Ever dreamt of going viral with an E-commerce idea?
That’s what Alexandre Vanier did with Poches & Fils (P&F). They started selling pocket T-shirts and went viral several times (going on Dragon’s Den as well as with exclusive videos), selling in the millions in the process. They’re Montreal-based but taking on the world, pocket by pocket!
I invited Alexandre to speak at MTL+ECOMMERCE #33 in November 2016, and it was a great talk. He shared actionable growth hacking tips with great humor to a crowd of 100+ E-commerce aficionados.
I had to have an exclusive interview with Alex on the blog!
1. How did you come up with the Poche & Fils concept? Was it part of a long process of iteration?
As a matter of facts P&F started a bit randomly. Anthony (my partner) is the one who got the idea. One day he saw one of his friends wearing a pocket shirt made by her mother and asked her if he could have one too. As soon as he started wearing his famous burger pocket tee he received a lot of comments and questions about it.
He immediately saw the potential for the product since it was generating a lot of positive interactions. The next week he was selling pocket t-shirts with a set of original designs. The concept evolved with time but it started that way !
2. What are the most common misconceptions about building a fashion brand?
That you need to know anything about fashion ! When we started we were 3 guys with no knowledge about the apparel industry, we struggled a bit with some aspects of the business but in the end it worked out pretty well. We probably made a lot of rookie mistakes but we also had an outside view of the industry which gave us a different voice than most fashion brand.
I’d also add that it’s not as easy as people might think to launch a fashion brand, we often talk about t-shirts as a first entrepreneurial introduction and while it’s true that it can be easier than most other project it is really hard to scale it and make a living out of it. Having a good fashion brand is easy, having one that is profitable is hard !
3. What things do you wish you knew when you started in E-commerce?
I wish I knew that it was possible to make it work with « out of the box » solutions like Shopify or Lightspeed. When I started out I was building my e-commerce websites from scratch or with some mix of woocommerce/wordpress, drupal or mangento because I was so sure that it would be better than the experience offered by these platforms.
I ended up losing a lot of time and building websites that weren’t that performant. I could have taken this time to focus on generating traffic, optimizing my sales funnels, A/B testing some features on the website, but instead I was reinventing the wheel.
With time, I understood that e-commerce is not the same as regular website building or informational websites, it doesn’t matter if your website looks similar to other websites and is not a complete artistic experience, as a matter of fact it will probably help your conversion to follow the standards. To sum it up I would focus less on the technology and tools and more on the actual processes and actions that we can execute.
4. What are the 2 least & 2 most sexy moments of your career? What did you learn from them?
That’s a thought one! I’m not sure if it fits in the sexy scale but I’d say that the 2 « worsts » moments of my career were the moment when I had to tell my partner Vincent that I was quitting the startup we had been working on for the past year (Storydoc.ai) because I was afraid that I’d burn out if I didn’t. I was working over 100 hours per week and trying to deal with Poches & Fils growth, Storydoc funding round, a few remaining projects from my web agency, being a new dad and a few other things. This was really an « unsexy » moment since I had to let go of something I believed in and it felt like a failure to me. At least I learned a few good lessons from this situation. I learned that I was not able to sustain 3 hours of sleep per night for more than a few months, that I wasn’t a robot, that I needed to prioritize more, that I should learn to say no to projects and it also helped me to put my daughter on the top of my priority list.
The second least sexy moment of my career was probably not long after I started doing consulting and freelance jobs (at around 22 or 23 years old) I was so late for a small website project that I ended up giving the website for free just because I was ashamed. I had delayed the project for so long because it was for a very small client and I accepted it only as a favor to somebody but in the end, I fucked up. I learned that I should only take projects that drive me and that once again, I should learn to say no to things that are not in my priorities.
On a brighter note, my two « sexiest » moments were probably the « dans l’oeil du dragon » recording, going on tv with purple bathrobes and receiving deal offers from almost every investor, that was pretty great! This experience taught me that I was able to sustain a big amount of stress and that it pays to be bold. The other sexiest moment from my career goes back to CEGEP when we needed to do an internship to receive our diploma. I had an offer from a small tech company but they were paying 100$ per week…
I though it made no sense because we were bringing much more value to the companies but that was the kind of internship you could hope to have at this time. Since there was no way I’d be doing this, I decided to create my own internship! I incorporated a company, brought a few friends and family on board (mostly on paper) and I made myself an internship offer as a web developer. The school accepted the change and I started my entrepreneurial journey and never looked back. While my friends were making a few dollars, I found for over 4000 $ of projects, worked from home and learned everything from project management to outsourcing. This experienced opened my eyes to the fact that I would never be able to do a 9 to 5 in a regular business, that the interesting jobs are the one that we make up and that once again it pays to be bold and take risks ! (If I wouldn’t have found enough projects they could have canceled the internship)
5. You’re expanding in Europe and with new types of clothes (boxers, socks), what are your biggest challenges and how do you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is to find the right voice for our marketing abroad. Even if we both speak french, clients in France are a completely different so we need to adapt the french canadian humor to present it to the French people and hopefully hook them.
Right now we are still testing a lot of small initiatives in order to find the right plan : We went to europe for a few weeks earlier this year in order to get a better understanding of the market, we do a lot of “study groups” with french students in Montreal and finally we are testing the waters with some influencers and social ads overseas. It’s a process that is still ongoing but we are making good progress by listening to the data we get.
6. You’ve been several times on Dragon’s Den, featured in the press many times and worked with many influencers. How did you hack PR & virality?
I think we really “brute forced” our way into the quebec ecosystem. We didn’t have a lot of contacts when we started out, we used the originality of our product to knock on every possible door out there and we followed every possible leads that we could find until some of them worked. We sent products to hundred of artists, public personnalities and influencers, from love letters to unnanounced radio visits we were using a lot of “guerilla” tactics to make some noise.
Eventually when you start receiving a few results, it gets easier to follow the links because every artist knows another and so forth. I think that being from Montreal is also a big plus, artists and influencers are really open here and a lot of them even got onboard freely to help us once we started receiving traction. (Phil Bond, Jay du Temple, etc.)
7. You have a very strong brand voice. How do bring your brand alive everywhere?
The secret is really in the people of our team and our business process. We have a very strong marketing team, they are crazy and will always find the ideas to adapt our message to different kind of medias. The way we work is that we have a few “values” and key rules that we try to follow no matter where.
Almost every idea in the business start from the marketing and then it is adapted by the other departments, they have a big part of “ownership” of everything that comes out of P&F. I think that is how we built our strong branding.
8. What are your tips on how to generate UGC?
We try to re-engage our users after every purchase. One of the best moment to re-engage with them is in the confirmation mails where you could ask for a review or remind them to take a picture of the product. We also pushed these reminder directly on our new pizza boxes where we tell the users to take a selfie.
We also try to motivate users with initiatives like the “pocket of the week” contest and other social posts. UGC is a big part of our success and will be one of our main concern in 2018. Right now we are only doing maybe 20% of what we could, but we are on our way to 100%
9. How have you leveraged social proof to boost your business?
This is something that we haven’t really focused on “actively” yet since most of it happened organically. I’d say that our facebook reviews are our best social proof right now since most of our traffic is coming from FB and that we try to keep our ratings over 4.8 at all times (offering a kickass customer service).
The fact that people know the brand and that a lot of public personnalities are wearing our products is also going a long way to help us validate the product. This goes a little bit with the UGC plan that we have for 2018, we think that there is still a lot to do to use this to our advantage and will make some changes on our website in early 2018 to improve this.
Here are some of my tips on the topic:
10. Any marketing tools you couldn’t live without?
We are pretty old school with our tools, our stack is pretty minimal : Analytics, Mailchimp, Intercom and a few Shopify Apps. That’s it !
11. What has been the biggest growth hack for Poches & Fils?
What worked the most for us was our influencer streak. That’s were we had our biggest growth (excepting dragon’s den maybe). The fact that we secured a few notorious personnalities to back our product was our biggest win. I’d say that if you have a clothing brand, you want to put your product out there as much as possible, your biggest gain won’t be with ads or a good social presence or with popup shops.
The biggest growth will come if a few key influencers really back your product (not just a paid influencer post) and you get this by trying a lot, targeting the right people, creating relationship with them and a bit of luck ! For us Mitsou Gélinas and Sebastien Benoit (radio host) were our first, then we got Phil Bond who became a good friend of the team here and after that a lot of others followed !
12. Anything else you’d like to add to this interview?
Humm, I’d give the same advice as I often give to people : If you have a project you should get out there and test it before spending months to plan it.
Where can people find you online?
- I also have a website https://alexandrevanier.com/ its nothing crazy, but it’s a good place to follow where I’m at in terms of projects (few coming up in the next months :p)
You can also read Alexandre’s previous interview on MTL+ECOMMERCE blog.