cool experience around the like button, what could be? By the way, I think it’s still a great idea and somebody could probably do it, but I wasn’t the right guy to do it. I spent a year building the right, the solution that I thought was the right solution. Every little detail, I lost sleepover. What happens when you scroll up this way or do this with your thumb? And I was obsessed with the details. That’s my background, this product design, user experience. And I was like obsessed with it and I launched it. And what happened is all the things that I lost sleepover, the customers did not give a shit about.

Jeremy Parker (36:26.358)
Like it was 50 other things that they wanted that I probably could have learned a lot faster if I just got out of my own head and launched it. And so with Swag right after, I realized like, I think I know the answer, but I’ve been proven wrong so many times in my life. Let me just get out of my own way and just talk to customers and learn from them and listen from them. And they may not have all the right answers, but they definitely are gonna set me on the right track of what kind of things I need to build to make it better and make it usable for them.

Paris Vega (36:55.409)
How long do you think that phase usually lasts or should last or is there even a way to gauge it? Is it just you’ll know once you’ve got something that’s working or do you think kind of right? Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (37:04.422)
Yeah, I think I don’t know if there’s a specific time. I mean, if you’re spinning your wheels and you’re not getting anywhere, then sometimes it’s not the right business or you’re not the right guy to do it. But for swag.com, it was two months or so before I realized exactly who the buyer was. I realized the office manager took me about two months to get there. I realized the type of platform we should be building. Two months, and I think that’s pretty quick. I mean, everything with swag.com was very, very quick. I’ve heard it’s not the standard.

With SwagSpace, I assume it’s a little more technical and we’re changing people’s buying patterns in a real significant way. I think it’ll probably take close to six to eight months to figure out the right solution. I actually told my team, I actually think with SwagSpace, we have the right solution. We have the right product. I mean, we are missing small things here and there, but when people see the product, they’re like blown away by it. They’re like, this is unbelievable. I couldn’t even dream, I couldn’t even.

Paris Vega (37:41.279)
Yeah.

Jeremy Parker (38:01.57)
they would have to spend $20 million to even come close to building something. And it would take them eight years to build it. And I know this because that’s how much we spend over the last eight years, really being obsessive about this platform. So they’re obsessed with the platform and the market needs it. Our challenge is we got to get people to kind of gather their own way. It’s kind of like people know that we’re going to the gym is healthy for them, but most people just let themselves get heavy and they don’t go to the gym. But once they get into the gym and they work out a few times and they see their weight change and they feel healthier,

then it becomes kind of like a forever thing. And they start doing it by themselves, and they do it for life, and they feel great about it. So it’s our job now to train people and get people to see how much easier their life is with the platform. And I said to my team even today, if something doesn’t work out, every entrepreneur makes excuses. We built the right solution, it was our customers’ fault, or our customers weren’t open-minded. It’s so easy to kind of point your finger as an entrepreneur. And the reason for that

is because if you had to look internally and blame yourself in some ways, it doesn’t feel good. And I just wanted my team to know today is that if this doesn’t work, it’s our fault. I don’t want place to blame on anyone else. There’s a lot of things that have to go right for a business to succeed, but we know what the thing is if it doesn’t succeed. And I don’t wanna look, I already know what the answer is. The answer is in 12 months, if business fails, swag space, it’s because we didn’t do a good enough job of training our clients on how to use the platform.

That’s it. That’s like, the platform’s great, the product’s great, the offering’s great. It’s our job to convince people and show people that their time is gonna be saved, their lives could be easier, they’re gonna make way more money. In 10 months from now, that’s gonna be the reason why I failed. So I don’t wanna ever get that. I wanna nip in the bud in February versus having to think about it in December.

Paris Vega (39:49.681)
Yeah. So you mentioned local screen printers and one of the things I’m looking at is like acquiring some smaller businesses, especially like little local agencies or businesses or print shops, that kind of thing. Is this something that could totally replace a local print shop? Like does it compete as far as like turnaround time and like somebody walking into a local print shop, ordering something and then printing it and picking it up? How does that work? Like, because I know you’re

kind of distributed across wherever you’re printing and fulfilling things and then shipping it to places. Can you speak a little bit about that?

Jeremy Parker (40:23.806)
Yeah, well for Swagspace, I think this is a complimentary thing to the local screen printers. A lot of people in general who walk into a local screen printer are not going onto a website to buy Swag independently. They don’t. I mean, if they did, they would have done it by now and they would have gone to a swag.com or a custom ink and it is what it is. But they don’t. They go to John’s screen print shop and wherever they are. It’s like a local thing. They like talking to John. They like…

having that personal one-on-one relationship. We’re never gonna replace that. And I’ve noticed this over the last eight years, everyone always puts e-commerce on one end of the spectrum and human connection and selling on the other end of the spectrum. It’s like we’re exact opposite. And what we’re trying to say is, we wanna give the technology that we developed on this side and give it to the human connection sellers on this side and making their lives way easier. So how I see it, John the screen printer now has the ultimate site to help them sell.

promotional products, which today the screen printer doesn’t sell promotional products any real way. Now they could do it. And if they wanted to sell t-shirts and stuff, they could also become the defacto screen printer that handles it. But they’re going to be the ones that their clients are going to want to deal with and they’re just going to use our technology. So they’re going to build the carts for them. Like, you know, you come into my shop, I can just send you a link and say, do it yourself. You’re probably not going to do it yourself. Cause like, you’re going into the shop, you want to deal with somebody. But what if you come into the shop and I say,

Paris Vega (41:43.717)
Right.

Jeremy Parker (41:45.814)
hey, what are you looking for? Oh, you’re looking for some T-shirts, some mugs, notebooks, and pens, great. Build the cart for them, share the link, and say, hey, I just put this together for you. All you have to do is put your credit card information in. It still feels human, the connection, but once that client checks out, it hits our backend and we handle all the printing and we drop ship it to the customer. So all the work, we’re replacing all of the backend operational synergies, connecting all the suppliers, we become the de facto supplier.

Paris Vega (41:49.779)
Right.

Paris Vega (41:56.137)
Okay.

Paris Vega (42:12.117)
Okay. So if we have their credit card on file or something, we can just process that order totally ourselves. And okay, that’s really cool. Yeah, this is really cool business idea. And it makes a lot of sense from where you came from, from swag.com. I think that this is a good place to end it, man. This has been really cool, really interesting, informative. You’ve dropped a lot of knowledge on us today and…

Jeremy Parker (42:16.184)
That’s it.

Paris Vega (42:40.673)
a lot of good takeaways with talking to customers, taking time to get those reps in, understanding their problems and not letting that entrepreneur ego get in the way. And so I think there’s a lot of good things for people to hold on to. And again, thank you for your time today.

Jeremy Parker (42:59.542)
Thank you so much for having me. Glad to be here.

Paris Vega (43:02.125)
And I guess, do you want to send people to a specific website if they want to check now?

Jeremy Parker (43:05.354)
Oh yeah, yeah. If you want to be a SwagSpace member and sell swag to your audience, whether you are a party planner, vent planner, designer, screen printer, promo distributor, or just a college kid who wants to start their business, and this is honestly a great business. I mean, high level, we had a person who’s a beta user who’s never sold swag, is not in a promotional adjacent industry to even sell swag like a screen printer. He’s in over $80,000 already in sales. So this is a business, and we just launched.

This is a business that you can literally set up without any work, without any infrastructure, with any investment, and start selling to your local community and make a real business for yourself. So I would please apply, would love to have you guys. Check out our website at swag.space. So that’s it, swag period space. Very simple and love to work with you. And my name is Jeremy Parker and you can send me an email. I still have my swag.com email, so it’s jeremy at swag.com.

Paris Vega (44:02.449)
Awesome. Everybody go check it out. Thanks again, Jeremy. All right, see everybody next episode. Bye.

Jeremy Parker (44:05.634)
Thank you so much.


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